I call these posts “power & freedom” because I believe more than ever that they are two things children need and deserve to feel in their lives. These are also two things that can be hard for most adults, myself included, to accept, much less encourage or appreciate. Doing so means we have to give up our own control over the children and their play in a variety of ways.
In Early Years settings, where we can have so many kids and so many absolutely real issues such as staff views, scheduling, logistics, Health & Safety concerns, manager or SLT expectations and honestly our own patience, we can’t recreate mini-Adventure Playgrounds (no matter how hard I dream). Finding that balance of giving children at least some experiences with feeling powerful and free in the context of a large nursery setting is a fascinating challenge. It requires me to bite my tongue a lot and to observe and reflect on the children in my care. I truly think their play gets deeper and more dynamic when I step back and let them feel more powerful and free than I would have a few years ago. This letting go of control and respecting children’s play in a new light has been at the core of my new love for this work. I look forward to the day when I can childmind or open a setting of my own where I can fully make children’s power and freedom a priority in my practice.
There is one boy in my key group who has been settling in for a while. He only comes for short visits with his Mum until earlier this week he would not play or engage with anybody or anything in the room. He is from a poor, “challenged” (or any other euphemism you like) background Today was the first time his mom left for an hour. He was upset at first but was willing to go outside with me where he actually got to some great play. I showed and explained the things for him to do. I showed our big wooden blocks and that we could make something with it, stacking a few of them. He thought this looked great but turned out he just wanted to throw them around!
I tried building a few things but he just took more blocks and tossed them. At one point he made them into a pile. He really enjoyed this, (as well as the slide and trying on different pairs of wellies) and I am glad I let him go for it. I think in settling into a new environment children should feel their natural curiosity and urges are allowed and even valued. I want Early Years settings to be places where children feel free and allowed to explore their world in the ways they liked. These are supposed to be places for their growth and development, and I think we should let children own more of this process. It is their growth and development after all.
I won’t act like my first instinct wasn’t to wish he would build normally with the blocks. It would have been easier for me of course. I couldn’t help but try suggesting to/redirecting him a few times into building with the blocks but I quickly saw that is not where he was at in his play, interest or development. I consciously chose to stop trying to move him towards a more adult-acceptable use of the blocks and let enjoy the blocks in his own way. Who is to say building traditionally with the blocks is better in terms of morals, learning or neural pathways being built? If we know “behaviour is communication” what was this boy who does not speak any English trying to tell me about his interests and needs?
Allowing behaviour like this still does not feel natural to me. I’m sure he could pick up on my body language and tone as I let slip a few “be carefuls.” But by the time his Mum came to pick him up he was coming periodically to me with smiles, cuddles and to point out other things he found outside. This was a much more comfortable and confident boy than I saw just earlier this week who did not feel safe enough to play much at all even by his Mum’s side. I can’t say for sure but I like to think it’s partially because I provided the space for him to follow his natural curiosity.
Let’s talk about safety. Obviously I would have redirected his aim (and did once or twice) somewhere else if children were getting in the trajectory of his blocks.Not even two years ago I would have “nicely” stopped this right away, saying that “these blocks could hurt people but I can help you find a ball to throw.” This isn’t the worst thing to do to a child’s play but my heart is not in enforcing unnecessary blanket rules anymore. The only big NO’s for me are hurting people or property. I think it’s my job to be there to help them navigate everything else.
(The Rules posted at Roseville Community Preschool)