Babies and Book Week
Here in Australia, it is book week. Now, as a book lover from way back, this week should be right up my alley, right? Well, it is and it isn't. Let me explain.
The general idea of book week is to celebrate children's books. Yes, that's an idea I can get behind. Now, that celebration looks different from school to school, or early childhood service to early childhood service. In many primary schools it may involve a Scholastic book fair, and a costume parade. Classrooms and libraries may be decorated and special activities planned.
In recent years, early childhood services seem to have adopted a similar approach. Now, as someone who loves books, you would think I would be delighted. But my frustration doesn't lie in the celebration of books (that's an amazing thing!), but in the way it is implemented, and the pressure that educators are apparently feeling to trot out a variety of book related activities.
For weeks now, in various early childhood Facebook groups, I've noticed requests for ideas for book week costumes and activity ideas. But in the last few days, I've seen several posts, all at once, requesting "ideas for doing book week with babies". I responded to one with "enjoy books and stories", and I wondered for a moment if people might think I was being sarcastic. But it's a genuine response.
Meaningful Programs for Infants
While I think it's true for all children that our programs should be free flowing, interest based and child-directed, how we think about programs for infants is a totally different beast. Programs for children under two aren't just about watering down a preschool program, or providing a smaller version of the environment we see in the preschool room.
We often hear educators say "I feel like all I do is the care stuff (in the nursery) and we don't get time for the program." But the care stuff is the program! When you are working with humans who are relying on you for sustenance, emotional support and connection, the care stuff becomes the program. I'm not saying we shouldn't be providing enriching environments that spark curiosity and creative play, but that the provision of a program of specific "activities" may be unrealistic and not meaningful. In response to the requests for book week activities for babies, some of the activities shared made me wonder if as a sector, we are taking a bit of a backward slide in terms of play. I know I've banged on and on about adult-led, product focussed experiences before, but while ever I keep seeing it, I will keep saying it.
You know what infants need (and not just for book week)?
- Educators who are connected to them
- To have their needs responded to
- Time outdoors
- Opportunities to explore through the senses
- Opportunities to explore schema
- Environments that are calm, spark wonder and support the emergence of independence
So, what about book week?
The theme for the 2023 Book Week is Read, Grow, Inspire. That seems pretty simple to me. Spend time connecting with children with a book. Provide books that are beautiful and inspiring to read and to share. Keep it super simple. There shouldn't be an expectation of a different daily craft activity based on a book, there should be a shared joy of reading books - that's it.