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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

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

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… 

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!

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. 


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. 

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


Advocacy, Childhood, Parenting
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!!

This week a YouTube clip started doing the rounds, showcasing the “struggles” of “child care workers.” (and no, I am not going to link to it, as I really do not intend to give it more exposure than it has already had)

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

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

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

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

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

Standard 6.2 of the National Quality Standard says:

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

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

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

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

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

By Nicole Halton 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

​By Nicole Halton

Childhood, Parenting

I have a toddler. An unpredictable, inquisitive, amazing little human. Some days she drives me to the brink of insanity (granted, not a huge drive!) with her upending of every box, rearranging of each room and investigations of “what does this do?” Yet, she also surprises me every day with the things she knows and the connections she is making. 

Toddlers get a pretty bad rap most of the time. We’ve all heard the phrase “terrible twos” and have seen various memes about the trials, tribulations and frustrations of life with a toddler. Sure – toddlers are challenging, but when we really STOP and watch what they are doing, it is also clear just how incredible they are. 

This morning I watched part of a Netflix Documentary – The Beginning of Life. Although I didn’t get to watch it all (#mumlife), the part that I have seen so far was brilliant. It should be a must watch for every parent and educator. There were so many experts and parents sharing research and truths about children, but the standout comment for me was:

“We often say toddlers have trouble paying attention. What we really mean is they have trouble not paying attention.”

Let that sink in for a minute…

It is so true. I’ve often heard educators complain that they are not able to get their toddlers to sit for group time – for a story or songs or whatever. This comment above sums up exactly why… toddlers are too busy paying attention (to absolutely everything that grabs their interest) to pay attention (to the one thing that we want them to pay attention to) Makes sense to me! 

When we know that children learn through play – through doing, through touching, through exploring and wondering, how is it reasonable to expect them (particularly toddlers) to sit still and listen, to fight the urge to touch and explore?

Imagine you are a toddler sitting down on the floor… an educator is holding up a book and asking you to look at it, but out of the corner of your eye you can see a piece of sheer fabric blowing in the breeze. You can smell lunch wafting down the hallway from the kitchen and hear the windchimes tinkling outside the door. You spot a small ant crawling across the floor and you wonder where it is going and decide to follow it. Suddenly the book (as great as it may be) is just not so interesting. You have things to explore. 

I think we need to be really mindful, in all that we do with toddlers, of the expectations we place on them. When we have unrealistic expectations for toddlers (such as sitting for a 20 minute group time) – we set them up to fail. Instead of expecting that they keep all of the playdough at the playdough table, and then being frustrated when things are transported around the room (a perfectly normal part of development – Schema!), let’s set up our environments to cater for the unique, exploratory, messy learning style of the toddler. 

We need to embrace everything that is amazing about toddlers – look at our environments and programs through their eyes. When we do that, the challenges start to become less frustrating and we see those little moments of wonder and discovery that make what we do so very worthwhile. 

​By Nicole Halton


Childhood, Play, Professionalism
Twice in the last week we have had a picnic dinner in the park. One of the joys of daylight savings and warm Summer evenings, is packing up dinner and heading outdoors. We spend an hour or two eating, chatting and playing. On both nights this week I have noticed something that made me smile and do some pondering. 

On Sunday we went to a local playground by the lake. My three children had a great time playing on the equipment and wandering along the waters edge. Not long before we packed up to head home, a group of about five people in their late teens/early twenties arrived and had something to eat at a nearby table. They then began to PLAY! They climbed over the equipment, chased one another around the park and quite simply – had a ball. My son (6.5years) was a little concerned that they were “being silly” or using the equipment in the wrong way. I reassured him that they were just playing and that they were not being disrespectful of the playground or of other people, just that they were using the equipment in different ways. 

Last night we celebrated my Grandma’s 93rd birthday by taking her for a picnic in the park. Not long after we arrived, a large number of young people arrived and began setting out witches hats and donning coloured headbands. We watched with interest. A few moments later one of them approached us to explain that they were playing a game of Frisbee (crossed with football!) and that they would try to be mindful of us being there. Grateful for the heads up, we watched as the game unfolded and actually ended up really enjoying it! It was clear that this wasn’t a competitve, organised game, but rather a regular gathering of friends…engaging in PLAY! My Grandma (who as I said, turned 93 yesterday!) also enjoyed watching the game and commented how lovely it was to see people out having fun and running around like that. She spoke of her younger days and how even as adults, they didn’t go home from work and sit on phones or TV, they actually DID stuff. They played card games or went outdoors or knitted. 

This got me thinking about how we, as adults, often forget to play. We often complain that we are so busy, and have so much “important stuff” or work to do, but then as I look around (and even look at myself!) we (as an adult collective) spend a lot time fiddling online or engrossed in social media. A few months ago we were at my parents place and the children were all happily playing outside. We were sitting in the family room, chatting. I happened to look around and all 5 adults in the room had their phones out. I felt really yuk about it (I’m sure there is a better explanation for this, but for now we will go with yuk!) here we were, all together and yet worlds apart. When we put down the phones/devices and spend our leisure time engaged in something playful, it usually brings us such joy – why don’t we do it more often?

So, as the holiday period approaches, I am inspired by these groups of playful “grown ups” that I saw in the park this week. I am going to run, jump, laugh, get messy, be silly, create and play! And I want to challenge you to do the same. Let’s not grow old and stagnant…let’s PLAY!

By Nicole Halton

Childhood, Parenting
Self-Directed play is a time for children to learn, explore and make sense of the environment and world around them. Children can create a safe environment in order to explore and test their potential and it is one of the most effective ways for them to gain confidence in their own choices and abilities. It’s safe to say, self-directed play is a very good thing, and we as educators should be encouraging it.

The Raising Children Network lists a variety of benefits to the self-directed and unstructured play for children:
self-directed, unstructured play – where children decide for themselves what they want to do and how to do it – is really valuable. That’s because it gives children time to:
  • let their thoughts and imaginations roam
  • explore ideas and think creatively
  • run around just for fun.

Yet, children with disabilities are often not allowed the same freedom to direct their own play. As educators we are often so concerned with teaching the child the ‘correct’ way to do something, that we don’t stop to consider the reasons behind why a child may be doing something. To restrict the self-directed play of a child with a disability could be far worse than restricting the self-directed play of a child without a disability. Many people with a disability fall into a category labelled as ‘vulnerable people’. They’re more likely to have advantage taken of them and to be bossed about or picked on. For those reasons alone it is of huge importance that we let our children with disabilities self-direct many situations in life, starting with their play at a young age. We need to fill them with confidence and assertiveness in their choices and actions, and allow them to build upon those. 

It is all too common for an assumption to be made that a child with a disability needs to be constantly taught the ‘right’ way of doing something or learning something over and over like a drill. It is an approach that assumes the child is empty and we need to fill them with knowledge. But if we don’t fully understand their world and their perceptions, how can we be sure our corrections and teachings are indeed helpful?

Self-directed play for a child with a disability doesn’t require us to do anything different than for children without a disability. We just need to provide a safe environment and to show them that they are curious and competent learners and that we have faith in their abilities.

Some reflective questions we can ask ourselves in our daily practice and before jumping in and ‘helping’:
Why is the child playing that way?
Does it make sense to them?
Does it always have to make sense to us as adults and educators?
Is the child happy and engaged?
Do I need to intervene here?
How can I use this experience to build upon this child’s confidence?

Written by Laura McLeod

Laura McLeod is an Educator with a passion for inclusion. She has worked within OSHC programs, predominantly as a support for children with disabilities, and has enjoyed educating staff and children about disability and inclusion. 
Laura enjoys her learning and has completed the following tertiary studies: 
  • Bachelor of Health Science (Health Promotion) 
  • Graduate Certificate of Health Promotion 
  • Graduate Certificate of Disability Studies (Autism Spectrum Disorder) 
  • Graduate Certificate of Special Education 
  • Certificate III of Children’s Services
Her most recent achievement is being awarded Young Citizen of the Year for her work in creating ‘Sensory Friendly, Inclusive Concerts’ for people living with disabilities in her community and she hopes to continue making the world a more inclusive place for all.


PictureSource: Unknown (via Pinterest) – Please note, I think they space is great and would love to see an “in progress” or “after” photo simply to see how children responded!
This morning I found myself pondering my house. Despite spending a fair chunk of the morning tidying, cleaning, packing away and trying to make it “beautiful”, I was reminded of something I once read to the effect of “when I am dead and buried will people say ‘gee she had a clean house’?” While it feels important to me at the time, I seem to spend hours every week, doing the same things over and over (the joys of having three small children!). Why? Will my children remember that? Or will they remember time spent reading stories together and running around in the backyard under the sprinkler? 

This morning I started to think about how this related to Early Childhood. Let me preface by saying that I think a high quality environment is important (we even deliver a training session on it!) and that children are deserving of an environment where care and respect has been shown for materials and where they feel inspired. Yet sometimes I see photographs of play spaces that have been set up for children where clearly, a substantial amount of time has been taken by educators. They are beautiful, no question about that, but do they change the educational and well being outcomes for the children? Will the children think back fondly of their time at “preschool” and say ‘I remember that amazing dinosaur land that was set up with the handcrafted volcano”? Or will they remember the connection they had with their educators or the fun they had digging in the mud with their friends?

​I’m not suggesting that we should stop creating beautiful play spaces for children. Children deserve to have their imaginations sparked by beauty and items of interest. However, it has become apparent in many Facebook groups and in general conversations with educators (and a quick browse on Pinterest!) that the focus on the aesthetics of a play space may in fact be detracting from the play that is occurring there! When we spend so much time designing the space and fretting over “the children wrecking it” we can miss the magic that happens when children play. 

It’s kind of like Instagram. So many people have these beautiful feeds featuring carefully arranged and photographed images of their amazing lives. I’m not suggesting that they don’t in fact have amazing lives, but amazing lives can also be messy. Amazing experiences aren’t always pretty. And so it is the same with children’s play. Play isn’t always pretty. I feel like we all know this, yet the photographs that are shared online are predominantly the ones of aesthetically pleasing play spaces. We rarely see the “in progress” or “after” shots. As a sector we need to starting sharing these images. Sure, continue to share the beautiful space that you created, be proud of the work you have put in, but let’s also see the play and the remnants of play! If we take the focus, even slightly, off the aesthetics we will see that what really matters is about the children, it’s not about us. Instead of coveting photographs of a beautiful play space, let’s covet the magic of the play that is occurring.

That’s what we should be aiming for – children engaged in meaningful, enriching, enlightening play!