Don’t Take Away Our Sticks and Stones

Don’t Take Away Our Sticks and Stones

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Mandy Miller started this petition to Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care

Earlier today, I sent this email to the EEC Commissioner and shared it within a few groups. I’m overwhelmed by the support and encouragement, and I’m so happy that my words touched so many of you. With changes coming soon to EEC regulations, it’s important for us to feel connected and voice our opinions. 

If you agree with what I have written, feel free to add your name.

Hello! I’m Mandy Miller. I’m a mother of three, and have been running Little Star Buddies, an EEC licensed family daycare in Beverly, Massachusetts since 2006. My daycare is Eco-Healthy Certified by the Children’s Environmental Health Network, I’m a member of the North American Association for Environmental Education, I’m part of the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Teachers group, I’m a Certified National Geographic Educator, and I’m on my way to becoming a Certified Nature-based Educator through the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools.

Children and nature are my passions, and connecting the two is my favorite thing to do! Lately I have been noticing more distance put between them, and I wanted to bring it to your attention. I truly feel that some of EEC’s regulations are going to eventually cause a negative impact on our childrens’ development, and also the way they see the world. As an educator, I feel it is my job to nourish the never-ending curiosity that children have for nature. Asking questions, trying new things, using all their senses, finding their own limits, and exploring are some of the ways that children learn best. They need to have experiences that prepare them for real life. They need to have the confidence to climb the monkey bars at the playground, and hop from log to log. They need to know how useful, and powerful the elements can be.

This afternoon I learned that a family child care educator was told to remove the beautiful rocks in her yard. Someone else received a non-compliance for having sticks and stones on the grass. Someone else was told to put 12 inches of padding under a 20 inch stump that’s in her outdoor space. Why are these things frowned upon? Why is EEC trying to take these natural teaching tools away from our kids? We are FAMILY child care educators for a reason. Parents choose us for a reason. Most of us are mothers and have a natural instinct to nurture and protect children. The environments we create are meant to help kids, be kids. They need to be in natural spaces, with things and opportunities that can challenge them, and encourage their creativity. More and more, I’m hearing about educators being told to remove things from their play spaces that kids have been playing with for ages. What are the kids going to be left with?

Today, I’m speaking out for all the kids that want to play with sticks and feathers they found on the ground, and for all the kids that feel proud of themselves for climbing something that’s taller than they are. Today, I’m speaking out for all the educators that want to teach kids to count to ten with rocks, and for the ones that know how important it is for them to let the kids touch, smell, and taste the fresh mint that’s growing in the yard. Today, I’m speaking out for the parents that want their kids to come home dirty and fulfilled from stomping in puddles, and for the ones that are so tired from working all day, that can find comfort in knowing their kids spent the day in the sunshine, searching for worms and making acorn soup. Today, I’m speaking out for the Earth, which desperately needs our kids to grow up with a sense of responsibility and respect for our planet. Our kids need to be amongst the natural world and all of its treasures in order to understand how important it is to protect it. The time to teach this is right now.

I’m afraid that early education is going in the wrong direction. Toddlers are pushed to learn preschools skills, preschool aged kids are pushed to learn kindergarten skills, and kindergartners are losing their rights to play in class. Sitting at desks doing academics has its place, but let’s not forget that the best way for kids to learn is through play. A good educator has the ability to turn anything into a learning experience and keep a group of kids fully engaged. We are the ones that interact with the kids every day, the ones that encourage exploration, the ones that cry inside when we’re told by a three year old that they planted a garden in a phone app. but have never pulled a carrot out of the dirt. The world is full of wonder and we’re the harvesters and messengers that funnel it all to the children, day after day, year after year. I fear that everyone in charge...all the rule makers, the check markers, the naysayers, have all completely lost touch with what it actually means to do our job. I invite you to come play in my yard. Hold the end of a branch for a four year old while she climbs from one end to the other, then tell me I’m not allowed to have it. Come sit at my kids’ picnic table and sample their pine cone and stone soup that they proudly poured their hearts into, then write me up for having a basket of stones. Come watch the kids slide down the slide into the leaves, the kiddie pool, or the mud puddle and notice them glowing, then tell me to spend hundreds of dollars on padding and keep my slide stationary. Please try to see things from our perspective, and from the kids’ perspective. Please give us more credit. We do this job, not you. Please consult with us before changing regulations. Come see how things work in the real world and not just on paper. Did you know that current diapering regulations require two pairs of gloves and hand washing in between? Did you know that with six kids, diaper changing can take 30 minutes each time? We feel underappreciated and voiceless. EEC needs to have someone looking out for family child care educators, someone to lend an ear, and voice our concerns. Someone that looks out for the kids, and makes sure they are safe, but also that they have plenty of opportunities to play as kids are meant to...when everyone else forgets. We are not the same as centers and we’re tired of being grouped in with them. We need freedom and encouragement to do what we do best. We do not want our kids to feel institutionalized and bubbled.

I am not alone in my thinking. I am speaking for hundreds of FCC educators that carry on because of our love for children. We carry on because everyone counts on us, everyday. We are important. We are fierce warriors that won’t give up on our kids. Right now many of us are stretched too far, tired, broke, frustrated, and on the verge of shutting down. Not only because of the pandemic, but because we have no idea what this summer will bring, and we’ve lost trust in EEC. Most of us are overjoyed that we will (hopefully) be getting a grant soon, but also incredibly hesitant to spend it, not knowing what the regulation changes will be in the coming months. Why can’t we help put them together? Why can’t parents also help in the decision process? We keep hearing about universal childcare and are expected to jump on board. We have asked questions and received no answers. What will this mean for us? Will we still be able to afford our mortgages? Will we have to fit into a mold? Why isn’t everything transparent?

I’m not the best writer, but I hope you are able to see what we are dealing with here. The bottom line is that we are the ones in the ‘field’ pulling for the kids, yet we feel like we have to walk on eggshells for EEC. It can’t be like this anymore. Something needs to change.

Thank you for reading, and for remembering what early childhood education is really all about.

Mandy Miller
Little Star Buddies
Beverly, Ma

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At 1,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!