This week a YouTube clip started doing the rounds, showcasing the "struggles" of "child care workers." (and no, I am not going to link to it, as I really do not intend to give it more exposure than it has already had)
Sure, it was designed to be a comedy "bit" and I happen to think I have a great sense of humour. Yet, there were two main things about this clip that I found off-putting.
Over the last few days, I have done some serious reflection on this whole thing. Why don't I find it amusing? Why do others find it amusing? Would I have found it more amusing BEFORE I became a parent?
I strongly believe that being able to look back at our practice that we have evolved from and say "wow, that was awful!" can be a liberating and positive experience. I can honestly admit to judging (inwardly and in conversations with colleagues) parents at times when I was first working in an early childhood service and cringe when I think about it now.
I think that too often (not just in our profession, but in society in general) we are too quick to judge. We jump to conclusions really quickly, forgetting to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Parenting is a tough gig. Yep, it's a rewarding one, but it is all encompassing and really hard work! Many parents will relate to perpetual feelings of guilt and inadequacy. When we make the decision to place our child in the care of someone other than family, someone (or many someones) who are in effect, total strangers, we take a big leap. We are trusting that someone is going to give our child what they need, when they need it and when we can't be there. We are trusting that someone is going to love and nurture our child, respect them and appreciate all of the wonderful things that we see in them. And so, with that leap, comes worry and sometimes requests, questions or concerns (like those parodied in the aforementioned YouTube clip) that may seem a wee bit over the top.
Standard 6.2 of the National Quality Standard says:
Families are supported in their parenting role and their values and beliefs about childrearing are respected.
That seems pretty straightforward to me! Yet, the vitriol in the comments on this video, by people who call themselves educators, was appalling. Okay, we have all been there. We have all had a parent ask for something or tell us something or complain about something, that has caused a raise of the eyebrows or an internal "what on earth are they thinking?" But, the comments I read were criticising almost every thing a parent could possibly say or do. For sure, if a parent breaches your policies (e.g. bringing a sick child to the service) that's a problem. But when we are talking about parenting choices and approaches to childrearing, it is just not okay to be so damn judgemental.
What possibly bothered me more, was the fact that when other educators dared to express concerns about this, they were said to be "humourless" or engaging in "censorship." So it might not be nice to be "called out" for poor practice, but I wish someone had told me when I was 19 to stop being so judgemental of families. Instead I had to learn it the hard way - becoming a parent and being the one who is judged!
Meeting or exceeding standard 6.2 of the NQS isn't about having flyers of parenting information in your foyer, it is about respectful relationships. We don't always have to agree with the way someone parents (and by all means if abuse or neglect is a factor, that is a whole different kettle of fish) but we do have to be respectful. Take a deep breath and put yourself in the parents shoes for a moment before you roll your eyes or whinge to a colleague about that "high maintenance parent."
Quit the judgement! Life's to short to be negative.
By Nicole Halton
Yesterday we went house hunting with my parents. After over 35 years in the same home, they are looking to downsize and to be a little closer to family and their business. We looked at a few homes that met the criteria, but neither were "the one." After a picnic lunch, we decided, on a whim, to go to an open home which didn't exactly meet their criteria. We piled into the car and drove 25 minutes "out of town" to a semi rural property. 14 acres of fruit trees, gardens, a dam, undulating grassed area and two lovely homes (plus a barn and large shed!) We were in paradise.
For the last few years, my husband and I have talked about our desire to live on an acreage. To have space, to be more connected to nature. We have also at times, talked about buying a property with two homes and sharing the cost with my parents. This is a somewhat practical decision as it makes the property more affordable, yet as we walked around the grounds yesterday, I realised that it is really so much more than that.
In recent times I have given a lot of thought to the concept of "the village." You know the proverb "It takes a village to raise a child"? Well I have often thought about this from the adult perspective - how beneficial, as a parent, it can be to have a village of people to call on when times are tough, or to keep you sane after a really long day with a toddler! But as we walked around this property yesterday, it became clear just how important "the village" is for children too.
As I watched my children looking at the fruit trees and gardens with their grandparents, I realised that this was the sort of thing the traditional notion of a village was good for. The children could go off with Pop to tend to the gardens or help Nan feed the chooks or chop some firewood with Dad. Yes... my mind may have got a tad carried away. I was visualising our family living in this place and my children reaping the rewards of our own (albeit small) village.
I feel like as a generation of parents, we seem more stressed than those before us (or perhaps we are just more vocal about our stress?) and I wonder if this is in part due to the lack of a village. Our children (well not mine because I am a "bored is good" type of parent!) are more scheduled than ever. We put them in dance classes and cooking classes and art school and sport and I wonder if perhaps we were to embrace the village a little more, if those things would seem redundant. Would they instead go and learn to cook with the next door neighbour who wins prizes for her baking skills? Would they play football in a large group of neighbourhood children? Would they wander across the street and help in the community garden?
We need to bring back the concept of "the village" - if not for ourselves, for our children. With a wider circle of people with different ways of being, doing and knowing, just imagine the opportunities for children!
Now I'll go back to daydreaming about my idyllic acreage, but I will also be thinking about how we create this sense of village right where we are...
By Nicole Halton
I have a toddler. An unpredictable, inquisitive, amazing little human. Some days she drives me to the brink of insanity (granted, not a huge drive!) with her upending of every box, rearranging of each room and investigations of "what does this do?" Yet, she also surprises me every day with the things she knows and the connections she is making.
Toddlers get a pretty bad rap most of the time. We've all heard the phrase "terrible twos" and have seen various memes about the trials, tribulations and frustrations of life with a toddler. Sure - toddlers are challenging, but when we really STOP and watch what they are doing, it is also clear just how incredible they are.
This morning I watched part of a Netflix Documentary - The Beginning of Life. Although I didn't get to watch it all (#mumlife), the part that I have seen so far was brilliant. It should be a must watch for every parent and educator. There were so many experts and parents sharing research and truths about children, but the standout comment for me was:
"We often say toddlers have trouble paying attention. What we really mean is they have trouble not paying attention."
Let that sink in for a minute...
It is so true. I've often heard educators complain that they are not able to get their toddlers to sit for group time - for a story or songs or whatever. This comment above sums up exactly why... toddlers are too busy paying attention (to absolutely everything that grabs their interest) to pay attention (to the one thing that we want them to pay attention to) Makes sense to me!
When we know that children learn through play - through doing, through touching, through exploring and wondering, how is it reasonable to expect them (particularly toddlers) to sit still and listen, to fight the urge to touch and explore?
Imagine you are a toddler sitting down on the floor... an educator is holding up a book and asking you to look at it, but out of the corner of your eye you can see a piece of sheer fabric blowing in the breeze. You can smell lunch wafting down the hallway from the kitchen and hear the windchimes tinkling outside the door. You spot a small ant crawling across the floor and you wonder where it is going and decide to follow it. Suddenly the book (as great as it may be) is just not so interesting. You have things to explore.
I think we need to be really mindful, in all that we do with toddlers, of the expectations we place on them. When we have unrealistic expectations for toddlers (such as sitting for a 20 minute group time) - we set them up to fail. Instead of expecting that they keep all of the playdough at the playdough table, and then being frustrated when things are transported around the room (a perfectly normal part of development - Schema!), let's set up our environments to cater for the unique, exploratory, messy learning style of the toddler.
We need to embrace everything that is amazing about toddlers - look at our environments and programs through their eyes. When we do that, the challenges start to become less frustrating and we see those little moments of wonder and discovery that make what we do so very worthwhile.
By Nicole Halton
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
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.
Self-Directed play is a time for children to learn, explore and make sense of the environment and world around them. Children can create a safe environment in order to explore and test their potential and it is one of the most effective ways for them to gain confidence in their own choices and abilities. It's safe to say, self-directed play is a very good thing, and we as educators should be encouraging it.
The Raising Children Network lists a variety of benefits to the self-directed and unstructured play for children:
...self-directed, unstructured play – where children decide for themselves what they want to do and how to do it – is really valuable. That’s because it gives children time to:
Yet, children with disabilities are often not allowed the same freedom to direct their own play. As educators we are often so concerned with teaching the child the 'correct' way to do something, that we don't stop to consider the reasons behind why a child may be doing something. To restrict the self-directed play of a child with a disability could be far worse than restricting the self-directed play of a child without a disability. Many people with a disability fall into a category labelled as 'vulnerable people'. They're more likely to have advantage taken of them and to be bossed about or picked on. For those reasons alone it is of huge importance that we let our children with disabilities self-direct many situations in life, starting with their play at a young age. We need to fill them with confidence and assertiveness in their choices and actions, and allow them to build upon those.
It is all too common for an assumption to be made that a child with a disability needs to be constantly taught the 'right' way of doing something or learning something over and over like a drill. It is an approach that assumes the child is empty and we need to fill them with knowledge. But if we don't fully understand their world and their perceptions, how can we be sure our corrections and teachings are indeed helpful?
Self-directed play for a child with a disability doesn’t require us to do anything different than for children without a disability. We just need to provide a safe environment and to show them that they are curious and competent learners and that we have faith in their abilities.
Some reflective questions we can ask ourselves in our daily practice and before jumping in and 'helping':
Why is the child playing that way?
Does it make sense to them?
Does it always have to make sense to us as adults and educators?
Is the child happy and engaged?
Do I need to intervene here?
How can I use this experience to build upon this child's confidence?
Written by Laura McLeod
Laura McLeod is an Educator with a passion for inclusion. She has worked within OSHC programs, predominantly as a support for children with disabilities, and has enjoyed educating staff and children about disability and inclusion.
Laura enjoys her learning and has completed the following tertiary studies:
This morning I found myself pondering my house. Despite spending a fair chunk of the morning tidying, cleaning, packing away and trying to make it "beautiful", I was reminded of something I once read to the effect of "when I am dead and buried will people say 'gee she had a clean house'?" While it feels important to me at the time, I seem to spend hours every week, doing the same things over and over (the joys of having three small children!). Why? Will my children remember that? Or will they remember time spent reading stories together and running around in the backyard under the sprinkler?
This morning I started to think about how this related to Early Childhood. Let me preface by saying that I think a high quality environment is important (we even deliver a training session on it!) and that children are deserving of an environment where care and respect has been shown for materials and where they feel inspired. Yet sometimes I see photographs of play spaces that have been set up for children where clearly, a substantial amount of time has been taken by educators. They are beautiful, no question about that, but do they change the educational and well being outcomes for the children? Will the children think back fondly of their time at "preschool" and say 'I remember that amazing dinosaur land that was set up with the handcrafted volcano"? Or will they remember the connection they had with their educators or the fun they had digging in the mud with their friends?
I'm not suggesting that we should stop creating beautiful play spaces for children. Children deserve to have their imaginations sparked by beauty and items of interest. However, it has become apparent in many Facebook groups and in general conversations with educators (and a quick browse on Pinterest!) that the focus on the aesthetics of a play space may in fact be detracting from the play that is occurring there! When we spend so much time designing the space and fretting over "the children wrecking it" we can miss the magic that happens when children play.
It's kind of like Instagram. So many people have these beautiful feeds featuring carefully arranged and photographed images of their amazing lives. I'm not suggesting that they don't in fact have amazing lives, but amazing lives can also be messy. Amazing experiences aren't always pretty. And so it is the same with children's play. Play isn't always pretty. I feel like we all know this, yet the photographs that are shared online are predominantly the ones of aesthetically pleasing play spaces. We rarely see the "in progress" or "after" shots. As a sector we need to starting sharing these images. Sure, continue to share the beautiful space that you created, be proud of the work you have put in, but let's also see the play and the remnants of play! If we take the focus, even slightly, off the aesthetics we will see that what really matters is about the children, it's not about us. Instead of coveting photographs of a beautiful play space, let's covet the magic of the play that is occurring.
That's what we should be aiming for - children engaged in meaningful, enriching, enlightening play!
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It was 2006 and Tash and I were working in a community based service. As a team, we had established that we needed a new outdoor play space, one that allowed children to connect with nature, take risks and really get back to basics. Working with the educators, children, families and community, Tash designed a trickle stream that was to make the most of a then unused space at the side of our building. The vision was for a rocky, sandstone river with a pond at the bottom, where the water would circulate through hoses and run across the rocks. The idea was that the children could immerse themselves in our creek bed. There were some concerns from educators about how this would work under the regulations (the regulations at this time were much stricter around the use of water) but instead of being weighed down with "we can't do that" we thought "how can we do that?"
We worked closely with the our Children's Services Adviser (as it was known at the time) to ensure that we were meeting the regulations and when we were finished, we invited her out to have a look at the space and she was thoroughly impressed. We often had visitors to the service say "have you had accreditation or a licensing visit (as they were both known at the time) I can't imagine they are happy with it" and we were delighted to say "yes to both and in fact - they love it!"
The reason for telling this story is not to toot our own horns, but to remind educators that things are possible and that it is important to check your facts with the regulatory authority. During training sessions, consultancy visits and even in discussions online, we often hear:
" Oh that's great, but we wouldn't be allowed to do that"
" The assessor told us we couldn't do that"
" How did you get around the regulations?"
It's actually not about getting around the regulations. It is about being prepared to ask questions. Not sure if something meets the regulations (which by the way are far more encouraging of risky play now than they were back then)... ASK! Hearing from another service that "it's a requirement to do it this way".... CHECK THE FACTS. Just because someone says it is so, doesn't make it so. There are a lot of myths in early childhood! Have an assessor say "you can't do that" ... ask them CAN YOU SHOW ME WHERE IT SAYS THAT?
We need to be advocates for the child's right to play and take risks and sometimes that means asking questions, challenging thinking, doing more research. Don't just hear one answer and accept it as gospel!
Last week I took my three children to the local wetlands centre. After a big walk and some bird spotting we stopped for a picnic lunch and a play on the beautiful, timber playground. My youngest is 16 months. She is a climber, an adventurer, a risk taker. She is the one who is most likely to give me heart failure! But, every time she is climbing something or stretching out to do something that she sees her older siblings doing, I have to hold my tongue. While the mama bear in me screams "no....you'll get hurt!" the educator in me knows that she is well and truly more capable than I give her credit for.
On this day I watched her test her physical skills as she climbed into a large netted area. I resisted the temptation to help her, to lunge for her when she appeared to be struggling. And... she did it. She climbed up the side and over the top of the net and she finished with a look on her face that I once heard the amazing Claire Warden describe as "chuffedness"
The quote above (main image) by Loris Malaguzzi really resonates with me, as I think it does with many other educators. Yet, for as much as we (as a profession) say that we view children as capable, in practice, this often seems to begin from about the age of three. What do I mean by that? Well, taking a look at the vast majority of outdoor play environments for babies we see that they offer very little risk or challenge. They usually comprise of synthetic surfacing, round edges and low, even surfaces. It is delightful (and often rare) to find an outdoor space for babies that encourages risk, supports them to explore different textures or to really challenge themselves. While I understand our desire to keep them safe, by limiting their opportunities to take risks, we do the babies in our care a great disservice.
It is time to really embed this view of "children as capable" into our practice with babies. It is time to trust them!
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.
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