Leaping through the door of possibilities

Sarah Hammersley

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If we take a moment to briefly look back through the history of childhood, you’ll note that the meaning of childhood is an ever changing and evolving term. Not only because society looks and feels different to how it did 20, 30 or even 40 years ago but because there has been an abundance of research in recent years into the early years and in particular brain development. As a society we have shifted our view of children as we have indeed evolved as humans. Some of the lenses of the past include (but are definitely not limited too) children as innocent and the need for this innocence to be protected, children should be seen and not heard, children as social beings and the confident and capable child (Malaguzzi).

As educators, we bring a variety of perspectives and views to develop our educational philosophies and pedagogy. Much of this is based on theoretical perspectives and research but we cannot forgot our own early learning experiences and the direct impact of that these memories we unconsciously drawn on in our work with children. Consider your time (as a child) whether this be at school, home or on holidays. I wonder, are your strongest memories of times you spent inside or out?

I bet I can guess! Am I right…. Were they of times you spent outside? (I knew it!)

For me, I draw upon my memories of being enabled to play and explore my neighbourhood, building hide outs and setting up ‘houses’ down the fire trail, making clover flower chains, riding my bike, falling off and grazing my knees and picking mulberries from the mulberry tree at the end of the street returning home with a purple stained smile, fingers and clothing. I was trusted (most of the time) and empowered to assess my own limits, explore and be. In my practice I highly value children being provided with time and space to assess their own limits, the role messy/dirty play holds in education and trusting in play as a viable source of curriculum and you guessed it all of which can take place OUTSIDE! 

I see children as individuals that are competent, capable, curious and creative. It has taken many years, wonderful mentors and colleagues that I have been able to critically reflect with to refine my practice to embed and bring my visions of education to life (and I have no doubt, this journey will continue to evolve for many years to come).

Many times I have spoken with educators and had them describe within their philosophy that they believe children to be ‘competent and capable’ yet seldom do I see this embedded into their practice. Has this phrase simply become a ‘catch phrase’ that romanticises our work with children? Or is it a comment on how we long to work with children?

When the balance of power is shifted and children are empowered to be co-constructors and decision makers of their learning. They become the agents of their explorations and when provided with opportunities to collaborate with their educators this opens up the door of possibilities for you (as an educator) to leap beyond your preconceived understandings of children and what they ‘know’ and ‘can do’. It’s up to you! You have the power to open the doors and get outside. You have the power to enable the children opportunities to play and show you that they are so much more capable than the rainbow teddy sorting game that you have ever so neatly set up on the table with matching coloured sorting bowls. How do your daily practices, rhythms, environments and opportunities you provide children reflect your view of the child?

What is your first initial reaction when you see a child waving a stick in the air, running bare foot or throwing stones? Is this something that you see regularly when you are working with children, do you get excited with a rush of anticipation that something wonderful is about to happen or would your heart start to race and you find that you are overcome by the overwhelming urge to call out, (insert cranky granny voice here) “Put the stick down. You’ll poke your eye out.” I challenge you (the next time you are presented with this type of scenario) to pause, breathe, watch, trust and believe in the child (this is where the magic begins). Observe what it is that they are really doing before jumping to conclusions. Are they testing the wind with the stick above their head? Are they measuring the height of an object or tree? Or are they immersed in a moment of euphoria that doesn’t need to be explained, justified or unpacked? Although your intentions might be coming from a good place by stopping the child’s play we send them the message that we don’t trust or value their play.

A single step is all it takes and it takes time when you adapt your practices for them to become embedded and feel ‘normal’ or for your team to start saying ‘this is how we do it’. Sobel (1993) likens this idea to new clothes. He suggests, it’s important to try them on to see if they fit and feel comfortable against your skin. If they fit with your observations of the world, then they have proved their worth. All new ideas need to be road tested and you need to give yourself time. Be kind and patient with yourself and your team, provide each other with constructive feedback, engage in reflective discussions and remember to appreciate your journey. Don’t compare it with anybody else’s because it is unique to you.

Sobel, D. (2002). Children’s Special Places: Exploring the Role of Forts, Dens, and Bush Houses in Middle Childhood, Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press

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