Painting the roses red….

Sarah Hammersley

This week I have had the privilege of working with a group of two year olds. They spent their time sharing with me all the secrets, stories and hiding spots that lay within their magical garden space. Inviting me into their world I was shown where the “spider” lived. There were many “ooohs” and “aaahs” as the group gathered around the web in the garden.

I was just as entranced by the web as the children were. When I realised that there were a group of ten two year olds silently in awe of and mesmerised by the hypnotic nature of the spiderweb moving back and forth in the wind. After some time I quietly pondered, I wonder why the spider doesn’t blow off the web in the wind….. I was met with the theory, “spiders have mag-a-nets.” 

Testing this theory another child poked their finger into the web. The spider quickly darted up into the shelter and security of the leaves. Whilst the children hypothesised about what they had just observed, “spider scared”, “spider no like finger”, “web gone”, “where spider?”, “spider hiding leaf now.” It was here where we had a conversation about respecting the spider after one child commented “no touch.” 

Later that afternoon I was called back up to the garden where I was met by a child excitedly shouting, “my good-en-ness!” I was then drawn in by another child crouching down with their finger pressed up against their lips. There was then a chorus of whispers, “web back!” The spider had re-spun the web and was once again sitting proudly in the middle. The children were absolutely fascinated by this miracle of nature.

The learning that unfolded right before my very eyes today was nothing short of extraordinary. It was contextual, meaningful and relevant to the here and now. Could I have taught the lessons learnt today? In short the answer is no. Sure, I could pull out a box full of plastic spiders, books and sing songs relating to spiders or I could’ve filled out a pre-purchased template and lesson plan with clip art pictures of spiders and webs decorating the border with pre-determined outcomes for the child or group of children.

Outcome 2: Children are connected with and contribute to their world

2.4 Children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment (TICK)

But how could I have ever known what the end result or outcome (if any) would have been unless I was leading the play in a very. NO ‘we’re painting the roses red’ today style of teaching. I would’ve missed the magic. The opportunity to share in the children’s ability to believe in ‘impossible things‘ seeing but a very small and closed glimpse of what I had chosen to see. My plan included: time for relationship building, time to be and notice, time for disposition building and space to explore.

Let’s Flip the picture (for just a moment) and imagine you were being told you must learn something….. For arguments sake let’s say it’s knitting. But you have no interest or desire to knit. Would you be enthusiastic? Would you be engrossed and engaged? Would you retain both the knowledge and the skills to continue knitting independently? Would you have the motivation to share your newly acquired knowledge with others? Would you even attempt to learn? This is an analogy I have used with parents and educators alike (many times over the years) I have found that it tends to lead to a ‘light bulb’ moment in educators reflections on practice and in parents understandings of child-led play. Gray (2013) simply puts it, “curiosity motivates children to seek new knowledge and understanding whilst playfulness motivates them to practice new skills and use those skills creatively.”

Seeing all these Pintrest boards and learning story template packs that link directly to the EYLF available for purchase and given the thumbs up (and liked) by our very own early childhood peers makes me wonder (and cringe through gritted teeth)……. Have we (really) lost sight of the meaning behind why we do the things we do …. or are we living in fear of the expectations parents, managers and business owners and their perceptions of what early childhood teaching and learning looks like?

We want the children we work with to be creative, independent thinkers so why do we (educators) dumb ourselves down to a caricature template that’s got predetermined outcomes before the experience has even taken place?

In a day an age where we have SO much access to information how come educators and parents seem to be so misinformed? After much thinking and deliberation over this notion I think the key comes down to having trust in ourselves and the knowledge we have and backing ourselves as professionals. I had a conversation recently with a fellow early childhood colleague where we discussed how much money early childhood educators not only put into gaining their initial qualifications but investing in their on-going professional development and learning yet I still see educators folding and being involved in cookie cutter programs all because, “the parents want it.” Where do we draw the line in the sand? Because often it’s too late. Visions and values have been lost. Trust in what you know and can do and advocate for children to have opportunities to lead their learning through play. We need to collectively support and build each other up “the only way to achieve the impossible is to believe that it’s possible” Alice in Wonderland.

1. Practice talking about play with your colleagues – create a script of the pertinent things you want your families, carers, fellow educators and community members to know and understand about what learning looks like within your Centre.

2. Create a list of questions most asked of you by your parent community and brainstorm with your team ways to acknowledge and alleviate concerns whilst articulating your philosophy.

3. Practice play. Remember what it feels, tastes, sounds, smells and looks like. Practice playing with your colleagues and experience the world through the eyes of your child like self. Critically reflect on your experiences, memories and time.

We know (and have known for some time) that play is pleasurable and that the drive and desire comes from within. Being in a playful state of mind means you are free from pressures to perform (Amabile, 2006) thus why I love playing outside in nature. Being outdoors allows the child to be the scriptwriter, director and actor within their play (Gerber) so easily because there is no right or wrong way to play. The sensory nature of the environment along with the complex simplicity of the resources available enables both children and adults alike to ‘get lost down the rabbit hole’ of their curiosities. Awakening their imagination to a world of endless opportunities and  possibilities.

When the child leads the adventure and you are invited to join, relish that opportunity with everything you have but….. resist the urge to take over. Play but a support role as the play unfolds. Take the directives from the child. Step back and watch the processes they use and the decisions they make. Notice the dispositions they are building and when necessary provide the tools they may need to continue. It is here, when you are deep in the child’s play where you get to experience and understand the child’s sense of belonging, being and becoming.

Be the educator that believes in their ideas and curiosities…… no matter how outrageous the idea may seem!

Ideas for thinking and reflecting:

Does your daily routine or rhythm refer to parts of your day free play time? This phrase in itself creates the divide and explicitly says to families that there is a difference between learning and play rather than them working hand in hand or learning as a result of play.

How do you frame your interactions to foster curiosity and build a sense of wonder and adventure in the children you work with?

How much value do you place on outdoor learning? Do you evenly balance the time spent in both the indoor and outdoor environments?

Sit and simply observe a child or group of children playing and count how many times you felt like jumping in, giving an answer or doing something for them and critique with a colleague.

 

References:

Amabile, T. (1996). Creativity in context: Update to the social psychology of creativity. Bouldr, CO: Westview Press.

The Early Years Learning Framework (PDF). Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for the Council of Australian Governments. Retrieved April 2016 (p.6)

Gray, P. (2013). Free to Learn. Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. NY. Basic Books.

Carroll, L. (1865). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. London. MacMillan Publishing Co.

 

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