I am back with the lovely 2s in the Children’s Centre this term.
We only offer morning sessions and we have to pack up most everything near the end of the session as the space is used for Parent’s Groups, Heath Visitors, Nurses and other stuff. Due to the limited hours we are contracted for, we unfortunately have to start packing up while the children are still here.
At first I was conflicted about this as it is cheating the children of a full array of provision for the full 3 hours, but I am beginning to think they don’t mind that much! Today was a good example of what children can get up to when we simply let them.
One boy yelled “Look out, a T-Rex!” to another, pointing his finger up to the sky. They both yelled and started to run inside to one corner of the room. They stopped to laugh, look each other in the face and then the other yelled “It’s coming! A big T-Rex!” With that, they screamed and then ran outside to the farthest possible corner. Along the way they picked up five more children and the exclamations, running and fun multiplied. This continued for a good 20 minutes, seven two year olds having a great time running back and forth from inside to out.
I love moments like this, when the children are happily playing with themselves and have no need for me at all. I continued to pack up with my coworkers, and kept a discrete eye on them as the fun continued
At one point a few of them suddenly decided they needed to use the wooden blocks to build something. I don’t know what it was supposed to be but it had something to do with the game as one girl was urgently yelling “hurry! hurry!” as they laid the blocks out along the ground before they all ran on again. The game continued for at least 25 minutes in total before parents started coming to pick them up.
Here is where I am tempted to explain the heaps of learning and development that occured through this simple game, but I am getting tired of that discussion. If you’re reading this and genuinely want me to explain it more, I can. Otherwise, I am going to move on to the topic of Walking Feet!
Nine years ago this happy, cooperative, collaborative, communicative, imaginative and long-running game between a group of two year olds probably would not have happened. I probably would have shut it down the first time they ran inside. I’d say something like “No running inside!” or “Use your Walking Feet!” Maybe they would’ve continued it outside just fine, but it very well could have stopped there.
Five years ago I would have tried something like “Oh no, dinosaurs! Please play that game outside!” with a smile on my face. Though nicer in tone and a bit more respectful of their play, it still could have thrown it all off track.
The truth is, I rarely care about children running inside these days. I don’t buy that it’s really about children’s safety either. I think it is more a combination of adult worries of “chaos,” adult anxiety over what other adults will think of the kids’ behaviour and adult ignorance about children’s developmental need to run.
When we don’t understand early childhood development and lack confidence in our practice a firm insistence on a set of rules to enforce helps us feel “in control” of the room and the children. We will also be susceptible to worrying about what other adults will think of “our” children’s behaviour.
If Miss So-and-So in the room next door has her kids playing quietly at tables, what will the manager think of my kids running around yelling about dinosaurs? What will their parents think? Worse yet, if I let these kids run now, what’s to stop them from all running all of the time?
I’ve stopped immediately enforcing blanket rules on running this past year and a half and let me tell you: no children have been hurt, and they don’t all run all of the time. It’s also a relief to stop playing Classroom Cop.
I think it’s hard for most adults to realise how often and how easily we needlessly comment, interrupt, manipulate and otherwise interfere in children’s play. For these young children, we are the first adults for them to build relationships with outside of their families and close friends. Our setting is the one of the first consistent places for them to get used to on their own. The boundaries/rules we enforce and the manner in which we do have an immense impact on the way they will play and interact in the space.
I am not arguing against consistent boundaries. Children absolutely need them. I am arguing for critical reflection on what boundaries are actually necessary and beneficial for children in settings that are specifically meant to be for their growth, learning and development.