The “Nordic outdoor vibe” is being credited for attracting men in the Highlands to a new course aimed at improving the gender balance among those looking after Scotland’s nursery-age children.
Men from a range for backgrounds – from bar tenders to bank workers and even a senior school pupil – have signed up for the Men and Childhood Practice 12-week fast-tracked evening course which has just started at Inverness College in the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Those successfully completing the course, which can also be done by video conferencing, are guaranteed an interview for the university’s HNC Childhood Practice course in August.
Forest kindergartens, the core feature of childcare in Nordic nations such as Finland, Norway and Sweden, sees youngsters spend the majority of their day exploring. Their use is proving a hit with new applicants.
Scandinavian countries have set targets of around 20 per cent for male childcare workers. However, only 4 per cent of childcare workers are men, and the Highlands is a region where men have been traditionally reluctant to consider the profession.
Scotland is facing a childcare shortage with the Scottish Government estimating that 11,000 (up to 9,000 full-time equivalents) childcare workers are needed from August 2020 to meet its commitment to provide 30 hours of free childcare to eligible two, three and four-year-olds.
Ewan McCreath, 29, from Inverness, a full-time bar tender who has joined the course, said: “A while back I worked with Ayr United Football Academy as a general assistant at their Easter and summer camps for children, being outside and playing five-a-side.
“What attracts me to a career in childcare is the whole variety of it but especially the ‘outdoor classroom’ forest kindergarten idea and getting the chance to show them that there’s so much to experience outside. I like to show children the way things can be configured differently, from building a den from sticks to developing a sense of adventure and exploration.”
McCreath added: “But a lot of men I know wouldn’t want to do a course like this, there’s a macho thing that they would worry about how they were perceived.”
Julie Jones, co-lecturer and programme coordinator, said: “With the new access hours for childcare starting in 2020, outdoor space will be used as a classroom. This aspect is definitely attracting men who have worked in areas like forestry or construction and don’t want to be just stuck indoors.
“It could well be that men might be more risk-averse because they’ve had more experience of being outdoors.”
Jones added: “Not all children have a positive role model in their lives. Having men in childcare balances this out.
“I’ve worked with men in childcare and they tend to have a more relaxed, laid-back approach without preconceived ideas.
“Women are more focused on getting the job done.”
The Scottish Funding Council has awarded £23,600 from the Men in Early Years Challenge Fund for the course.