Values in Early Childhood Education


A recent experience brought to my attention the role our values play in our work as early childhood educators. Some choices we make in choosing our work and in the practice of our profession may not align with our core values about early childhood education. These choices create questions about our role as an educator and may foster tension about where we fit into our field. 

In the book, In Dialog with Reggio Emilia, Amelia Gambetti defines values as, “the ideals that a person aspires to in his or her life, which act as a point of reference in our judgements and conduct and according to which we conform (or not) in our relations with the social group of reference.” We are invited as educators and individuals to make choices about what we believe in and then are asked to interact with the world while trying to be true to our beliefs and act accordingly. But the world may or may not conspire with us in our chosen values, this is the resistance. The resistance is not an intentional act, but the byproduct of us being humans.

Whether we are thinking about it during quiet times alone, talking to a colleague, or presenting in front of a group of professionals there is always some resistance to our values. This is because we are all different and possess different experiences and influences that we bring to our common human connection. Our values may not change often, but the context in which they are implemented changes frequently depending on the person, place, or thing we are interacting with.

What if we are not sure about our values in education, how do we as educators discover what we value in our practice?

Our values are grown through experience and professional development. Our work with children is our main source of professional development and has a great influence on how our values are defined. The varied situations and questions that we encounter when working with children and families help shape what we value, as our strongest values are formed in relation with others.

Our values provide the foundation for us as educators to build ourselves and our practice. Our words, thoughts, and actions are an outward demonstration of our values. As educators, we are members of the community that are seen and heard, so our choices of how we share our values reflect what we want to see in the world. If we share the values we believe in through our actions when working with children, then those values become the seeds that help to grow the next generation of people and our community.

Once we arrive at a set of values, do they change over time?

Yes, our values will change as we engage in our work. Part of our practice as educators is to be a researcher. If we are taking notes, journaling, and creating documentation these are important experiences that help us see where we are in our practice and offer insights to where we are going. Often the road ahead in our journey as an educator develops from a shift in values as we learn more about ourselves and our profession.

When thinking about our values, the ideals we hold dear, we have a few choices to make. We can choose to make our values about others, or we can blend our values into our experience in the moment. Does this mean we are giving up our values? No, we are recognizing that our work with children is done for the sake of the moment, and our values are a part of the experience not the whole experience.

This type of thinking reveals a different type of value, intrinsic value. Defined in Webster’s as, “The value that a thing has in itself or for its own sake, or in its own right.” This is as important as what we think or feel we need to share about our values. Our values are with us and never leave us but there exists a balance between sharing them and relating to the moment at hand.

This is the lesson I learned recently. The values we hold are not compromised by being part of the moment at hand where all true living exists. The past is gone, and the future is unknown, but the joy and fullness of life rests in the moment we are in with the children. Instead of our values becoming a hinderance to the richness of life they can become the fuel that reveals life to us, as we share our true selves with others.

How do your values shape your work with young children?