The professional role of an early years practitioner is extraordinarily complex and demanding, and a full job description would be daunting to the faint-hearted and unprepared. The job requires skill and knowledge about child development and learning, play and all the other arenas for learning, how to stimulate and challenge, how to work as part of a team, designing interior and outdoor spaces, how to engage with parents and how to work with other agencies. The list goes on.
Some qualities, though, are beyond the reach of study and qualifications. Being a warm and caring person who can offer a child an emotional base is a core requirement, and it's true that no certificate can guarantee that. There is another aspect of working with young children which can't be pinned down in a competence, but which defines for me what is special about being with babies and young children.
The experience of being fully aware in the present moment is something that students of Eastern disciplines may seek through years of dedicated practice and meditation. They are learning to let go of limiting preconceptions and to receive sensations with a vibrant freshness, unclouded by habits of how they usually view the world. Babies and young children don't always have the opportunity to experience the world in this way, when physical or emotional discomforts get in the way. But when all is otherwise well they can enter a state of quiet alertness which reminds me of a meditation master. They often show a capacity to be fully present which many of us have lost.
The most important role of the adult is to tune into children. That means meeting a child openly, honestly and with mindful attention in the current moment, which is where relationships and learning happen. Children recognise when someone is joining them with respectful attention and without judgement, and then we are invited to meet them in the space of the child's awareness. That is a true gift, and a great privilege of working in the early years.