Friday, 4 October 2013

Flow: The path of least resistance

I think we're misunderstanding children's need for structure.

You've probably heard people say that children need structure. Unless you're a child psychologist and know something I don't know, I'll put up a good fight to convince you that you're wrong. I think we're using this statement to justify our need for structure. The children are being used as pawns in our need to control all aspects of our environments that are difficult to control. Children are the uncontrollable force (that is they're human). The population is in fact pretty well evenly split into those who prefer more structure and those who prefer less structure. Neither is to be ashamed of. And your workplace is not all about the children. You have an equal right to have your needs met.

Managing a group of children does not have to be about 'Hands on heads!', 'Everyone on the mat!', 'One, two, three', 'Line up!' This is about our fear that we won't be in control. Anyone who believes that another educator is more effective on the grounds that he or she displays this need for control is ignorant and wrong. That's not what we do now. Children shouldn't need to be controlled. Just take the path of least resistance. In early childhood education we look after the whole child. Child care is not only about preparation for school, it's also a substitute home environment for children whose parents need or choose to work. Because of this, I believe that it should be an education and care environment which is similar to the home, but has the added benefit of taking place in a social and community context.

Children's need for security and belonging doesn't require this type of structure. Security comes from knowing that the adults who care for you are always kind and fair, in knowing that you can count on them to meet your needs, in knowing that the environment is safe and well cared for, and in being part of a community that is built on expectations of respect. Being part of a community means we all matter, we all have ideas, we all contribute, and we all have some agency in determining how our day will flow. Yes, flow. The children know the routine, and yes it is generally consistent. They know that when they arrive in the morning they can choose the direction of their own learning. They know that when morning tea is over we can get ready to go outside. They know that when the trolley comes it will soon be lunchtime. They know that when I start to close the blinds, it means that they can decide whether they will move to the sleep side or the play side. If you think that children need to be ordered or transitioned into these routine activities during the day you are giving them far too little credit.

The way to maximise children's learning and overall wellbeing is to allow them to take some ownership of their environment, to fully exist, to be able to be in it. They should be able to fully engage with the environment and the materials in it without being suddenly yanked out of their play by hearing a bell ringing or 'Everyone on the mat!' How is deep sensory engagement, critical and creative thinking, problem-solving or self-expression going to happen with these constant interruptions? Children are intelligent. They will choose not to engage with meaningful, time-consuming learning experiences if they know that they will soon be interrupted. The result - behaviour management issues.

Being told that raising your voice more often, or being stricter with behaviour means that you are more effective is insulting. I would take it as a sign that my priorities need adjusting and that I need to be more conscious of providing a better quality learning environment. If your environment and your program are meeting the needs of everyone in your learning community these measures should almost become obsolete. You are the key factor here. You are the leader of your learning community in modelling the qualities of respect, of inquiry, and of engagement. You set up the environment and the children watch you re-set it with care. You expect that they will do the same. You model kindness and empathy. You listen. You learn with the children. You engage, you question, you show enthusiasm for the children's ideas. You share your ideas.

The path of least resistance means everyone can enjoy their day. It means you won't go home feeling guilty because you raised your voice, or forced a child to do something that upset him or her, or rushed the children into an activity that made them feel stressed and insecure. It doesn't mean that you're too easy going or relaxed. It means that you're a quality educator who has a deep understanding of children's needs on a holistic level, that you see them as individuals and essential contributors to your learning environment, and that your foremost concern is with providing them with the opportunity and support to maximise their learning, their wellbeing and their potential in all areas of their development.

No comments:

Post a Comment