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.
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