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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.




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

​By Nicole Halton
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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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