Written by : Emily Tibbitts
Music is a big part of my life. As a child, my nickname was songbird, because I was always singing and as soon as I stopped my Mom knew something was wrong. Music makes us feel, feel individually, feel together, it can snap someone out of a funk or help with a difficult task. Music is a big part of me, my identity. While I’ve forgotten how to play the instruments I once played throughout my childhood, piano, and flute, I still play one of my favourite instruments, my voice. It’s rare that adults will hear me sing though, or hear me really talk about my passion for music, I get so embarrassed and almost stage fright when I know someone is listening. Even at home, I get shy to sing when I’m not alone, but whenever I turn on a Madonna or Dolly Parton record my partner, Celine, usually knows I’m either sad and I just need to sing through my feelings or I’m happy and I am going to sing and give it my all. I wonder why as a child I never sang when I was sad? As I got older I found such therapy within singing. This is something I’ve been trying to bring to my practice, the joy I feel and the joy it brings when we sing and really give it our all, whether happy or sad.
One day a child approached me and asked for us to snuggle on the rock because he was cold. I noticed how Lindsay moments before was singing to him and how that seemed to comfort him. I’ve been trying to learn more songs that I can pull out during times like these, or when children have to wait in transitions and/or to help distract. I asked him what songs he loves right now, he said, “Nothing!” in a very angry way. I asked him what was his favourite song a few days ago, he told me he didn’t like them anymore. I didn’t feel like singing the two children songs I have memorized that I usually sing. I have been carrying around a songbook in the backpack that each day I mean to pull out in these sorts of moments, but of course, when I need it it’s out of reach. I decided to just sing. I started swaying and humming with him on my lap. I looked around me and I saw trees, houses, birds and the hill that some children call a mountain with Government House at the peak. I sang about what lived on top of a mountain and how there used to be trees all around with many animals and then people chopped the trees down and put houses there. As I sang about there only being a few trees left, as well as not as many animals on the mountain anymore, the child told me to add in that the trees started to grow and the animals came back. I sang how a boy noticed all the trees and animals missing and started to plant more trees; “He watched the trees grow and grow and felt his heart grow and grow.” The child then whispered and repeated this verse. He started singing it over and over very softy. “The trees grow and grow. His heart grow and grow.” We swayed together. Then he sang me “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” And then I remembered one of his favourite songs, I wonder if he did too.
I wonder when children are saying they are cold if they are trying to tell us something else? Here this child was in full snow gear, I couldn’t imagine how he could be cold. I wonder why when asking this child questions about his favourite things he can get upset? Am I putting pressure on him that is uncomfortable? I worry about putting pressure on children to be a certain way. I put pressure on myself to be a certain way, I have this voice in my head that says, “You are an educator you have to do things that educators do, like sing classic silly songs, play silly games and just be a silly educator like you see in the movies!” But is it realistic to put these expectations on ourselves, or on children? To be a certain way all the time because of societal expectations and norms. We are all such complex and layered beings, how can I respect the whole individual child, and how can I represent the whole individual educator? These are questions I think about often within my practice.
I see this child light up when he sings and I want to bring that joy he has in those moments into uncomfortable ones in order to help him learn to soothe himself when he’s cold or feeling anything else that isn’t comfortable; I want him to build skills towards resilience, self-confidence and self-regulation. I want this for all the children at Camas. But when am I putting pressure on children to be a certain way when maybe right now they just want me to make them happy? When do I push children to learn and grow in moments of being uncomfortable, and when do I step in and help? If I had pushed this child at that moment to self-regulate without my guidance I would have missed out on such a wonderful bonding moment. Because while I did not push this child to sit in his feelings of being uncomfortable, I do believe it was him in the end who did self-regulate, with some guidance from me. When the child sang the lyrics back I felt his body relax into mine, I felt his demeanour change. He did that, he sang when he was sad, he pushed through this uncomfortable time. And while I may have facilitated by singing a song, it was his contribution to the song and certain lyrics that mirrored his ideas that resonated with him, and that was what helped him push through being sad and cold. Right then and there I realized that learning how to self-regulate doesn’t always have to come from one person, I can help, while still having the child in charge of their emotions. So I’ve decided when these moments come up and a child is wanting me to make them happy and by pushing them to self-regulate, without much hands-on guidance from me, is just making things worse, I’ll try to sing; because singing makes me happy, it soothes me and I’ve noticed how it soothes children as well. Especially when they get a say in how the song goes and they can sing through their emotions, whatever those emotions may be, with all their heart.
Written by: Lindsay Lichty
I look over just in time to see a child with his chest puffed out and his head thrown back, letting out a long howl into the sky. When the long winding sound pulls the final bits of air from his lungs, he inhales, through a wide toothy grin, staring into the crooked, bobbling, plastic eyes of the brown and white dog puppet on his hand.
I imagine that the puppet, a silly looking dog, has never felt braver, bolder, and more honourable. I imagine the puppet recalling a sort of ancient knowing, the lingering flavor that you can’t quite identify, as with the faint memories of a dream that calls to our memories just below the surface.
I remind myself that the puppet is thoughtless, and instead, reimagine all of that power, that ferocity, and that boundless spirit, embodied by the child. As though on cue, the child breaks his gaze from the puppet and calls to me, “Did you see that?!”
I throw my head back, thrust my fists toward the ground, and release my own howl, allowing my lungs to churn out any remaining stale air, only ending my sound when I’m finally empty and gasp to refill myself with the air that’s been stirred around me—from the forest, from the wings of the birds, startled from the branches, the quick exhalations from the laughter of children, who have abandoned their narratives to join the call of the wild.
I am a woman who runs with wolf cubs, and I take it upon myself to protect their knowledge, their spirit, and their wisdom that calls to us to abandon our narratives to participate fully in the present. I am an early childhood educator.
“If we don’t populate the dialogue as early childhood educators, who will?”
I heard this message Wednesday night on a video conference call for leadership in early childhood education. The message sent an electric current down my spine. The current traveled, like a defibrillator, resuscitating my heart.
What are the stories that we tell about ourselves as early childhood educators?
“We need to unearth the old stories that live in a place and begin to create new ones, for we are storymakers, not just storytellers. All stories are connected, new ones woven from the threads of the old.”
-Robin Wall Kimmerer
Through early childhood education, I connect with my inner child. That is not to devalue our profession, rather to acknowledge the value of children. I am inspired to look at the world with curiosity. What a skill!
As adults, we can lose touch with the unknown, and we can become comfortable in the predictable, the measurable, and the certain. In this fixed way of being, anything that challenges our “knowing” can provoke a sense of fear.
Children carry the tools of curiosity, of wonder, of experimentation. We assist them, perhaps because they inspire us. Their creative ways of doing remind us of the endless possibilities in life. When we watch children, we learn, we are reminded of our own innate knowledge.
When we tell the stories of children’s knowledge, we are reminded of our own knowledge. When we observe a child playing outside, using what the fir tree, has offered, we are reminded that we already have enough. We move from a place of needing, into a place of abundance. We are moved to return to the present. If we give them enough time and space to explore the present, they are driven to discover. We are moved into a place of possibility.
“What else can you offer the earth, which has everything? What else can you give but something of yourself?
-Robin Wall Kimmerer
Today this is what I offer.
I offer a story of my journey of knowledge.
I offer my story of learning about the depth of being, from the pleasure of fully existing in a moment.
I offer a story of early childhood education as a radical profession with the capacity to challenge our culture narrative of not enough. Children are enough.
Imagine if each person could remember that they are enough.
Imagine the blow to consumerism, to over consumption, to our insatiable greed.
Can you embrace a world brave enough to stop “doing,” if only for a moment, and to make space to howl?
Written by: Meaghan Holek
I will never forget my mother's face when I described something as “stupid” for the first time (to her knowing). She froze in her tracks, her eyebrows furrowed and she told me to use another word. She told me that that word is spoken by people with poor attitudes. I had to agree, it stung to be called “stupid” in grade school by peers. I learned to remove that word from my vocabulary and use proper substitute phrases, like “that sucks” or “that is dumb” (because for some reason those were acceptable substitutes in my mother’s eyes).
As I entered the teaching world, usage of the “S word” was continuously shunned upon by my teaching mentors and fellow co-workers so naturally, I jumped on that bandwagon. I fell into the habit of acknowledging the word’s “negativity” to children who chose to use it even if there was no intention to hurt. I feared the word and its power so I had zero tolerance for it. I worked with children on finding other words or ways to express themselves instead.
So you can imagine how I felt when I heard the “S word” spoken at the lunch table inside of Camas Early Years Centre. I was setting up the nap beds when I heard it. Every single molecule in my body tightened and I looked over to see who said it and why.
A million or so questions started popping into my head: Was anyone hurt in the process? No. Was it being used to put anyone down? No. Did anyone else react like me? No. If I give my opinion on the word, am I giving the word power? Possibly. All my life, this word has possessed such power. Its consonants sound powerful, but people's reactions even more so. Was the object being described by definition actually stupid? Stupid is “having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense.” and no, the yogurt cup was not lacking intelligence or common sense. Is this child experimenting with this word? It seems like it. It was said quite playfully. Finally...Am I comfortable with letting this go? I think so, the others do not seem to care or notice. Why is this word such a problem for me? My mother. Why is this word such a problem for my mother?
Yesterday I finally asked her. Through video chat, she told me that her aunt (who raised her) did not accept the “S word” either, that it was a sign of disrespect. We laughed about it. My mother admitted it was much easier to banish the word than explain that it could be appropriate in some circumstances. What a powerful word!
It is a magical (and depending on the word, sometimes uncomfortable) experience to witness children exploring words and their power. There is a person in our program who frequently asks what the meaning of a word is if it is not familiar to her. I love her curiosity and
her drive to learn with zero shame of not knowing. It reminds me that these words are new to young children and while adults have a subjective but somewhat collective grasp on what words are acceptable and unacceptable, children are people simply experimenting with language in the early stage of their lives. One thing I do know is that children learn best by doing/playing/experimenting and I admire their risk-taking nature. In that moment at the lunch table, I cringed, I squirmed, and I spiralled into deep thought but in the end I just let the “S word” be. No humans were physically or emotionally hurt. Plus I didn't think the “because my mom said so!” argument would hold up in court!
Written by: Lindsay Lichty
“How, then, do we come to understand the child’s experiences?... [We] become anthropologists of childhood, recognizing that we are both embedded in, and yet distanced from, that very culture we once inhabited…It is the task of the adult “researcher” to uncover the existential ground of the everyday life experiences of the child and render them visible to those in power by giving them sensible actuality”
–Polakow, The Erosion of Childhood
A few months ago, I was thinking a lot about intentional gatherings in my practice. I was noticing that so many children sat for only a short time at the table, and I noticed that there was a lot of conflict during this time of day. I deduced that it was a combination of things—fatigue (this was the time before nap), low blood sugar (because of the lack of food the children were consuming), dehydration (very few of them sat long enough to drink water), and irritability (I noticed that a lot of arguments stemmed around a feeling of being unheard).
I brought in a blank notebook and wondered if the lunch table could become a place for sharing stories.
By recording children’s stories, I wondered what I might learn about them—what were they thinking about? I wondered if we could create a ritual of listening, to one another’s narratives. I wondered if we could create an intentional gathering of speaking and feeling understood. I believe that listening, as opposed to just hearing, is a skill that we must cultivate in order to create more peaceful ways of being. How empowering could it be for children for their voice to be validated?
I quickly learned that children loved poop.
Poopy butts. Poopy pants. Poopy heads. Poopy bums. Poopy diapers. I was conflicted, I didn’t want to write what was being narrated. The table was in uproarious laughter, and I wanted a gavel to slam on the table, “Order! Order!”
These are some of the tensions of the early years, and of many interpersonal relationships. How can we enter into spaces with curiosity? I was brought to this inquiry through intention, and I was conflicted because I was attached to an outcome. Daily, children teach me about conflict, about power, and emotions.
I went with it, and wrote a story about poopy things. It was uncomfortable, and the piece of paper floated around the room until it eventually was lost.
Our new storybook began with Alicia’s intentions, of learning more about people’s individual experiences and stories, and has blossomed into something beautiful. I feel as though she entered into her inquiry with curiosity. She offered the first story in the book, and by doing so, she inspired the types of stories the book collects.
Despite the move away from poopy-ness appearing in our stories, it was everywhere. Children delighted in their conversations about poop, and pee, and butts. I found it exhausting, because it was uncomfortable, and I wanted to control it. I wanted to control these conversations because they were socially unacceptable. I felt a sense of guilt when families were present, as though I was responsible for the “poonami” (funnily enough, I learned this term from a child that was telling me about when he was a baby, and the stories he has had relayed to him of that time. He learned that his diapers were at times so explosive, his family called them, “poonamis”. I laughed with the pure delight that the children seemed to experience each time they heard or said this word).
I reverted to old habits of control, repeating the words of educators I had worked with in the past, “Do you have to use the bathroom? Those are bathroom words. If you keep talking about poop, we can go to the bathroom.”
This method of communication doesn’t stop the behavior, it just ensures that I will not be included in the joke. It’s punitive, and creates a division in our relationship as equals. Suddenly, I’m enforcing my role as the “teacher” and the child is placed beneath me, as a “student”. In this moment, I only succeed in teaching them that I don’t get it, and if they were older, I’m sure they’d roll their eyes, maybe they’d even turn me into a meme, showcasing my disconnect with their culture.
It triggered in me, a desire to assert my power. And perhaps, that’s what all of this was about.
“Interpretation clarifies the meaning of experience and lays the groundwork for understanding”
–Denzin, Interpretative Interactionism
This brings me to the present, and the tensions in my practice. How do I make space for children to explore a sense of real power in their days? In reality, they have limited opportunities to make real choices in their days. Someone else decides when they wake up, largely controls what and when they eat, what they wear, and most of the pragmatic details of their life. Certainly adults offer choices, but, they choice is in-between the blue cup and the red cup, the apples or the carrots, in some ways it is an illusion of choice.
I’m not saying I would be comfortable in a world where children do their own groceries, and learn through trial and error that sustaining life on a diet of ice-cream is impossible. To the contrary, as an educator, I recognize the benefits of controlling the environment, and allowing as many freedoms as possible within an intentional space.
I also notice that it’s during times of transition that the majority of conflicts happen in our group. “Do you want to wear your muddy-buddy, or carry it outside?” In the question, I have ensured that the child will have the appropriate gear, the illusion of choice, to distract from the fact that they don’t have a choice in terms of going outside.
“You can go the bathroom now, or in five minutes,” again, an illusion of choice. We provide care for a large group of children, and there is often tension between the good of the whole, versus the good of the individual. We try to illustrate democracy by having votes, “Stand here if you want to go to the Truck Park, stand there if you want to go to Waterworks.” We seek to be fair, and still, there are times when children are left with little power.
So where can we give them real power? Poopy pants. Poopy bums. Poopy heads. Poopy. Poopy. Poop. How can I make space for their choice of language? How can I recognize the values of their culture? They like things that make them laugh. They like having things that belong to them. This language belongs to them.
Yesterday, a child was very upset as his father left in the morning. This has been happening a lot lately, and the old ways of comforting the child are no longer satisfying to his emotional needs. He isn’t open to being hugged, or to stories, or to being held. He stood, holding open the door. He begged his father to come back for to more minutes. His father regretfully said that he already stayed for five extra minutes and that he needed to leave to work. I asked the child about a song he had been singing yesterday, “tell me about those love bugs,” I said, crawling my fingers up his arm. A micro-smile appeared on his lips, and I could see him thinking, considering this invitation, for a split second before he remembered that he was sad because his father was leaving, and he began to bargain again.
I noticed one of the out-of-school-care leaders on the playground, and pointed him out to the child. The child smirked at the leader, and the leader playfully stuck out his tongue, stretching his fingers over his head like antlers. The child lit up, and mirrored the adult’s gestures, sticking out his tongue, and waving his hands from the top of his head.
“Hi, Poopy Butt,” the leader called out.
I looked at the child, with a look of exaggerated disbelief, “Did he just call YOU an poopy butt?”
The child laughed and called out louder, “No, YOU’RE a poopy butt!” He began laughing, his inner light sparked, and soon he entered the room, muttering the words, “poopy butt,” to himself.
I followed behind him, in disbelief, and compassion.
So here I am, reflecting on how to make space for the “Poopyness” in my practice.
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