Power & Freedom #3: Climbing Shelves and the “Other Adults Factor”

For a while I have been letting children climb (sturdy & stable) shelves inside while I stay close by.  I haven’t helped them get up or down, but stayed close to communicate with them so they can make informed, safe decisions.  Nobody’s been hurt and the fun, play, growth and communication that’s happened through the climbing has been immense.  It’s made me a little anxious trying to monitor them but I’ve truly enjoyed the process.

I’ve purposefully done this because at the moment my nursery does not have any climber for the children in or outside.  In my view, their absolutely literal need to climb should take precedence over adult standards in this environment.  They are capable of learning they are allowed to do certain things at nursery which aren’t allowed at home.  If we had a place for them to climb, I would be more okay with keeping the shelves off limits (though I honestly don’t care about the sanctity of shelves that much.  What is the worst that could happen if we let children climb and play on stable, sturdy shelves?).

I love seeing children assess and take risks in their play.  I have an increasingly high tolerance for mess.  As the title of these series of posts states, I think children need real power and freedom over their play, growth and learning.  I’d like for more adults in Early Years and education in general to take these principles seriously.  My love for working with children has only been ignited recently as I’ve learned to let go of my power in the room, and un- and relearn much of what I took for granted about early learning.

The truth is that two days ago I have chosen to compromise on these ideals.  Other staff think this shelf climbing is unsafe, unnecessary and should not be  allowed.  I disagree but I have made the decision to go along with in terms of “team unity.”  Like many Early Years teams we’ve all been part of, there are “splits” and different views on so much, including risky play and mess of course.  As a new TA, I am only beginning to understand the fault lines and history of the divide among staff.   I’ve decided that I cannot and should not push too many changes in the Nursery at once. I know I am pushing their comfort zones in other ways and I will choose my battles a few at a time.  At the moment it’s allowing messier play and allowing block towers to be built way higher then they were in the past.  After a while I hope they will see that these aren’t so bad or hard to handle and will just become a norm in the room.  Hopefully their tolerance for messy, risky play and the appreciation for the growth that can occur through it will increase over time.

The idea that “no significant learning happens without a significant relationship” is just as true between adults as between children and adults.  Though I openly, honestly and respectfully disagree with my fellow TAs on this topic, there are real issues with my fellow TAs not feeling respected or listened to.  Why should they be expected to be open to considering alternative points of views when their views are not being considered or respected?

I know in this instance I am selling out the children’s rights here but I think changes towards child-led early learning simply have to be taken a few steps at a time and with a team of adults who learn to operate from a similar page.

Am I handling this right?  Could this be a first step towards just going along with what’s expected, easy and “normal” in early learning?  If any other sympathetic TAs, Teachers or other EY staff are reading this, how do you navigate pushing for what you believe amongst your coworkers?



One thought on “Power & Freedom #3: Climbing Shelves and the “Other Adults Factor”

  1. Great blog! Winning hearts and minds isn’t always easy. Little by little your colleagues will see how the children benefit from your good practice and this will build their confidence to widen their thinking and make links to theories about choice, risk etc. and how they affect learning. Compromise is a great life skill not a sell out!


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