Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.
I didn’t really participate much in online early childhood groups prior to mid-2012 – and even then my participation was mainly that of an occasional casual observer. In 2012, as I changed my social networking use, I became more involved, both as an observer, and eventually a vocal participant. In fact, some of the relationships that I have formed through social networking have really challenged and extended my own thinking and learning as a teacher and professional.
When I see posts about extending children’s learning or play I wonder why. I know that for “The Asker” it is in part a desire to reach out and connect with others. I believe they are looking for guidance and support. Some are seeking validation of their own beliefs and ideas – that they are on the right path. I think we can all relate to this. But what I am left wondering is: Do they really think about what they are doing? Are they engaged in reflective practice?
Let’s pretend “The Asker” has posted this particularly ridiculous made up question:
“Hi, I’d like to remain anon thanks … Today I observed a child glancing sideways at the monkey puzzle on the shelf. I was wondering how can I go about extending on this? TIA”
I am left wondering why. Why are you wasting your time thinking about a sideways glance? Why are you wasting the child’s time? Why are you squandering away our time and yours by asking us this question?
Firstly, do you know for sure that the child was actually glancing sideways at the monkey puzzle? Or are you assuming they did? What evidence do you have? Is it worthwhile in relation to the child? Does it even really matter? Let’s move on to the small but massive all important question of: Why?
Why are you extending on this? What purpose does this serve? Do you even know what you are seeing in the first place to know that it warrants extending? How are you supporting the child by extending? Is it not ok for a child to finish something and move on to something else? Is it not ok to glance sideways at something and keep going? Do we not respect children’s rights of choosing to stop and move in a different direction? Do we not respect the children’s choice to continue to glance sideways? Do they need us to push them forward and forward and forward again? Why are we focused on extending with experiences and activities? Why can’t we “extend” or be a support at the time when the child needs us? Why are we so product focused? Why don’t we use our teaching skills and strategies and support the children in the here and now?
Here and now? What is this you ask? Don’t you know that the children are our future? I need to future plan for them for another day! What about my extension for tomorrow, or next Tuesday? Or a month from now when the resources I ordered arrive or the resources I have made are finished? How do I fulfil the all important planning cycle of plan, document, and evaluate?
Well, the more I engage with children and quietly observe them with no ulterior motives (i.e. to produce an “observation product” or documentation) the more I actually see. The more I am inspired and in awe and completely in love with their doing and knowing and learning. Why didn’t I figure this out sooner? Well, because I had to maintain the dreaded cycle that’s why.
Take up the here and the now!!! I think this is where we should be, because that is where the children are. “Here and now” comes straight from the National Quality Standards (it’s on page 23 in the guidebook if you don’t believe me – down the bottom).
“Children learn best when the experiences they have are meaningful to them and are focused on the here and now.”
To me, this says meaningful and contextual, as in significant to the child and of interest to them AND happening in the present, not some time in the future. Do you know what your interest will be in a week? Month? Year? Nope. You don’t. Just because a child glances sideways at the monkey puzzle today, does not mean that they will want to glance sideways at the monkey puzzle tomorrow, or indeed next Tuesday.
There seems to be this EYLF quest for the perfect extension activity or experience that will meet all the assumed requirements: learning outcomes, practices, principles, centre philosophy, theory, child’s interest, culture, child led, teacher led, parent input, spontaneous and planned, indoor, outdoor, group, individual…
Is this what we are coming to? Are we a bunch of seekers of the superficial? Are we nothing but contrived irrelevant “Box Tickers”? What purpose do we serve if curriculum and teaching can be outsourced so easily? Why do we even bother getting qualifications if all we have to do is ask a question, find someone else’s answer, implement it and then tick off that we are done?
Extending on a glance at the monkey puzzle to me seems to be clutching desperately at straws. Surely there is so much more meaningful engagement happening in our learning environments that we could be directing our attention to? I think we need to relax and really look at what is going on around us. Really think deeply about the children and then plan with sound knowledge and pure intent.
Are you actually planning for the child’s strengths, needs, and interests? Or are you just trying to fit into an impossibly complex cycle of planning and perceived linking? Are you planning to meet requirements or are you planning for learning? Seriously. Are we planning for activities because it’s more easily measurable? The child progressed to touching the monkey puzzle! Yay!? Tick that box!
Or, are we planning for experiences because the experiences are not personal? Is it because planning for activities is easier than planning for teaching? Are we not planning for teaching, because what if the teaching fails? Does that mean we fail as a teacher? Is this about our “Teacher Ego?” I certainly don’t like failure. I don’t think many of us do. But we do learn from our failures though, in fact, we learn more from trying and trying again and creative problem solving than we do from simply succeeding (I’d like to point out that this is also how children learn, they too are human). I know failure is a loaded term. How about Not-Yet-Successes? Are you more comfortable with that? I know I am.
It’s not about the activity. Early childhood education is not a product or an endpoint. I don’t think it’s even a list of predetermined learning outcomes (*collective gasp* “Oh no, she didn’t?!?!” Oh Yes I did! *snap-snap*). I think early childhood education is an amazing unfolding. We are gifted and blessed with the opportunity to watch young human beings grow and flourish into themselves, whoever they may be. Early childhood education is a beautiful complex process that should be nurtured, not pushed, prodded, extended, or indeed over-extended.
Look, I know that many of you are trying very hard. I know that many are feeling lost. I’m not judging you. I am judging the current perceptions of the system. I think that the system as it is, or rather as it is sold to us by others – is creating confusion. There are too many out there professing to have the answers – the best way to achieve “exceeding.” I don’t even necessarily have the right answers for you. But instead of relying upon the kindness of strangers or the services of consultancies and businesses, trust your teaching-gut. Trust all the hard work you put into your qualification/s. Trust your experience of being an educator. AND if you are a new educator, then observe, read, try out different solutions and see what works. Ask your experienced colleagues, find a mentor. Reflect and write it down. Keep a personal teaching journal which will benefit your own development as a teacher. As yourself, what does this child need from you right this very minute? Respect? Support? Space and time to allow them to play or invent? A particular resource or toy to help them enrich their play? How about ask them? Would you like to play with the monkey puzzle? Would you like some help solving the puzzle, it looks like it could be a bit tricky? Or even, what would you like to play?
I think, at the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves:
If you, after all your hours of study and training and practical experience, cannot come up with an authentic experience or activity on your own, then is that sideways glance at the monkey puzzle really worth you spending your time on? Is it worth all that work observing, reflecting, documenting and then going online and asking a group of collective strangers for their ideas which are 99% of the time going to be a) a product or b) completely irrelevant because they don’t know the child the way you do?
Is it worth it?
© Jeanne de Clisson aka The Lioness of Brittany
Anarchy and the EYLF Pirates