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With all due respect… what’s professional about pyjamas? A new provocation from Molly Rhodin

Keep Calm PJ Days
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With all due respect…

This is how our latest guest writer Molly Rhodin began a Facebook post last weekend on the giant, public, EYLF/NQF Ideas and Discussions group.

Molly questioned the early childhood service ‘institution’ of PJ Day, an event allowing educators and children to attend wearing their pyjamas.  Particularly popular in winter time, PJ Day is sometimes connected to fund-raising events for charities such as hospitals or homeless shelters but often exists in its own right, ‘for fun’.

Read on for Molly’s expanded version of her original post and add your thoughts to the 400 or so comments* her provocation has already gathered:

What’s the place of pyjama day in an professional, inclusive and respectful program for children?

Molly Rhodin

*While Molly is the prime author of this piece, she felt that the voices of educators who had already commented on her public Facebook post deserved to be heard. We have threaded relevant quotes through her provocation, below, including minimal identification to distinguish them as individuals. Minor edits in grammar may have been made to convert Facebook grammar shortcuts to Amplify’s written style.

Molly the stirrer

So far this winter I have counted 17 services in south eastern Australia holding a PJ Day which has no obvious local context or connection to fundraising. There are probably many more. As a consultant, a trainer, and an early childhood teacher, I found myself wondering what is the intention for such adult directed days. What is the learning? As I raised this question in person with some of the services the answer was often, ‘We do it this way every year’.

Genuinely curious to see if this was as widespread as it seemed, I posted a short, admittedly provocative, question about it on one of the largest social media groups for Australian educators, answered the first few comments then turned to other things.

Later at the supermarket my phone started buzzing with messages from friends interstate and overseas asking if I had seen the ruckus my post had caused. ‘You’re a stirrer, Molly’, one said, and of course they were right: but we all need a stir now and then, don’t we?

We have made some enormous gains in curriculum, quality and care, however, sometimes we just have to relax and have some spontaneity. We sadly can get caught up in justifying and documenting everything we do and stop ourselves from educating from the heart . Good on you for raising this issue , it’s a topic that warrants discussion. M1 – Facebook

if it’s just for 100% fun then hey that’s great, but as an industry that is trying to be taken more seriously as professionals by the government especially in the way of wage increases then shouldn’t we be looking at linking [PJ Day] to a more tangible cause? M2 – Facebook

Stereotyping and other visual messages

Do you think there could be mixed messages for children? What are we really doing? Are we supporting the pyjama manufacturing industry and highlighting gender branding with what they wear? By making clothing the feature are we encouraging the children to compare the motifs on their outfits in a way that we wouldn’t (shouldn’t) any other day.
And how are we building our relations with families and connecting with our communities on a day like this?
What is the actual purpose? Just asking.

It’s fun… you DON’T have to be a textbook teacher EVERY DAY… makes me question, are kids really having “fun” now at daycare/preschool? L1 – Facebook

It’s an area of children’s clothing where gender stereotyping is at its strongest… a quick glance at that section next time you’re in a store will illustrate what I mean. These are not so subtle ways of perpetuating these boxes for children and their parents. P – Facebook


If the answer is ‘fun’, have you reflected on this concept lately?
Fun for who, and for what learning?

As a sector increasingly wanting to raise our profile, wages, and conditions, I ask you: when was the last time you had your hair cut or visited your doctor or at at a restaurant on their PJ day? If they were dressed up in some way, I bet it was for a reason.

Restaurants and hair dressers don’t do story book dress up days or other dress up days either… We do because it encourages dramatic play, a sense of belonging, promotes identity…V – Facebook

Our PJ day was for Asthma Awareness day for young children. We raised money and educated the children in this area, which I feel is a very worthy and important cause as some of the children in our room suffer from this. Now all the children know why they may need to use a puffer sometimes. T – Facebook

How much do you really observe?

When I posted this question to Facebook I deliberately left out some of the context of my personal reflection, mostly because I wanted people to focus on the question of professionalism and inclusion rather than argue the merits of individual cases.  But in this longer reflection I will share that, in my travels around SE Australia during PJ Day season, I had also come across these stories:

  • a service where several educators who normally wore their distinctive and culturally connected clothing to work joined in with PJ Day for the sake of the children but felt enormously uncomfortable to be wearing – for them – highly inappropriate outfits outside the home.
  • a mother who quietly explained her son’s lack of pyjamas as that he had wet the bed overnight and had no other warm PJs which fit him: ‘I was hoping to wait until next winter to get a bigger pair’, she said. Her little boy was both disappointed to miss out and embarrassed to be in day clothes.

Honestly I hate PJ day. I find it very uncomfortable and usually buy new ones just for work. I only participate because I’m told to BUT I do see how much the children enjoy it. K – Facebook

I’m an educator but also a parent … both of my children are ASD, my son especially does not cope well with changes in routine. Dress up days/fun days like this cause him huge anxiety which gets bottled up till he gets home. Just another thought to consider when planning these sort of days. M3 – Facebook

Molly the sad sack

A lot of people on the Facebook group argued very strongly that there was too much emphasis on learning.  I was a ‘sad sack’ who was over-analysing a day that was really just for fun. Isn’t it fun to work with children? Isn’t it part of what we do? Someone even posted a link to a Spongebob Squarepants song about fun to help explain the concept – thank you, I enjoyed it very much!

I’m all for fun (ask anyone who’s ever been with me at the end of a long conference day), but I’m all for professional respect, children’s voices and inclusion too. I wonder how we can be so certain that the people around us are really having as much fun as we are (also, equally, my apologies to anyone hearing me sing at the end of a long conference day!)

What? Can’t we just have fun anymore for the sake of having fun? … Talk about the fun police. B1 – Facebook

Fun is a bit of a loaded word actually…when we are taught to do observations and planning we are taught to not put our own thoughts or emotions into the observation – ‘the children had fun’ versus ‘the children laughed together during this activity’.  Fun is one of those emotional words but do we have a right to label the emotion on behalf of everyone when we aren’t the only one experiencing it? C – Facebook

It comes down to inclusion

So who decides what fun is for other people?  Many people responded that children and families requested PJ Day every year and that their service was responding to their wishes.  How universal are those requests, however, and how many options are children given for the way they participate?

Inclusion doesn’t have to mean that everyone is in lock-step and performing the same activity in the same way.  Inclusion is just as much about choices as access.  So to me, an inclusive PJ Day would be one that offered children and families and educators a range of ways to participate.  If you don’t want to wear pyjamas, for example, wear whatever you like, or bring in your favourite book to share, or an object that is special to you. Choices should be as natural as breathing.

If you can consider your decisions from every angle and conclude that it is worthwhile for whatever reason and that no child will be disadvantaged by the decision then you can confidently go ahead. The harm comes from refusing to reflect. True reflection is what makes us professional. L2 – Facebook

For example we had PJ day last week and one child came and the parent had forgotten, so I got down and said the child, that’s ok, some people don’t wear PJs to bed. My colleague came wearing a fairy dress and not PJs. And that was fine too. M3 – Facebook

Perceptions matter, don’t they?

I’m very aware that there are bigger issues for us to tackle, but I also don’t think you can disconnect events like PJ Day from other people’s perception of us as ‘babysitters‘ rather than professional educators and advocates for children, families and communities.

We are privileged to work with young children and in an environment that is probably more often fun than not, and certainly far more fun than any given day in an accounting practice, a department store or a fast food restaurant. The flip side of that privilege is that some people don’t think you should be paid just to have fun, so are we feeding their bias when we claim fun as our ‘right’?

Just a thought. As an educator, imagine trying to have a serious and professional discussion with a parent wearing your pyjamas? B2 – Facebook

I’ve had parent/teacher interviews in my pjs. What I say and know far outweighs what I look like or wear. At least, I certainly hope so! K2 – Facebook

When other workplaces, including schools, have themed days they are inevitably for a bigger cause: the fun is connected to awareness of others who need our support.  Accountants might have a cupcake morning tea for cancer research, a department store might issue funny hats and badges to staff asking customers to donate to a cause, or a sports star might show to meet the local McDonald’s staff and sell burgers to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House Charity.

Fun-raising can be fund-raising

It was great to see so many respondents to my post pointing to the Asthma Foundation’s pyjama-themed fundraiser and causes such as SIDS or foster families. Quality outcomes and, yes, fun, can be achieved while also building awareness of broader issues in the community.  My post, though, was sparked by the number of services hosting a PJ Day with no connection to any broader awareness, community relationships or fund raising activity.

Childhood is a magical time that can never be compared to what may or may not happen in the ‘adult’ world. Our sector is very lucky to be part of this special window of time. So providing the children find the magic in it and enjoy it, who are we to stop it? C3 – Facebook

Everything can be linked to a program if it is an interactive activity that is based on purposeful conversations and language development with the children. B3 – Facebook

PJ day for us is to raise tinned and package donations for the homeless [we discuss] those who don’t live in houses like we do and who don’t have cooked meals, warm bed, nice clothes etc. D – Facebook

 

So finally, here I am, still reflecting, still absorbing other views, and, now, poking the hornet’s nest on Amplify! instead of Facebook to ask even more educators:

What’s the place of pyjama day in an professional, inclusive and respectful program for children?

 

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Molly Rhodin

Molly Rhodin is an 'outside the circle' thinker, consultant, teacher and trainer. Proudly involved in the early education and care sector for nearly 30 years, she has worked in every service category in many roles including teaching and executive leadership. Molly has ridden, challenged, adapted and created waves of change affecting practice at all levels. Known for her practical, energetic and highly entertaining teaching, Molly now creates and inspires hundreds of educators and leaders every year through her consultancy and resource service, Down to Earth Practical Solutions.

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12 thoughts on “With all due respect… what’s professional about pyjamas? A new provocation from Molly Rhodin

  1. Our centre is in the middle of a struggle Street like area with parent from a low sociology economical dynamic .
    Many of our children are picked up every day in their pjs !!
    They ask us why we don’t wear ours to work constantly do one day of the year they are the same as us . They giggle at the choices of patterns in others and celebrate in their friends cuddling up together in the warmth of the rooms . Many of these children don’t have a routine so to just be spontaneous and break the norms for us is supportive and reflective of familiar norms eg Mums still in pjs half the day too.
    Saying this much like superheroes day and footy colours day we can let the barriers down and as for asd kids not liking to dress up perhaps by not saying they have to even get changed before they get in the bus is one less struggle for many kids to go through !!
    We half nearly a 40% asd centre where these children are fixated by characters on their pjs and their pjs are their favourite thing . For four and s half years they are permitted to have no boundaries in comparison to next year when prep are told make sure you wear the white socks with the black shoes and the brown bobby pins etc
    Let them play let them learn let them pj let them be !!

    1. Danielle, thank you for your response.

      Your service sounds like you have rich relationships with children and families and this is embraced and celebrated. I appreciate the focus on agency and ‘just being’ as I am sure the children do too.

      It is refreshing to hear some very proactive and proud comments.

      Thank you,

      Molly

  2. This year I celebrate my 37th year as an early childhood teacher. So I remember way back in the 1980s when EC was a much smaller sector many services started introducing ‘silly days’ like pyjama day as a way to combat the mid year blues. The psychological importance of having ‘winter festivals’, which are becoming more popular and mainstream in Australian culture, has a long history. I put pyjama day in this category. Like any event, days like this need to be thoughtfully planned, entirely optional and effectively evaluated. We also need to remember that we are concerned with both education AND CARE. Thinking about the emotional well being of children, families and staff is just as important as other more educational considerations and does not make us less professional. Professionalism is not just in what we do but the way we do it.

    1. Maree,

      You brought memories back of the early days of my career too. There were no such terms like sunsafe, nut free, egg free, social justice, or even pedagogy.

      You have nailed it. Professionalism is not just in what we do, but the way we do it.

      Thanks for your reflections and reply, much appreciated.
      Molly

  3. I find this article very fitting as I read it before going off to work in an OSHC today. Today is our pyjama day and I will probably be the one staff member not wearing pyjamas. I personally agree that it’s not very professional. To me it’s different than dressing up with children, wearing pyjamas is for the home.

    1. Hi Emma,

      I wonder what conversations may occur at your OSHC service today around PJ’s.

      Personal choice? Inclusion?

      Thanks for your reflection and comment.

      Molly

  4. Thanks for the provocation Molly. I’ve shared it with the team and am looking forward to the ensuing discussion.
    Pyjama Day is another example of practices that are sometimes so embedded that we forget to be critically reflective about them.

  5. I’ve worked in a lot of services where pyjama day is often offered as a one-off, ‘fun’ day, but I’ve also experienced the children who don’t have fun at all. The children who don’t have pyjamas, or who are sent in their ‘regular’ pyjamas as opposed to other children in items bought for the day, and the disparity to the children is really obvious. As a plus-sized person as well, I find it more challenging, and feel the need to purchase new pyjamas each time, so that I can be sure that they fit snugly enough to not reveal anything they shouldn’t, and I also tend to wear clothes underneath as pj fabrics tend to be more sheer. Let’s not start on the educators who miss the mark and come in much more revealing garments than common sense would dictate.

  6. Thank you Molly for raising this issue for all to reflect on. This is a day that I’ve always been uncomfortable with, having advocated for so long for educators in early childhood to be seen in a professional way by the broader community. It’s so important to also reflect on how this day impacts on all who are obliged to join in but who are uncomfortable with it.
    What I would like to see is more critical thinking about why we ‘do’ these days, are they meaningful to the children, staff and families and is there a better way to achieve our goals.

    Thank you again for your courage to voice a question for reflection because in the in FB forum you need to gird your loins against the objectors….. and I am not sure if I could handle the responses! Keep stirring,

    Cheers
    Jeanette

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