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I have many pet peeves. Anyone who knows me well knows that there a lots of things that drive me crazy – things not being put back where they belong, crumbs in the butter, that kind of thing! But there is a phrase that I have heard too many times in my Early Childhood career and it really drives me bonkers… “they need to learn to do that, they will have to do it next year at school” 

Now this phrase (or variants of it) is often used when discussing things such as:
  • Sitting for group time
  • Lining up
  • Putting their hand up to talk
  • Sitting on the floor with legs crossed

What frustrates me about this is that these, while being perfectly possible for some children, are really unrealistic expectations for many four year olds. As educators we know that many four year olds love to run, jump, climb, twirl, skip, bounce and just generally be active, yet there seems to be a lingering expectation that when we say “It’s group time”, these active children will be able to just shelve that need to move and suddenly sit still for up to half an hour! 

A recent discussion with a passionate EC professional highlighted this issue for me once again and she made a really valid point – we don’t say “hey they are in year four, but we better make them do year 5 work so that they are used to it for next year”  

Yes, it is important for children to feel “ready” for school… but maybe the schools need to play a part in this too and be ready for these children – as they are! The downward push of assessing and formal, structured learning is disappointing and frustrating. From an early age, learning is becoming more about sitting and listening, sitting and writing, sitting and reading. What happened to doing? What happened to learning by using our senses? Howard Gardner identified the different types of learning styles and I feel that in many ways, we in Early Childhood have become great at adapting our approach and environment to accommodate these. Yet unfortunately in many (not all – I know there are some great one’s out there!!) four year old/preschool rooms, these seem to get thrown out the window as we madly try to prepare the children for school. School readiness is a sore point with me (and a whole other blog post!) so I won’t delve to deeply into it, but I really think that as educators we need to advocate for change in the Early Years of school. We need to defend children’s rights to be active, to learn through play and to just simply be kids! 

The first step in that is to stop saying “they need to learn to do that, they will have to do it next year at school” Instead, let’s embrace the now! Let’s focus on the children we have in front of us, not the children that will be completely different people in 6 months or 12 months. And who’s to say that the child who is wriggling and rolling and playing with their shoelaces isn’t listening and isn’t learning? Surely disrupting the whole group to ask them to sit still 14 times during the story is not going to benefit them or the other children? We can get so caught up in trying to prepare children for the next step, that we forget to just slow down and appreciate what they can do, what they know and who they are right now. 

Embrace the now!

I love the Internet. I love that I can find out anything about everything (thank you Google). I love that I can keep in touch with friends and family. I love that I can browse through thousands of images and websites in my quest for the perfect doll” and I love that I can network with other Early Childhood Professionals.

Over the last few months that last one has become something I do more of. I am a follower of many great blogs and have joined various Facebook groups designed for sharing ideas, supporting one another and reflecting on our practice. That sounds great in theory, but it would seem that a positive and reflective online group is becoming hard to find! In recent weeks I have seen arguments that have spiraled into name calling and at times downright nastiness. In the last few days I have seen many passionate educators leave these groups, taking with them valid ideas and opinions. I find this really sad.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a good debate! I actually think it is totally appropriate and good for our profession to have debates about key issues. How else do we evolve if we aren’t able to reflect on our opinions and practices or if we aren’t challenged by others who are as passionate as ourselves? I have had some great professional disagreements online and “in real life” and have always walked away learning something. And really – how boring would the world be if everyone agreed with me? (although sometimes I wish they would!!)

So if you are going to use these networking groups (and I suggest you do!) below are the four rules that I would recommend imposing on yourself in order to stay sane!

I would really like to elaborate on the second and fourth point.

I am a passionate advocate and I will never back down or apologise for that. When you have a strong belief or understanding that is supported by theory, research or regulations and someone is doing something that contradicts that and is detrimental to children, you have an obligation to speak up. When I read about someone leaving an educator alone in a room with children – I speak up. When someone says that you will “get in trouble” during assessment if the children climb trees – I speak up. I always try to do this nicely and to back up what I am saying with regulations, law or research.

As I said before, I love a good debate, but there are times when it is just not worth having an argument. Sometimes, for whatever reason, there are people who just want to get into a fight. Maybe they have had a bad day, maybe it is a particularly sensitive issue for them personally or maybe they just want to argue! I think unless you have something productive or purposeful to contribute…just keep on scrolling. If someone says something nasty… just keep on scrolling. I’m not saying we should necessarily back down – I believe it is important to stand up for yourself and to hold people accountable for their actions and attitudes, but sometimes it is just not worth the stress to engage!

Social networking isn’t going to go away – so we may as well make the most of it and view it as an opportunity to grow as a professional and to build a community of passionate, opinionated individuals!
After the recent very ‘interesting’ accommodation experience Tash and I had (btw it hasn’t changed our sense of adventure when it comes to taking a calculated risk) I set off for Albury, hired a car and drove to Deniliquin for another training event. I had no knowledge nor expectation as to what accommodation I might find and was pleasantly surprised to discover I had been booked into a beautiful B&B with self contained units next to the river.

Tash had found a little corner of paradise and it was the detail that made all the difference to me. A friendly attentive greeting by my host, I was welcomed with a cooled room in the 43C heat, soothing background music playing, a platter of cheese and biscuits and a fresh bunch of fragrant roses on the table. The fridge was stocked with everything I would need as well as a breakfast basket.

Chocolates next to my bed, a spa with headrests and a candle, a bottle of port….or maybe it was sherry, coffee table books, beautiful watercolour paintings on the wall and stained glass windows created by the host and an open invitation to explore the garden and the river bank as I wish completed the experience.

I reflected on this experience and it confirmed to me the importance of ensuring that we don’t neglect the detail when working with young children. Greeting a child with genuine interest and caring as they arrive, create an environment that is neat, clean and respectfully set up with high quality resources and experiences, children who are invited and trusted to access both the indoor and the outdoor environment without unnecessary restrictions….all these details add up to a high quality and valued experience.

Thanks Tash – you got it PERFECT ….this time! 🙂

PS….this B&B is called ‘Cottages on Edward’ in Deniliquin – I can thoroughly recommend it!
What a busy day we had on Saturday! It all kicked off at 7:30am when we collected the team of 13 educators from Samford Pines Child Care Centre (Brisbane) from Newcastle Airport. As we headed off on the customised Stickybeak tour, the team chatted quietly amongst themselves (they didn’t stay quiet for long though!)

On our way to our first centre we made a quick stop at the Lake Macquarie Farmers market. After a browse and some delicious cupcakes, several of the team decided that they couldn’t come all this way and not have a turn on our giant 9metre spiral slide! That experience definitely warmed everyone up – and provided some great laughs!

We spent the rest of the morning visiting 3 beautiful services gaining inspiration and having some great discussions along the way. We even did a tour of some of Newcastle’s amazing beaches! By lunch time everyone had let their hair down and we enjoyed a delicious lunch and some time for reflection and discussion. The last stop on the tour was our resource centre for some much needed retail therapy.

As the day ended (and the team just made it onto the plane!) we were exhausted but excited. What a way to spend the day – with passionate professionals who we now consider friends. We definitely intend to visit their amazing centre when we head to Brisbane later in the year!

Another exciting thing to come out of the day was an idea from the brilliant Travis to put together a website/Blog where lots of different educators can contribute ideas, stories and experiences. A place to share! What an awesome idea… one we have to get up and running!

Earlier this week the educational leaders at my service and myself were discussing imaginative play and the topic of characters came up. We found ourselves caught up in a fascinating discussion on the role of these characters in imaginary play. I am a self confessed character hater! I guess I should clarify – the characters themselves aren’t really the problem, I mainly hate the merchandise that seems to accompany them and the message that sends to children and the subsequent pressure it puts on families. Sure a kid might love watching Dora the Explorer and even get some educational benefits from it (I couldnt be sure on that myself – so far in life I have been fortunate not to find myself watching it)but does everything in their life have to be branded with Dora – Dora backpack, lunchbox, sheet set, clothing, pyjamas and even their food?!

Anyway, slightly sidetracked! Back to the discussion – knowing the issues I have with characters one of the educators asked what was wrong with the children using characters in role play situations and if it was any different to children taking on other non commercial characters such as a policeman? Also – was there a difference between more modern characters such as Spiderman and Dora and traditional characters like snow white?

This really took some thinking – what was my issue with this and was it valid? I guess for me it comes down to some key points:
* The “limits” of characters – each character has a specific bio. They talk a certain way or dress a certain way and don’t deviate from that, meaning that children taking on the role of these characters in dramatic play situations may be limiting themselves.
* The behaviours of some characters – regardless of whether the character is modern, traditional or non-commercialised, for me it is about the appropriateness of their behaviour. Any character who is aggressive or mean does not sit well with me
* It concerns me if children have to rely on someone elses imagination to play. A child’s vivid imagination is one of the most delightful things. It always bothers me when I overhear a group of children playing and one says “You can’t do that, Spiderman doesn’t do that!”

We ran out of time to really get into a good in depth discussion about it… so I would love to get into it on here!!
Any thoughts?

Just a quick post for today (have been off sick for a few days now!)Finally the warmer weather has arrived and I love it! I love walking out into the yard and finding kids (and often teachers!) knee deep in the mud pit with hoses and pipes distributing water from our rain tank. I love seeing barefeet running through the yard. I love picnics under the shade of the trees. I love seeing the kids splashing and searching for frogs in our trickle stream. I love watching a “slip and slide” being created on the hill just outside our back gates – a giant piece of black plastic lathered in soap, a teacher with a hose and a pile of crashmats at the bottom. I love the grins on the kids’ faces when they land at the bottom. I love the laughter of the adults who revel in seeing children having so much fun with such basic materials!

Would love to hear about some of the “warm weather” experiences in other centres!