Tomorrow is the last day with the children in our Children’s Centre’s 2 Year Old program (most of them are three now of course). I am going to miss them quite a bit, as I have with any group of children who’ve “moved on.” Though honestly I am going to miss these children more. Changing my views on what early learning practice looks like has made these relationships deeper and clearer to me than any previous group of children. The only way I can put it is that it’s with this group that I’ve begun to learn to see these individual children for themselves in the here and now and not as future four, five, sixteen year olds or much less adults in training. My views of them am no longer weighed down by that secret scale of judging them based on how well they do or don’t live up to a typical preschool routines demands. I’ve earned to not only respect but see their intelligence and emotional lives – in all it’s 20-something months on this earth glory – in the here and now as well. Their intelligence and emotional lives obviously don’t look anything close to an adults, but it is there. I am more sure than ever that there it deserves just as much as respect as any adult. As John Holt put it, “be wary of saying or doing anything to a child that you would not do to another adult, whose good opinion and affection you valued.”
I am more confident and clear-sighted than ever before in what my approach to my work should be, and it feels quite good. I more or less just trust in letting the children’s happiness and engagement (i.e. the Leuven Scales) guide me in most every decision I make with the kids.
If children are happily playing with well selected resources, I will do my best to not interrupt them, and sit in one place or at least work on some stuff as close as needed and let them get on with things themselves.
If I am needed because of a conflict, I will do my best to calmly help them sort it out themselves as much as possible. I will suggest phrases like “don’t hit me,” or “can I use that when you’re finished?” If a child is hitting somebody else I’ll gently block them from doing it and say something like “I know you’re angry about not having the truck now but I’m not going to let you hit her.”
If a child is hurt I’ll do my best to calmly help them assess their accident and give all the cuddles they require until they’re ready to enter the play again.
If a child is new and not yet feeling secure or safe enough to get into some play, I’ll do my best to engage them in play or conversation while leaving plenty of opportunities for them to take the lead of the play themselves.
If a child invites me into converstation, play or interactions of any kind I’ll do my best to respond with genuine interest.
Part of me naively still thinks it shouldn’t be more complicated than this but of course it is: I work with all sorts of other adults who have different lives, experiences and views than me!
Earlier this week I took a group of our children over to the nursery next door as that’s where they will be in September. Long story short I saw a coworker who normally works with older children intervening in a conflict over a bike and she went straight into the “how about you have it for five minutes and then he can have it for five minutes” spiel. I didn’t openly contradict her in front of the children but quickly after blurted out “we’ve been doing less of that lately,” (absolutely not true in nursery!) “why can’t he ask the boy on the bike for a turn when he’s finished?”
I really surprised the both of us. She looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language. “… I thought we teach the kids to share in nursery?” In my shock at myself for blurting something out at such pointless time, I tried to mutter something about “I am not sure they are learning anything about sharing when we force them to.”
Later on I apologised for springing that on her. I don’t think she was too offended but I could tell she had no clue where I was coming from. She was only covering for the day in nursery, so trying to explain myself to her isn’t the biggest priority, but this interaction made me reflect (yet again) on the fact how little in my ten years of working with babies and young children has there been a shared general approach or ethos to our practice in any given team or setting I’ve been in.
Today we visited the nursery again and one of my program’s children kicked another one in a conflict and one of the nursery teachers came over to “make him say sorry” and then talked of giving him a time-out because he wouldn’t. She did ask what we did in the Children’s Centre and I gave the honest answer that it depends on which adult is dealing with it and kind of left it there. Just like with the Sharing Incident, I did not feel it was the right time to tell her I personally think there is no point in forcing a 34 month old to say sorry.
These two incidents beg the question: when is the time to have these conversations with co-workers? It seems to me it is never the right time as we are busy with so much else (some necessary and some not at all, but that’s another blog post). I am not and have never been a room or setting leader and I appreciate the difficulty of hiring from a low paid and respected talent pool, but I think developing a truly shared approach amongst staff is a widely unmet challenge in settings in the UK and across the world. I have my personal views on things, but I recognise there is more than one way to skin a cat, or cook a lasagne. What matters is that we work from a similar recipe.
In early years we like to talk a lot about gender, “getting it right for boys” and getting more men into the field. What we talk bout a lot less is race, class and immigration. Like I’ve mentioned in the previous post, I recognise my experiences have obviously shaped my views. I am interested in how people’s different experiences in terms of culture, race, class, immigration and more affect their views of child rearing and educating. I know I have a lot to learn from others, at the same time I am not going to be shy about my views and what I have been lucky to learn these last few years. I am slowly learning how to talk and reflect with coworkers in the moment, but the answer is further to be found in us having time to really talk with each other, and possibly leadership that steers and mentors us in a general direction. I would love to learn more from the examples of settings that have steered their ships in a shared direction.
Anyways I am about to have my first UK summer school break and I am looking forward to it of course, but for the first time in ten years of working in this field, I am looking forward to meeting and learning with next year’s group of children. I have strong opinions about my practice as is apparent but I’ve also learnt that there is never an end point in our practice. It’s a terrible but true cliche there always more to learn!