When I got back from the school holidays a coworker said to me, "Penny, I don't understand the rules". She was very frustrated, poor thing.
This has been going around in my head a bit since then. I was thinking, "Ooh, I've forgotten about rules. That's weird, I'd forgotten that I used to have rules". Okay, now you probably think I've really gone crazy. The thing is I hadn't realized how much my thinking had been shifting for a long time. Incrementally my language has been changing too. Now this is just as a result of learning and experimenting and thinking about what I consider to be best practice. Over the years people I work with have relaxed into my ways and are starting to understand them, so I don't feel as much pressure to compromise what I believe in to keep other people feeling comfortable.
My rules are as follows:
I want everyone to try to learn how to respect each other and the equipment in the environment.
Respecting means respecting each other's safety, each other's time and each other's feelings. It means considering others' perspectives in relation to sharing the space, materials, interactions, attention etc. I want respect to be equal between children, between educators, from educator to child, and from child to educator. I want us to function as a community in which everyone has a sense of belonging. To me that is clear and covers everything that may come up, and that's all I need to know. I feel sorry for my poor coworkers who have to try to decipher what that means in practice.
The idea is that children's decisions should come from inside them. They should build an understanding of why decisions are made so that they can make judgements that are right for them. I have stopped saying "Use your walking feet inside". Now I say "Be careful, I just mopped the floor". I don't say "Use your quiet voice inside", I say "Oh, that's really hurting my ears". Often children want to do things and ask if they can do things. These children are constantly asking to do things out of the box, so having no precedent for everything they want to do I can't have a rule about whether or not they can do it.
I think about two things when a child asks if he/she can do something:
Will it impact negatively on anyone in the room, including the other educators?
Will they learn anything from doing it?
I am using the word 'learning' loosely and take it to mean anything that is in the Framework, including building confidence, talking calculated risks, 'being', and sharing humour and happiness. I want the children to have every possible opportunity to learn, but most of all I want them to develop 'dispositions for learning'. When they go to school I want them to think "I can make friends, I am a good friend, I am going to be okay". I want them to think "This reading looks challenging, but I'm not afraid to try challenging things, I am going to be okay". If they have the inner resources that they need they are going to be okay, whatever comes up in their lives, however this can't happen without trust and without very specific teaching. If people see a lack of structure or boundaries in this they are completely missing the point.
A quick smile at a child in passing is as important to me as teaching him/her letters, more important. I want children to know that they are valuable, that they are seen. A strong sense of worth will carry them much further that any knowledge that they may accumulate. It will help them to learn whatever they need to know (in the time that is right for them). This is what's frustrating me about our education system. There is not enough respect for 'the time that is right for them'. We are taught to honour it, but the school system doesn't. Many parents seem to fear this, so they try to push their children to be ready for the school system. Doesn't work. Of course we don't want children to be left behind, but lack of confidence will hold them back faster than lack of knowledge.
I rarely do anything at work without first thinking, "I wonder if a child would enjoy doing this instead of me?" If it will help them feel capable and competent (and trusted) I will encourage them to do it. I let them carry hot food, use the camera and get paint out of the cupboard for themselves. They've never dropped the food or the camera. Can't remember how many times I have. The other day the boys were giving an educator from the agency a really hard time. I took them outside with me so that she wouldn't stress but I was thinking, "Oh, I'd almost forgotten about behaviour. I barely think about it anymore". The children respect me. I adore them and they know it. On Friday I was at a training session and deliberately made myself vulnerable by asking the facilitator about her views on home toys. I totally regretted it. Nobody agreed with me. Too progressive?
And by the way I have plenty of rules for educators:
- No colouring-in
- No worksheets
- No templates
- No stencils
- No demonstrating drawing
- No structured art activities
- No raising your voice