Last night the South Island ECEBC branch hosted a board meeting. Child Care Resource and Referral (CCRR) provided a delicious spread of food to nourish us. Many thanks!
We took time to celebrate the new graduates (only one Camosun graduate was able to attend), and to acknowledge Lexie Biegun, recipient of the Prime Minister's Award for Excellence in Early Childhood Education.
We took time to talk about the events that our branch has hosted over the past year, and laughed as we recalled the memories we have made within our community.
We participated in a brainstorming exercise to think about:
What professional development would you like to see?
(One group crossed out the word, "pro-d" and changed it to "pedagogical development")
What networking events would you like to see?
This table had a lot of laughter, and ideas ranging from a Flash Mob, to Tough Mudder!
How can our branch best support the community?
Lots of wonderful ideas, with a lot of focus on connection, and mentorship
If you didn't have the chance to attend, o, if you did attend and you're having thoughts about other things you would like to see, or do, in your community, I encourage you to add a comment.
Finally, the group participated in a blind contour drawing exercise. The results were hilarious! Please enjoy the slideshow, "Portraits of an Early Childhood Educator" haha!
Written by: Alicia Tysick
(the names of the children in this narration have been omitted, at the request of the children)
You’ve been on my mind lately. Especially since Tuesday. We were at the teeter totter park, and I noticed you sitting by yourself on the climbing bars. You looked sad, and I wanted to know why and if I could help. I walked over to you and asked you what was the matter. “I won’t make any friends” you told me.
This surprised me. It does not match what I know about you or what I have seen with you and the other children here at Camas. We all have worries, and I understand now that this is one of yours, but I am not sure why.
Here’s what I see:
I see two children arriving with their dad, chatting and getting ready to join us outside. I notice one child is wearing mismatched shoes like I have seen you wear for a while now. I started talking to their father about the shoes and he tells me “He said he wanted to be like his friend.” This did not surprise me at all, because pretty much every day I see how the other children in Camas look up to you. They like you so much that they want to be like you.
I see how when you’re away spending the day with your grandma today, and everyone notices. “Where’s our friend?” they ask. After I explain you’re away, I hear “Aw” from one person, clearly disappointed. You are so missed when you are away.
I see how when we are sitting around the table, talking about what superpower everyone would want if they had one, and there are all sorts of answers. "The power to make magic soup," "to grow oranges," "to make buildings and trees," and "to make rainbow trails," being among them. But everything changed when it got to your turn. You said you would want to control everything, and everyone at Camas then wanted to change their answer to be the same as yours. Your thought out power was something everyone wanted, not only because it would be an amazing power, but because it was you who suggested it.
I see you talking to someone, asking him to ride on the teeter totter with you. He is hesitant about riding, unsure if it might be scary. Other people might have given up, but you knew just what to do. You suggested you would ride “Super slow” together, and even pinky promised him that you would go slow with him. You got on going slowly, smiling at each other. You repeated “Slowly, slowly” which comforted him and made him smile. This is just one example of times where you are able to understand others so well so you can play well together.
Maybe you will still worry. It can be hard not to sometimes, I know. But I hope this helps, because I swear it is the truth. Am I worried you won’t make friends? Not in the least. You are a leader here, and you are so well loved. I cannot imagine that changing in school or anywhere else because you have so many strengths about you that everyone admires.
Written by: Lynne Reside
One of the biggest changes I have seen in the early care and learning sector over a long career has been the increasing focus on children’s autonomy, agency and efficacy. When I took my training, we thought a lot about the importance of children’s learning and readiness for school, we appreciated the importance of a solid foundation in the early years, and we understood how important it was to care for and nurture children’s development. We put a lot of emphasis on developmentally appropriate practice but generally we planned and implemented programming that we thought was what children needed to learn. Having being trained as a Montessori ECE, I believe that I was lucky to have training with the “image of the child” in mind as Montessori was very visionary in that regard. There was often a feeling of push and pull between the writings and methods of Maria Montessori and what I was learning in my ECE courses. In my time spent with children over the course of raising my own children, in my career, and in my reading and professional development since I became an ECE, I have increasingly been both fascinated and concerned about the concept of child citizenship. As a frequent user of social media, I am particularly interested in the many posts that are shared regarding children’s accomplishments, children’s voices, and children’s participation as citizens of the world. These are often posted by people who are amazed by their accomplishments in the arts, sports, social activism and more - not necessarily researchers, academics or those working directly with children, but by ordinary adult citizens who are often in disbelief at their accomplishments or ability to understand, undertake and accomplish what we tend to consider more adult pursuits.
But is this disbelief and elevating of particular children’s accomplishments a reflection of society’s more generalized image of the child as an incomplete adult with much to learn, as those particular children as prodigies, anomalies rather than just examples of the unfolding of children’s true natural instincts, their creativity, their sense of justice? Those of us who have worked with children and sought to understand their nature, to seek to support their inherent developmental and maturational drive through educating our selves and observing children in healthy nurturing environments, often become advocates for better training, better programs, better support for families because we have come to understand the depth of their abilities and potential and the need to embed quality opportunities into their life experiences. Dr. Montessori was not a proponent of praising children for their accomplishments but rather supporting them in the natural development of their own autonomy using the environment as the teacher. She saw children as capable and that their sense of agency was internalized through their own discoveries and theories about the world around them and did not require adults to elevate, confirm and praise what they did.
Like many on the social media sites I visit, I am also in awe when I hear a young child singing a perfect pitched and emotional rendition of a song on a TV show, masterfully playing a piano at the age of 5, standing up to world governments to advocate for social justice, education, or a meaningful response to the threat of climate change. As a grandmother whose grandsons have a passion for music, I am still surprised to see the way they relentlessly pursues knowledge about music composition, about instruments, about famous musicians. We know that children have a huge capacity to learn when they are pursuing their interests and passions.
Children think deeply, they pursue knowledge passionately, they feel injustice with intensity, they are philosophical seekers. Most of us read Lord of the Flies as a requirement in school, but is this really how a society would devolve if left to children? I would like to think that it could go a very different way. I once read about a children’s community, I believe it was in one of the Nordic countries where they created a democracy run by children with no adults involved. The children inherently understood the importance of equity and equality and formed their own “government” model for decision-making. I wonder what our world would be like if we gave young children true citizenship – greater input, greater decision-making, the vote?? Currently, we are seeing an increase in youth (usually teens) being included on city council, or other decision-making bodies. What would our world be like if even younger children had increased autonomy; greater agency; had a bigger voice in decisions that will impact them for years to come?
Are our programs true democracies for young children, or are they more like benevolent dictatorships? Years ago, when I was working as a preschool teacher, I had the experience of attending a week- long symposium that hosted two outstanding presenters from Reggio Emilia. It changed my practice forever. As often happens when we go for training, I came back to my centre determined to make changes. For my co-workers who had not attended the symposium it was too much! I learned that I needed to make gradual small changes for both my co-workers and for the children. We all sat down together and decided that we would not be having circle time anymore but we would have meetings with the staff and children. The children had seen the educators occasionally having meetings where we sat around in a circle. They decided we needed chairs and paper. We agreed to that and every day, the children would set up the meeting- bringing the chairs, paper, writing materials. Their excitement was amazing. They set the agenda and we all discussed it. That one small change from having a circle time led by the educators, to having a meeting set by the children, completely changed our program. The children addressed problems in the program, they made decisions about what they wanted to do and they were very engaged and thoughtful.
I will continue to be in awe of the Malalas, the Gretas, the amazing performers on American Idol, but I am trying not to be surprised by their capabilities, but rather to recognize that potential in every child citizen.
Written by: Lindsay Lichty
I had been trying to connect with this child over the past several months. I was captivated by the ways she explored power on the playground. I noticed that she seemed to enjoy being strong, a leader, and brave. She had loyal heart. She clung, with unwavering allegiance to her cousin, even when they were both so angry that they seemed to be swinging at one another.
I noticed how she held her chin high.
Even when she seemed hurt, or angry, or embarrassed, she turned her chin from me, calling in defiance, “I’m never going to talk to you about it”. She stirred in my mind many nights. I took thoughts of her with me on my evening walks to the beach with my dog. I do a lot of my thinking while walking, on the beach, in the forests, beneath the great big night sky. Out here, I am free to ponder.
For the past several months, power, leadership, and being female, cycle through in my thoughts. I’ve found myself having conversations with different adults, reflecting on how the world might be different for these children that will grow up with more examples of women in power, female leaders, leaders that will not have to be identified as being women, who will just be accepted as equals, as Leaders.
The other night while pondering another interaction with this child, who often seems the most responsive to me when I acknowledge her as being Brave, or Strong, I felt a shift within me.
I was thinking about power and leadership. I wondered if there was something about being a woman, about being in a profession of caregiving, about being undervalued in society, about having to stand up for ourselves so often that encourages us to be defensive. Does our self advocacy that protects us, create a barrier between the world and us?
In what ways do I raise my chin and turn the other way? In what ways do I resist compassion to hold power? Do I avoid interactions that suggest that I am hurt, angry, or embarrassed? Do I only respond to those that acknowledge me as being Brave, or Strong?
The seed was beginning to burst from the shell.
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn't understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” -Cynthia Occelli
I am a Leader. I have come from a line of Leaders. The women in my life have all paved a road for me, have offered me their stories, have shared with me the experience of living in this world as them, and that is a way of leading.
In my imagining one way of a future of female leaders, I negate the other ways in which women in my life have taught me about what it means to be a Leader. I had subscribed to the version of a leader that is loud, of a leader that commands an audience. I had my chin up, looking above all of the faces of the women that have had the courage to show themselves to me. A Leader is someone who dares to share their individual expression. A Leader is not defined solely by their followers.
How, by reconceptualizing what it means to be a Leader, can I rise to the potential of the Leader within me? When I move through this world authentically as myself, that is an act of a Leader. When I move through this world, authentically as myself, I offer my fullness. When I contort and hide parts of myself to model a leader, there is no longer fullness, and in the shadows created with the contortion, there is a breeding ground for shame, which prevents me from honouring my role as a Leader.
These thoughts bring to mind Peter Moss, and his call to educators that in order for transformative change, we need new narratives. Our image of the “Leader” repeats itself. Leaders come into Power. What does it look like to be powerful? Through the process of building, sharing and revising theories, through dialogue with one another, we are co-constructing knowledge. Through play, we share ideas freely, and through my reflection, I am gathering information about Leaders, and Power. I am modeling ways of being a Leader and of holding Power.
Whose voice is heard? Can we hear our own voice? Are we brave enough to distinguish our inner voice from the voices that bellow instructions in our head? Is your voice loud? Does it whisper? Where do you need to go to hear it most clearly?
The voice of my Leader is fleeting. She is excited, and comes to me in bursts. Sometimes I hear her in the morning, when the house is quiet, and I am enjoying my first cup of coffee. Sometimes I hear her whisper into my ear to the rhythmic beat of my feet, walking briskly with my dog. He seems to follow scents, and me, ideas. There is the droning voice of processing, replaying parts of my day, or imagined parts of the future, and those are occasionally interrupted by her voice. Her voice excites me, and I find myself wishing that I could capture it all. The quick burst of inspiration that move through me. I am usually left with a seed, a sentence that ruminates in my mind, planting itself until I’ve revisited it enough, fed it enough, so that it can burst from the shell and offer me a new way to grow.
Currently, the voice has called me to pay attention to Leaders and Power. I am called to return to Iris Berger’s 2015 article, “Pedagogical Narrations and Leadership in Early Childhood Education as Thinking in Moments of Not Knowing”. I skim through my notes on this article, and they feed that voice within me, that voice of the Leader as one who seeks to understand.
“Thinking is thus a kind of an awakening that orients us back to the world, toward others, and thus it highlights our interdependency.” –Iris Berger
I write as an invitation to move beneath the surface. I write to reveal my thoughts as offerings to connect with. I write to feed the seeds of the thoughts of the person reading on the other side of the screen. I write to search for the seeds that remind us that no one of us is alone in our experiences. I write to appeal to the emotions that connect us. I write because that is my voice, the voice of the Leader that knows I feel most alive when I am connected. As a Leader, I want us all to feel most alive. I wish for us to belong to our uniqueness, and through that collection of life, to recognize our connectedness.
Written by: Lindsay Lichty
When we arrive at the park, it is mostly empty, aside from a mother and her young family. I have arrived just after the children. I am pulling a wagon with their water bottles. I had instructed them to run ahead and now they were all sitting and waiting at “the green picnic table under the shade”.
Everyone is so content and relaxed.
Joyful play begins. There is child at the top of the slide hammering his boots to send a loud, vibratory, KONG! across the stillness in the garden. The city of Victoria really is a garden at this time of the year.
A bush of lilac invited us all to turn our heads as we walked along Brooke Street. Another bush, unknown to me, displayed feathery cones that the children plucked as we passed.
Nature reminds us of fullness.
I smile at the sun, because of how wonderful it feels to be warm.
My eyes relax in the dimensions of greens.
I am aware of the abundance of life, and I feel Joy.
Children seem to return often, and easily, to Joy. Given the time and space, they have a great capacity to curiously approach the stick, the stone, the worm. Do they notice the abundance of life? Interacting with the world around them, they look for the leaf that moves to notice them, or the waves returning to the shore to spray their toes, and they accept the invitation to engage, to play.
In these moments of great peace, I reflect on conflict, and I wonder what tips the scales? What of the environment distracts us from the abundance and disrupts, or inhibits curiosity? In these moments, there are no invitations to engage. Our behaviours are engaged like armour, or weaponry, “engage the tantrum!”
It this moment, I reflect that challenging behaviors often seem to present themselves when we act as barriers of Joy.
Perhaps all, or most, behaviours are messages—emotions translated into expression. When we interrupt a child, pulling them away from the stick, the stone, the worm, we might receive a message in the form of a “challenging” behavior. How do we respond? The behavior of the resistance, or the uprising, is telling us something, are they annoyed? Irritated? Worried? Angry? We have interrupted a moment, perhaps rather abruptly. How can we respond emotionally, with curiosity and compassion so that the child, and their abundance, is noticed?
Can I acknowledge my own behavior and make time and space for curiosity? How am I standing? Am I creating an invitation, or an instruction? What emotions am I conveying? Am I frustrated? Annoyed? Uncomfortable?
Challenging behaviors are an expressive language that ask us to remain flexible, to dance. These behaviours ask us to step outside of ourselves and to recognize our contribution to the tension.
Challenging emotions seem to be those that we are afraid to let ourselves feel, and can equally act as barriers to Joy. As an educator, these are spaces to reflect on environment and to ensure that we truly reflect a space of belonging. You can be sad. You can be afraid. You can be worried. You can be angry. You can be embarrassed. You will always be loved, unconditionally.
When working to diffuse conflict, I’ve been encouraging children to use the words, “I feel,” followed by an emotion, and the words, “I need,” followed by an action.
I try to enter into situations with “Can I help?” the words often travel faster than I can to a point on the playground where I see the tension rising. Anger often quickly deflates into other emotions of hurt, jealousy, embarrassment, impatience, and when children feel heard, their behavior is interpreted for the underlying emotion; there is space for us to move forward.
I do not mean for this pedagogical narration to serve as a how-to guide, nor do I pretend to be an expert in behaviours or emotions. It is a way for me to think aloud. It is a way for me to reflect, to think about what I think I know, and to try to understand what I am contributing to our culture at Camas. Our pedagogy is one of practice, one of trying, experimenting, exploring, and of training our reflexes to react in ways that are receptive, responsive and nurturing. To practice pedagogy is to understand that our ways of being with children must be adaptable to move and grow with the children in our care.
My most recent inquiry for our practice is surrounding naptime.
To practice what I preach, “I feel” confused by naptime and “I need” to think more deeply about the Why, behind nap.
Today I am with a group outside.
The other half of the group is napping.
As educators, we rotate who is in the nap room. I have a routine when I am in the nap room. After children finish up with lunch, I walk over to the phone and I cue up a familiar playlist, “Deep Sleep,” from a meditation app. I close the curtains, leaving just a crack of light, and I finish cleaning and sweeping the kitchen. I close the curtain fully, and then tuck each person in. I say goodnight to them individually, I wish them a collective, “Sweet Dreams,” and I say, “I love you.”
I know that it is important that each child knows that they are loved. I offer them a type of love that Early Childhood Education Instructor, and consultant, Marc Battle, describes as recognizing that we will be forever changed by having known them, and having been in their company. It’s a Mister Rogers, “I love you”.
For the majority of the time, the room is quiet, with the occasional whisper of, “Lindsay,” from a child letting me know that they are going to the bathroom. I rotate sitting between children to help them to soothe, and to drift off to sleep. When there is talking, or voices, I whisper a low, “shh, shh, shhhhh, “ sound.
The room sleeps, and it is one of the most peaceful places that there is to be.
Of course, behaviour can change this. If any of us in the room is hungry, thirsty, overtired, or impatient, the dance is more challenging.
What of the child who doesn’t want a nap, but has to stay inside to keep us in ratio? That child might refuse to go to their bed, or decide to jump on the couch. Those behaviours come from an emotion of frustration, or disappointment, from the child not feeling heard.
To respond to this emotion with curiosity is to invite families into the conversation, how important is naptime to your child’s well being? How can we respond to the individual, and to the group?
This realization, about naptime, feels almost ironically like an awakening.
I have taken the time to know these children, to love them, and it is my responsibility to honour them. We honour them by listening to, and responding to their needs.
How can we model a world that we want to live in? How can we return them to Joy?
What of the child who doesn’t want to nap, but really needs to, in order to recharge? The behaviours of this child are cries that sound tired, sleepy protests, heavy bodies. We take the time to know their language. We have taken the time with the child to know certain distinctions of their cries, and we try to respond.
I think of things that I know bring them joy, “Can I draw your family?” “Can I draw you climbing a tree?” “Can I write an alphabet filled with scary animals with F for Florida Panther?” I keep asking until I’ve lit the spark in their eyes. They focus on my drawing, on their back, their head, or their palm, until they drift off. We create a model of the world in which Joy is always within reach.
Thinking about naptime has been a sort of awakening because it required me to revisit a routine that had become a habit, and to approach it with curiosity, to approach it truly democratically.
Sweet dreams, children, and wake to the sounds of your voices—each of your voices matter.
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.
Written by: Lynne Reside
"Let’s make a dent in the universe" – Steve Jobs
At our first Journal Reflection group, we reflected on Lindsay’s article on children’s sadness. It was a deep and emotional discussion about our discomfort with children’s sadness and tears and our tendency to want to try to fix and divert rather than to open up space for them to grieve. Bronwyn has also talked about emotions and looked at her adult responses in contrast to the children’s responses.
I have been reflecting on joy recently – my own and the joy that children bring to my life. The work of supporting children’s healthy development is not always joyful. During planning for a conference, we discussed a theme about joyfulness and heart in the work of early care and learning. I recently read that children generally laugh about 200 times a day. I saw a video on Facebook of a man on a subway watching something on an iPad that caused him to laugh out loud for an extended period of time. The other people on the subway train were greatly affected by this and as the man continued his hearty, loud laughing, people who had been sitting stone-faced, enduring their daily commute, began to smile, and giggle and chuckle, not even being in on the joke, but impacted by his joyous laughter. According to Deb Curtis, humour helps us to see things from a different perspective, be spontaneous, grasp unconventional ways of thinking, see beyond the surface of things, enjoy and participate in the playful aspects of life, not take ourselves too seriously, build strong relationships, and get along with others. One of my own children was quite morose when he was young. I remember very distinctly being on a camping trip with him when he suddenly seemed to discover the pleasure of telling jokes. For the whole trip, he told woefully awful and unfunny jokes that he continuously made up, and laughed uproariously. The jokes were painful, but his joy in telling them was so contagious. How do we encourage that kind of joy, how do we bring humour and laughter into our programs? How do we create that contagion that laughter brings?
When I had my first job as an early childhood educator, I remember sitting with a child, both of us laughing and being silly, enjoying what we were doing, and thinking - I can’t believe I get paid to do this every day. As my career progressed and I became a lead teacher and supervisor, I often felt a heavy weight of responsibility – making sure I met all their daily developmental needs, following licensing or centre regulations to ensure safety, buzzing about trying to manage the classroom and the staff.
I don’t work with children any more, but I spend a lot of time with my grandson. He is very talkative, full of ideas and with a wide range of expressed emotions including joyfulness. As a grandparent, my perspective has changed. I have learned the lessons of deep listening, of appreciating those moments of pure joy and knowing that those feelings, that shared laughter, of being goofy and spontaneous and playful is of incredible value to his healthy development. Being invited into children’s joy, and bringing joyfulness to our time with children is one of the great gifts we are given and also able to give as educators in relationship with children.
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