Before joining Pyjama Drama, I was a childminder for eight years. I had previously worked in admin at a university in a job where I was bullied. It wasn't just me. This bully was pretty indiscriminate. I had my first baby, and I decided I couldn't go back. At a playgroup in a children's centre, one of the Family Support Workers said, 'Why don't you become a childminder.' I laughed and said, 'Well, let's see, maybe because I've got no experience of working with children? At all. And I’m pretty sure people won't give me their children’. 'Oh, they will’ she assured me, ‘Because you're nice and you're good with kids.'
I tried out the idea on other people, and unbelievably NOBODY laughed. To my surprise, everyone thought it was a great idea. And so I did the basic training course and registered as a childminder. And that lady was right; people DID give me their children. Dozens of them. I turned children away because I was full, a lot more than I accepted them. I had no experience and very few skills, but people trusted me because I found new confidence in making this decision for myself and taking autonomy over my own life.
I'm a graduate and I feel the need to intellectualise everything and so in a year or two, I gained Early Years Practitioner Status, the highest level general qualification in Early Years. I also gained a reputation for building confidence in young children. Children would arrive at my house who wouldn't speak all day. And children about to start school who couldn’t communicate their basic needs, who weren’t even able to answer a simple question like, 'Would you like an apple or a banana?' I had a one hundred per cent success rate with those children, who were soon able to start communicating effectively, and the Primary School teachers could hardly believe that these children had ever been unable to express themselves so recently. I had given them time, space and lots of opportunities to communicate and eventually they all did.
This experience has to lead me to believe that people are not born shy or confident. I'm not talking about overconfidence here. I'm talking about knowing what you can do, within a realistic assessment of your limitations, and being able to say, 'I can do this.' It's not an attribute. It's a skill. And given time and a safe space, you can practice until you are not shy. I've seen it.
Some children present shyness by refusing to talk to anyone, some run around and make silly noises, some just won’t stop talking. But it comes from the same root, a feeling of overwhelm that stops them, to quote Morrissey, ‘from doing all the things in life you’d like to.’
So why did I stop childminding to become a Pyjama Drama franchisee? Because I don't have to turn children away from anymore – on a daily basis, I can use Pyjama Drama classes to help children build their confidence in these so important early years. We start by smiling and waving back to Ali in the ‘hello song’, and we work up to creeping past the sleeping monster in his den in the park. There are endless opportunities to test your courage in our classes, and when the children have had that regular experience of being brave and knowing that feeling of pride that comes when you're so pleased with your efforts, they'll do it again in real life! And that’s when we begin to see results….
Of course, to enable these experiences, I know I’m asking parents to be brave as well. I will know, but your children won't, how much courage it takes to return next week when you brought the child that didn't speak to anyone. In the room where everyone else's child was happily playing and laughing, you may have to sit with your child while they process this crazy new world to which you've brought them. And this doesn't look like joining in, not in the beginning. You will be practising the skill that you're expecting your child to practice, and it won't be easy. I never said it was easy. So let's hear it for bravery in children and their parents, who might not have been in their own comfort seen zone in months, but who understand that if they can crack this one thing, they can help put their child on the right ttrack - for life!
Ali Wilkinson, Franchisee for Lancaster
To join a class in Lancaster, or to enquire about Ali visiting your nursery or school, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.