By Sue Tiffin
Gord Hoenow has heard it all.
As a longtime early childhood educator, Hoenow has been privy to entertaining disclosures from toddlers and young children in his care for decades.
“Mommy said if I stop eating my boogies she’ll buy me a Barbie!”
“Mommy’s friend stayed over last night!” (Mommy is single)
“Daddy had to sleep on the sofa last night.”
And amid the hilarity of a child’s chatter, he has also experienced moments of quiet peacefulness as nap time at daycare comes to an end.
“Moments when a child or two wakens and you can just sit quietly with them and snuggle and talk,” said Hoenow. “It is a wonderful one-to-one time.”
These are some of the favourite memories Hoenow will take with him as he retires from working in education this month.
Hoenow began his work career as a portrait photographer, travelling throughout the province with his portable studio to retail spots including Stedmans, K-Mart and Woolworth stores for a week at a time.
“Most portraits were of children,” he told the Times. “As the years went on, I began to lose interest in the photography but had a knack for making children smile.”
In 1985, Hoenow said he began to look into that “daycare thing.”
Since then, he has worked in numerous daycare centres but looks back at his time spent at the centres operated by George Brown College in Toronto as being particularly meaningful.
“They were on the cutting edge of early childhood education in terms of philosophy,” he said. “I truly felt like I was working with all-stars. Professors, fellow ECEs, they had such high standards and they brought my teaching skills to a new level.”
After moving to Haliburton County, he began working at the Ontario Early Years Children’s Learning Centre in Minden.
“As supervisor, I had wonderful staff that embraced philosophies I had been taught, and the centre flourished, providing a loving and nurturing environment to children and families in our community,” he said.
He has been respected and loved in the community for many years by the kids he has cared for and the parents he has encouraged and supported.
Over that time, Hoenow said he has seen relatively few changes in the behaviours and attitudes of children and parents, but has observed throughout the years what works best for children.
“Children need to play. They need love. Want to know who the best teachers are? See who the child runs to when hurt or sad. See who has the most children around them. I have worked in and visited at least a hundred daycares in my career. The pretty room set-up or teacher-directed activity holds little value to the child or their family. The teacher that listens to and accepts every single child for their individuality is the one that will help the child develop. Not documentation placed for administrators or the ministry. It’s making the connection with the child. Each and every child. They may not be able to express it, but children know if you are genuine.”
Hoenow’s experience working in childcare has been treasured by him as well as the families he has cared for, and the importance of his work became especially clear during the pandemic.
“I have absolutely loved being given the opportunity by families to care for their children,” said Hoenow. “One of my first supervisors commented that, ‘we don’t take care of children, we support families.’ That had become clearly evident when daycares closed for six months early in the pandemic and families scrambled for child care. Of course, I absolutely love being with the children. To relive through their discoveries whether watching a spider on a ledge or jumping in a puddle is priceless.”
It has not, however, been a job without challenges.
“My biggest challenge has been without fail the Ministry of Education,” he said. “Demands, new regulations – effective or not – that are required to be implemented into child care programs almost always without support or guidance. Quite often program advisors (inspectors) had very little on-the-floor experience. Once, I had a parole officer conduct an annual inspection. I had difficulty accepting advice from pencil pushers and administrators with minimal hands-on experience.”
Currently working at Wee Care in Haliburton, giving notice on a career he has been passionate about for so long is not an easy change for Hoenow, but one he thinks is best for him at this time.
“I think I need to make the change because progression in child care still seems stagnant,” he said. “Ministries and daycare operators continue to make demands of staff without providing the necessary support and direction. More and more is demanded of frontline ECE’s and assistants. Yet, they are expected to attain these goals while at the same time making a salary comparative to a parking lot attendant in Toronto.”
He said he “truly wanted to stay in the field until I retire a few years from now.”
“Looking back, working with children has been my calling,” he said. “I know, 100 per cent, that I can walk into any daycare in the country tomorrow and begin to develop a relationship with the children by lunchtime. But the time has come.”
During the province’s initial lockdown when daycares were closed, Hoenow said he had a taste of retirement at that time and appreciated his interest in fixing things and “puttering around the house.” He has found work at a local resort close to home allowing him to pursue that interest.
“I will so miss the children,” he said. “Now, as I count down my last few weeks my heart strings tug as I get ready to say goodbye to my beautiful little friends.”