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Childhood, Nature Play, Parenting, Play, Risk



To the over-protective parent…


Firstly I would like to acknowledge that just because I have an early childhood education degree and 12 years professional experience, does not make me a better parent than the wonderfully dedicated parents I know. I certainly have my challenges, as do all families.  I use the television as entertainment to have a rest at times and have been known to have McDonalds because I just can’t be bothered cooking. Being an Early Childhood Teacher does however give me underpinning knowledge as to how  play and engagement in potentially controversial processes impacts children’s thinking, doing and learning.


As I sit here (yes, at midnight because my mind is whirling with thoughts!) and think about the opportunities I have given my son, who is now 5 and about to start primary school, I reflect on the experiences which have impacted his learning and may be criticised by the so called ‘helicopter parent’. Apologies in advance!


Yes, I encourage my son to walk up a slide at the park, to negotiate taking turns with those wanting to come down, to build leg strength, muscle tone, balance and coordination –  because getting up a slide, particularly at 2 years old is much more challenging than coming down. We know with the increase in children’s screen time and exposure to technology, there is a decrease in active play and this is manifesting in lower muscle tone and body strength of children in general today, when compared with children from prior generations (Hanscom, 2016).

 

Yes, I promote the use of stick play because we all know children (particularly boys) will use sticks for anything and everything and if we don’t give them opportunities to use them, to safely navigate them and to devise a set of agreements to keep themselves and others safe, how will they learn to do this when unsupervised and using sticks themselves?

 

Yes, I let my child pour his own milk on his Weetbix at 3 years old despite losing half a litre of milk on the floor 10 minutes before we have to leave for preschool. Why? Because he is using initiative and taking responsibility. He is developing pro social behaviours and becoming an independent citizen of the present. Yes, mess is not fun at the best of times (particularly for me- it is my shark music) but the outcomes for him are far more important to his lifelong learning.

 

Yes, I allow my child to go barefoot in the public park. Why? Because we live in a society where sensory issues and flat foot syndrome are on the rise and exposure to all the sensations of nature and the navigation of uneven surfaces will promote healthy physical and sensory development. Yes, I realise there could be a very very small risk that a hazardous incident, such as a needle stick injury may occur, but with the acknowledgement of drug addiction today and the many available needle disposal boxes, it was probably more likely I was to step on one 25 years ago when it was rare children actually wore shoes… anywhere!

Yes, I let him pick those crackers up off the floor at the supermarket and eat them because I had watched him persist for 3 minutes trying to open the packet without wanting any assistance or necessary intervention for the very first time and so not allowing him the pleasure of enjoying them with a huge sense of pride was completely trumped by the fact he may contract some minor germs (or more likely build his immunity!)

 

Yes, I have taught my son from 3 years old (with the support of his wonderful educators at preschool), how to safely engage with fire and allow him to use fire in particular situations, like when away camping and using a flint rather than a common household fire lighter that may be laying around the house. I do this as he understands the context in which fire is safe and is less likely to take unsafe risks with fire later on in childhood. He has often been observed reminding friends and family the agreements of safe fire use, such as keeping shoes on around the fire and knowing that even when there are no flames, fire can still be hot. Children are more likely to be burnt when flames are not evident as they associate the red flame with heat, yet the damage can be very similar. Exposure to real situations with fire will build their skills in assessing and managing the risks and therefore less likely to have a serious incident.  

 

No, I am not a free spirited, no rules mum. We still set boundaries, we still have routines and if we are faced with challenging behaviours, there are agreed consequences, but I give him ample opportunity to learn his way and in turn promotes his continuous love for learning and independent being!

 

It is with these thoughts that I encourage you to consider how protected is too protected? How does sheltering children from the inevitable because of your ‘shark music’ or anxieties as parent, impact your child not just now, but later in life?
Children are innate risk based learners. With or without your supervision, guidance and support they will try by doing. Allow them to make appropriate decisions that affect them and in turn start independently solving their own problems. After all, you won’t be there forever!

As I sit here, 25 weeks pregnant with baby#2 and emotional about sending ‘baby’ #1 to school next week, I reflect upon these moments and how competent, creative and capable my son has become. He is really ready for his next journey and I need to give myself, husband and other significant people in his life credit for this.

Now all I can think is… let’s do it all over again!

Mistakes and all… we have learned and we have lived!


Until next time…

Written by Kate Higginbottom

Mother and Early Childhood Professional

Empowered Early Childhood Consulting and Resources.



Kate Higginbottom has been in the early childhood profession for over 12 years, the last 10 of which she has been a Centre Director, working across diverse long day care settings from private, to organisational and now the community based sector. She holds a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood) from the University of New England and qualifications in training and assessment. Kate currently manages the operation of a community based service in Newcastle. Kate supports early education and care services through her business Empowered Early Childhood Consulting, as a consultant, with a particular forte in quality governance and leadership. Kate recently presented at the European Early Childhood Research Conference in Italy, where she, along with 5 other Newcastle based colleagues were awarded the 2017 Practitioner Research Award. She also has written for a number of early childhood publications and blogs, including Rattler and Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE).Kate has worked in a variety of advisory roles including on the Early Childhood and Primary External Advisory committee for University of Newcastle and the Queensland Workforce Council PSCQ for the Gold Coast.

 

 

 

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Childhood, Pedagogy, Play

This week we launched our exciting new TimberNook program. This amazing program, which is the brainchild of US Paediatric Occupational Therapist Angela Hanscom, has a strong focus on children getting outdoors, strengthening physical skills, building resilience and getting back to play! The facilitators of the program play a really important role, yet there is a very hands-off, stand back type of approach… and for good reason. I have written about the concept of interaction vs interference before and while many educators agree in theory, putting it into practice can be a little tougher. Which is why we have put together some practical tips for educators to “back off out of children’s play!” 


3 Questions NOT to ask Children at Play:

1. What are you doing? 
If a child wants you to know what they are doing… they will tell you! While this question is often well-intentioned, with educators wanting to know more about the child’s play and thought processes, it can lead children to question if they are doing the right thing, to wonder if their play is appropriate or “normal.” We also need to think about what we hope to garner from asking this question, that we wouldn’t be able to learn from simply observing. 

2. Can I play? 
If a child wants you to play… they will ask you! When we ask a child to play, we send the message “you need me.” In fact, children don’t need us, yet it has become an ingrained belief that they do and many feel that they need an adult to drive or guide the play. So why do children feel that they need us to play? Because from birth, we have “entertained” them. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t engage with infants or young children (this is very important for language development and strengthening bonds) but we do need to make time for all children to be “left to their own devices” so that they feel confident in their ability to play! 

3. Can I write that down/take your photo? 
I am all about consent. Children have a right to decide if they are photographed or have their personal words and ideas recorded. But, we need to be mindful about how we do this. The other day I watched a child working with pipes and water, connecting them on a hill to make a water run. He worked carefully and thoughtfully and silently. Had I stopped him to ask “can I take a photograph?” I would have interrupted his thought process and ultimately, his play. Instead, I took a few photographs from a distance (the benefit of a DSLR and a long lens!) and after he had finished I showed him the photographs and asked if I could keep them and use them or if he wanted to delete them. Most children are indeed delighted to have their ideas and voices recorded, yet others prefer not to, so it is important to find a way to seek consent, yet not disrupt the play. In your own setting, you may have the opportunity to ask children prior to play what they would prefer, giving them the option to say “please don’t take photos of me.”



It’s not always easy to step back and let children play. As early childhood educators we are usually taught to engage, to question, to play. There is definitely a time for this, but children also need a LOT of time to play. They need long, uninterrupted blocks of play. They need time and space to think and create. They need opportunities to make decisions and choices in their play. They need freedom to play how they want to play. They need to feel like they are not under the watchful eye of adults! 

While not asking questions might seem counter-intuitive or may leave you wondering “but how will I know what is happening, how can I document the learning, how will people know that I am doing my job?” staying quiet and tuning in to your observational skills (looking and listening) can actual reveal even more about children and their play! 

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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!

 

 

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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??

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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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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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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

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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
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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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