Men in Early Childhood Education: My Interview With Montessori Teacher Joe Campbell by Mike Prochaska
Joe Campbell, from Sebastopol, Calif., currently works for a Montessori Services. He started working in this field when he was only 15 years. Not only is he a great teacher, he a involved dad who uses the skills he learned in the education field with his daughters!
Q. How did you get into Early Childhood Education?
"I have always been involved in education, through my family’s business and the local and extended educational community. Growing up my school teachers were family friend’s and we often passed time together outside of school. Being homeschooled during high school afforded me the opportunity to work in the Montessori school where I grew up. I think I was fifteen when my former teacher purchased that school. He asked if I wanted to come to work one day a week. The opportunity just fell in my lap."
Q. What advantages do men have in early childhood education?
"I think men bring a lot of value to early childhood education. Some men are really good at horseplay and having fun. Other men are good at modeling sensitivity to children. I think it is really important for children to know there are sensitive men in this world. Men have unique perspectives and strengths."
Q. Where do you work or what age group?
"When I worked at the school it was with children age 3 to 15 and there were four or five different classrooms divided by age groups. I worked in the different classrooms as an assistant, I worked morning and evening care, I worked during vacation time camps and also all around the school fixing stuff as needs arose."
Q. Why is play important for children?
"Because it is fun. You have to have fun! Children learn through play. Words are more easily absorbed by a child if they are engaged in an activity and are moving their body. If you have fun you are more likely to listen and consider things someone else says. Play is a great time to model behaviors you might wish for the child to emulate."
Q. What about outside play is it important?
"Freedom, nature, independence, fresh air. I can think of so many reasons why outside play is important. I like to discover mysteries of nature and dig in the dirt."
Q. What is your favorite memory working with kids?
"I started working there at such a young age I was pretty much the oldest kid at the school. I was basically a human jungle gym. The kids would climb on me. They were always full of smiles, but sometimes they had to let a little physical energy out and I was glad I could be there for them. Some of those kids were dropped off early in the morning and picked up late in the afternoon. That is a long day for a child with no one to jump on, and climb on and feel and touch. I believe these are pretty basic human needs, but especially for children growing up I think they need the warmth of another human being.
"Sometimes the kids would get a little aggressive and I wish I had developed more skills to teach them about discipline, but after we 'roughhoused' they always seemed mellower, and I always felt good about exercising patience when they did cross the line a little bit. There were a few wild times, in fact sometimes I felt intimidated when a bunch of the kids would pile on me and bring on the horseplay. I always recognized that I was the older and stronger person, and I always smiled my way through it. The kids followed my lead. I don’t think it ever got out of hand."
Q. What is your favorite activity to do with your kids?
"With my children I try to have fun. These days we play badminton, basketball and other sports. Sometimes we work in the garden and we like to cook together."
Q. What about roughhousing with kids? Do you allow kids to roughhouse or as some people call it big "body play?"
"Yes, I do. I enjoy watching my older daughters roughhouse with their friends and do whatever they do. They still get a lot of hugs and occasional foot massages. With my youngest, who is now 9, I have developed a pretty awesome thing I call 'fight training,' which is pretty much focused roughhousing.
"We have always done acrobatics and horseplay, but after a rough cross country move and some family instability a few years ago, she was having difficulty developing inhibition and control of her body. It wasn’t anything too serious, but she was hitting with some of her friends at school and her sisters at home. Sometimes she would be rough with me. I started taking her outside to 'fight.'
"At first she was just coming at me ferociously. I was a little nervous because I know that raging can increase if it is encouraged, and I was encouraging her. But I was also keeping it very positive with a lot of smiles. I was letting her get out all that physical energy, but also reinforcing; fair rules, the meaning of stop and no, and the need for both parties to be willing to participate in the activity.
"When we are 'fighting' we discuss when it might be appropriate for her to use these skills. When I first started encouraging 'fight training' she would start roughhousing and hitting immediately. Since then have trained her to ask if I want to fight, to stand before me and do a fist bump before we start, and to stop if I say 'uncle.' Now she totally respects 'no' and 'stop.' She is developing an advanced understanding of when it is appropriate to fight. She is going to grow up to be confident that she can avoid many risks and defend herself if need be. A while back she got home from school and came running, asking if I would fight with her. I told her I really wanted to fight, but it wasn’t a good time and asked if we could do it later. She was like, 'OK.' That is the dynamic I want to keep with her."
Q. What are your feelings on risky play?
"Children need to learn about taking risks. The more they learn about risks as children, I believe the less they will make risky decisions as adults. Part of the work I do now is selling practical life supplies to teachers. That includes selling sharp knives that are destined to be in the hands of 3- and 4-year-olds. Everyone who uses a knife has cut themselves. Children are no different. But at a young age the can develop skills that will last a lifetime. If I give a young child a sharp knife it comes with the expectation that it will only be used in the kitchen, to chop a vegetable on a cutting board. I don’t just hand it to them and tell them to go run and play. They do need instruction and supervision. We need to use common sense -- there are some risks we must protect children from. But we cannot protect children from all risks. We can only teach them to respect and navigate them."
Q. Anything inspiring to tell anyone thinking of going into this field?
"Open your heart to the children. It will be worth every tear. If you can make a difference in the life of a child, I believe it is the right thing to do."