Words Matter: How to talk about Early Childhood Education and Care
“While we may think these words are relatively harmless, they reflect an image and send a strong message.”
How do you talk about early childhood education and care?
The words we use daily to describe early education matter. Professional language is one way to advocate and begin the changes necessary to support the work we do every day. If we use this professional language every day with children, families and our community—in documentation, in conversations and embedded within frameworks — it will begin to catch on, the messages will get through, and more and more people will start using this professional language without a second thought. It will become the new norm.
Early Childhood Australia (ECA) observed the varied use of language to describe Early Childhood Eductaion and Care (ECEC) which can be confusing and outdated, reflecting the many voices in the early childhood space.
We decided to develop a new resource to set out professional and positive ways to talk about ECEC. We also wanted to build recognition of the important role of ECEC educators and teachers. Our members and focus groups debated many words but everyone agreed the resource was needed.
In response, ECA developed and launched ‘How to talk about early childhood education and care’ recently, which includes some examples of language that can be changed.
Simple changes include using words such as ‘children’ rather than ‘kids’ (we are not educating baby goats!); ‘experiences’ rather than ‘activities’; using respectful language such as ‘children with special rights’ instead of ‘children with additional needs’ or ‘children with a disability’.
It also means thinking about why the word ‘friends’ is so commonly used to group children when, as adults, we choose our friends. What are the underlying messages children receive from being grouped with people who are not necessarily their friends? And why are children in early childhood services called by the room they are in, rather than by their name?
While we may think these words are relatively harmless, they reflect an image and send a strong message. It’s important that we view children as individuals, rather than as just part of a group, and that this is made clear by our language.
Some of these phrases you may have heard before, others may be new; however as part of your reflective process we invite you to look at the bigger picture, and perhaps unpack your image of the child and think about the language you use every day.
Professional language is one way to advocate and begin the changes necessary to support the work we do every day. If we use this professional language every day with children, families and our community—in documentation, in conversations and embedded within frameworks—it will begin to catch on, the messages will get through, and more and more people will start using the same language without a second thought.
Educational leaders and mentors play a vital role in role modelling and challenging their colleagues to explore, reflect and use this terminology within all aspects of service life—this includes family day care and outside school hours care services. Ensuring unity of language across the sector stops confusion and makes a powerful—and essential—stand.
How can you use this resource?
As a discussion topic for a team meeting
Share it with families
Display it at your service
Include it in induction materials for new staff and practicum students
Provide a copy to visitors to your service such as community leaders and organisations
Watch the video below at the link below to hear how one service is using the resource with families and new staff.
Early Childhood Worker
Educator / Early Childhood Teacher
Service or Setting
Early Childhood Service
Sector / Profession
Early Childhood Australia (ECA) is a not-for-profit organisation that has been a voice for children since 1938. "Our vision is that every young child is thriving and learning. To achieve this, we champion the rights of young children to thrive and learn at home, in the community, within early learning settings and through the early years of school."
Originally published in Connected Caregiving Spring 2022