Carlene Cox-Newton - Carlene's Cubbyhouse

Published on Tuesday, 07 May 2019
Last updated on Monday, 30 December 2019

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Every month we profile an outstanding early childhood educator to showcase the extraordinary commitment and energy of Australia's early childhood workforce. This month we are proud to introduce Carlene Cox-Newton, from Carlene's Cubbyhouse, a family day care service in Queensland.

What is your name and where do you work?
My name is Carlene Cox-Newton (Aunty Carly) and I am 39 years old. I am the owner/operator and full time educator at Carlene's Cubbyhouse Family Day Care. We have 7 children attending our service on different days throughout the week.

What is your professional background and career experience?
I have worked with and for children for the past 22 years. Originally, I was in long day care for more than 10 years where I was an educational leader over several age groups. I had a few years out to bring up my own family, then moved into Family Day Care. I am in my 7th year as a family day care educator and have just started my role as a mentor for other early childhood educators. I have started offering professional development, guidance and resources for further enhancing practice. I have also just created my first eBook "Engaging Environments".

What attracted you to a career in child care?
Initially, I went into early childhood when I deferred my teaching degree for a year to gain some hands-on experience. It didn't take me long to fall in love with early childhood education, there is just something so magical about teaching the early years. That magic still inspires me today.

What does a 'normal' day look like for you?
I am usually up at 5am to begin my day. I start my catching up with any correspondence from fellow educators. Then I begin setting up for the day. This involves getting down to the children's level, viewing things from their perspective and even playing with some of our provocations and invitations to gain an understanding of how children may interact with the materials. I then check for health and safety issues and get our administration sorted for the day.

The children typically arrive from 7am onwards and we are straight into the garden to collect produce and eggs from our chickens to make breakfast together. After breakfast, we spend our day focused on play. Our setting is primarily outdoors, so we are immersed in a lot of active and exploratory play.

The children self-direct their learning, choosing from a wide variety of materials and resources. Loose parts play, sensory areas, mud kitchen, mud patch, sandpit, gardening, water play, woodworking, building and construction, dramatic play areas and our outdoor art atelier. We stop for meals, rest and storytelling and then we keep going! Children can also spend as much time in our quieter indoor areas as they choose.

We tend to wrap up around 5pm, I then pack up, write up the day's reflection and spend some time with my family.

What makes your service unique?
I have spent the last few years creating a meaningful and authentic way of programming that truly captures the essence of each individual child and their community. It focuses primarily on giving every child a say in how they spend their time here and I reflect their voices directly into our curriculum. I am currently teaching other educators how to use this method within their practice.

Taking the children's voices and creating a service based on them has also enabled us to create a space for children that is filled with the children's own ideas. I take their input seriously and therefore most of our environment has been created by them.

For example, one child has extended our woodworking area by adding things he has collected from home. Another child decided she was growing beans for her lunch every day, so she created a bean patch. We have a child that chooses most days to build the playground out of bits and pieces himself. I give the children time, space, opportunity and the materials they need to follow their ideas. Then I step back and leave them to their play. I am always available for encouragement and help, but this space belongs to them. I love giving them ownership and letting them lead their own learning.

What are some of the advantages of working in the early childhood education and care sector?
The children! The joy of getting to experience each and every day through the lens of childhood. The magic they bring into my garden and my home. I also feel that working alongside other passionate and professional educators is truly a blessing. Early childhood educators are an amazing group of inspiring people.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the early childhood sector?
I strongly feel that early childhood education is not valued highly enough in society. The view that educators are nothing more than glorified babysitters is still prevalent amongst many members of the community and our politicians. It is important that our profession works to change this view. I also feel that it is a continuous challenge advocating for children's rights to play in the first five years. Academic push down has crept into many services. We need to give educators the knowledge to say that play is enough.

How has your service changed to deal with these challenges?
I am very vocal about the work we do here. I have utilised social media and community events to broadcast why the early years of a child's life are so important and why the people who educate young children deserve to be recognised. I have also worked with the parents here so they gain an understanding of why these formative years are essential. We have regular parent nights on child development to help them gain a deeper understanding.

I am also currently working with educators to give them a voice about the importance of play in their service.

How does the industry need to change to adapt to these challenges?
Educate the educators. Empower and give a voice to the people that make a difference in children's lives every day. Educators need to value the work that they do which can only occur if they feel valued and supported by the wider community. Our sector needs to change the perception of who we are and what we do. We are educating the future. There is no greater role than that.

What advice would you offer someone thinking about a career or looking for a promotion in child care?
See the joy in everyday moments with the children. Laugh and play. Read as much as you can about early childhood development. Attend more professional development than what is required - it always inspires and uplifts. Work on becoming an exceptional educator. Children deserve exceptional people teaching them.

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