I love my job because I get to meet so many interesting and passionate people; recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Cheryl, a Preschool teacher in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Cheryl and I connected over Instagram and decided to share our experiences of early years teaching in the USA & the UK, we had lots to talk about and suddenly our Skype conversation had reached ninety minutes in what felt like five!
Cheryl and I have grown up in different countries and shared different experiences, yet it was clear that we both have a passion for early education, hope to give the children we teach the best possible outcomes and both have a creative flare. The amount of times we were nodding at each other over Skype and agreeing... well, I lost count!
It was particularly interesting to see how education in the early years differed between our countries but also how it was similar, I certainly learnt a lot. So similarly to the UK, there are state and private early education schools, the state nurseries or Kindergarten's follow a federal programme that supports school readiness called 'Head Start' for children three years plus and 'Early Head Start' for children under three, whereas the private sector does not have to follow any specific rules or guidelines as to how they run their nurseries, they have an initial inspection to obtain a daycare license in order to operate but afterwards they have far more freedom than we do in the UK, to decide how they run. There are 'Early Learning Standards' in Chicago, and these should be listed on lesson plans but these are not checked up on or inspected. I shared with Cheryl that we have the 'Early Years Foundation Stage' which all nurseries in the UK have to follow regardless of whether they are state or private and that we are inspected by Ofsted, a government organisation. I explained the process of the inspections and Cheryl was certainly surprised! She agreed how daunting that must be and how much more 'regimented' our system is than the freedom she has in deciding how her class is run. In Chicago the inspections they have are not to monitor the quality of teaching but the health and safety of the setting, these will take place unannounced and will measure the ph level of sanitation bottles for example, amongst many other things.
So quite different? It's surprising how even though in Chicago they do not have the EYFS that they have to follow, Cheryl's classroom is inviting and similar to a lot of UK nursery classrooms (see below).
So to be the lead teacher of her classroom, Cheryl has to have a college degree in education (far more in depth than the UK level 3 qualification that is required) in order to be qualified to take on this role. Cheryl, therefore has a great deal of knowledge and theory on early childhood education, which is clear from the tranquility of her classroom and the amazing ideas she puts up on her Instagram and Webpage (smallvoicesbigideas). Cheryl has two assistants in her classroom who she plans with and supports, her ratio is 1:10 unlike ours in the UK at 1:8 for the same aged children. Cheryl has 18 children in her class which all attend 5 full days a week, 7.30am - 6pm (this is the rules of Cheryl's particular daycare), so the children have long days but also consistency and routine. Similarly to Chicago, UK nurseries can choose their operating hours and booking patterns so there is more flexibility for parents as to how often their child attends or does not attend.
I also spoke to Cheryl about Forest School and how that works, which she was very interested in as there is not many options like this in her state. Cheryl mentioned how cold it is in Chicago at the moment and how much snow they have, yet unlike us (who freak out a one snowflake and close everything!) they never close, regardless of the weather! Cheryl said that at this time of year it is just too cold to take the children outside for very long, if at all. I think this reminded me of how lucky we are in the UK to be able to get outside everyday, yet we all just moan too much and need to just get on with it!
All in all, there are positives and negatives of both our education systems and we could all use some improvement and reflection. What keeps me motivated is that regardless of our government systems and the people above us taking charge about how we should or should not run things, those of us at the heart of childcare are still passionate, hopeful and look to provide the best for those that we teach, regardless of where we live.
To check out Cheryl's wonderful work, head over to her webpage - https://smallvoicesbigideas.com/ or follow her on Instagram - @smallvoicesbigidea
Thank you Cheryl!