Adam the man

Adam Buckingham is one of only a handful of male early childhood education teachers in New Zealand. It has long been recognised that gender diversity is desirable in the formative years of early learning and development, yet 99% of all early education teachers are women. How did this situation come about?

Childcare work and nurturing is seen as a woman’s role and the reason why men are reluctant to work in this area. However, more and more fathers are single parents and are involved in the day to day care of children. There is no doubt that women are doing an excellent job, but the feminisation of early childhood centres has been a barrier to the involvement of fathers.

Women are regarded as safe to care for young children, whereas men are seen as potentially risky. Also low pay and status has been cited as deterrents to men entering the occupation. Men are more likely to be the primary wage earner and need to support a family. However, this situation is improving, and an early childhood teacher at level 3 is on a par with a farmer, graphic designer or fire-fighter.

Adam the Teacher
Adam started off as a truck driver. Then about ten years ago, was floored by a serious illness brought on by exposure to methyl bromide being used to fumigate a container. That put and end to truck driving, and Adam cast around for a new career. Interestingly, all early childhood men teachers are on a second career. He had been a boy scout and had participated in several church youth groups and liked the idea of working with young people. Adam enrolled in AUT to study early childhood education, obtaining a B of Ed. Adam says “If it wasn’t for Joanne, I would not have been able to do it” Joanne, Adam’s wife, a pharmacist, supported him for the three years in university. Adam is currently working as a relieving kindergarten teacher in the city.

“My passion is teaching” says Adam. “I enjoy helping children to extend their knowledge. Being a teacher gives me the opportunity to help children understand new meanings, concepts and facts. I provide a male influence for children; 30 to 40% of children in one parent families have no man closely involved in their lives. I have experienced evidence of this a number of times, and on one occasion a child said to their mother ‘this is my new dad’.”

“As a man working in a profession that must be a nurturing one, through my presence and actions I challenge the images of men as aggressive, powerful, unemotional and one-dimensional . Children ask me to be involved in their play and talk to me as though I am one of them. I notice that they closely watch my body language and actions. Children new to the centre often watch me comfort another child until they get used to the sight of a man comforting children.”

“As a man, I can bring a different perspective to problems and issues at a centre. I can expose sexism in a centre’s environment, such as a lack of activities to challenge boys. A man can bring a balance by incorporating more activities such as carpentry and other masculine trades. Give a couple of kids a brace and bit and they can make a sizable hole in a tree stump! Some fathers wouldn’t even know what a brace and bit is.

“As a male teacher I am more physically active and boisterous, and more involved in outdoor play. I run around outside with the children and they like to play touch rugby with me.” Adam has even made camp fires for the children to make toast, something they had never enjoyed before. He sometimes grows a beard just to show the boys how men shave.

Adam the Handyman
Adam is also a qualified Montessori teacher. Dr. Maria Montessori was the first early childhood teacher, who in the early 1900’s developed the philosophy that education was not so much about handing on knowledge, but that children constructed their knowledge from experiences in the world. Adam has built on this concept with his activity centres.

Adam, using handyman skills passed on from his father, recycles solid waste into equipment for young children. The activity centres are a cubed box standing below waist height, with one blank wall, one facing wall with the objects attached, one wall with an oval opening, and the fourth side is open. Attached are a tap, door handle, mobile phone and light switch, and other bits and pieces. It is portable and washable, made from MDF covered with melamine. The activity centres provide a link with familiar objects that the child can handle and explore. Taps are favourite.

Another popular activity centre is the “bus” or “car”. It consists of a steering wheel on an upright piece of wood attached to a bench seat. Each object has many uses and movements, and the children experiment with them and enjoy discovering how things work and what they do.

Funding has been received from the New Zealand local government councils, enabling Adam to make hundreds of new activity centres. This funding has enabled them to be affordable and some are given away free. This work has enabled Adam to build a rapport with men, involving them in the children’s learning through helping to obtain resources. Businesses and individuals provide waste timber, paint, old taps, mobile phones, wheels and so on.

Adam runs workshops on engaging fathers and male teachers working in early childhood. Speaking engagements keep Adam busy all over New Zealand, and also in the USA.

Adam the Father
Joanne and Adam have two children, son Clay aged six and Ellie nearly two. The children are blessed with Adam’s toy making skills, and the house is an Aladdin’s cave, full of toys, activity centres, posters and books.

Adam’s passion is to get more fathers into early childhood education. He starts by organising a father – son event at the children’s centre. Most fathers recognise that they have a responsibility and special role with boy’s growth to manhood. Father-daughter events can be just as popular.

Adam says that kids love playing games with dads (or father figures). Children are the most effective recruiters – they provide the best reason for dads to be involved and will motivate their chosen father figure to attend.

Adam – The Man and His Mission
If you would like to contact Adam or learn more about early childhood education visit schoolnet.co.nz

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