"Don't call me a babysitter." I'm an early childhood educator. Here's what I wish parents knew.

Growing up in regional NSW surrounded by a big family, Kristin Neason always enjoyed being around and looking after children.

"I was the family babysitter; the older cousin always wanting to play teachers and be the mother hen," Neason laughs.

"I didn't initially set out to fall into an early childhood role, but I started a traineeship because it was definitely an area of interest for me. 

Watch: Superwoman is dead. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

"The more I unpacked and learnt about the industry through the traineeship and the centre I was working in, the more I discovered that this was what I wanted to do. I could see that it was a career of lifelong learning and that I would make an impact in little people's lives."

While Neason could see the importance of working in the early education space, many people around her including friends, family, and even parents of kids at the centres she worked, were less enthused.

"People have this assumption that working in early education can't be 'that hard' because we 'just play' all day. I occasionally come up against that sort of attitude at a barbeque, but when I talk about evidence-based neuroscience and the importance of the first five years in kids' development, people stop and reflect as it's a game changer."


The judgemental comments she has received over the years about her work have ranged from the assumption she plays all day, to being a glorified babysitter. 

"I have had relatives tell me you couldn’t pay them all the money in the world to wipe other children’s snotty noses," Neason says.

"I recall being in a mother’s group with my second child Indy and being asked, 'How do you change nappies all day?' I replied by explaining that I am not sure why people see this as a chore and that changing a nappy is a rare opportunity to have a one-on-one interaction with an infant. It can be a moment to slow down and create a learning experience through playful interactions and relationship building." 

Kristin with friends at her graduation. Image: Supplied.


Neason says that some parents don't understand the importance of learning through play, while other parents know only too well.

"When collecting his child one afternoon, a dad made the comment that he 'would be sending us the dry cleaning bill'. A little puzzled I asked why, to which he replied, 'Tony comes home covered in mud every day!' We then engaged in a conversation about the benefits of play particularly in the mud pit and the mathematical and scientific concepts the child was being exposed to during this time. We were then on a mission to ensure that we shifted dad’s perception of play.

"[Equally], I have had a mother cry in the foyer begging me to enrol her son at the centre as she knew our team recognised the importance of early intervention and the impact this would have not only on him starting at school but outcomes later on in life."


She wishes parents and the wider community understood more about the rewards of working with children and how amazing it can be to teach them foundational life skills. 

"I still remember the moment we allowed the children to drink from glassware at meal times as opposed to using their plastic sippy cups," Neason says.

"One child was grinning ear-to-ear at me as he picked up and drank from the glass. I think because he was excited to use an adult utensil and also because he knew we trusted him enough to hold the glass.

Listen to Mamamia's parenting podcast This Glorious Mess. Post continues below.

"Another time I recall watching a little girl persist and struggle to make her bed. She didn't want any help, so rather than rush to do it for her, we allowed her the time and space to learn how to do it for herself. When she finally made her own bed, she was super excited. She then went to coach her friends on how to make their beds and she was so proud. 

"These little moments build resilience in kids and I love being there. It's a unique opportunity to be really present in the moment."

Neason is keen to highlight how rewarding a career in early learning can be, while encouraging more people to work in the sector to fill the extreme job shortage across Australia.


"If we don't have enough early educators and staff members, we have to turn away families from our centres. This has a huge impact on the national economic infrastructure.

"We have had a teacher role open here (in regional NSW) for 493 days and because we can't fill that job, we have had to hold 85 places across the week which impacts the whole community. We can't get doctors to the hospital, or fruit pickers to help farmers, because there's no care available for worker's kids - it's just this huge cycle and something has got to give." 

After an amazing 19-year career from working as a teenage trainee, to now being the State Operations Manager NSW/ACT for Goodstart, Kristin is super passionate about early learning.

Image: Supplied.


"Working in this industry is not just about changing lives and instilling a love of learning in children, but having an amazing career that has enabled me to travel around Australia and New Zealand while dabbling in all aspects of the business from marketing, human resourcing, operations and business management, to new centre start-ups, coaching and mentoring, facilitating workshops and advocacy work. 

"I honestly learn something new most days and it's very varied. 

"At the end of the day [in this industry] you are shaping the future generation. And I think there's a real sense of satisfaction in knowing that."

To find out more about available early education roles near you, visit Big Roles in Little Lives.

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Family Writer. For links to her articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

Feature Image: Supplied.

It can be tricky raising little humans and that’s why we want to hear from all Parents in this short survey. Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher!