By CELA on 11 Jul, 2017

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?

Meet the author

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.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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