A Letter to Daycares/Day Camps on Field Trips

September 4th, 2011 by Dionna | 22 Comments
Posted in Consensual Living, Consistent and Loving Care, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting

Dear Daycare/Day Camp Providers:

I saw you out on your field trip today. Your kids were so excited and happy to be outside, in nature, away from the same ol’ same ol’ building and routine. Your shirts are adorable – I love the bright tie dye with your name across the back – it must make it easy to find a kid who has wandered off!

At first glance, it looks like a place I could imagine sending my own son.

And then one of your employees opened her mouth.

Your group was just finishing lunch in the playground/picnic area before resuming your outdoor adventure. Finished with their lunch, two little five or six-year-olds were sitting on the picnic bench busily inspecting the ground. Every once in awhile one of the kids would pick up something from the ground (a stick, a leaf), examine it, then set it on the bench or throw it back down. They were sharing a natural learning moment, looking at nature because they wanted to, enjoying the day and the gifts of the Earth.

And then your employee hollered at the pair: “Bella! Jesse! Get your hands out of the dirt!”

They sat still for about 23.5 seconds, and then one of them calmly picked up another treasure. But this time, your employee was waiting.

“I said PUT THAT BACK DOWN! Do you want to have any more outings? Leave the sticks alone!”

Chastened, the children dropped their finds and fidgeted on the bench. But young children will be young children, and when they are expected to sit on a bench for a period of time with nothing to do, they will find something to do. This time, they started squabbling over one of the sticks that was still lying on the bench.

Would they have argued over the stick on the bench if they’d been allowed to continue their innocent exploration of the sticks on the ground? Would they have squabbled with each other if the teacher hadn’t spoken to them in such an angry and condescending tone? And maybe more importantly, would it have hurt anyone – the teacher, the children, or the environment – if the children had been permitted to continue their harmless exploration? My guess is no.

At last, your employee decided to dole out the punishment. “Get over here. I told you two times to leave the sticks alone, now you can sit here by me. And don’t even think about going on another field trip anytime soon if you can’t listen. You need to listen and follow the rules.

Do the rules of your facility state that children are not allowed to be children? Do they allow adults to treat children with no respect at all? Do they require children to act like miniature adults? Heck, even I didn’t sit still the whole time I watched this scenario unfold, and I’m a pretty responsible adult myself.

I hope that you retrain your employees on age-appropriate, respectful methods of communicating with the children who are in their care. The adults who work with young children are helping frame the way these kids will learn to communicate and handle their own problems and interactions with others.

If I may be so bold, I would like to suggest several resources:

I know it’s hard to work with a group of young children – sometimes I forget to make a connection and end up with my own short fuse, and I normally only have to interact with my one son! I’ve also taught in a preschool for children with special needs, and I know how stressful and frustrating it can be to take a group of kids out on the town. But it is disheartening to see a teacher/caregiver treating a child so harshly – a child with whom s/he is being paid to work. It is also a poor reflection on your facility, and believe me, parents are watching and making mental notes for the day they decide to allow their own children into another’s care.

Thank you for caring for children, it is such an amazing gift and responsibility.

Photo Credit: Capgros

22 Responses to:
"A Letter to Daycares/Day Camps on Field Trips"

  1. We had a personal experience with something like this over the summer. The girls were at week long ‘camps’ and the way I saw the self proclaimed teachers talking to and treating the children left me feeling so sad, and left my little girl clinging to me, refusing to even do the activities she really wanted to do if I wasn’t by her side.

    It can be difficult to care for a large group of children, but when the children are ‘well behaved’ there really isn’t any excuse for nit-picking about touching leaves or not walking in a straight line.

  2. Ida Mae   treeswillbend

    Sadly, I have noticed this way too often on my own outings this summer with my son. It certainly has molded and shaped where I may or may not entrust my child care with.

    Parents are looking, watching, and we TALK to each other. Day-cares, Camps, and Preschools should beware.

  3. Amy   Amy_willa

    Whew! Dionna, I know you said you sat on this for a while. . . may I say, WELL DONE! The lack of connection and pattern of verbal abuse (via the shame factor) is way too rampant in day care situations. This issue needs to be addressed, and I think you addressed it beautifully. I, too, am no where near perfect. Like you said, we ALL are imperfect caregivers. We all have rough days. But when someone is responsible for and trusted for caring for other people’s children, it should be expected that the caregiver will take time to connect and to allow children to safely explore. That’s what childhood is about!

  4. Gaby @ Tmuffin   tmuffindotcom

    This is a great post! It really angers me when kids aren’t allowed to be kids. And many daycares do time outs. I know mine does. And I know that you need to have structure and order when you’re looking after a bunch of kids, but sometimes it worries me. I try hard to be gentle with Baby T and talk to him about everything. For example, his newest thing is screaming at the top of his lungs when he doesn’t want to hear what I say. Probably cause for a time out in daycare, but in my house, we talk about what’s making him feel like he has to scream. I wish emotions were addressed more regularly in daycare settings and that providers would realize how important it is to let kids express themselves.

  5. Wow. Nice. Now… did you send this to the daycare themselves?

    I recall Sasha’s first zoo trip. She wanted to dig at the dirt with a stick. A younger me would have urged her to move along to see more of the “attractions.” Thankfully, the “now” version of me, was just interested and let her investigate until she was ready to move along. Honestly, it only took a few minutes.

    Seriously, kids are going to get dirty regardless of the activity. I think it is the dirty / cleaning that adults are trying to avoid. I still sometimes think “no” as a first reaction to something Sasha wants to do, but I try to always pause and think “why not?” Couldn’t we all use more YESes in our lives?

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      No, I never sent it. I should have, but like I said on Facebook, I sat on this post for a long time because I was worried it came off as too judgmental (which is not my intent). Hopefully many more daycare providers will see it and think about teaching more gentle communication skills.

      • It came to my mind after reading this post, “Thou shalt not live by rules alone.” Your post is a gentle nudge to at least consider the relational harm and lost development a compliance only mindset can breed. Your post is such good food for thought. Though my children are way beyond the preschool years, I may just print this post off and send it to the three preschool directors that have programs near where I live.

      • Dionna, SEND IT- but in a less ‘pointed’ form. We can’t expect change if we don’t give feedback. I totally understand and agree with your feelings on this matter… and I also feel we have a responsibility to protect the rights of children, even those we don’t know. By sending these people feedback, you would be doing your bit to provoke discussion, which is the first part of change.

  6. Jen   diplomom08

    Yes, did you send it to the daycare? I’d love to know their response if you did! I know I also can have a short fuse, but over a stick? Dirty hands? We have such a collection of sticks at home, in the car…you name it, it’s Nick’s favorite toy! And I would really hope a daycare provider/nursery school teacher would know better…hopefully this is an anomoly?

  7. Amy   Peace4Parents


    Have you considered actually sending it to the daycare you saw or others?

    You could put the last paragraph up higher, speak to the judgment you feel for what it is (concern for the kids, desire for the faculty to enjoy them, leave a positive impression with parents, etc.), then end with some appreciation and tips – or simply the last sentence.

    Just something to consider. I feel it has the potential to stimulate thinking on the importance of this subject.

  8. Jupiter   dumbsainted

    This was what it was like when my hubby’s best friend & family came to visit a few years ago. We took them on a nature hike. Only apparently, sticks and dirt and pretty much everything in nature was not to be touched or played with. I was a daycare provider at the time and tried to give them hints and suggestions about children playing in nature, like I would some of my daycare parents but it didn’t help. They wouldn’t eat my fresh, made from scratch food either but that’s another story…

  9. Barefoot Liz   BarefootLizC

    It’s sad (and sometimes scary) to find out how some teachers treat their students.
    If I saw something like that, I’d probably ask what school they are from, etc. I’d even go so far as posting what I saw in the town paper/website.
    Teachers shouldn’t get away with treating children like that. If my child was in that program, I’d definitely want to know what was really going on when parents aren’t around.

  10. Stephanie Finnell   randallbychance

    I’m a childcare provider who appreciates the above links to self improvement. Just sayin that no matter who you are there’s always room for improvement. Thanks for the excellent post!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thanks Stephanie – this post was by no means intended as a slap in the face of all daycares/educational facilities. Like I wrote, I’ve had my moments in public too! And I’ve heard about daycares that provide incredibly enriching opportunities for children, plus teachers that I’d trust my own child with.

  11. I have worked in Early Childhood Education for 14 years and own a small in home Daycare based on Attachment Parenting, Non-Violent Communication and play based education. Sadly, what you have described is all too familiar to me. I would like to point out however that Childcare workers are paid very, very poorly and expected to do an enormously stressful job day in and day out. Most people can not imagine taking care of 8 toddlers or 4 infants or 12 preschoolers all by themselves yet this is the ratio in many states. I am not excusing their behavior but trying to put in perspective that Daycare Centers and even at-home family run Centers are bound in by licensing rules and un-subsidized fees that make for horrible working conditions for very little pay. In California and Washington State where I have worked, the top pay for a highly educated childcare worker AND preschool teacher is $10-$12 per hour. Centers must keep high teacher to child ratios just to exist and the result is basically controlled chaos. Also I would like to say that my experience with most parents was usually less than ideal. I want to give that worker that you portrayed the benefit of the doubt and suggest that perhaps the parents of those children do not appreciate their children coming home dirty – even though many of us know that healthy play equals happy, well developed children. I suggest if you have the time and energy to complain here, you may also have the time and energy to rally behind Childcare Providers and help them through encouraging local governments to subsidize Childcare and also to find an organization in your area that is working towards unionizing Early Childhood Educators and Childcare providers.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      As a former preschool teacher, I understand exactly where you’re coming from, Khadija. If you have resources for the call to action you present, I’d welcome links in a separate comment.

  12. As a former schoolteacher, I have to emphasize with the camp leader. What if all the kids started digging in the dirt? Eventually, you’d have some of the more mischievous ones throwing it at other kids. At least, you’d have everybody wiping their muddy hands on their clothes and making a big mess you would have to deal with.

    I’m all for letting kids be kids, and I was totally frustrated that when I was teaching, I couldn’t, because it was all about crowd control to keep chaos from breaking out.

    Which is one reason I am not returning to the classroom and DS is being homeschooled.

  13. Rebecca

    Ah yes, but we forget the first and foremost issue here. The safety issue created by placing children’s names on their shirts, or other belongings. How easy it is for the local chester the molester to call a child by name, say your mommy and daddy are hurt and asked me to pick you up and take you to them. All that information right on the back of a kids shirt. When chester the molester says the child’s name, it puts them more at ease, more likely to go with him. The same goes for placing your child’s softball icon on the back of your car, now everyone knows your child’s name, potentially what school they go to and they have your tag number. Something that when combined with 10 bucks will get your name, your home address, you name it.

  14. Wow. I’ve seen parents on the playground talk to their kids this way and it’s always upsetting to me. I usually chalk it up to a lack of information or support, or habits based on how they were raised.

    But a child care provider?? You’d think that people who make a profession out of caring for children would make the effort to educate themselves about how to do so with love and respect. You’d think that they went into this vocation because of their love and respect for children. You’d think, right?

    I can understand how the responsibility of multiple children out on a field trip could be stressful. I can also understand how teachers are sometimes caught up in what the parents expect of them. Perhaps teachers need more support in addition to more information.

  15. Don’t touch the nature kids. Just sit still, shut up, and find us a way out of this global warming predicament in a decade or two, if you don’t mind. We’d really appreciate it. Just don’t get your pants dirty while you’re doing it.

  16. Laura   LauraBangerter

    Yes. Yes. Yes!!!!

    I witnessed a day camp at the park and the kids were in the sandbox cooperating together and building a really awesome tunnel system in the sand box and one of the day care leaders came over and told all the kids to get out of the sand box because they would “get dirty”. It upset me, but when I tried to tell other people about it they thought I was weird.

    I also once saw a YMCA daycare provider angrily berating some poor two year olds because they wouldn’t stand in line. She was having them walk, single-file, with no running around a field. I presume they were doing it to practice walking in a line. Possibly for exercise, but if so she was completely defeating the purpose. They did it every day. The poor children had fleeting moments of happiness while they ran and then looked utterly rejected after she reprimanded them. I wanted to write a letter to the Y, but I wasn’t sure if they would understand my complaint.

  17. Sara   momzelle

    I am an Early Childhood Educator and soon to be first time mom. I discovered my career path only a few years ago. I think your blog post is very important. In my first year of work in a daycare centre I had many moments where I had to look around at the staff and say to myself “this is not what I want to become”. Now, none of the staff at my centre would have acted as disrespectful or anti-learning as what you witnessed, but they certainly allowed themselves to get jaded and the staff room was always full of gossip and judgement. It is a very hard job, poor pay, etc, but I found it the most rewarding job of my life (I have recently moved and have yet to find a new job, that’s why I write in past tense!) I think it’s important for parents to speak their minds, respectfully as you have, and remind us that our job is of the utmost importance. Thanks

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