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Childhood, Play, Risk
A few weeks ago I watched my youngest navigate the climbing structure at a local playground. She is 2.8years and is known in our family as the “wild child.” She is adventurous and risk taking and way more capable than people  (including me sometimes) give her credit for. 

As she approached this climbing structure, she quietly assessed it. She looked for the lowest point to be able to pull herself up. She moved herself around the bottom of the structure before climbing higher and higher. 

At the end of the video you hear her ask for help and while the mum in me naturally wanted to rush over and lift her down, I fought the urge and instead offered her some suggestions to help herself. She was pretty chuffed with herself when the suggestion to reach out for the other rope worked and she got down by herself! 

Children need to be given opportunities to risk assess, to make choices, to ask for help if they need it.. 

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Advocacy, Childhood, Pedagogy, Professionalism


This week is photo week at my daughters preschool. Getting the little envelope home and reading the instructions reminded me of the organisation involved during photo week.

I remember how difficult it is to keep everyone “clean” until their photo is taken.

I remember the parents who hung around longer, giving photo taking directions to the photographer.

I remember the children who cried because they didn’t want their photograph taken. 

I remember the projects that were interrupted for the week. 

I remember the challenge of getting everyone in the group photograph (including staff!). 

It sounds as though I don’t have many positive memories of photo week. Well, that’s almost true. After the first few years of the above torture, we secured a photographer who loved being in our service, who understood that the children would rather be playing and accommodated that, who embraced the fact that we were all a little imperfect – with bare feet and dirt on our faces. He took time to show the children how the camera worked, answered their endless questions.

But despite his awesome-ness, it was still an interruption to PLAY! 

No matter how hard he worked to keep it fun, lighthearted and enjoyable (it mostly was!) it was still not part of our normal life (which pretty much equated to playing). Now maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Sometimes something new or different can provide a new experience or insight that transfers over into the children’s play, the exposure to a different way of doing or being, inspiring conversations, wonder and playful unpacking of ideas. 

The point of writing this is not to suggest that we don’t have photo week (after all, as someone who takes >100 photos a day, I am a big believer in documenting life and making memories through a lens) but I think it is something we need to give more thought to. In the words of the amazing Lisa Murphy (coming to Australia for Inspired EC in February by the way!): What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who are you doing it for?  


One year, we were unable to get our beloved photographer out and had to use a different company. We went with a big, well-known company and were largely disappointed. The process was cold, clinical and it showed in the photographs. There was no playfulness with the children and it simply was a production line. If that was the experience we had on a regular basis, I am almost certain we would have ditched the concept altogether!

I mentioned all of the things that I remembered earlier and noted that they were largely negative. I want to end on a positive. 

T was about 5 years old and had been diagnosed with Autism. She was a loving, playful child, but the idea of sitting down to have her photograph taken (by a relative stranger no less) was too much for her. At mum’s request, the photographer tried. But he quickly realised that she was uncomfortable and was not going to “co-operate”. He asked me if it would be okay to let her have a play outside and see if he could catch a candid shot. He spent over half an hour with her, building a rapport with her as she climbed up and down the slide. And just like that, she sat at the top of the slide, gave him a big grin and he captured the perfect memory of her at preschool. It was so fitting. And when her mum saw the photograph, she cried. It was the first photo she had of her smiling directly at the camera. 

As I said before, perhaps if you have a great photographer like we had, you will reflect on the process and decide that while it does interrupt the normal flow of play, the positives (for children, for families and for educators) were worth it. But perhaps, if your photo day/week feels like a production line, a bit like the “other” company we had to use one year, then you might decide that it just isn’t worth it.
The important thing is that we think about it.

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Pedagogy, Professionalism



“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” 


Famous words from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and words that I have been pondering recently.


Last week I had the privilege of listening to the brilliant Peter Gray speak about his research on how children learn. During the talk he shared stories of the Sudbury Valley School and one thing that stood out for me was that they do not use the name “teachers”. For some reason this stuck in mind and I have been thinking about it for the last week. I looked up the Sudbury Valley School and found their explanation for this, when asked the question “do you have teachers?” (which was as Peter had said, however didn’t rely on me remembering it word for word!):

We have adults. They’re called “staff members” and they do sometimes teach, as do many of the kids, but their main purpose is to be here as resources, as people who help make sure the school is running properly, and as role models for what it’s like to be a grownup. Hopefully we’re okay at being grownups.


I can’t get this out of my head and last night I began thinking about the various names in early education and care. 

Children or Kids?


I have been known to refer to children as “kids” and have been chided by others who have stated that they are not, in fact, baby goats and that the term is disrespectful. A quick google search revealed that the slang or informal use of the word kid/kids to describe children may have begun in the 16th Century, which I found quite interesting. There were also various opinions on why the term is offensive, with some suggesting that is sounds hierarchical or reminded them of goats.

Well, I am indeed aware that children are not baby goats and while my use of the word kids is not at all derogatory or suggestive that they may well be goats, I do now find that I am correcting myself whenever I say “kids”. Why? Does it make a difference to the way I feel about them or the way I interact with them or to my role as an advocate for children?

Early Education and Care, Child Care, Day Care, Early Learning, Preschool

There are so many names used for what the service that we provide – is any one better than the others? Is there even a difference?

When I started working at a service it had a very long name which included “Community Preschool and Child Care Centre”. When I questioned the use of both “preschool” and “child care” it was explained that the service had previously been a “preschool” (in NSW – operates school terms, 9am – 3pm for children 3-6years) Over time, the hours had been extended and the starting age lowered, qualifying the service for CCB Subsidy, hence the addition of “child care centre.” The service has since gone on to have a name change which now better reflects the service it provides and is less of a mouthful! But, I often find myself wondering how we came to use so many different terms and whether they suggest to parents that we offer different things. Does a parent read the names and think “hmm, that one only offers day-care, while this one over here offers early learning”?

Would some consistency in naming help families and the community to value more highly, what it is that we do? And if so, how do we achieve that consistency?


Teachers and Educators

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the “teachers” at Sudbury Valley School are known as adults. In early childhood settings we primarily use the terms educators or teachers. Are these one and the same? Is the only distinguishing feature a university degree and a wage difference? Or is there more to it than that?

In my experience as what is known as an “educator” (who at that point in time was referred to as a “child care worker”) who then became a “teacher” – I experienced no real difference in my practice, in my work with children. I also didn’t feel, in either role, that it was my role to “teach” or “impart my wisdom” onto children, but that I was a facilitator – someone to walk alongside them as they made discoveries about the word, someone to listen to their questions and support them to unpack their hypotheses. In fact, I was also the learner – I was learning about the children and how their brains worked!

The Oxford Dictionary defines a teacher as “A person who teaches, especially in a school.” Interestingly, they define an educator as “A person who provides instruction or education; a teacher.”

Does the term teacher suggest a hierarchy? Is that hierarchy warranted? Do we value children as teachers also? Do we value parents or community members as teachers? If we were to not use the term “teacher” does it in any way de-value our professionalism?


Little Flippity-Jibbets Sunshine and Rainbows

Perhaps it’s just me, but the cutesey-fying (not a word… but should be!) of service names has always driven me crazy. I have always felt that it promotes an inferior image of the child – that instead of an image of capable contributors to society, it suggests cute, squishy playthings! But now, as I write this post, I find myself reflecting on whether this is fair. Perhaps this is no different to me using the term “kids”? This is something I need to think more on and would love to hear your thoughts on this.

One thing I do not need to think more on, as I know I absolutely will not change my mind, is the intentional misspelling in service names. E.G. Kute Kids or Krazy Kidz (P.S – These exact names are made up, however the use of the K instead of the C or a Z instead of an S is completely factual!) If we wish to be taken seriously as an education and care service, this is just a huge no-no.

 

So why does any of this matter?

Well, perhaps it does and perhaps it doesn’t. Who does it matter to? Why does it matter? Do the names we use make suggestions about the type of service we provide or our image of the child? Do they make a statement about who we are and what we believe or value?

Lots to think about… what are your thoughts?


Have you got a set of our STEM cards yet?

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Childhood, Parenting

A few weekends back, I went camping with the family. We headed out to a 6000 acre cattle farm with no electricity, no television, no computers, no phones. IT WAS AMAZING. 

While we take regular opportunities to unplug and head into nature on the weekends, it is usually only a couple of hours at most and before you know it we are home and the phone is ringing or the “I’ll just check my email quickly” is creeping back into my vocabulary. This camping trip was 2.5 days of complete and utter disconnection… yet was the most connected time we have had in a long time. We slowed down. We seemed to have so much more time. 

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, particularly as a question around technology in early childhood settings was raised in a Facebook group in the last few weeks. This is something that I have had internal struggles with in the past, and I think many educators (and parents) do. Let’s look at an average early childhood service and even just society in general… 
How do we document? Often on a computer or tablet, after taking a thousand photos on a digital camera (don’t get me wrong, I am a photography nut!) 

How do we communicate with families? Well, I hope that the personal conversations are still happening, but there is often a lot of email and app based communication systems in use, due to time, shifts etc. 

How often do we walk past a group of people sitting together, each on their phones? Probably way too often. This is something that I am becoming more and more conscious of and while I get it, there are times when things need to be done – texting to check on a sick child, transferring money, checking in on a work email, it seems to be that we are relying on technology for social interaction more and more, when real living breathing people are right there with us. 


The point here isn’t to guilt anyone into abandoning technology (and for the purposes of this article, I am talking about digital technology specifically). Technology has a place and has made some amazing advancements in the way we live our lives, but there is a real risk of it taking over! And this is where my struggle appears. The world is a place of technology, children see us using phones and tablets and computers every day, and often for large chunks of the day, it makes sense that they want to use these too. I am not anti-technology. Right now my son is building a yoga studio on Minecraft. But, I think we need to be wary about how we use digital technology in early childhood settings. Giving a child an iPad or plonking them in front of the TV for 30 minutes peace to cook dinner is something that many parents will confess to – I know I do (whatever saves my sanity I say!) But, when we know the impact of excess screen time on children’s development  surely we have an obligation as early childhood professionals to not contribute to that. 

That being said, I have seen some wonderful examples of children working together to create something using digital technology, or interests being enhanced by research online. It is possible to be mindful in the way that we use technology in early childhood settings – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. 

But what I noticed on our weekend of “nothing” was how much the children did. There was no “I’m bored” or “what can I do now?” it was calm and yet busy. 
They had time (and freedom)
to wander
to watch bugs
to kick a ball
to look for wombats
to read books
to play board games
to go for bush walks
to PLAY
 

And, as an adult in that setting, having no phone or iPad or computer calling me, urging me to write or contribute to online discussions or play Candy Crush, I benefited too. 
I listened more
I asked more questions
I wondered more
I read a book
I went for bush walks
I stargazed
I had good, robust conversations with real people
I PLAYED! 

We can’t unplug every day. I need to work and like most jobs now, a large portion of my work requires me to be banging away at the keyboard. But I have made an effort to not be so plugged in, to do things that make me feel good. And as a result, my children are wanting to plug in way less too. In early childhood settings, we should be unplugged as much as we can be. The time will come where these children will be teenagers or adults who are slaves to their phones/computers/tablets/whatever technological device is the “thing” in another 15-20 years! 

Instead of rushing them into digital technology with the idea that “it’s a part of their world, they need to know it” perhaps we can decide that “play is their world, they deserve to know it.” 


Are you worried that without digital technology children will miss out on important STEM skills? Then our new book is for you… 
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Pedagogy, Professionalism

It was a sunny, Winter morning and the children were playing outdoors. A group of children had invented their own game with sticks and soccer balls, while others painted underneath the trees. I stood and surveyed the space for a few moments, then got the feeling that I should be doing something, should be interacting with the children. I spied three children busily “cooking” in the sandpit and thought I would join them, perhaps scaffold their play. Within moments of sitting down and opening my mouth it became crystal clear that my “interaction” was not wanted. The children glared at me and began gathering up their cooking things before moving to another area of the playground.

It hit me instantly. I had no business pushing myself into their play – it was theirs. I started thinking about what I had been saying to my educators for many years, how I had been telling that they needed to be playing with the children, not standing back watching. Was I wrong? How would I backtrack from this?


This story is one that I tell during training sessions and even though I cringe while telling it, I feel that it is an important story to tell. Despite my good intentions to be involved in the children’s play, to be an active educator, rather than standing off to the side inspecting my nail polish or chatting to my colleagues about weekend plans, I had made quite a big error of judgement.
Over the years that have passed I have had a lot of time to reflect on my actions that day. How did it go so wrong? Why did the children react in the way that they did? How could I have done things differently? 


How did it go so wrong?
Perhaps the first thing to note was that I wasn’t looking for a cue or an invitation to join the play, instead I just plopped down beside the children. To put this in perspective: I am sitting in a restaurant with some friends eating lunch.  A colleague spots me and decides to sit in the empty chair at the table. Although I like this person, my friends and I are in the middle of a conversation and the interruption brings a halt to it. This is exactly what I did to these children. While they knew me, and liked me (let’s hope!) and I wasn’t trying to interfere with their play, they were in the middle of something that I wasn’t a part of and I brought a halt to their play.


Why did the children react in the way that they did?


Obviously, the children felt that I had intruded on their play. Thankfully for me, their reaction manifested in a relatively positively way – there was no kicking or screaming, they simply moved their play elsewhere, somewhere that I was not.
Peter Gray speaks of the result of adult interference stating, Attentive adults can ruin games even if they don’t intend to intervene. Children perceive them as potential enforcers of safety, solvers of conflicts, and audiences for whining; and this perception invites the children to act unsafely, to squabble, and to whine. Play requires self-control, and the too-obvious presence of adults can lead children to relinquish their self-control.”
While the children in my instance may not have felt that I was coming to enforce safety or solve perceived conflict, I was still an unwelcome intruder in their play space.


What could I have done differently?


Watch. For as much as I once nagged my educators to play and interact and be involved, this experience showed me that sometimes you really are better to just sit back and watch. Watching doesn’t mean chatting about your plans for dinner with a colleague or glancing at your watch every two minutes to check how long until your lunch break. Watching is about being present. It is about taking time to notice the little things about children’s play – their body language, the way they communicate with their peers, the tone of their voice, the themes in their play. When you take the time to notice the little things, you open yourself up to seeing play in a different way. You also become more aware of the cues that a child or group of children may want or need you to become involved.Listen. Often if a child wants you to be a part of their play or needs something from you, they will ask. When we are present for children, they come to know that even though we are not asking them about their game or directing their play, we are available, should they need us.


How will I know if I am interacting or interfering?


One of the most important things we can do in our work with children is to spend time getting to know the children in our care. When we know our children on a deep level, we begin to understand their body language, their tone of voice and their cues that say “hey, I need you!”

When we interact with children we engage with children, we are playful. When we interfere with children’s play, we tend to take over, to enforce rules and organise the play.
Children deserve opportunities to play. Peter Gray defined children’s play as:
  1. Self-chosen and self-directed; players are always free to quit
  2. Play is an activity in which means are more valued than ends
  3. Play is guided by mental rules
  4. Play is non-literal, imaginative, marked off in some way from reality
  5. Play involves an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind.
When we look at those key elements of play, it is easy to see that adults are not a huge part of this process. While we may provide a basic environment, resources and support for play, our well-intentioned attempts to involve ourselves in play could in fact be interfering with the very nature of play.


References:
  • Gray, P. (2009) How to Ruin Children’s Play: Supervise, Praise, Intervene: How to enjoy, not destroy, children’s play, psychologytoday.com (retrieved 7th June, 2017)
  • Gray, P. (2008) The Value of Play I: The Definition of Play Gives Insights psychologytoday.com (retrieved 7th June, 2017)

We originally wrote this article to accompany a workshop that Tash presented at the ECTA Conference. If you would like training on this topic for your team, please get in touch!

If you love the work of Peter Gray as much as we do, join us in Melbourne and Wyong for events this October!  We also stock Peter’s book FREE TO LEARN in our online store!

 

 

 

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Childhood, Play
In the last week my Facebook news feed has been flooded with the words “fidget spinner.” Apparently as a Mum to a 7 year old boy I “should” know what this means and why it is so important, but perhaps thankfully for me, the craze does not seem to have taken off at my sons school!

According to a quick bit of research (i.e google) “the palm-sized spinners consist of a ball bearing which sits in a three-pronged plastic device which can then be flicked and spun round.” 

Doesn’t sound too exciting to me, but apparently, it has kids in a spin (pun totally intended). 

Similar sorts of “fidget toys” have been used for years with children with additional needs or to promote/enhance concentration. I have to admit that I have been sceptical of these in the past and in fact, when Angela Hanscom (Paediatric OT and author of Balanced and Barefoot) was here in Australia earlier this year she spoke briefly of the use of “tools and toys” for concentration or focus and suggested that they are often used as a quick fix to a bigger problem. A problem that can often be addressed with outdoor play, gross motor opportunities and freedom to be children (roll down hills, spin in circles, climb trees). A problem that also seems to do little to challenge the “sit down, cross your legs and listen” attitude to learning that still exists in many classrooms and early childhood settings. What does the “mainstreaming” of such a gadget say about it’s effectiveness or purpose or even about children in general? Are all children struggling to focus or concentrate in class (or in life), requiring them to have something to fidget with? Or have we become a society that can’t be still, that can’t be without something in our hands (for adults, often a phone!) Or is it just another toy, another fad?

Yesterday on the news I saw that the “fidget spinner” had been banned from some schools. I thought… that’s interesting (and perhaps a little humourous). Something that was designed to promote concentration and was often suggested by various therapists and support services that I worked with when directing, was now being hijacked by children and was in fact such a distraction that it needed to be banned! One of the news presenters actually questioned yesterday how these fidget spinners were any different from Yo-Yo’s or Tazo’s or any of the other great childhood fads. And I feel like he was spot on. These really are just another hyped up plaything. They will probably come and go, like most other fads (go on…prove me wrong fidget spinner!) Chances are in 6 months time the mums who I am seeing on local Buy/Sell pages begging for someone to sell them a fidget spinner so little Jimmy isn’t the only one in class who doesn’t have one, will be wondering what all the fuss is about and why they spent their Thursday night trawling the internet for a piece of plastic!
While play, pure and simple, imaginative, digging in dirt, swinging from ropes, constructing play… that will last forever. 

Nicole Halton

* There is no doubt some children who benefit from these sorts of fidget toys and as I am not qualified in the area of special rights education, I am not suggesting that there are not individual circumstances where such toys may be recommended and highly valuable!
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Advocacy, Childhood, Community, Parenting, Play


Lately I have been doing a lot of thinking about interest based learning. As someone who worked with young children in the early 2000’s, when the concept of “emergent curriculum” was quite popular, I have always been a proponent of interest based learning. I always felt that by observing the children and understanding what they were interested in, I would be able to plan a program that facilitated those interests. Yet, over the last few years as my understanding of play has deepened to a level I perhaps never thought possible, I find myself critical of the concept of interest based learning and to be quite honest, of the whole concept of a program. 

Recently I have been listening to the Child Care Bar and Grill Podcast series on Peter Gray’s definition of play. We were fortunate enough to bring Peter to Australia a few years back (and again later this year – yay!) and I greatly admire his work, but it has also really challenged my thinking about what we do in early childhood. I feel like everything I learnt at TAFE all those years ago, and even when doing my degree, actually has very little bearing on how I view early childhood education now! 

Almost daily on various early childhood Facebook groups, I see questions such as “my toddlers are interested in trucks and only want to play with the trucks in the dirt, how can I extend that?” followed by an abundance of suggestions for songs, books, craft activities and other ideas for “extending” the truck interest. Every time I read these I wonder – why are we hijacking children’s play?! Why can’t we let them play in the dirt with the trucks for weeks on end if that is what they want to do? Why do we feel the need to do more than that? Surely children can be trusted to direct their own play and if that looks the same for weeks on end, is that actually a problem? 

I feel like the early childhood profession has come a long way in recent years, with most educators and services claiming to value play, yet I wonder if they truly understand play. I don’t say this to be condescending. I was once there myself. I was always looking for the children’s interests and then latching on to them and launching projects (some of which, I might add, lead to some amazing discussion, insight etc) and thinking “yes, I am facilitating children’s interests and play.” But, as I do more and more research on what play really looks, feels and sounds like, I know that I was so far from the mark. 

IF I COULD GO BACK IN TIME

I find myself daydreaming of what I would do now, with the knowledge I have now. I would start by ditching the “program”. Although our program was always very basic, there was still the expectation that there would be things added to support children’s interests. If we have an environment where children are free to explore, create, access materials and have meaningful connections with adults, who are responsive to their needs/requests etc for resources to build on their play, then is there a need for that to be planned a week in advance? Instead of focussing on getting educators to plot out the program and link to the EYLF, I would focus on inspiring educators to be critical thinkers and to respond “on the fly”, to question, to reflect, to adapt the environment in response to the children’s play. I would spend more time being present than “observing” or “supervising” or even getting involved in the play. I would spend less time creating Pinterest worthy small world scenes and more time embracing the messiness of children’s play, when they are free to play in the way that they desire. I would give children more time. Time where they choose what it is that they want to do, how they want to do it and who they will do it with. 

A UTOPIA PERHAPS?
Okay, it sounds like some sort of play utopia to me, but I know that there are educators out there reading this and thinking “you’re crazy lady.” And… maybe I am! But I honestly feel that we have gone too far. We have injected ourselves far too heavily into something that should be natural to children. We are guilty of micromanaging children’s play to the point where it no longer resembles actual play, and is now some sort of play mutant. You might also be reading this and thinking that not doing a “program” would be lazy or poor teaching. In fact, I think it is quite the opposite. When we plan a week (or even more) ahead, listing what we will do and how we will do it, it is easy for our practice to feel routine or mundane. We have a pre-conceived notion of what each day will look like. On the contrary, when we have no real plan (that is, the plan belongs to the children) we need to expect the unexpected. We need to be more tuned in to the play, we need to be more responsive, we need to be able to think on our feet. That’s exciting! There will also, no doubt, be educators saying “but what about routine, that’s important” or “how will they be ready for school?” My answer to those sorts of questions is usually that there is enough routine in a child’s day without adding more, and just because you give children control over their play and their time, does not mean that they won’t actually embrace some sort of routine for themselves – we need to give them more credit. The school “readiness” thing is something that get’s me worked up and I have blogged about it many times before, but I can say with confidence that the research supports play. Children have opportunities to develop the physical, social and emotional skills needed for the transition to school, during their play. They have 13 years to sit at a table and write, to sit cross legged on the mat for story time, to count to 100 or recite their ABCs – early childhood need not be the place for this. We have a brief window (how I wish it were more) to embrace play in its truest form, let’s not invade that with unnecessary expectations and rote learning!

As educators (and as a society in general) we need to give play back to children. We need to let them do with it what they will. 

By Nicole Halton
* I strongly recommend reading Peter Gray’s article (hyperlinked above) and also listening to the Child Care Bar and Grill Podcast series on “defining play”
* I may have borrowed the term “hijacking play” from the amazing Kisha Reid from Discovery Early Learning Center


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Advocacy, Childhood, Parenting
Picture
 
Yesterday afternoon as we spent some time outdoors, I watched my littlest (who will be 2 on Saturday! How did that happen?!) rifle through the storage box and find a basketball. She takes it over to the basketball hoop and started trying to throw it into the hoop. Of course, the basketball hoop is substantially too high for her. After several attempts, she too recognises this.
“Can’t reach it!” 
I repeat her words back to her “You are having trouble reaching it?” 
“Yep. Too high!” she replies. 

She goes and gets a different ball from the box and then returns to the basketball hoop. She starts trying to throw the ball again and as, yet again, it falls very short of the hoop, she begins to show signs of frustration. In stereotypical toddler fashion, her little body appears to melt towards the ground, her fists are clenched and her voice is getting very whiny.
“Can’t reach it!” she says again. 

It is right here in this moment that I need to decide if and how I will help her. It is so very tempting to find a solution for her, to help her reach the hoop, so that she may experience the satisfaction and I will not need to “endure” the angst, the tears, the whining. But, several things play out in my mind:
  1. She is only little. While this emotional outpouring may seem extreme to me – this is obviously a very big deal for her. She is feeling frustrated, perhaps disappointed, and although she has quite an extensive vocabulary, she simply isn’t capable of the rational processing and articulation of the problem that I am, or even a slightly older child may be. 
  2. She is capable. My image of the child is that of being capable, creative and quite simply – amazing! That image of the child can be easy to remember when working with slightly older children, yet I KNOW that she is all of those things. 
  3. What will it teach her if I step in and solve her problem? 

Just as I am considering how to proceed, how I can scaffold her to come up with a solution – she beats me to it! I see her start looking around the backyard. Her eyes land on a small black stool and she wanders over to it. She squats beside it for a moment, then picks it up and brings it over to the basketball hoop. She places it beneath the hoop and begins throwing the ball in the air. 

It doesn’t make it.

But it’s okay. She doesn’t cry or throw herself to the ground. She looks at me and smiles, “almost!” 
And then she says “You lift me up?” 
And I do. 
Not because I want to fix it for her, but because she asked. And that was part of her problem solving process. She got there… because I left her to it!

By Nicole Halton

* Rainbow hearts to cover the bareness of a happily playing toddler!!
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Childhood
Picture
 
This week a YouTube clip started doing the rounds, showcasing the “struggles” of “child care workers.” (and no, I am not going to link to it, as I really do not intend to give it more exposure than it has already had)

Sure, it was designed to be a comedy “bit” and I happen to think I have a great sense of humour. Yet, there were two main things about this clip that I found off-putting. 
    1. The fact that the term “child care worker” is used – surely we are beyond that terminology. I know some people argue that its a pretty small thing, but I think that the language we use in our profession is important!

  1. The second thing was actually not the clip itself, but the comments that followed. This “comedian” is clearly not an early childhood educator, however the people who shared this clip in various Early Childhood Facebook groups and in other locations, are. The people who commented on this are. And that is what really concerns me. 

Over the last few days, I have done some serious reflection on this whole thing. Why don’t I find it amusing? Why do others find it amusing? Would I have found it more amusing BEFORE I became a parent? 

I strongly believe that being able to look back at our practice that we have evolved from and say “wow, that was awful!” can be a liberating and positive experience. I can honestly admit to judging (inwardly and in conversations with colleagues) parents at times when I was first working in an early childhood service and cringe when I think about it now. 

I think that too often (not just in our profession, but in society in general) we are too quick to judge. We jump to conclusions really quickly, forgetting to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Parenting is a tough gig. Yep, it’s a rewarding one, but it is all encompassing and really hard work! Many parents will relate to perpetual feelings of guilt and inadequacy. When we make the decision to place our child in the care of someone other than family, someone (or many someones) who are in effect, total strangers, we take a big leap. We are trusting that someone is going to give our child what they need, when they need it and when we can’t be there. We are trusting that someone is going to love and nurture our child, respect them and appreciate all of the wonderful things that we see in them. And so, with that leap, comes worry and sometimes requests, questions or concerns (like those parodied in the aforementioned YouTube clip) that may seem a wee bit over the top. 

Standard 6.2 of the National Quality Standard says:

Families are supported in their parenting role and their values and beliefs about childrearing are respected.

That seems pretty straightforward to me! Yet, the vitriol in the comments on this video, by people who call themselves educators, was appalling. Okay, we have all been there. We have all had a parent ask for something or tell us something or complain about something, that has caused a raise of the eyebrows or an internal “what on earth are they thinking?” But, the comments I read were criticising almost every thing a parent could possibly say or do. For sure, if a parent breaches your policies (e.g. bringing a sick child to the service) that’s a problem. But when we are talking about parenting choices and approaches to childrearing, it is just not okay to be so damn judgemental. 

What possibly bothered me more, was the fact that when other educators dared to express concerns about this, they were said to be “humourless” or engaging in “censorship.” So it might not be nice to be “called out” for poor practice, but I wish someone had told me when I was 19 to stop being so judgemental of families. Instead I had to learn it the hard way – becoming a parent and being the one who is judged!

Meeting or exceeding standard 6.2 of the NQS isn’t about having flyers of parenting information in your foyer, it is about respectful relationships. We don’t always have to agree with the way someone parents (and by all means if abuse or neglect is a factor, that is a whole different kettle of fish) but we do have to be respectful. Take a deep breath and put yourself in the parents shoes for a moment before you roll your eyes or whinge to a colleague about that “high maintenance parent.”

Quit the judgement! Life’s to short to be negative.

By Nicole Halton 
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Childhood, Community, Parenting
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Yesterday we went house hunting with my parents. After over 35 years in the same home, they are looking to downsize and to be a little closer to family and their business. We looked at a few homes that met the criteria, but neither were “the one.” After a picnic lunch, we decided, on a whim, to go to an open home which didn’t exactly meet their criteria. We piled into the car and drove 25 minutes “out of town” to a semi rural property. 14 acres of fruit trees, gardens, a dam, undulating grassed area and two lovely homes (plus a barn and large shed!) We were in paradise. 

For the last few years, my husband and I have talked about our desire to live on an acreage. To have space, to be more connected to nature. We have also at times, talked about buying a property with two homes and sharing the cost with my parents. This is a somewhat practical decision as it makes the property more affordable, yet as we walked around the grounds yesterday, I realised that it is really so much more than that. 

In recent times I have given a lot of thought to the concept of “the village.” You know the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”? Well I have often thought about this from the adult perspective – how beneficial, as a parent, it can be to have a village of people to call on when times are tough, or to keep you sane after a really long day with a toddler! But as we walked around this property yesterday, it became clear just how important “the village” is for children too. 

As I watched my children looking at the fruit trees and gardens with their grandparents, I realised that this was the sort of thing the traditional notion of a village was good for. The children could go off with Pop to tend to the gardens or help Nan feed the chooks or chop some firewood with Dad. Yes… my mind may have got a tad carried away. I was visualising our family living in this place and my children reaping the rewards of our own (albeit small) village. 

I feel like as a generation of parents, we seem more stressed than those before us (or perhaps we are just more vocal about our stress?) and I wonder if this is in part due to the lack of a village. Our children (well not mine because I am a “bored is good” type of parent!) are more scheduled than ever. We put them in dance classes and cooking classes and art school and sport and I wonder if perhaps we were to embrace the village a little more, if those things would seem redundant. Would they instead go and learn to cook with the next door neighbour who wins prizes for her baking skills? Would they play football in a large group of neighbourhood children? Would they wander across the street and help in the community garden? 

We need to bring back the concept of “the village” – if not for ourselves, for our children. With a wider circle of people with different ways of being, doing and knowing, just imagine the opportunities for children!

Now I’ll go back to daydreaming about my idyllic acreage, but I will also be thinking about how we create this sense of village right where we are… 

​By Nicole Halton
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