‘The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.’

This poem from William Ross Wallace reminds us of the power of a mother as she influences her child’s development. The science of brain development shows a clear connection between positive early experiences and later success in life. But it is not only parental relationships that impact on children in this way. Numerous research studies confirm for us that educators make a difference in the lives of the children in their care not only in the present, but also long into the future. So, this quotation might also refer to Early Childhood Educators who play a pivotal role in the lives of young children during these formative years.

Now that we have a greater understanding of the complexity of working with young children, this brings higher expectations of educator professionalism. The value of Degree level qualification is being increasingly recognised within the sector. Indeed, the commitment in First 5 is to achieve a graduate-led workforce by 2028. Again, confirming the central importance of the role of the adult in achieving quality in provision of ECEC.

In my experience watching ECEC professionals as they progress from nervous First Year students to experienced Graduates, the positive impact of study on educator’s knowledge and practice is clear to see. These students bring with them valuable life-experiences, enthusiasm, passion for the sector, and a burning desire to reach, and show to the world, their full potential. The shared enthusiasm for learning and discovery is inspirational.

As a Lecturer I witness reciprocal sharing of ideas and experiences, active participation in problem-solving activities, and critical consideration of the different facets of quality in ECEC. Degree level study includes classes on early childhood philosophies, educational strategies, and a sophisticated understanding of children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development, but they cover so much more than that. Degree level study provides learning experiences, including both professional and personal development, which enable students to become not only reflective practitioners, but pedagogical leaders, and potentially life-changers. The formation of individual professional identity that takes place as educators learn and grow is wonderful to behold. This also impacts directly on children and their right to quality early learning experiences. The value that graduates bring to the sector – their knowledge, confidence, and professional autonomy – has a very direct impact on the lives of children. The knowledge gained at Degree level supports children in their role as natural scientists and innovators, testing ideas and evaluating results. This knowledge enables educators to challenge children’s thinking, using dialogue to encourage exploration and reflect on outcomes. It enables them to encourage children to think deeply, using meaningful exploration to facilitate development. Working at this level of understanding and intentionality requires caring, well-trained educators, confident in their abilities and passionate about the well-being of the children in their care. When the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand of a skilled educator, the children themselves are the winners.

Author Dr. Mary O Kane