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Reflections of a Male Early Years Educator

Where my journey started 

I recall as a teenager at school being very naïve about people with disabilities and not really understanding the troubles and discrimination they faced. My own ignorance was a form of discrimination.  Imagine the impact when visiting my Step Mum and Dad in hospital to meet my newly born and first sibling, when I was told that my sister had been born with a number of issues which would mean she would be disabled.  She was born with Cerebral Palsy, Glaucoma and cataracts meaning she would not only have physical difficulties, but she would also be blind. It hit me hard. I didn’t understand and had typical thoughts like this just didn’t happen in my family. I had to grow up very fast. Living with my Father and Stepmother meant I would be experiencing all that comes with having a child family member with disabilities and being big brother with a big role to play in caring for my sister at home.

I was always told I was good with other children in the family, and I had also done voluntary and paid work in specialist schools and family centres during the summer holidays. So, my passion and love of children began from there, and is no different 30 plus years later. My sister was given so much love and support, I was just giving the same love and support back. To date I have had an impact on the life of well over 500 plus children in my career.

Having worked as a practitioner, I became deputy manager of a setting in 2001. I left that setting a few years later, joining a setting that was part of a chain of nurseries, again in a deputy manager position. During my time working with this organisation, I had a few different roles, including in the Head Office, where I became the ICT co-ordinator, a position I helped to created and was passionate about. Unfortunately, like many people during the pandemic, I was placed on furlough. At the same time it was decided that ICT Coordinator would no longer be a specific role. I had the option of returning to a deputy manager role, but the disappointment of no longer being ICT Coordinator had a big impact on me, and I found I was lacking confidence. I am very aware of the importance of people understanding how mental health is a huge issue in the Early Years workforce.

I’ve recently decided to take a step back from nursery management and just enjoy being hands on again with the children.




What does a typical day look like for me now?

As soon as I arrive at nursery, there are shouts of children saying, “Mr Richard is here” and calling me. I go and greet as many of them as I can with a little hug. We have two buildings, and I am based in our preschool building with another teacher. Having a small class to work with makes it easier to support the children, especially my key children. No day is the same, depending on which children are in on the day, or the weather can have an impact on how the day will go, which makes it so exciting. It’s like opening a mixed bag of your favourite sweets - you’re not sure which sweet you’re going to get but you know it’s going to be a great experience. I love preparing the outdoor area, I do this not only with input from the children, but also from the child within me and what I want to enjoy teaching and learning with the children through play.

Just this week we turned the garden into a GP surgery complete with an entrance, using crates and old tyres and four children’s chairs. The children welcomed me through the entrance. I was asked to sit on one chair and wait and then a child pretending to be the GP called my name, took my hand and led me to another chair and began to ask what was wrong with me. I said I was sick and made a funny noise, which had all the children laughing.

At the end of the day when I’m chatting with parents and giving them feedback about their child’s experience, the parents say how their children talk about me at home and say I’m funny because I do silly things that make them laugh. For me this is why my career is so rewarding – because I am making children laugh and having a positive impact on their care and education.

As a big advocate of STEM and STEAM I love setting up another area of the garden with children, using the large wooden blocks. We might build and create models to play with or in. A favourite is to make a slope with the longer blocks, tape some kitchen roll holders to them, and invite the children to race each other by rolling matchbox cars down the tube and watch them roll all the way along the block. I might create a challenge by not making the slope steep enough and then asking those important critical thinking questions such as why won’t the car go down the slope or why is it stuck in the tube, what do we need to do to get the car to work?

I also love the ‘poke the pencils in a sandwich bag’ trick, where I ask the children to fill a sandwich bag with water, seal it and then stick pencils straight through and ask why water isn’t leaking out of the bag and what will happen when we remove the pencil.

These are just a small example of fun activities I do with the children - I’m a big kid myself really if I’m honest 😊.




Are there challenges as a male working in the Early Years Sector?

My heart very often sinks when I think about this question, because I’m still saying the same things 30 plus years later in my Early Years career. Thirty years ago, while I was completing my training, I would go on placement and sometimes there were parents and practitioners who would say ‘why do you want to work with children? That’s a bit unusual, isn’t it?’

I’ve also experienced the parent telling the manager ‘I do not want Richard changing my child’s nappy or taking him or her to the toilet’.  I am very blessed to say that in the main the nurseries I trained or worked in always supported me. One even told a parent that if they were that concerned, maybe they should find another nursery.

On two occasions I have also come across discrimination on religious grounds, where two staff from different settings have said they could no longer work at the nursery if I was working there because they cannot be alone in a classroom with a man. On both those occasions my managers supported me and unfortunately the staff left (one was a student starting an apprenticeship). I did not at all feel comfortable that those staff had to find new placements or employment, but on another level without support it could have been me having to look for another nursery. 

It’s very sad to say that currently out of a childcare workforce in the UK of 643,900 (www.earlyyearseducator.co.uk) I am still part of a very low 2 percent of males in the sector.


What the future looks like for me

Aged 56 I’m wondering myself what my future looks like, and how much more time my injured knee will allow me to run around and support children at their classroom level. I haven’t totally dismissed going back into a nursery management role. I would like to maybe share my extensive Early Years’ experience especially around Early Years Technology in a consultancy supporting role.

In the meantime, I will continue to care, educate, be silly and make the children laugh!




Richard Waite
Richard Waite, BSc, NNEB Early Years Practitioner, Early Years Technology Specialist: My degree was in Education and Information Management and looked closely at the links between Education and Technology for young children. My dissertation was titled the effects of CD-ROMs on children’s learning in school. That seems a far cry from where we are today, and the technology children are exposed to! My previous role in one of the big nursery chains, was as an ICT Co-ordinator delivering technology solutions and learning to over 300 nurseries. I created and pitched the role to senior management myself and enjoyed the role for seven years. In that time, I remotely supported and visited nurseries as far as Scotland and remotely supported a nursery in Bangalore, when they needed an Interactive White Board for their setting. Before that I was a deputy manager in a nursery for the same nursery chain.

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