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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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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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Advocacy, Childhood, Community, Pedagogy, Professionalism

This weekend I was standing in line at a store with two of my little ones. I was distracted with the endless questions and the giggling that seems to be a permanent fixture of children aged 2 and 4, but I got the sense that someone was looking at me. I turned and came face to face with a woman who I instantly recognised. She was the parent of two little boys I had the pleasure of educating and caring for when they were in preschool. Their faces instantly sprang to my mind, as well as fond memories of their time at the service. We chatted for a few moments, exchanging pleasantries, before she told me that one of her boys was now 15 and taller than her. The images in my mind of this little boy seem so fresh, yet that little boy doesn’t exist anymore. Just like that, he grew up! 

I often think about what a privilege it is to be involved in the life of a child, particularly in the early years. We share milestones with them and see them grow and develop for a few years, if we are lucky. And then the time comes for them to leave us and move on to “big school” and this is where we “lose” them. Depending on our community we may still see them from time to time, at the local school or shops, but often they slip away, off experiencing new and exciting adventures with new friends and educators in their lives. 

One  of my favourite training sessions to deliver is on Positive School Transitions, it’s one of those things that gets me all worked up and talking with my hands! At the end of the session I often read out a beautiful poem from Let The Children Play and it never fails to get me a little teary… in fact, there may or may not have been several occasions where I have bawled like a baby! Why does it have this effect on me? I think it is that little reminder of just how fortunate we are to spend our days with these small humans, supporting them to become amazing citizens of the world. It conjures up a feeling in me that the time spent playing and laughing and hugging and listening and daydreaming and wondering and inspiring is time well spent. These children leave us knowing that they are loved and that they are competent. Sometimes they don’t want to leave (we had one little boy who cried his heart out, causing us educators to do the same, because he loved preschool so much and never wanted to leave) but when they do, we can be proud of who they are, of their love of learning.

When you run into a parent who tells you their child is now a teenager, or who shows you school formal pictures, it is amazing. When their face lights up as they tell you about their child and how they have grown, there is a definite sense of pride and gratitude. When they tell you that their child still talks about their preschool days with fondness, your heart swells. When they come to work for you (yes, that has seriously happened to us – we have been delighted to have Macayla working with us over the past few months after having her at preschool when she was 4, although it may make us feel a tad old!!) you marvel at what competent, knowledgeable adults they have become. 

What we do matters. 

So, today as you mix paint for eager little hands to paint with or read the same story for the thousandth time or rock a baby off to sleep, remember that it all matters. These moments matter.




Have you seen our brand new resource??

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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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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
 
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Yesterday, my children found a bird egg in the backyard. It wasn’t cracked or broken and they worried that it may have fallen from a nest and have a baby bird inside. Lots of conversation about eggs and birds and nests ensued. This is what I love about children – these natural opportunities to learn arise and they just run with them. This is why I work in the Early Childhood Profession – I love the discussions with children, the insights into their thinking, hearing them make sense of their world. 

When I was younger (and even now!) I didn’t have that “maternal” instinct that a lot of my friends had. In high school I had absolutely zero interest in dong the child studies course that so many of my friends chose because “kids are cute!” I don’t see chubby babies in prams and have the overwhelming urge to reach in and gush and goo over them. I didn’t even really choose to study early childhood.

After meeting my now husband in my final year of school, I didn’t quite “apply myself” as I should have and subsequently, my ideas of studying psychology were put on the back burner. It was my Dad who suggested doing a child care course and although I thought he was mad, for whatever reason, I decided to give it a go. 

I arrived on the first day to be greeted by twenty women/young ladies who all seemed to have that maternal/kids are cute vibe. As they talked about always “loving being with kids” I began to wonder if I was in the wrong place. 

On day two or three we began talking briefly about theorists and it was almost like I had been struck by lightning. THIS. This was what fascinated me. I quickly discovered that talking about how children learn, unpacking the intricacies of their play and their connections with others, this was the stuff that drew me in. 

Over the years I have realised that I do in fact love kids, I have formed deep connections with so many children in my care and have even gone on to have three of my own. But I am not (nor will I ever be) that bubbly, gushing “kids are soooo cute” kind of educator, or person. There is nothing wrong with being that person if that’s who you genuinely are, but I think that many educators feel like that’s who they should be. That they need to perfect the sing-song voice and live up to this ideal of what a teacher should be.

Over the years I have realised that it is okay not to think children are cute (or at least… not just cute). Put perfectly on a podcast (ep 0214) I listened to recently, Heather Bernt-Wenig said “see what’s happening behind the cuteness”. This really sums up what working in ECE is all about for me. It’s looking deeper, knowing more, unpacking play and seeing more than just “look how cute they are!”  

​Moments like those at the start of this blog post… that’s what it is all about.

Nicole Halton




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On Friday, while in the car together, Tash and I began discussing the fact that over the last couple of years (perhaps coinciding with the introduction of the LDCPDP Funding) there seems to have been a really big increase in the number of early childhood consultants and organisations providing professional development. With so many providers out there offering answers… we decided that our point of difference is that we strive to ask questions!

What do I mean by this?

As a profession we say that we view children as capable learners. We encourage them to ask questions, to wonder, to develop their own theories. When asked the question “why is the sky blue?” we refrain from answering with a statement of fact, choosing instead to engage in discussion – to ask the child “what do you think?” We support them to find information and to reach understandings that are meaningful to them. Outcome 4 of the Early Years Learning Framework sums it up perfectly – Children are Confident and Involved Learners. Well… so are educators!

The aim of professional development should not be to provide the answers. It should be to ask the questions! 

I am not suggesting that educators stop asking questions, seeking out information or looking for answers. Nor am I suggesting that professional development providers shouldn’t provide support, research or possible solutions. What I mean by this is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. There is not one way of doing or being that is right for everyone or that will “guarantee” a result of some kind. Professional development needs to be collaborative. Educators should be empowered to ask questions, to wonder, to develop their own theories. Each educator, just like the children we work with, brings to the table pre-existing ideas and understandings, they have a history or personal experiences that shape their perspectives, they work in a variety of settings with differing values and community contexts. 

Professional development should be exciting, engaging and leave you wanting to know more, to question more, to think more. Just as we hope that children will develop a lifelong love of learning, so too we should want that for our educators. It is time for professional development providers to practice what they preach! It is time for educators to push back if they are told “this is the way to do it so you get an exceeding rating” It is time for professional development to be a collaborative experience that really values educators and what they know. 

​Nicole Halton








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This weekend I managed to sneak a little time to myself to read “Unearthing Why” , the current book for our Inspired EC Book Club. As I read through the chapter entitled “Children as Authors” I found myself nodding in agreement at the words on the page. This particular paragraph jumped out:
“Writing for real purpose draws on our natural inclination and desire to connect, communicate and influence our world. Can you remember a time when you were asked to complete a task in which you could not see relevance? To do so can be infuriating and draining. In contrast, the energy that comes from being set a meaningful and purposeful task is infectious. Why do we assume children are any different? When we engage with children around an area of their interest they are more likely to engage, even if the skills required are difficult to master.”  

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Britt.C and McLachlan, J. (2015) Unearthing Why: Stories of thinking and learning with children, New South Wales: Pademelon Press
After some time spent reading I began to put away the washing (ugh!) and when I walked into my 6year old sons room, was delighted to see his calendar on the wall. At the beginning of the year he began to show an interest in the calendar in our kitchen. As he developed his writing skills at school (having just commenced school) he insisted on writing the numbers in the corresponding boxes. After missing some important dates, I suggested that perhaps he could have his own calendar to record the date on. Needless to say – he was thrilled!

I think it is worthwhile mentioning that in the years prior to starting school, he was in a wonderful play based service that spent a lot of time outdoors. He was not interested in writing or drawing and although every now and then I had moments of doubt as to how this would play out when he started Kindergarten, I tried to trust in him, believing that when he was ready and interested, he would write. In the first few weeks of school it became apparent that his pencil grip wasn’t so crash hot and he was finding writing a challenge. But still, I continued to trust. 

And it worked. As he is rapidly learning sounds and words and comprehending sentence structure, his interest in writing has also increased. He now seeks out drawing and writing as tools to make sense of the world, in ways that he has never done before. He watches me write lists and makes lists of his own, he see’s me labelling things and labels things of his own. 

So when I walked into his room I wasn’t totally surprised to see his calendar looking like this. He had diligently added the numbers in, but had also taken time to write in “mum” and “dad” on the days that we will celebrate our birthdays. And then at the bottom I saw “Movies May” and I stopped and wondered…for just a moment. Until I remembered that for the last six months he has been longingly looking forward to the release of the Angry Birds movie in May and the fulfilled promise of a trip to the movies with his grandparents. So there it was, writing for a purpose. His purpose was to record something important to him. In writing our birthdays, his purpose was to remember, 

Anyone that has heard me present our popular “Positive School Transitions” workshop will know I am definitely not a fan of rote learning and writing for the sake of writing. As a writer myself, making meaning through the written word is something I value deeply, yet it needs to be a meaningful process for the child. 

So, how do we facilitate “writing for a purpose”?
  1. Listen to children – find out about what they are truly interested in and encourage them to explore and share that interest through mark making (even if it is not an interest or topic on “our agenda”!)
  2. Provide children with quality writing materials – if we want children to write, we need to give them the right tools. I wouldn’t like to sit down at my desk and have a choice of four blunt lead pencils and a broken orange crayon
  3. Involve children in meaningful writing opportunities – if you need to write a shopping list – let them help, documenting experiences on the program – ask for their input.
  4. Model writing – in our highly technological world a lot of child may not see the adults in their life write by hand too often. Let them see you writing!

Watching children learn to write is an exciting thing – seeing their ideas, interests and questions land on the page, giving voice to these inner workings, well…it’s nothing short of magical!
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