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Advocacy, Childhood, Community, Nature Kindergarten, Nature Play, Outdoors, Pedagogy, Play, Professionalism, Risk


I sat watching the children.

They were restless and destructive. I know the deconstruction schema is a ‘thing’ so that didn’t phase me.


We went for our weekly walk to the library. The children always gravitated towards the park. Why weren’t they as excited about ‘Story Time’ at the Library? I wasn’t allowed to take them to the park. It was too risky. Something just wasn’t making sense and I was so dissatisfied with my work. There had to be more. I really felt the need to break out of this safe mould I was in.

I did some research and realised nature based early childhood education was where I wanted to go. It made sense and I was certain that it would make sense for the children too.

It took me 12 months of searching before I started to find a model that fit Family Day Care. It was scary but I knew this is where I needed to be both for the children and for myself too. It would take a change of practise and a change in what I was taught Early Childhood should be.
I had started to develop my nature based Pedagogy.
 
I believed that children should be free to climb trees if they felt capable; splash in the river if they wanted to.
There were so many untouched nature spots where we live – it seemed a shame for the children not to be outside burning off energy and directing their own discovery.

And how better to have children care about the environment than them being emotionally invested?
During my research phase I heard the words risky/risky play, children’s work, child directed.
 
Risky play to me once I understood it wasn’t about danger but about trust in the children to know how to keep themselves safe. How to show them how to be safe. It’s about the adults in their lives managing the danger and them managing the risk. Rarely have I seen or heard of a child placing themselves in a risky situation and becoming injured injured. Bumps, scapes and close calls are all extremely valuable learning experiences. Bumps and scrapes teach resilience. Close calls help us to understand consequences. 


‘Children’s work is play and play is children’s work’
is a phrase I hear often and they are one and the same. The work/play a child does is so incredibly important for their development and is exciting to watch.
One day I was sitting by the river with a child who was so deeply into what he was doing. He was lugging massive branches from one part of the river to another. I mean these branches were probably 8 times his weight and easily 15 times his length. Some would say he was ‘just playing’’ It is more than just playing. It’s understanding how the brain works, ideas, body movements and how they see themselves.

Can I make this happen?

How do I?

What happens if?

How does it work in relation to… and so many more powerful questions. It’s any wonder children are exhausted at the end of the day. They work so hard navigating their way through childhood!
 
Child directed has been a buzz word for as long as I can remember. With invitations to play so thoughtfully set out that Miss 2 had spoken about last week were knocked down in 2 seconds and not revisited again .
To me child directed is where you sit and listen and watch. I don’t mean supervise but really watch what the child/ren are doing. If you are really lucky you may even hear what they are talking about. I tend to follow up a serious interest as soon as possible; if I can. I give them the tools to move on with their current fascination. Otherwise I’ll gather the resources and next time that line of development appears I’ll introduce it. Having said all that being out in nature more often than not offers the children the next path from their interest.
 
These aspects all are integral parts of nature play but not all parts. Nature play is a living, growing, evolving concept. Not even the children know where it may take them. This is the beauty of nature play. You never know what’s around the corner and nether did I as I stepped forward into nature play based Family Day Care.


I really hadn’t seen any Family Day Care based services when I first realised my path and I certainly had no one to ask. So as I always do I put it out into the world to see what came back. Within a few months I’d found out about a Scheme called Inspired Family Day Care. They were new, but from what I’d read about their philosophy it was the direction I wanted to take. I emailed them and followed up with a couple of phone calls. We talked for a long time. After years of feeling disillusioned I had found my new home. Within 6 months I was registered and had signed up.
Sunshine and Puddles Family Day Care was born.

 
Saying that leaving what I’d known for 10 years was scary was an understatement. It was safe and predictable. And that kept the children safe. It took me time to find my feet and at first I felt like I was drowning. So many decisions to make. So much had to change in my thinking too. It’s not like all the answers are all laid out for you. It’s different for everyone. You have to find your own path. So for the first 6 months I started working on my service environment.
Sold my softfall mats.
Slowly got rid of a lot of my plastic resources.
I started gathering what I saw as authentic resources that were sustainable or of the very best quality. I wanted things that not only looked good but felt good and had many uses. Who know that these were open ended resources! It really wasn’t a big thing in country New South Wales then so I felt quite revolutionary. Later on I was also to discover loose parts! Well, that was the real game changer! All the things I’d always been told were dangerous and risky for children to have access to. Not to mention tools!

As I became more confident in offering these things, the children became more confident in wanting to use them. It didn’t take long until there were nails in just about every surface available. As their confidence grew so did their need to discover more. It was about this time that a wonderful Nature Pedagogue by the name of Niki Buchan came to Bega and took the children and myself down to the river one icy cold winter morning. Surely the children wouldn’t go in the water right which would mean I’d have to go in with them? It was freezing and I don’t mean cold. I actually remember there having been a frost that morning. But as you know children being children they were in the water in no time. Bright red noses and enthusiasm in tow they were in. And would you know it they had the best time. Exploring, climbing and experiencing. I was stunned. I’d never seen these children so engaged and happy. There was so much told about the waters movement, how big the sticks were and barely a mention about the cold water – it was almost like it was irrelevant! It was my epiphany. This was what I wanted for the children. This is what I wanted for me too. It felt right. It felt like we belonged here.
 

Our first full visit was a couple of months later when it was a bit warmer and the children had shown they were ready for an extended visit. I also had provisioned my back pack. And I was ready for the apocalypse I was so organised. The back pack was so incredibly heavy that my back was sore for days afterwards. I can now travel to the river with my off road trolley or just the basics and we can still have an amazing time. I take no ‘toys’ just some twine, a pocket knife and a few other bit n pieces. The children do the rest with their hands, minds and bodies. Their imagination and sometimes even a good dose of boredom sees some of the most intense play.

When the children are in the zone I stay well out of the way. Its not my job to tell them what and how to do what they need to do. I can’t know what’s going on in their heads. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess. Each time an adult interferes in a child’s work/play session it changes it and probably not for the better. I try not to speak to the children. My job is to observe. If they choose to include me in their work then I’ll happily join in but I do try to make sure they are in charge of it. I’m happy to follow their direction. But mostly they are happy to periodically look and see where I am or come tell me something. I do listen attentively when they are talking to me, each other or themselves. I can gain an understanding of what’s happening at that moment in time.

I consider myself honoured to witness the children doing what nature intended them to. Be in nature.

By Linda Tandy


Hi, my name is Linda and I have been a Family Day Care Educator for approximately 15years. The last four years have seen a shift in my pedagogy and practice and I have delved deeply into nature based family day care. I am an educator with Inspired Family Day Care NSW. I believe children learn and flourish when they are given the time, freedom and space to be fully in the moment and lead their own learning. I have a strong interest in children having access to the outdoors in all seasons. I trust the children to know what they need and I am happy to observe them from a distance and facilitate their learning if they need assistance. 





























































































































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Community, Pedagogy, Play, Professional Development


We love Instagram. It’s highly visual and really inspiring. We love sharing on instagram…. but more than that – we love seeing what services and professionals are getting up to. We love seeing the engaging environments, the creative play provocations, the commitment to early education and care. 

We follow over 400 different Instagram accounts, so it is hard to dwindle it down to a few favourites… but we are going to give it our best shot (in no particular order!) 




1. @littletorquay  – 
Beautiful images that capture the simplicity of play


2. @checkinthehandbags – “Do you ever wonder what lovely preschool environments & invitations to play look like after the play? Toys missing? Check in the dressup handbags!” Love this one! There is often so much focus on the aesthetics of playspaces (which is not a bad thing!) but this account focuses on the messy, authentic delight of play! 



3. @stone_and_sprocket – We couldn’t not mention our good buddy Bec, whose feed often gives us a giggle with her quirky little insights. She also has awesome PD, bush playgroups and so much more to inspire educators. This gal is our go-to for all things behaviour and inclusion particularly!

Photographs via stone_and_sprocket on Instagram

4. @raw_and_unearthed – “Playbased learning in the wild. It’s authentic. It’s real. It’s early childhood Raw&Unearthed, the way it should be.” These guys are total nature play advocates! Their photos of adventures in the bush (including cave exploring!) are enough to make you slam the laptop shut and get outdoors


5. @natureplaysa – the Instagram account for one of Australia’s leading nature play organisations is just divine… whimsical, woodsy and inspiring. 


6. @invitationtoplay – beautiful, simple images that really do invite play. 


7. @inspiredfamilydaycare – our very own family day care team has it’s own Instagram account and it always makes us smile. So many wonderful educators being supported to explore the great outdoors with children in NSW, ACT, VIC and QLD. 

Photographs via inspiredfamilydaycare on Instagram
We’d love to hear from you… what are some of your favourite Early Childhood Instagram accounts?

And of course… find us on Instagram! @inspired_ec

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Childhood, Pedagogy, Professionalism


She found the terracotta pipes and began to build. Lining them up, end to end, it was clear that she had a very specific vision for her play/creation. She worked on her own for a long time, testing ideas and theories. Suddenly, another child arrived and started to touch the pipes. “NOOOOOOO!” She shrieked. “That’s mine!” 


So, the details of the scenario might be different, but chances are, you have experienced something similar in your service or home. It’s a really tricky situation! Our “educator voice” may be saying “it’s nice to share” or “why can’t he have these ones and you have those ones?” but our inner voice (the one that doesn’t like to share our mobile phone with a toddler for example!) is screaming “No! Why should you have to share when you have been working so hard for so long on your own?” 

This was the situation I found myself in today, and I have been there before. And while many people might advocate enforcing sharing -making the first child part with some of her materials or compromise her play) that’s not what I would suggest. Yes, we all know that sharing is an important skill, but I would argue that a child hoarding wooden blocks behind their back in a stack and not actively playing with them is a tad different to this kind of situation, where the materials were (and had been for a long time) being actively used by the child. 

So, in this instance… I have 3 tips. But they are not for helping a child to learn how to share. They are for supporting a child to not share, and supporting other children to understand why. 

1. Give them words to use – model age appropriate words or phrases such as “I’m working on something and need those pieces.” Sportscasting can also help in this situation!

2. Suggest ways the other child could be involved – sure, the child may not want to share their resources, but they may be happy to involve a new child in a different way. Perhaps they need someone to do a job (in this case, collecting macadamia nuts to roll down the pipes) and would be happy to delegate! The new child may also be happy with joining the play in this way. Keep in mind that this may not be the case. As was our situation today – she did not want anyone else involved in any way, shape or form! 

3. Make the learning visible to the other child – This might sound airy-fairy, but  highlighting what the child is doing and why they need all of the resources/space etc can help the other child understand. Even bringing it back to something that is familiar to them can help – “do you remember yesterday, when you were doing your painting? You needed all of the yellow paint for your sunflower didn’t you? But when you were done with your sunflower, you put the pot of yellow paint back on the table and made it available to other children.” 


While it might be tempting to “encourage” (often it becomes more of a forced situation than gentle encouragement!) sharing, put yourself in the child’s shoes. If you were busy setting up a playspace in the room for the children and a colleague walked over and began taking the resources you were using to create… how would you feel? While of course, our aim is to ensure that all children are happy, content and engaged in play, this shouldn’t be at the expense of another child. Why should the child who has spent a long time engaged in play with a particular resource be made to share that with someone who has been otherwise pre-occupied and has now decided that they want to play with the very same resources? 

Perhaps you have a different take on it… we’d love to hear from you!
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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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Art, Pedagogy, Play

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing – Salvador Dali

They sit side by side painting. He is 7 and she is 4. 


She begins painting her (almost trademark!) rainbow flower, each petal a different colour, while he begins with a series of black circles. She completes her flower and stops to watch him for a moment. She can see his circles beginning to form something. She retrieves another piece of paper and washes her brush. As she begins the black circles on her page he says “she’s copying me!” to which I respond: “she must be inspired by you.”  This simple explanation satisfies him and they both quietly return to their work, he creating his vision and she replicating it. 

We see the scenes often in early childhood settings. A child sits building a tall tower with the blocks, arranging them in a specific way before another arrives and begins using the same approach to tower building. Elsewhere, a child has adopted an accent and is “playing mum” in the home corner, giving away all sorts of “family secrets” as they imitate her behaviour and language! 

Children are natural imitators because the world is new to them.

They imitate to make sense of things that they may not understand.
They imitate to process ideas.
They imitate to try new ways of playing and working. 
They imitate because they see another child experiencing enjoyment or success. 
They imitate because their experiences of the world are still relatively limited. 

Many years back, I was working in a preschool room team. We were still exploring our own identity and at times that meant imitating.

We imitated because we thought someone else knew better. 
We imitated because we saw what worked for others. 
We imitated because we were learning about new ideas and ways of doing. 

We saw ideas in books and we tried replicating them in our program. We saw photographs of experiences and environments that inspired us and altered ours accordingly. We imitated and we played with ideas and we observed and asked questions. 
And then we made it our own. 

Its the same for children. Often they will imitate others, but the end result varies. Perhaps they just needed a little inspiration to get going. In our preschool room, we often observed children peering around the side of the easel to see what their friend was working on before even picking up a paintbrush. As they painted, they would take breaks every few minutes to peek around the side and check on their friends progress, returning to their own to make adjustments. When we established an art studio in our space, one of the key elements was that children were able to paint and create side by side. We began to see even more of this artful imitation. One child’s idea could lead to a whole group exploration! 

Another feature of our art spaces was often the inclusion of a provocation. An idea that stemmed from our understanding of the work in the early childhood services of Reggio Emilia, Italy. We would place an artwork, book or an object or jar of flowers beside the painting area. At times we questioned if this was too prescriptive, if it led children to create only in a particular way. Yet, we found that while some children were inspired by the provocation, others chose to ignore it and set about bringing to life their own vision. For some children the provocation was merely a start point, while others chose to replicate it in its entirety. So how is this different to “today everyone is going to paint on this stencil of a bird”? The key is in the choice. That and the ability to make it their own. Just the same as how we adults took what we were seeing in exemplary programs and approaches, imitated and then adapted to make it our own, no two artworks will be the same, even when the inspiration is the same or where one child imitates another. 

She  had watched as he painted the white frame of the bicycle, yet she chose yellow. While she was clearly imitating his work, inspired by his vision, she had a vision of her own – a vision of a yellow bike! His arched rainbow became a flat rainbow for her (who usually, interestingly paints arched rainbows!). 


In this case, the imitation was a great example of scaffolding. He, an older child, unwittingly supported her to go above and beyond what she had previously been able to create. While rainbows were already in her repertoire, had you asked her before this to paint a bicycle, you almost certainly would have heard “But I don’t know how!”  Yet , during the process of imitating him, she found that she could in fact paint a bicycle, she expanded her skill set, and no doubt – these new elements, such as the carefully crafted wheels, will make their way into other artworks of hers. 
Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate – Anonymous
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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, 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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Pedagogy, Professionalism



“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” 


Famous words from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and words that I have been pondering recently.


Last week I had the privilege of listening to the brilliant Peter Gray speak about his research on how children learn. During the talk he shared stories of the Sudbury Valley School and one thing that stood out for me was that they do not use the name “teachers”. For some reason this stuck in mind and I have been thinking about it for the last week. I looked up the Sudbury Valley School and found their explanation for this, when asked the question “do you have teachers?” (which was as Peter had said, however didn’t rely on me remembering it word for word!):

We have adults. They’re called “staff members” and they do sometimes teach, as do many of the kids, but their main purpose is to be here as resources, as people who help make sure the school is running properly, and as role models for what it’s like to be a grownup. Hopefully we’re okay at being grownups.


I can’t get this out of my head and last night I began thinking about the various names in early education and care. 

Children or Kids?


I have been known to refer to children as “kids” and have been chided by others who have stated that they are not, in fact, baby goats and that the term is disrespectful. A quick google search revealed that the slang or informal use of the word kid/kids to describe children may have begun in the 16th Century, which I found quite interesting. There were also various opinions on why the term is offensive, with some suggesting that is sounds hierarchical or reminded them of goats.

Well, I am indeed aware that children are not baby goats and while my use of the word kids is not at all derogatory or suggestive that they may well be goats, I do now find that I am correcting myself whenever I say “kids”. Why? Does it make a difference to the way I feel about them or the way I interact with them or to my role as an advocate for children?

Early Education and Care, Child Care, Day Care, Early Learning, Preschool

There are so many names used for what the service that we provide – is any one better than the others? Is there even a difference?

When I started working at a service it had a very long name which included “Community Preschool and Child Care Centre”. When I questioned the use of both “preschool” and “child care” it was explained that the service had previously been a “preschool” (in NSW – operates school terms, 9am – 3pm for children 3-6years) Over time, the hours had been extended and the starting age lowered, qualifying the service for CCB Subsidy, hence the addition of “child care centre.” The service has since gone on to have a name change which now better reflects the service it provides and is less of a mouthful! But, I often find myself wondering how we came to use so many different terms and whether they suggest to parents that we offer different things. Does a parent read the names and think “hmm, that one only offers day-care, while this one over here offers early learning”?

Would some consistency in naming help families and the community to value more highly, what it is that we do? And if so, how do we achieve that consistency?


Teachers and Educators

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the “teachers” at Sudbury Valley School are known as adults. In early childhood settings we primarily use the terms educators or teachers. Are these one and the same? Is the only distinguishing feature a university degree and a wage difference? Or is there more to it than that?

In my experience as what is known as an “educator” (who at that point in time was referred to as a “child care worker”) who then became a “teacher” – I experienced no real difference in my practice, in my work with children. I also didn’t feel, in either role, that it was my role to “teach” or “impart my wisdom” onto children, but that I was a facilitator – someone to walk alongside them as they made discoveries about the word, someone to listen to their questions and support them to unpack their hypotheses. In fact, I was also the learner – I was learning about the children and how their brains worked!

The Oxford Dictionary defines a teacher as “A person who teaches, especially in a school.” Interestingly, they define an educator as “A person who provides instruction or education; a teacher.”

Does the term teacher suggest a hierarchy? Is that hierarchy warranted? Do we value children as teachers also? Do we value parents or community members as teachers? If we were to not use the term “teacher” does it in any way de-value our professionalism?


Little Flippity-Jibbets Sunshine and Rainbows

Perhaps it’s just me, but the cutesey-fying (not a word… but should be!) of service names has always driven me crazy. I have always felt that it promotes an inferior image of the child – that instead of an image of capable contributors to society, it suggests cute, squishy playthings! But now, as I write this post, I find myself reflecting on whether this is fair. Perhaps this is no different to me using the term “kids”? This is something I need to think more on and would love to hear your thoughts on this.

One thing I do not need to think more on, as I know I absolutely will not change my mind, is the intentional misspelling in service names. E.G. Kute Kids or Krazy Kidz (P.S – These exact names are made up, however the use of the K instead of the C or a Z instead of an S is completely factual!) If we wish to be taken seriously as an education and care service, this is just a huge no-no.

 

So why does any of this matter?

Well, perhaps it does and perhaps it doesn’t. Who does it matter to? Why does it matter? Do the names we use make suggestions about the type of service we provide or our image of the child? Do they make a statement about who we are and what we believe or value?

Lots to think about… what are your thoughts?


Have you got a set of our STEM cards yet?

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Pedagogy, Professionalism

It was a sunny, Winter morning and the children were playing outdoors. A group of children had invented their own game with sticks and soccer balls, while others painted underneath the trees. I stood and surveyed the space for a few moments, then got the feeling that I should be doing something, should be interacting with the children. I spied three children busily “cooking” in the sandpit and thought I would join them, perhaps scaffold their play. Within moments of sitting down and opening my mouth it became crystal clear that my “interaction” was not wanted. The children glared at me and began gathering up their cooking things before moving to another area of the playground.

It hit me instantly. I had no business pushing myself into their play – it was theirs. I started thinking about what I had been saying to my educators for many years, how I had been telling that they needed to be playing with the children, not standing back watching. Was I wrong? How would I backtrack from this?


This story is one that I tell during training sessions and even though I cringe while telling it, I feel that it is an important story to tell. Despite my good intentions to be involved in the children’s play, to be an active educator, rather than standing off to the side inspecting my nail polish or chatting to my colleagues about weekend plans, I had made quite a big error of judgement.
Over the years that have passed I have had a lot of time to reflect on my actions that day. How did it go so wrong? Why did the children react in the way that they did? How could I have done things differently? 


How did it go so wrong?
Perhaps the first thing to note was that I wasn’t looking for a cue or an invitation to join the play, instead I just plopped down beside the children. To put this in perspective: I am sitting in a restaurant with some friends eating lunch.  A colleague spots me and decides to sit in the empty chair at the table. Although I like this person, my friends and I are in the middle of a conversation and the interruption brings a halt to it. This is exactly what I did to these children. While they knew me, and liked me (let’s hope!) and I wasn’t trying to interfere with their play, they were in the middle of something that I wasn’t a part of and I brought a halt to their play.


Why did the children react in the way that they did?


Obviously, the children felt that I had intruded on their play. Thankfully for me, their reaction manifested in a relatively positively way – there was no kicking or screaming, they simply moved their play elsewhere, somewhere that I was not.
Peter Gray speaks of the result of adult interference stating, Attentive adults can ruin games even if they don’t intend to intervene. Children perceive them as potential enforcers of safety, solvers of conflicts, and audiences for whining; and this perception invites the children to act unsafely, to squabble, and to whine. Play requires self-control, and the too-obvious presence of adults can lead children to relinquish their self-control.”
While the children in my instance may not have felt that I was coming to enforce safety or solve perceived conflict, I was still an unwelcome intruder in their play space.


What could I have done differently?


Watch. For as much as I once nagged my educators to play and interact and be involved, this experience showed me that sometimes you really are better to just sit back and watch. Watching doesn’t mean chatting about your plans for dinner with a colleague or glancing at your watch every two minutes to check how long until your lunch break. Watching is about being present. It is about taking time to notice the little things about children’s play – their body language, the way they communicate with their peers, the tone of their voice, the themes in their play. When you take the time to notice the little things, you open yourself up to seeing play in a different way. You also become more aware of the cues that a child or group of children may want or need you to become involved.Listen. Often if a child wants you to be a part of their play or needs something from you, they will ask. When we are present for children, they come to know that even though we are not asking them about their game or directing their play, we are available, should they need us.


How will I know if I am interacting or interfering?


One of the most important things we can do in our work with children is to spend time getting to know the children in our care. When we know our children on a deep level, we begin to understand their body language, their tone of voice and their cues that say “hey, I need you!”

When we interact with children we engage with children, we are playful. When we interfere with children’s play, we tend to take over, to enforce rules and organise the play.
Children deserve opportunities to play. Peter Gray defined children’s play as:
  1. Self-chosen and self-directed; players are always free to quit
  2. Play is an activity in which means are more valued than ends
  3. Play is guided by mental rules
  4. Play is non-literal, imaginative, marked off in some way from reality
  5. Play involves an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind.
When we look at those key elements of play, it is easy to see that adults are not a huge part of this process. While we may provide a basic environment, resources and support for play, our well-intentioned attempts to involve ourselves in play could in fact be interfering with the very nature of play.


References:
  • Gray, P. (2009) How to Ruin Children’s Play: Supervise, Praise, Intervene: How to enjoy, not destroy, children’s play, psychologytoday.com (retrieved 7th June, 2017)
  • Gray, P. (2008) The Value of Play I: The Definition of Play Gives Insights psychologytoday.com (retrieved 7th June, 2017)

We originally wrote this article to accompany a workshop that Tash presented at the ECTA Conference. If you would like training on this topic for your team, please get in touch!

If you love the work of Peter Gray as much as we do, join us in Melbourne and Wyong for events this October!  We also stock Peter’s book FREE TO LEARN in our online store!

 

 

 

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Art, Pedagogy
 
Well, it’s that time of year. Christmas is just around the corner and the craft projects are being shared left, right and centre on Pinterest and Facebook and being touted as “art experiences”. Of course, as they usually do, the painted handprints made into Christmas trees and paper plate snowmen have sparked heated debate amongst educators. Yet, once again, I lament that it seems for every educator who is frustrated by these “product based” crafts, there are several others defending it. Why?

I think for some these crafts are cute. They are something that “looks like something”, something that will be fussed over by the families. The most common responses to the challenging of these crafts are that “it’s just a bit of fun” or “the children love them” or “the families expect them.”  Recently though, I have heard a justification for these crafts that made me stop and scratch my head. 

“But it is a process. The children have to follow a process to be able to complete the craft” 

Hmmm… Yes, technically the children are following a process to complete these crafts, but when it comes to creativity – I just don’t think this hits the mark. Mary Ann Kohl (author of  Preschool Art—It’s the Process, not the Product, among other books) says “In children, creativity develops from their experiences with the process, rather than concern for the finished product.” 

The photograph above is what I found on our drawing table today. My 3.5year old has recently become obsessed with cutting and folding and twisting paper. Walking into the room and seeing this today, I was immediately taken back to my early days working in long day care. I remember the constant sighs and frustration of educators and the subsequent comments to the children: “you are wasting the paper!” Why is drawing or painting on paper seen as valuable and cutting or scrunching up paper is not? I could have easily looked at this scene and thought about the “wasted paper”, but her exploration of the properties of the paper, of manipulating it to fold and scrunch, are just as meaningful as if she had drawn on each sheet. The same can be said for sticky tape. How often have you seen a preschooler go nuts with the tape dispenser, taping anything and everything, layering piece over piece. It would be easy to see that as wasteful of materials, but we need to stop and look at the creative process. What is the child exploring? What skills are developing? How are they expressing ideas? 

Coming back to the Christmas craft issue. For me – I am not a fan of pre-determined, adult led craft activities. I would much prefer to provide children with a range of art materials, time and space every single day and if they’re inclined to make something “Christmas-y” then so be it. Sure, add some glitter or ribbon or something “festive”, but otherwise – leave it to the child. And… if you simply MUST do Christmas craft, for whatever reason, just call it what it is. It is craft. It is not art, it is not about process, it is not about creativity or exploration. Sure, it’s all just a “little fun” and it’s “cute” – but don’t children deserve more than that? Aren’t they more capable than following an adult designed activity? 

Embrace the process. It might not always look pretty, it might not always be what we imagine it will be, but you can guarantee it will be authentic. 

Nicole Halton

 

 
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Our “Reflections on Practice” digital download on Process vs Product might be just what you need to spark some professional thinking and discussion! Click to find out more
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