Men in Early Childhood Education: My Interview With Matthew Jeckavitch (aka MannyMatt)! by Mike Prochaska
Matthew Jeckavitch, from Gibsonia, Pa., is also known as “MannyMatt.” He started a placement agency for male nannies, Manny Matt & Company LLC. With over 20 years experience, Matt, who's also a 30Seconds contributor, shares some of his thoughts about men in Early Childhood Education!
Q. Where do you work or what age group?
“I have been in early childhood education for 20 years now so I have pretty much done it all. When I started in the field I was a school age summer camp counselor for the local YMCA then I worked my way into daycare where I was a toddler teacher for many years. From there I became a childcare director for nearly a decade with approximately 52 children ages 6 weeks through 6 years old and 12 to 15 staff members at any given time.
“I enjoyed the work I did for many years. Two years ago, I decided to switch gears and become a male nanny – a ‘manny’ for an amazing family with three children ages 2, 4 and 6. The parents are the nicest people and the children are very well behaved. It has been some of my most rewarding time in the field as these children are growing leaps and bounds with each passing day.
“On top of being a male nanny I started my own placement agency a year ago called MannyMatt & Company, LLC. In my free time I help local families find suitable caretakers for their children. I love that at the age of 37 I am still learning various sides of early childhood education.”
Q. What are the advantages of being a man in Early Childhood Education? What do men bring to the classroom?
“One major advantage of being a male in early childhood education is you have to constantly work harder to prove yourself to parents who are skeptical about males working with young children. I have never been less than my best working with my children, so I have had some of the most amazing lessons to prove that I belong in the field. Some of the people who doubted me the most when they first met me became my biggest supporters when I showed them what I was capable of doing with their children. As the years have passed I see these parents and children in the community and they still talk about the time we did x, y or z activity in our classroom. It’s such a great feeling to see one lesson had that much of an impact on their child.
“When it comes to what men bring to the classroom it’s simple – they bring a different viewpoint. Men and women can both come up with great ideas for their students, but I feel with males the approach can be different. My third year as a childcare director I had four male employees, all college students but not one was like the other. One was a musician, one was going to become a police officer, another was studying secondary education while the fourth male was studying business. Each one of their approaches with the students was different and they played into their talents very well when they did their lessons with the students. That was the most diverse group of staff I had ever experienced at a childcare center and the parents loved it. The program was a huge success that year.”
Q. Why is play important for children?
“Play is the greatest tool of early childhood education and most outsiders fail to recognize that. Play teaches items like self-control, social skills, critical thinking skills and a whole list of other necessary skills to help the child succeed when they enter school. Through play children get to explore the world in which they live and learn about themselves along the way. If an educator pays close enough attention they can get a glimpse of what the child may be like as an adult. How great is it that as educators we get to watch the foundation being laid on which the building blocks of learning will help shape and form the individual they may become?! It’s such a fascinating process!”
Q. What about outside play? Is it important?
“Outside play is essential for children. It gives children a chance to let their imagination run wild. One minute you may be using a branch to sweep up the playhouse and the next minute you may be using that branch to blast off to space to fight the aliens. Here in Pennsylvania we are fortunate enough to get the best of all four seasons. We take full advantage of that with nature walks, scavenger hunts, snowball fight and water play. It truly is wonderful teaching children here!”
Q. What is your favorite memory working with kids?
“After nearly 20 years in the field that is a tough one, there are so many! My most favorite memory was when I was a childcare director and decided to host a themed preschool graduation. We decked out the entire building like old Hollywood and the preschool graduates came in their finest outfits. We sang some fun songs and more traditional graduation songs, but it left the owner of the company speechless. I poured my heart into that production and it paid off big time. That theme ended up being circulated for the other locations within the company for the following three years.
“Another favorite memory I have is from both my time as director and my time as a male nanny. Each November we raise donations for local organizations – everything from food to clothing to toys to items for animal shelters. At the end of our donation drive we do a Native American/Pilgrim Day. We do activities like husking corn, weaving, making butter and learning all about the Native Americans and the Pilgrims. We have a teepee and a canoe for the kids to sit in and on and then at the end we share a meal together. It’s something I have been able to transition from the childcare center to being a male nanny. Now I invite friends from the preschool my children attend to join us for the activities. Each year I look forward to it as it teaches a valuable lesson about giving and making new friends.”
Q. What is your favorite book to read to your students?
“That’s easy – anything from Mercer Mayer. I think he is such a talented children’s author and has books that touch on so many great topics. I’m also a huge fan of ‘The Giving Tree’ by Shel Silverstein. I read it frequently to my children and have throughout the years because I love the message in it – it’s really the essence of who I am as an early childhood educator. I constantly teach about giving and helping one another. Life can be hard but if children learn empathy they will be better equipped to handle what comes their way.”
Q. Why should people go into the field?
“Honestly, because it’s the greatest job you will ever do! There’s nothing greater than watching a child take his or her first step, say your name for the first time or watch their face when they realize they grasped a concept you were teaching them like spelling their name. After nearly 20 years that feeling never gets old. It’s why I get up every morning, it’s why I love going to work when most people complain about going to work, it’s why at the end of the day I still have a smile on my face – it’s not because I’m leaving work-it’s because I know that I made a difference in that child’s life.”
Be sure to check out Manny Matt's Facebook blog!