Good Contents Are Everywhere, But Here, We Deliver The Best of The Best.Please Hold on!
Your address will show here +12 34 56 78
Advocacy, Childhood, Parenting


From the moment they are born, children seek out connection with the adults in their world. They grasp their fingers and at the same time take hold of their hearts. Even before a child is born, the movements inside the womb act as a connector, bonding them to their mother before they even arrive. It is no wonder that as they grow, children try new and often interesting (including behaviour that is aptly deemed to be “attention seeking”) ways to connect with adults and build relationships.

In our early childhood settings, relationships matter. In fact, they don’t just matter – THEY ARE VITAL. 

This week news outlets have been reporting on the tragic suicide of 14 year old Amy “Dolly” Everett, citing ongoing cyber bullying as the cause of her death. Like many other parents, my heart broke for that family and for that child. And unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Over the last few days I have found myself wondering how we bring about change. While the family of this young girl obviously had a strong, loving relationship with her, you have to wonder about the relationships in the lives of those who bullied her so relentlessly. How did these children (and sadly, adults) ever decide that it is okay to be so unkind and hurtful? Would these same people have acted the same way had they met at the local shops or park? Has our “super-connected” society made children, adults and families more disconnected than ever? 

We need to put less emphasis on test scores and more on kindness

We need to put more effort into building relationships 

We need to spend more time together – talking, laughing, reading body language and cues. 


While cyber bullying may be a little off the radar for most early childhood settings, there is plenty that we can do in the early years to address what has become a scary societal issue:

– Support families to build strong relationships with their children
– Realise that we don’t all need to be “friends” but that we can still be respectful and kind
– Hug (be sure to ask for consent!)
– Familiarise yourself with the UN convention on the rights of the child. Advocate for these!
– Listen… not just nod and smile and “mm-hmm”, but really listen. Listen to what children say and what they don’t say
– Encourage open conversations: let children know they can talk to you about anything
– Model positive language, kindness and compassion
– Use resources that encourage kindness, caring and empathy
– Play! Have fun with children, laugh with them, share in the joy of life!

We know that the first five years are so incredibly important – the brain is making connections and laying down neural pathways that form the foundation of the brain. When children are given the gift of loving relationships, this becomes what the brain knows and as the child grows into an adult, this will be their point of reference when interacting with others.

What we do matters. 

Relationships matter. 

Perhaps you are currently thinking about goals for 2018… why not make relationships one of your goals? Time spent on people is never wasted!

 

 

0

Advocacy, Childhood, Community, Pedagogy, Professionalism

This weekend I was standing in line at a store with two of my little ones. I was distracted with the endless questions and the giggling that seems to be a permanent fixture of children aged 2 and 4, but I got the sense that someone was looking at me. I turned and came face to face with a woman who I instantly recognised. She was the parent of two little boys I had the pleasure of educating and caring for when they were in preschool. Their faces instantly sprang to my mind, as well as fond memories of their time at the service. We chatted for a few moments, exchanging pleasantries, before she told me that one of her boys was now 15 and taller than her. The images in my mind of this little boy seem so fresh, yet that little boy doesn’t exist anymore. Just like that, he grew up! 

I often think about what a privilege it is to be involved in the life of a child, particularly in the early years. We share milestones with them and see them grow and develop for a few years, if we are lucky. And then the time comes for them to leave us and move on to “big school” and this is where we “lose” them. Depending on our community we may still see them from time to time, at the local school or shops, but often they slip away, off experiencing new and exciting adventures with new friends and educators in their lives. 

One  of my favourite training sessions to deliver is on Positive School Transitions, it’s one of those things that gets me all worked up and talking with my hands! At the end of the session I often read out a beautiful poem from Let The Children Play and it never fails to get me a little teary… in fact, there may or may not have been several occasions where I have bawled like a baby! Why does it have this effect on me? I think it is that little reminder of just how fortunate we are to spend our days with these small humans, supporting them to become amazing citizens of the world. It conjures up a feeling in me that the time spent playing and laughing and hugging and listening and daydreaming and wondering and inspiring is time well spent. These children leave us knowing that they are loved and that they are competent. Sometimes they don’t want to leave (we had one little boy who cried his heart out, causing us educators to do the same, because he loved preschool so much and never wanted to leave) but when they do, we can be proud of who they are, of their love of learning.

When you run into a parent who tells you their child is now a teenager, or who shows you school formal pictures, it is amazing. When their face lights up as they tell you about their child and how they have grown, there is a definite sense of pride and gratitude. When they tell you that their child still talks about their preschool days with fondness, your heart swells. When they come to work for you (yes, that has seriously happened to us – we have been delighted to have Macayla working with us over the past few months after having her at preschool when she was 4, although it may make us feel a tad old!!) you marvel at what competent, knowledgeable adults they have become. 

What we do matters. 

So, today as you mix paint for eager little hands to paint with or read the same story for the thousandth time or rock a baby off to sleep, remember that it all matters. These moments matter.




Have you seen our brand new resource??

0

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.

0

Advocacy, Childhood, Community, Parenting, Play

[perfect_quotes id=”2573″]


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


0

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!!
0

Last week I took my three children to the local wetlands centre. After a big walk and some bird spotting we stopped for a picnic lunch and a play on the beautiful, timber playground. My youngest is 16 months. She is a climber, an adventurer, a risk taker. She is the one who is most likely to give me heart failure! But, every time she is climbing something or stretching out to do something that she sees her older siblings doing, I have to hold my tongue. While the mama bear in me screams “no….you’ll get hurt!” the educator in me knows that she is well and truly more capable than I give her credit for. 

On this day I watched her test her physical skills as she climbed into a large netted area. I resisted the temptation to help her, to lunge for her when she appeared to be struggling. And… she did it. She climbed up the side and over the top of the net and she finished with a look on her face that I once heard the amazing Claire Warden describe as “chuffedness” 

The quote above (main image) by Loris Malaguzzi really resonates with me, as I think it does with many other educators. Yet, for as much as we (as a profession) say that we view children as capable, in practice, this often seems to begin from about the age of three. What do I mean by that? Well, taking a look at the vast majority of outdoor play environments for babies we see that they offer very little risk or challenge. They usually comprise of synthetic surfacing, round edges and low, even surfaces. It is delightful (and often rare) to find an outdoor space for babies that encourages risk, supports them to explore different textures or to really challenge themselves. While I understand our desire to keep them safe, by limiting their opportunities to take risks, we do the babies in our care a great disservice. 

It is time to really embed this view of “children as capable” into our practice with babies. It is time to trust them!


Nicole Halton
0


Yesterday, my children found a bird egg in the backyard. It wasn’t cracked or broken and they worried that it may have fallen from a nest and have a baby bird inside. Lots of conversation about eggs and birds and nests ensued. This is what I love about children – these natural opportunities to learn arise and they just run with them. This is why I work in the Early Childhood Profession – I love the discussions with children, the insights into their thinking, hearing them make sense of their world. 

When I was younger (and even now!) I didn’t have that “maternal” instinct that a lot of my friends had. In high school I had absolutely zero interest in dong the child studies course that so many of my friends chose because “kids are cute!” I don’t see chubby babies in prams and have the overwhelming urge to reach in and gush and goo over them. I didn’t even really choose to study early childhood.

After meeting my now husband in my final year of school, I didn’t quite “apply myself” as I should have and subsequently, my ideas of studying psychology were put on the back burner. It was my Dad who suggested doing a child care course and although I thought he was mad, for whatever reason, I decided to give it a go. 

I arrived on the first day to be greeted by twenty women/young ladies who all seemed to have that maternal/kids are cute vibe. As they talked about always “loving being with kids” I began to wonder if I was in the wrong place. 

On day two or three we began talking briefly about theorists and it was almost like I had been struck by lightning. THIS. This was what fascinated me. I quickly discovered that talking about how children learn, unpacking the intricacies of their play and their connections with others, this was the stuff that drew me in. 

Over the years I have realised that I do in fact love kids, I have formed deep connections with so many children in my care and have even gone on to have three of my own. But I am not (nor will I ever be) that bubbly, gushing “kids are soooo cute” kind of educator, or person. There is nothing wrong with being that person if that’s who you genuinely are, but I think that many educators feel like that’s who they should be. That they need to perfect the sing-song voice and live up to this ideal of what a teacher should be.

Over the years I have realised that it is okay not to think children are cute (or at least… not just cute). Put perfectly on a podcast (ep 0214) I listened to recently, Heather Bernt-Wenig said “see what’s happening behind the cuteness”. This really sums up what working in ECE is all about for me. It’s looking deeper, knowing more, unpacking play and seeing more than just “look how cute they are!”  

​Moments like those at the start of this blog post… that’s what it is all about.

Nicole Halton




0

On the weekend we ventured to Sydney for a family getaway. On the last day we stopped by the playground at Darling Quarter and my three little ones had a blast – climbing, sliding and swinging. As I watched the children play I also watched the adults. There were a variety of people there: those who hovered over their child, almost choreographing their play; those who sat outside the cafe, oblivious to the whereabouts of their child and those who kind of loitered in the middle! I am the loitering type – I like to be present for my children if they need support, but also am aware of their need to just play. As I was loitering at the bottom of the slide I heard some interesting adult comments:

“Wait your turn… now you go next. Okay, now it’s your turn” 

“Don’t go up the slide, its for going down.”


I stood and watched as my 6 year old decided to come head first down the slide and may have held my breath for a moment as I saw some older children start to climb up the slide at the same time. But there was absolutely no need. While the adults at the playground were worrying about children “playing the right way” or taking turns etc, the children had it sorted! And it is not just parents – educators are guilty of choreographing children’s play, of saying “this is how we use this equipment, this is how we take turns, this is how we engage with others. And, while it is important to support children as they develop both physical and interpersonal skills, if we don’t give them the opportunity to actually DO IT, we are essentially saying “we do not trust you to play.”

We need to stop choreographing children’s play. When a child pushes in front of another as they wait for the swing – give them a chance to work it out. If a child has never had another child push in front of them, they can’t understand how it feels and why it isn’t okay to do to others. Think about your own childhood – playing in the streets or the bushland with a group of children of varying ages. There were no adults to “sort things out” we just did it. We worked it out via negotiation and “kid rules.” 

We need to give play back to children… step back, they’ve got it!

0

On Friday, while in the car together, Tash and I began discussing the fact that over the last couple of years (perhaps coinciding with the introduction of the LDCPDP Funding) there seems to have been a really big increase in the number of early childhood consultants and organisations providing professional development. With so many providers out there offering answers… we decided that our point of difference is that we strive to ask questions!

What do I mean by this?

As a profession we say that we view children as capable learners. We encourage them to ask questions, to wonder, to develop their own theories. When asked the question “why is the sky blue?” we refrain from answering with a statement of fact, choosing instead to engage in discussion – to ask the child “what do you think?” We support them to find information and to reach understandings that are meaningful to them. Outcome 4 of the Early Years Learning Framework sums it up perfectly – Children are Confident and Involved Learners. Well… so are educators!

The aim of professional development should not be to provide the answers. It should be to ask the questions! 

I am not suggesting that educators stop asking questions, seeking out information or looking for answers. Nor am I suggesting that professional development providers shouldn’t provide support, research or possible solutions. What I mean by this is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. There is not one way of doing or being that is right for everyone or that will “guarantee” a result of some kind. Professional development needs to be collaborative. Educators should be empowered to ask questions, to wonder, to develop their own theories. Each educator, just like the children we work with, brings to the table pre-existing ideas and understandings, they have a history or personal experiences that shape their perspectives, they work in a variety of settings with differing values and community contexts. 

Professional development should be exciting, engaging and leave you wanting to know more, to question more, to think more. Just as we hope that children will develop a lifelong love of learning, so too we should want that for our educators. It is time for professional development providers to practice what they preach! It is time for educators to push back if they are told “this is the way to do it so you get an exceeding rating” It is time for professional development to be a collaborative experience that really values educators and what they know. 

​Nicole Halton








0

I could never be accused of not having an opinion. And I usually can’t keep it to myself either! Last week I found myself caught up in some “heated online discussion” over the use of a meme that I (and a great many others) found disrespectful to children. I won’t share that image as I found it stomach churning, but essentially it was an image that was taken of a child in a potentially humiliating situation and had been captioned “humorously” and shared online. 

I wasn’t the only one to speak up and say that I found the image disturbing, disrespectful and in breach of the rights of the child. I was impressed with the numerous educators and early childhood professionals who spoke up and articulated thoughtfully their concerns. Yet time and time again, those who spoke up were told to “get a sense of humour” “stop being so PC” and “just chill out.” So… should we just chill out?

I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humour and I often think that in tricky situations, if we don’t laugh we will cry! I have three young children and have worked with children for 14 years… there has been plenty of laughter. But to be told that I need to get a sense of humour or chill out because I don’t find a photo of a child in a humiliating situation funny, really frustrates me. 

It was positive to see so many professionals argue key points such as:
– Has the child given their consent to have that photograph taken or shared?
– Would your first response to an unwell child or child in a tricky situation be “I’ll go get the camera!”?
– If this were in a centre (it was hard to be sure exactly where the photo was taken) and the parent saw this image, how would they feel about?
– What message did the photographer send to the other children in the space?

But for as many of these comments, there were just as many that suggested that this concern was misplaced and that these professionals were taking things too seriously. 

I have to wonder… why wouldn’t you take what we do seriously? Why wouldn’t you take the rights of children seriously? Why would you think that it is unusual to be concerned about the emotional wellbeing of young children? Or the improper use of a child’s image?  

I was happy to have professional debate about it – we don’t all have to agree on everything and I think situations like this are a great opportunity to learn and grow in our professional attitudes.  But it appears that these types of posts are proving ever more divisive, splitting the early childhood community into two distinct “camps” which I find really upsetting. Surely we are all here for the same cause? 

So how do we move forward? Well for me, it involved removing myself from a particular facebook group that seems to not be open to professional debate and instead becomes a “place of huffiness”  and I am instead focusing my energy into places where debate and discussion is valued. I will continue to encourage the educators that I meet during training and consultancy, to be reflective and open to other opinions and ideas. And for me personally – I will continue to grow. I will continue to research, to build my knowledge bank, to ensure that when I do have these professional debates I can articulate my opinion in a respectful, informed manner. 

And no…when it comes to the rights of children, I won’t “chill out!”

​Nicole Halton

0

PREVIOUS POSTSPage 1 of 3NO NEW POSTS