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On the weekend we ventured to Sydney for a family getaway. On the last day we stopped by the playground at Darling Quarter and my three little ones had a blast – climbing, sliding and swinging. As I watched the children play I also watched the adults. There were a variety of people there: those who hovered over their child, almost choreographing their play; those who sat outside the cafe, oblivious to the whereabouts of their child and those who kind of loitered in the middle! I am the loitering type – I like to be present for my children if they need support, but also am aware of their need to just play. As I was loitering at the bottom of the slide I heard some interesting adult comments:

“Wait your turn… now you go next. Okay, now it’s your turn” 

“Don’t go up the slide, its for going down.”


I stood and watched as my 6 year old decided to come head first down the slide and may have held my breath for a moment as I saw some older children start to climb up the slide at the same time. But there was absolutely no need. While the adults at the playground were worrying about children “playing the right way” or taking turns etc, the children had it sorted! And it is not just parents – educators are guilty of choreographing children’s play, of saying “this is how we use this equipment, this is how we take turns, this is how we engage with others. And, while it is important to support children as they develop both physical and interpersonal skills, if we don’t give them the opportunity to actually DO IT, we are essentially saying “we do not trust you to play.”

We need to stop choreographing children’s play. When a child pushes in front of another as they wait for the swing – give them a chance to work it out. If a child has never had another child push in front of them, they can’t understand how it feels and why it isn’t okay to do to others. Think about your own childhood – playing in the streets or the bushland with a group of children of varying ages. There were no adults to “sort things out” we just did it. We worked it out via negotiation and “kid rules.” 

We need to give play back to children… step back, they’ve got it!

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I could never be accused of not having an opinion. And I usually can’t keep it to myself either! Last week I found myself caught up in some “heated online discussion” over the use of a meme that I (and a great many others) found disrespectful to children. I won’t share that image as I found it stomach churning, but essentially it was an image that was taken of a child in a potentially humiliating situation and had been captioned “humorously” and shared online. 

I wasn’t the only one to speak up and say that I found the image disturbing, disrespectful and in breach of the rights of the child. I was impressed with the numerous educators and early childhood professionals who spoke up and articulated thoughtfully their concerns. Yet time and time again, those who spoke up were told to “get a sense of humour” “stop being so PC” and “just chill out.” So… should we just chill out?

I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humour and I often think that in tricky situations, if we don’t laugh we will cry! I have three young children and have worked with children for 14 years… there has been plenty of laughter. But to be told that I need to get a sense of humour or chill out because I don’t find a photo of a child in a humiliating situation funny, really frustrates me. 

It was positive to see so many professionals argue key points such as:
– Has the child given their consent to have that photograph taken or shared?
– Would your first response to an unwell child or child in a tricky situation be “I’ll go get the camera!”?
– If this were in a centre (it was hard to be sure exactly where the photo was taken) and the parent saw this image, how would they feel about?
– What message did the photographer send to the other children in the space?

But for as many of these comments, there were just as many that suggested that this concern was misplaced and that these professionals were taking things too seriously. 

I have to wonder… why wouldn’t you take what we do seriously? Why wouldn’t you take the rights of children seriously? Why would you think that it is unusual to be concerned about the emotional wellbeing of young children? Or the improper use of a child’s image?  

I was happy to have professional debate about it – we don’t all have to agree on everything and I think situations like this are a great opportunity to learn and grow in our professional attitudes.  But it appears that these types of posts are proving ever more divisive, splitting the early childhood community into two distinct “camps” which I find really upsetting. Surely we are all here for the same cause? 

So how do we move forward? Well for me, it involved removing myself from a particular facebook group that seems to not be open to professional debate and instead becomes a “place of huffiness”  and I am instead focusing my energy into places where debate and discussion is valued. I will continue to encourage the educators that I meet during training and consultancy, to be reflective and open to other opinions and ideas. And for me personally – I will continue to grow. I will continue to research, to build my knowledge bank, to ensure that when I do have these professional debates I can articulate my opinion in a respectful, informed manner. 

And no…when it comes to the rights of children, I won’t “chill out!”

​Nicole Halton

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One of the best things about the work we do is when we get a few of our trainers in one room and engage in some professional discussion (with a lot of laughs and shenanigans too!) On Friday, Tash, Brooke and I were in the office doing some planning for some exciting new training sessions and we began talking about the importance of children having  the opportunity to document their own learning and just how meaningful this is.

Well, on the weekend I had the chance to see it in action in my own family! We headed to the lake for some lunch and outdoor play. As usual I was armed with my camera, taking photographs of my children and the natural environment. As my almost 6 year old balanced on nearby logs I snapped away, documenting his skill development as he became more and more confident. I took photographs of him and his sister developing their own game with magic wands, mentally documenting the learning occurring (yep, that instinct never leaves you!!)

A short while later he asked if he could use my camera. He carefully put the strap around his neck and took some “happy snaps” of the family before wandering off to explore and take more photographs. When I put my card into the computer that afternoon I was surprised to see some of the photos he had taken, to see what had been meaningful for him that day.

“These were the rocks I was throwing into the water. I was seeing how far out I could throw them and I got one out a really long way… like a hundred metres!”
“I found this feather. I think it belongs to a Cockatoo, but I didn’t want to take it home in case the Cockatoo came back looking for it, so I left it here where it could see it.”
“There was lots of boats heading out to race and this bird…its a Pelican I think, was flying around this one. I watched it for ages and it kept doing circles”
I asked him to tell me about what he photographed and I have recorded that in the captions. And this is what I love about this idea of handing documentation over to the child:

I had recorded what he was doing, what he was saying, how he was playing.

He recorded what he was seeing, how he was feeling  and what he was experiencing. What was meaningful to him.

While our role as an observer, interpreter, anecdotist (a term used by Vivian Gussin Paley) and documenter is incredibly valuable in understanding children’s play and development and building a picture of their knowledge, skills and personality, we can’t underestimate the power of handing documentation over to the child. In allowing them to document their own experiences and learning, be it through photographs or sketches or telling us a story, we gain an even greater insight into their thinking.

Vivian Gussin Paley in her book The Boy on The Beach (this was the first book for our Book Club), encourages children to dictate their play scenes to her as she records them word for word. It is during these times that we gain a greater insight as to why a small group of children insists on playing “kittens” in the home corner each day, an insight into the roles taken by each child, an insight to the goings on in their lives and minds, those things that have the ability to subtly or obviously impact on their play.

Documentation of children’s learning doesn’t need to be pretty or perfect. The photos may be blurry or the words not quite right, but the meaning… it is just there! We spend hours searching for meaning in our observations of children and by no means do I suggest that we stop doing that – it is a huge part of why we do what we do and not only gives us insight into an individual child, but into children and play in a broader sense. What I do think though is that instead of always searching for the meaning, let children tell their own story. Hand over the camera, open your ears and document what is really meaningful to the child!

~ Nicole Halton ~

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Who remembers how fun it was when you were entwined in rough and tumble play with your parents or siblings? I remember giggling, tickling and rolling around the lounge room floor, or in the backyard.

Last week I visited an early childhood setting and observed two 3 year old girls engaged in rough and tumble play and they were absolutely loving it! They giggled with delight as they hugged, tickled and rolled during indoor play time. They were not creating a whole lot of noise and were in a cosy corner of the room away from the main area, although they kept glancing towards the educators as if on alert. I wondered why they were doing this. Did they intend to stop if they realised an adult saw them?

After about seven minutes an educator spotted them and called out across the room in a disapproving tone “Ah girls, go and find something to do please”.

Is this how you would have responded? I asked myself some questions. Do I view rough and tumble play as negative? Inappropriate? Only for outdoors? Not beneficial? I wondered how the girls felt when they heard the educator’s response. Did the tone of her voice give the message that it wasn’t ok to play in this way?  As educators we have so much responsibility to keep children safe that this is often our primary consideration when we respond to them.

But do we take the time to think about why children are playing in certain ways, and how their play is a way of communicating how their needs can be met? While we have to redirect children’s play sometimes, we must also tune into what their play is telling us and create opportunities to have their needs met in other ways. Instead of making children feel that rough and tumble play is wrong we should support them to use their senses and their motor skills in other ways. It could be as simple as getting out the crash mat (facilitating taking turns jumping onto this) or playing some action songs, practicing stretching, wrapping each other in blankets, or simply supervise the children as they tickle each other just as you would any other activity …..the options are endless.

Does rough and tumble play push your buttons because it is easier to support a child to do a table activity?

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This week has seen me return to teaching after 7 years as a Director of a Long Day Care Centre. I have been bubbling with excitement about it for weeks and the first few days haven’t disappointed! I have been looking forward to having the opportunity to once again be with the children and to perhaps do a little research at the same time.

In recent months Tash, Niki and I have been talking about it being unreasonable to expect toddlers to share. This comes as a result of our delightful toddlers playing together one day a week while we work and watching them “negotiate” who gets to play with the ride on car or swing on the rope swing! Each week it seems that they are getting better and better at this negotiation but sometimes typical toddler moments erupt (thankfully both Tash and I believe in letting them sort it out – so it doesn’t stress us out too much… and we know what good mates they are!)

Anyway, back to teaching! On Wednesday I watched some children making walls with blocks and “cement” (wet sand) in the sand pit – they were very engaged and playing with a real purpose. The only problem was that the blocks were located about 5 metres away from the sand pit. Each time a child stepped away to get another block they had that concerned look on their face (you know the one – “please don’t let anyone touch my stuff!”) and when they returned and someone was near their blocks or their wall, there were angry words and sometimes tears. Now the other children didn’t appear to be touching the blocks to upset their peers – it seemed that they simply wanted to play too. I felt myself starting to say “let Johnny have some of your blocks – you have lots” then stopped. Why should Thomas have to share what he had been working so hard on with someone who had just arrived on the scene?

Fast forward to Friday and I am watching a 4 year old build a train track on the table in the room. He worked carefully for about 15minutes – planning where each piece of the track went, carefully winding in and out of the baskets of trains. He finally had it all set up and stood back (appearing quite chuffed with himself) for a moment before beginning to drive the trains around. Suddenly another child arrived at the table and began pulling the carriages apart and taking them in a different direction. Again – there were plenty of carriages that could have been shared between the two children – but should the first child really have to share?

I found myself talking to a colleague about this very issue and raised my beliefs with her. I asked if perhaps I was being unreasonable? And then she raised a valid point – we find it acceptable that toddlers aren’t yet capable of sharing, yet seem to expect that once they become preschoolers they should suddenly be able to willingly share their space, their toys, their time. I put myself in the child’s position and wondered – if I had worked really hard on something and someone else came in and started to redo it or change it in some way, how would I feel? The answer – I would freak out! Although my reaction would probably (hopefully) be more controlled than crying, yelling and stomping my feet, I would not be a happy camper!
My colleague pointed out that she will often say to the first child “he just wants to have some too. You have the right to say no, but how would you feel if you wanted to play and your friend said no”  I quite like this approach – it gives children rights, but also makes them aware of the feelings of others, encouraging them to be a respectful and considerate friend.

I would love to hear from others – is it reasonable to expect children to share? Is there an age where it should become a reasonab


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