Carol Booth image

Learning from the Real

There are many different ingredients that go into making a badass educator, and no two of them are the same. They also have many things in common, including generosity, authenticity, and passion. Carol Booth is the Educational Leader at Early Learning FDC Scheme in Melbourne, and is a mentor to around 50 educators.

She exemplifies the qualities of a badass educator, and brings her own lived experience to the lessons she shares with others, and to the standards she demonstrates to the children in her care.

“I started out as an educator in a Brisbane FDC scheme, and subsequently became well-acquainted with the EYLF thanks to the EYLF Implementation Project available to us,” Carol said.

“When my husband and I moved to Victoria, my new scheme did not have access to that project and had not been able to study the EYLF as thoroughly.

“At that time, I was still finishing my diploma in Children’s Services, so was assigned administration and research tasks while working as an educator part time. When I graduated, I was given tasks such as home visits, maintaining QIP, creating resources for our educators and in-house training.

“In 2013, my RTO Trainer Helen Moorhouse asked me, ‘how are you at embracing diversity’, and I was able to respond with confidence that I embraced diversity as a core part of my work. By coincidence, unbeknownst to me, at that same time my eldest child back in Brisbane was discovering that they were gender diverse.

“This became a key focus in my work with children in my care,” she said.

“I’d seen the way my child had experienced child care and schooling, and I didn’t want other children to have the experience they’d had, without a sense of belonging. Other people were addressing this conversation from the outside, but my perspective was different because it was something I was living with.

“I am passionate about removing gender stereotypes in my FDC. I avoid referring to the children by gender, as I see gender behaviours as a social projection. There are no default boys’ behaviours and girls’ behaviours. However, children that don’t fit into traditional gender stereotypes are labelled as abnormal, which is why I’m working towards changing these assumptions.

“I’ve became involved in the Social Justice in Early Childhood (SJIEC) Facebook group. There are a lot of Facebook groups relating to Early Childhood, but lots of these educator groups don’t focus on things that are going to make a significant difference in early childhood and are going to impact on children for the rest of their lives. The SJIEC group is a group that I can relate to and that discusses the big issues.”

Carol is also determined to build the profile of FDC, and for FDC professionals to realise the importance of their work.

“An FDC ECE experience is life changing for the children, and is anything but easy for FDC educators, despite some long-held beliefs,” she said.

“We get the children before school gets them, and we are very careful in the activities we choose for them. We are constantly researching, studying best practice, and networking with overseas colleagues. I am particularly keen to weave the philosophy and practice of Forest Schools in to my FDC practice.”

Forest schools are a type of outdoor education in which children visit forests, woodlands, or the bush to learn personal, social and technical skills, and also learn about the natural environment. Though more established overseas, Carol is an advocate for learning from nature and in nature.

“Children need to spend more time outside, learn the cycle of plants from growing them in the garden, learn about the weather from being outside,” she said.

“They need to learn from first-hand experience. Educators need to teach from the real.

“When I was working in Brisbane, we were right beside a nature reserve. We would take the children on walks and would see the blue and red wings on dragonflies and spot goannas. Looking back, we took it for granted, I hadn’t studied as much then, and now know that children are meant to be outside.

“In FDC, a lot of the decisions are individual to each scheme and educator. We can decide to do regular excursions, for example. That’s part of the beauty of FDC. We can collect the older children after school, include them in the group with the little children, and go to the zoo or beach together.

“Recently we went to an artificial lake which had black swans in it. They were so big! The adults were probably 1.5 m long, and the babies were bigger than adult ducks, which absolutely astounded the kids. It also gave us a chance to learn a new word, cygnet, and learn to identify new birds in our bird book later back at the centre.

“FDC is often underestimated because it happens in houses, we don’t have a large institution or building so it is harder to have identity in FDC. It is a unique type of service, definitely more relaxed, and it allows educators to engage creatively with their natural environments.

As an educational leader, Carol regularly visits and mentors educators, and inspires them to bring nature into their FDC settings.

“I am always overjoyed when I see educators enacting the changes we discuss,” she said.

“One educator I worked with was really doubting herself, but I reminded her that she was in a great position to be creative and positive. In a matter of two to three months, she had tall corn and a tomato crop growing at her venue, she had rocks and a water play table, children were playing with blocks they had made themselves, and her backyard was now lush and green and thriving, which is particularly impressive in Melbourne! To get such wonderful change and growth is great.

Carol no longer takes things for granted, and feels a great deal of gratitude for the work she gets to do every day.

“I feel privileged to be in the position that I’m in to be part of this community and have a role in empowering educators to subsequently empower the children they care for to have a greater understanding and appreciation of nature.

“The connections I’ve made are wonderful, both in real life and online. People know about us and like us, and that means a lot to me.

“I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had so far and the amazing people I’ve met in ECE. Being part of this community is like having an extended family all over Australia.

“I’ll be attending Educator Unchained, I’m really looking forward to connecting with the ECE community face-to-face.”

Educator Unchained is on Wednesday 4 May, 2016, at Royal on the Park, cnr Alice and Albert Streets, Brisbane. Registrations close 20 April, 2016, so don’t miss out on the biggest gathering of badass educators ever! Click here to find out more and to register.

More fantastic badass stories… coming soon.