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In the last few weeks I have been reflecting on security items or comfort items and their presence in early childhood settings. I cannot recall what prompted me to think about this but it has been an interesting process. 

I began with thinking back to my time in a toddler room. Many of the children in my care came with teddies or blankets or even a pair of mums satin pyjamas! They clutched these items like someone thrown overboard would clutch a life preserver, as though if they let go of them, their little world would end. I could see it in their eyes, just how special these items were. Yet, we had a policy that these were kept in children’s bags until rest time, as though it were expected that this would be the only time the child may seek comfort. I can shamefully recall waiting for a child to drop their teddy as they climbed into the sandpit, then sneakily taking it to their bag, where it would be “safe.” In our minds we felt it was the right thing to do – enabling them to play freely, ensuring that the item would not be lost or damaged. But, as I reflect on it now, with the advantage of deeper knowledge, more experience and the arrival of three of my own children, I realise just how misguided this approach was. 

Research shows that the majority of children do have some sort of comfort item and that when left in an unfamiliar environment with it, they explored more, played more and cried less than those without one. So there goes our “theory” that the child would somehow be inhibited by their comfort item and that by hiding them away, we would be freeing them to play. 

As I have been reflecting on this concept, I have been watching my own children and others at shops, playgrounds, preschool drop-off and other “kid places” to see how their relationships with comfort items may be effecting their play or interactions with others. In short… it wasn’t! In fact, for some children, it was enhancing their play, giving them a prop, a way to get involved with other children – an ice-breaker even. So what would have happened if an adult had walked over, scooped up the item and said “it needs to stay in your bag until rest time”? What impact would that have had on the child’s sense of security? 

I have reflected on how I would feel as an adult to come into a completely new environment – one where the people and the place were all unfamiliar. Where the furniture looked different to the furniture at my home and the smell was different too. I would cling onto the little things that made me feel secure and comfortable, until I felt comfortable in that environment. In fact, for some adults, despite reaching a place where they are comfortable in the environment, they continue to surround themselves with photographs of family or little treasures and trinkets that remind them of home. By being able to blend ourselves and our homes/families into our work environment in some way, no matter how small, we gain a sense of belonging. This is something we strive for in early childhood settings, a fundamental part of our Early Years Learning Framework. And yet, so many services go to extremes to do this – creating belonging trees, photo walls and other “belonging” displays. Maybe a family photo doesn’t actually resonate with each child in terms of feeling secure and a sense of belonging? Perhaps we need to allow each child to find their own comfort in a way that is meaningful to them. For some children, this may mean that a teddy bear accompanies them as they dig in the mudpit, or they take a raggedy old blanket with them to paint at the easel. The important thing as that we as educators respect their need to seek comfort and familiarity in an object that is important to them. So, how do we do this? 
  1. Welcome comfort items/toys into your service – Ensure that children and families know that their comfort items are welcome in your service. You may still request that they be appropriately labelled and may need to advise that while you will do your best to “look after” the item, things happen! (such as dirt, paint etc) 
  2. Include them in experiences - If a child has a teddy that they bring to the role play space, ask if they would like a teddy carrier or pram. Always ask a child before touching their comfort item though.
  3. Avoid the phrase “you’re too old for that!” – While this may be well intentioned and you may have concerns about a child’s emotional wellbeing if they still have a comfort item at age 4 or 5, this will do nothing but upset the child. Rest assured that they probably won’t still be carrying their teddy around when they head off to high school and they will part with it when they feel ready. 

I would love to hear your experiences with comfort items in early childhood services! 

Nicole Halton
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Disclaimer – I love reading, writing, spelling and all things associated with the written word!

Recently I have found myself wondering about the literacy levels in our profession. Countless social media posts and comments have led me to shake my head in disbelief.

“Hi everyone i waz wundering if u can tell me wear pacifically u got that puzzle?”
“Do other educators make children keep there shoes on outside? If they take them off do they loose them?”


These are made up examples based on similar questions/comments I find myself reading almost daily. These are not just typos (which happen to all of us!) or even just shorthand. These are blatant spelling and grammar mistakes and they are extremely prevalent in early childhood forums.

I have had friends share notes, newsletters and even portfolios from their child’s centre with me and have been dismayed by the spelling and grammatical errors in them. The parents have often commented “and these people are educating my child?”

This post is not designed to shame or judge educators and I am well aware that there are brilliant educators out there with low literacy levels or English as a second language. The reason I make this point is that something needs to change. I have seen educators use the wrong “their/they’re/there” on forums and when another educator has pointed it out, there has been calls of “how rude” and “that’s unnecessary” but is it really? Correcting people on their spelling, pronunciation or grammar is often considered condescending, but surely as professionals we can take on some constructive feedback (particularly if it is delivered kindly!) in the way that we do in other areas of our practice? Often I have heard “it doesn’t matter, she is a great educator” but I worry that if we don’t support these educators to improve their skills, we are doing a disservice to our profession and to the children. While in the early childhood environment we do not directly “teach” children to write or spell, the writing that we do is important in this time where literacy skills are emerging.

I find myself wondering how we got here. Some may suggest that it is a result of a reliance on digital technologies and a decline in the handwritten word, but if that were true shouldn’t the spelling and grammar used in notes, newsletters and portfolios be of a higher standard thanks to spellcheck? Is it purely “Facebook laziness”, where people simply don’t care about or pay attention to how or what they type? I wonder if students (both in school and tertiary education environments) are being taught to pass the exam/assessment/practicum as opposed to actually learning and retaining (yes, I realise that there are many amazing schools and tertiary environments!) I have had university students who are unable to differentiate between “their/there/they’re” or ‘your/you’re” and write a full paragraph with no punctuation at all.

Whatever the reason – it needs to change. We need to support educators with low literacy levels to develop their skills to match the professionalism that they show in their practical work with children. We need to ensure that they have access to professional development, training and guidance. How this happens in your service is up to you, but I would suggest that directors review the written work of their educators and if issues are identified, discuss them confidentially and respectfully with the educator and come up with a plan together. Seek out services and resources via the Reading and Writing Hotline.

Let’s stop saying “it doesn’t matter” for fear of offending or upsetting. By raising the literacy levels of educators we will go a long way to raising the status of our profession.

By Nicole Halton




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Last night a question on an Early Childhood Facebook page made me stop and think. It was about how to display the birthdays of children in the room. My initial thought was “why do we even need to display them?” followed soon by my next thought “well how would it be done at home?” My suggestion to the educator was to use a simple calendar. 

This really straightforward question led me to reflecting on what it means to have a “homelike” environment. The majority of services and educators I encounter state that they provide a homelike environment for children and while the intention is definitely there, I wonder how many of them actually achieve it. And whose home is it even like?

With so many different personalities, cultures, socio economic backgrounds and family/parenting styles in our communities, how do we create a homelike environment? Is it about nice lamps and floor rugs or comfy chairs? While I think aesthetics play a role, I think the real key to a homelike environment is deinstitutionalising it! Placing less emphasis on the elements that make an early childhood care environment feel like a production line. 

So how do we do that?
  1. Involve the children and families – By really getting to know them and valuing their individual culture (not just racially either) we can incorporate these into our environment in meaningful, non-tokenistic ways. Encouraging families to contribute items to the environment is a great way to do this.
  2. Rethink what you put on the wall – Many centres I visit have walls that are covered in signage - directions for educators and families. Eventually there becomes so many of these that they all blur into a big mess of paper. Of course there are some items that must be displayed (e.g. emergency evacuation) however before you put signage on the walls think – does this need to be displayed or just accessible? If it needs to be displayed, try to keep your displayed signage consistent – use the same paper, the same fonts, frame them. 
  3. Step away from the catalogues – We get some great (very thick!) catalogues in Early Childhood that are filled to the brim with toys, equipment, furnishings and more and while these can be beneficial, I think it is important that we seek out eclectic items from a range of sources. When every piece of furniture is purchased from the same place and matches perfectly it can create a more institutional feel. Using a variety of materials, sizes, shapes and colours can help to create a warmth reminiscent of many homes (it’s also usually more cost effective too!)
  4. Display art and documentation thoughtfully - I love seeing children’s art and documentation of their learning displayed in services, yet i think it is important that this is done thoughtfully. Rather than sticking paper all over an entire wall, consider framing art work or using albums that children can sit together and look through. If documentation and art is displayed on the wall, maintain it – ensure that it isn’t ripped or dog-earred, this shows the children how much you respect their work. 
  5. Give thought to routine spaces - Nappy change spaces, bathrooms, sleep spaces and meal spaces should feel comfortable, familiar and friendly. Use photographs, plants, storage baskets to reduce clutter (that just gravitates to these places!!) and other items to make these spaces inviting for children. These spaces are a necessity in Early Childhood settings, yet we can make them feel less like a production line. I have been into cot rooms that are essentially four white walls and four white cots with some laminated signs on the door for recording sleep times etc. For the majority of children, this isn’t the sort of environment they would be sleeping in at home. We do not want babies to be overstimulated, but a few simple items can make the space feel more familiar and comforting. 
  6. Ditch the fluorescent lighting - Fluorescent lighting has the ability to make any room feel like an institution. Primarily used for its efficiency, it is possible to get light globes for lamps and other lights that are efficient and environmentally friendly and provide a warm light . Better still – utilise natural light where possible!
  7. Remember that a homelike environment is meaningless if the people in it aren’t warm and familiar in their interactions – What makes a house a home is usually the people inside it, the memories, laughter and experiences created there. We can have a beautiful, welcoming, “homelike” environment for children yet  if we don’t engage with children in meaningful, loving ways… it is really just for show!

​I’d love to hear how you make your Early Childhood environment homelike?

By Nicole Halton

​P.S – Family Day Care Educators really do have the upper hand here! 😉
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We are passionate about nature play. It is evident in what we write, what we share, the training we deliver, the playgrounds we develop and in the educators that are part of our family day care service. So when I hear someone say that nature play is a fad or “the thing right now” I take it pretty personally! 

Nature play can mean different things to different people, but to me it is the opportunity for children (and adults!) to engage in authentic, meaningful ways with the natural environment. That natural environment will look different depending on your context. It does not necessarily equate to a “forest school”! If you are in a coastal area your natural environment may be the beach, dunes and grasslands. If you live rurally it may be dirt, scrub and gum trees.

This morning I spent a few hours in the backyard with my 5year old, 2year old and 8 month old. We spend a lot of time outdoors and I find that all three (and me!) are much more content outdoors. This morning we found a small moth on the side of our table and I helped Bodhi place his hand out, encouraging it to climb on. We watched as it fluttered on his hand. “His wings are so delicate”, he said. And I wondered how, at five, he knew what delicate was. Yet as I watched him for the next hour with this tiny moth crawling up his arms, on his back and in his hair, it became clear. He knows what delicate is because of moments like these. Moments of quiet, authentic engagement with the natural world. And it was then that I was certain, nature play is no fad, no “approach”, it simply is and always should be, for all children.

So why is it still considered a fad? Particularly in a country where no matter where you live there are natural environments. Our country has bush, beach, lake, creek, dirt, desert, rainforests, fields, gardens, mangroves, wetlands, mountains and more. And even if venturing into wild spaces is not an option for you (although it easily can be!) you can ensure that your immediate physical environment encourages children to engage with the natural world, 

The benefits of nature play and connectedness are undeniable and this morning as I watched my 5year old engage with a moth, my 2 year old follow a snail and my 8 month old playing with bark, rubbing her tiny fingers across it, it was just so clear how important nature is. 
Supporting nature play doesn’t mean that every thing needs to be made of wood or stones, it is about real connections. So, here are 7 ways to authentically engage in nature play:
  1. ​Go BAREFOOT - Otherwise known as Earthing, the practice of being barefoot has many health benefits and also enables children to get “feedback” from the ground, supporting motor development. Dirt and grass also feel great between your toes!
  2. Look for WILDLIFE – Even the most urban areas have wildlife such as snails, spiders, ants and birds. Look for wildlife together, ask questions and hypothesise 
  3. CLOUD watch - Lay on the grass on your back and watch the clouds. Many children love to describe what the clouds look like, conjuring up images of bunnies and dragons, while others may want to know what the clouds are made of. Cloud watching discussions are often magical
  4. Pick FLOWERS – my kids love picking flowers to put in a glass on our dining table before meals. It is becoming somewhat of a tradition, despite the fact that we are not green thumbs and don’t really have gardens! They still manage to find “flowers” and watching them find the beauty in what we adults call weeds, is enough to make me smile
  5. LISTEN - simply spending time outdoors with your eyes closed will uncover a range of natural sounds. We have done this and heard birds, bugs and even the trees
  6. COLLECT – My toddler is often referred to as “the collector” – she loves filling bags, boxes, baskets and trolleys with all sorts of treasures. In an attempt to harness this, we make collections of stones and shells and leaves. These are often used in games and play for weeks after! (reminder – teach children to only collect items that have fallen on the ground, not to remove from trees etc and to be mindful of creatures)
  7. Use TECHNOLOGY – Most nature based articles will encourage you to ditch technology in favour of nature, yet it is possible to use the two together in meaningful ways. As I heard Peter Gray put it once – digital technology is simply a tool of this generation, much like the bow and arrow would have been for early man. My son is fascinated with photography at the moment, so has taken a liking to using my digital SLR camera to photograph trees, leaves, birds and anything that takes his fancy. 

I would love to hear some of your favourite ways of engaging with the natural world!

By Nicole Halton
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For many years as an educator and director I was a firm believer in defending my practice and that of my service. When an assessor challenged our use of glass jars I defended the decision, providing positive examples and research. When a parent questioned the legalities of tree climbing I directed them to our benefit risk assessment, found articles, research and safety information to back us up. When an educator said “we’re not allowed to do that” I found regulations, made phone calls and got out the highlighter!

As a consultant I have often encouraged educators to defend what they do and while I still feel that way, a discussion with Tash (Inspired EC co-founder) this morning had me questioning whether it should always be up to educators to defend what they do. Instead, I would suggest that educators should feel empowered to question their challengers. Instead of having to prove ourselves… let’s turn the tables!

When an assessor challenges your practice and says “you can’t do that” ask to be shown where the in the National Quality Framework it says that you can​​ ​’t.

When another educator says “we’re not allowed to do that” ask them to find the regulation or law that says that.

Why should it be up to us to always defend what we do? If someone is putting an obstacle in the way of us providing opportunities for children (such as excursions) or creating an inspiring environment (by adding a trickle stream, for example) then they need to provide us with the hard facts – not just “Oh, I heard from Jane, who works at xyz service, that the assessor said it wasn’t allowed.”​

Of course there will inevitably be times when someone (assessor, colleague) actually identifies an issue that we have missed and that is great – when they come to us with hard facts, we are able to swiftly make appropriate change to ensure the best outcomes for children.

Don’t dread the visits from the regulatory authority, they are a great opportunity – just be prepared to ask the question “can you show me where that is written in the National Quality Framework?”​​
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One of the great things about what we do at Inspired EC is spending time in different services, giving us the opportunity to see a broad range of ideas, perspectives and practices. There is however one practice which is present in the majority of centres we visit and it predominantly looks the same, no matter where we are… group time. 

In many centres (not all!) if you walk in at group time you will see:
  • An educator sitting on a chair 
  • Said educator holding a book up for everyone to see
  • Children being asked to sit cross legged on the floor (The amazing Alistair Bryce-Clegg talks extensively about the inappropriateness of this, particularly for young boys whose muscles are not designed for this type of sitting at this age) 
  • Children who inevitably struggle to sit cross legged on the floor and instead roll around or chat to their friends or play with the puzzle on the shelf next to the group time space
  • Children excitedly calling out their favourite parts of the book or pointing out interesting images on the pages of the book or asking questions about the book…or something completely irrelevant! 
  • An educator who has to constantly remind one child to stop calling out or ask another to keep their hands to themselves

Sounds like fun right?! 

This is not fun for anyone, yet for some reason many educators continue to put themselves and the children through this daily ritual, often with the logic that “they will need to be able to sit in a group at big school” Well that maybe true, but does it meant that we need to push it now? In the vein of last weeks blog post – perhaps this is something that needs to be worried about – WHEN THEY ARE AT SCHOOL!

Recently I visited an amazing service and spent some time observing educator practice. During this time I watched a group time with 3.5-5 year olds. The bullet points above played out almost like a script and I sat there wondering – why do we do this? Why do we find it necessary for all children to listen to the same story at precisely the same time, despite saying that we are led by children’s interests? As I observed the other educators in the room preparing for lunch and sleep times, tidying the room and doing other tasks I felt as though I had my answer, or at least part of it. A large group time enables us to “contain” all children in the one area and “keep them busy” so that we can get things done. Sure, it is a challenge to keep the room running, keep them tidy and complete programs and paperwork, yet I wonder if this is the answer? This is not a criticism of those educators, as they are doing what the majority of educators (myself included) have done for years, this was just a moment in time that prompted me to reflect. Perhaps there are ways of engaging the children, making these things a shared responsibility, a collaborative effort? If we do need to have a large group time – are books really the best choice?

I am a HUGE lover of books. I love to read with my own children and always loved to read with children when I worked in a service, however I rarely enjoyed group time and I think that was a result of the constant attempts to have children sitting and listening and not touching other people! I think books are important for children and should be readily available and educators should make time to read stories with individual children and small groups of children as interests and opportunities organically arise. When we read a book with an individual or a very small group of children, we have the time to have meaningful conversation about the book. When we read a book to a large group, trying to engage up to 20 children in meaningful conversation becomes onerous, drawn out and often very unpleasant!  

Don’t get me wrong – there is merit in doing things in large groups, but I don’t believe that expecting all children to sit quietly and listen to a story is the way to go. If you are going to do group experiences, think about giving children the opportunity to move or be loud, or actually engage with one another – after all, isn’t that the purpose of being in a group? Working together, interacting with one another…building relationships? 
Perhaps we should save the books for small, meaningful engagements with children and instead do social, active things with a large group. Think storytelling with puppets, large group games, music, dance, drama. Things that actually encourage children to be involved, to be active and to interact! 

Let’s rethink group time!
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I have officially had enough. The downward push of academics into early education is making me feel frustrated. Frustrated that despite that overwhelming research both here and internationally; a solid national Early Years Learning Framework that supports play based programs and professional development opportunities that encourage educators to implement and advocate for play based learning, we continue to see examples of structured academics and ridiculously high expectations in the early years. 

I appreciate that there are many amazing services and educators out there who are advocates for learning through play, but I am frustrated with those that are choosing to disregard a plethora of research that identifies that structured academics in the early years is not only unnecessary but can also be damaging. I am frustrated with those who are not prepared to stand up for the rights of children to engage in unstructured, free play. I am frustrated with those who are using academics as a marketing ploy, an attempt to lure parents in, rather than sharing research about play based learning and referring to the National Quality Framework. 

Just yesterday I was given a flyer for a brand new service opening up near me. The educator introduced herself and I asked about how many children would be in the service. She quickly answered that there would be 102 and that they would be split into 5 rooms, before redirecting me to the “innovative” reading program where children receive free books, explaining that even my young baby would receive books as part of the program. While receiving books is lovely I was actually gutted to read the promotional flyer which boasted “Guarantee 9 out of 10 children will read at level one or above by the time they start school!” 

Where do I start with everything wrong with that statement? The unnecessary pressure that this puts on the children and the educators is appalling. What happens if in a group of 20 children only five are reading at that level (which to me would be impressive. Impressive and unnecessary!)? Is all other play cancelled in favour of the reading program to ensure that children actually meet the guarantee? If so much time is spent learning to read in these early years, what will these children be doing in their Kindergarten year while other children are learning to read?

In another sad turn I was speaking with a fellow educator who is starting her daughter at Kindergarten at the local public school next year. They attended an orientation session last week and the educator found herself feeling very concerned for her child. The kindergarten teachers said that they expected the children to know several sight words before even beginning school and instructed the parents to go home and use sight word flash cards with their children!  

I just have to wonder – WHY? 
“There are no specific skills that a child needs to have before starting Kindergarten – they are not expected to know how to read or write. The main thing is that both you and your child feel confident about starting school.”
This statement comes directly from the NSW Department of Educations parent brochure Time to Start School. The brochure also strongly advocates for the importance of play in the early years for developing skills as well as crucial social and emotional development. 

So, if the Department of Education and the National Quality Framework advocate for the same thing – why is this downward push still happening? And more importantly how do we stop it?!  It really is up to us as educators and parents to put a stop to it. We all want children to have the best start to life, but by pushing academics into the early years we could in fact be doing the opposite. We could be creating a generation of stressed, over structured, over stimulated children. We need to give childhood back to children.

5 WAYS TO FIGHT THE DOWNWARD PUSH OF ACADEMICS

  1. Get educated. Knowledge is power – read anything and everything that you can get your hands on to support play based learning in the early years​
  2. ​Share what you learn. Share articles, books and information with your colleagues
  3. ​Speak honestly with families. Have a strong philosophy grounded in play based learning, have policies that support this and encourage discussion with families and opportunities for them to spend time in your service seeing the positive impact of play based learning
  4. ​Be heard in the community. Write a blog, send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, invite the community into your play based services. Do whatever it takes to advocate for children’s rights!
  5. ​Create meaningful connections with your local schools. Ensure that families are getting consistent information and speak up to the teachers, principal or department if you have concerns.
​By Nicole Halton








This past weekend our family headed away for a few days of camping. It was everything that I was craving – peaceful, dirty, fresh, we had time to just be. But something happened that I wasn’t prepared for, something that caused me to reflect on my approach to parenting. My five year old was so excited to be camping again and I was relieved to be away from the lure of TV and the Wii. From the moment we arrived he was keen to “go exploring.” Unfortunately drizzling rain and the need to set up camp meant that our opportunity to go exploring on that first afternoon was limited.

Thankfully we awoke the next morning to sunny skies and shortly after breakfast we were able to explore. We headed to the river and climbed over rocks, looked for stones, sailed sticks down the rapids, spotted spring blossoms and listened for birds. We no sooner returned to camp and the pestering began “can we go exploring again? Pleeeeaaasse?????” With a baby to feed and a toddler who was “hungry mumma!” I promised we would go again in a little while. This clearly wasn’t good enough and he continued to drive us crazy until we decided that he could play in the trees beside our camp site. That might not sound like much, but considering the trees were on a steep embankment that led down to the river, it felt like a big deal. He was out of sight and we found ourselves checking on him every minute or two, worrying about him falling in the river (though only about 30cm deep, it is cold and he would panic!) or wandering off.

After awhile he began playing with the two children in the campsite next to ours, one slightly older and one slightly younger. Suddenly I was reminded of my own childhood, having adventures in the paddock behind our street at a very similar age, the older children looking after the younger ones and all of us banding together and keeping safe. The three children spent hours over the course of the weekend, climbing up and down the embankment, hanging from the trees and playing incredibly imaginative games, games of dragons and fairies and pirates. The TV and Wii were long forgotten and new friendships were formed. Every now and then I had this moment of “eek… what if someone has kidnapped him” a thought that I wish wasn’t even a reality, but I realised that I needed to let him be (although I definitely did my share of peeking and eavesdropping)

When the amazing Peter Gray came and spoke at our annual Unwrapping Conference this year I was captivated by his stories of “free range” childhoods. I have always advocated for this concept, but now that the reality was actually here… it was hard to let go. But I did, I let go enough to still be able to hear him. I let go enough to still be able to peer through the trees at him. I let go enough to let him feel free to play in a way that children only do when they are on their own. I let go just enough to realise that in letting go I was giving him the same amazing childhood that I had.


By Nicole Halton
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Advocacy, Pedagogy, Programming

 
Well, it is December. The Christmas season is well and truly underway and my Facebook and Pinterest feeds are filled with photos of very clever Christmas craft, decorated rooms and ideas for embracing the festive season with children. Let me begin this post with a disclaimer (probably never a good sign!!) that I love Christmas and think that it can be a really exciting time for children. I have great memories of looking at Christmas lights with my family and doing lots of fun Christmas experiences. 

What bothers me though is that in our attempts to fully embrace the festive spirit, many services and educators appear to abandon their philosophies and subsequently, children’s rights. Services who usually wouldn’t allow a stencil to make it’s way in the front gate all of a sudden have Christmas crafts were every child makes an identical footprint reindeer. Services who usually encourage children to make choices about their play are suddenly urging them to “come and make a present for Mummy”. Services who usually embrace casual, relaxed group times are working hard on Christmas concerts where all of the children are expected to perform. 

The big question…why?

Why do we let the festive season take over our services? Is it not possible to celebrate Christmas in meaningful ways that actually link in with our philosophies? 

Don’t get me wrong – I know this is not happening in every service. Some services are doing truly meaningful things with their children and families and should be applauded for this, but the influx of images on social media tells me it is definitely happening a lot.

I looked back at some photographs of myself at age 4 at our annual Christmas Concert. There I was lined up with 20 other children, all with identical santa beards and hats we had made with paper and cotton balls, singing my heart out. Sure, I was having a great time. But just down from me was a child who clearly was not having a great time, in fact he was miserable. Looking at the photo I do remember this child refusing to sing Christmas songs at preschool and being told he had to join in the concert weather he liked it or not. I like to think we have come a long way in almost 30 years… but have we? I am still seeing children making identical Christmas craft and being coerced into Christmas concerts. And it’s not just Early Childhood Services – on the weekend I watched many children being forced to sit on a strangers lap despite their vocal protests (yes I mean Santa and yes, my children did have their photo taken with him, but it was optional…I am not a total grinch!)

A few years ago I think there was a swing the other way – in an effort to be inclusive of multicultural beliefs, many services abandoned the celebration of Christmas. And while I am not advocating for that, I think there is middle ground to be found. When I was Directing, we ditched the Christmas concert tradition and instead began having a family picnic at the park – a time to be together rather than be on display. One year we had a group of children who did want to perform for their families… they chose to act out Wombat Stew, a story that had been a favourite for months. 
We made lots of materials available and if children wanted to make something they could, if they didn’t – not a problem! Naturally many children came in wanting to make, create, sing and do all things Christmas and as with any other interest, we allowed the children to lead us where they wished to go, providing provocations, materials and support as needed. We opened up a meaningful dialogue with families about our choices and how doing specific craft experiences and forcing children to make gifts really didn’t sit in line with our philosophy nor did it feel like we were sharing a meaningful experience with the children. 

This post really seems to link back to the one I wrote on Mothers Day and I guess the message is much the same. 
By all means celebrate Christmas, but please make it meaningful to the children. Please allow them to still have the right to make choices about their play and their day. 
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I love the Internet. I love that I can find out anything about everything (thank you Google). I love that I can keep in touch with friends and family. I love that I can browse through thousands of images and websites in my quest for the perfect doll” and I love that I can network with other Early Childhood Professionals.

Over the last few months that last one has become something I do more of. I am a follower of many great blogs and have joined various Facebook groups designed for sharing ideas, supporting one another and reflecting on our practice. That sounds great in theory, but it would seem that a positive and reflective online group is becoming hard to find! In recent weeks I have seen arguments that have spiraled into name calling and at times downright nastiness. In the last few days I have seen many passionate educators leave these groups, taking with them valid ideas and opinions. I find this really sad.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a good debate! I actually think it is totally appropriate and good for our profession to have debates about key issues. How else do we evolve if we aren’t able to reflect on our opinions and practices or if we aren’t challenged by others who are as passionate as ourselves? I have had some great professional disagreements online and “in real life” and have always walked away learning something. And really – how boring would the world be if everyone agreed with me? (although sometimes I wish they would!!)

So if you are going to use these networking groups (and I suggest you do!) below are the four rules that I would recommend imposing on yourself in order to stay sane!

I would really like to elaborate on the second and fourth point.

I am a passionate advocate and I will never back down or apologise for that. When you have a strong belief or understanding that is supported by theory, research or regulations and someone is doing something that contradicts that and is detrimental to children, you have an obligation to speak up. When I read about someone leaving an educator alone in a room with children – I speak up. When someone says that you will “get in trouble” during assessment if the children climb trees – I speak up. I always try to do this nicely and to back up what I am saying with regulations, law or research.

As I said before, I love a good debate, but there are times when it is just not worth having an argument. Sometimes, for whatever reason, there are people who just want to get into a fight. Maybe they have had a bad day, maybe it is a particularly sensitive issue for them personally or maybe they just want to argue! I think unless you have something productive or purposeful to contribute…just keep on scrolling. If someone says something nasty… just keep on scrolling. I’m not saying we should necessarily back down – I believe it is important to stand up for yourself and to hold people accountable for their actions and attitudes, but sometimes it is just not worth the stress to engage!

Social networking isn’t going to go away – so we may as well make the most of it and view it as an opportunity to grow as a professional and to build a community of passionate, opinionated individuals!
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