The Power of Silence

In college, we are taught to observe, listen to the child, and scaffold their learning through observational comments and open-ended questions. Unfortunately, many of us go out in the field remembering only the latter: We ask too many questions, give too many comments, and offer suggestions without pause.

I have worked with educators who were so passionate about playing with children, they led most of the activities.

They jumped too quickly on each little movement that the children made, not taking the time to figure out what the children were really doing or what they were really interested in during that moment.

For instance, a child laid down on his side and said, “I’m tired,” as he reached his hand out toward the educator (who was surrounded with toy food). The educator answered, “Pardon? You want a midnight snack?” and picked up a toy food to hand to him. He put his arm under his body as he turned over on his stomach and said again, “I’m tired.” She replied, “Oh, you want the lasagna? Here you go.” He got up and took the lasagna offered to him, forgetting that he wanted to pretend to sleep.

Another time, a child stacked some building blocks. I asked, “What are you building?” She said she was building a castle. Later, an educator walked by and said, “I like how tall your tower is.”

What happened to following the child’s interests and letting them lead their play?

What happened to letting children come up with their own ideas?

Sometimes we get too preoccupied thinking about how we could keep the children playing that we forget they are autonomous and are creative in their own respects. Sometimes we overthink the idea of scaffolding and take over the children’s play by dictating to them what they are doing.

This week at placement, I heard the frustration in a child’s voice when I asked her what she’s making in the home area and she said, “[Someone] thought I was making pancakes, but I’m not.” (I did not hear who it was that thought she was making pancakes, but it sounded like somebody’s name). So I asked her again what she is making without offering a suggestion and I listened to every detail she has thought of about cooking: adding salt, pepper, waiting for two minutes before it’s ready, adding more salt and pepper, mixing the pot, etc. She had such a rich understanding of what it is like to cook beyond making pancakes. She even knew that salt and pepper are tiny particles; so she scraped small pieces off a chunk of play dough. Whoever that someone was who assumed she was making pancakes made a mistake of glossing over the child’s imagination and not listening to what she has to say.

To be fair, I was like that someone: I asked children, “What are you making? Are you cooking lunch?” I did not even let the child tell me if he/she was cooking lunch or dinner, or maybe he/she was not cooking at all. I jumped into conclusion because I knew it was almost lunch time. But do young children know that? Not unless they are told by an adult that it’s almost lunch time. And, sometimes, even then, they still go on their merry way making and cooking whatever they feel like.

I believe that I listen enough to children, but I’ve always felt I should talk and interact more. The manager’s words at my placement site changed my understanding and approach to children.

I told her about my trepidations at the centre: how I’m afraid of speaking to parents and caregivers who come in to our centre, how I have no idea what to talk to them about, and how I feel scared to play with the children when the parents are nearby. She told me that I should use the children as vehicles for conversation and that I should never force any conversation with the children or caregivers. She said, “Mirror what the children are doing. Follow their lead. Do what they do. If they hand you an item to add to your creation, ask them what they would like you to do with it. Let them know that they are in charge of their play.” She explained that the children would eventually communicate to me as we move from parallel play to associative or cooperative play.

I realized: When we start with parallel play and allow the children to lead the play, we show the children our interest to be a play partner and that we mean no harm to them. Similarly, the caregivers get to know us and learn to trust us with their child. That’s when authentic conversations start.

I followed the manager’s advice the next week I was in.

The awkwardness has not left me yet, but working at the early years centre has become easier for me to do. I have had long conversations with some caregivers. I have also played longer with some children. And I did not feel compelled to ask questions or provide observational comments all the time.

I also applied this new understanding at work. I spent more time watching, listening, and observing than telling children what I think they are doing. I learned so much more about the children.

What do you think of this message?

Be still long enough to notice how the children play or interpret the materials.

The Essence of Inclusion

Image via Instagram/ThePlayProcess

​I almost cried reading Andrea’s story.

This page shines a light on the importance of inclusion. It reminds me of the movie Rain Man wherein “separating [people with exceptionalities] from the majority of the population [further] makes it difficult for both parties to understand each other” (Amigleo, 2016).

I love that “being confined to a wheelchair was not one of Katie’s outstanding characteristics for [Andrea]” (Eileen Allen, et al., 2015, p.16) due largely to her inclusive learning environment.

I believe that inclusive early childhood programs truly create a benchmark for quality early childhood education for all children. In making sure that the early learning environment is inclusive and supportive of children with all kinds of abilities, it provides quality care for each unique child who enters the program. It shows the children that everyone is capable and unique in their own ways, yet each has the same needs to be loved, accepted, and cared for.

References

Amigleo, C. (2016). Rain Man: A journey to acceptance and understanding. In The play process. Retrieved from https://wp.me/p8EtZl-2X

Eileen Allen, K., et al. (2015). Inclusion in early childhood programs: Children with exceptionalities, 6th Canadian ed. Toronto: Nelson Education Ltd

Reflections on Inner Qualities of Early Childhood Educators

According to Laura J. Colker (2008), a curriculum developer and teacher trainer, there are twelve characteristics that make Early Childhood Educators effective. Since environment is important to children’s learning, the educators are expected to be passionate, persevering, willing to take risks, pragmatic, patient, flexible, respectful, creative, authentic, has a love of learning, has high energy, and has a sense of humour (Colker, 2008). And as discussed in Class 1 (EDUC16800, January 12, 2016), highly trained, responsive, and caring educators are key to quality child care.

Part A: Two Inner Qualities That I Value to be an Effective Early Childhood Educator

I believe that those twelve characteristics enumerated by Colker, and more, are important as an Early Childhood Educator, but I value passion and respect above all.

Passion

Having passion as an Early Childhood Educator means that there is great enthusiasm for taking care of and facilitating young children’s learning and adaptation to their environment. It means loving what you do as an educator and feeling excited to see children’s faces light up as they begin to understand a concept or as they enjoy their activities. It means having the mindset of changing the world one little person at a time, despite any challenges that may come.

Passion is important in being an effective Early Childhood Educator because it gives you the drive to continue what you do day in and day out. It gives you the energy to keep up with the active little ones no matter how tiring the previous day was. It helps you persevere through the challenges of changing societal, parental, and legal expectations. Passion puts a smile on your face at the end of a long day’s work.

Respect

Similarly, respect encompasses many aspects of being an educator. It involves recognition and regard of others’ opinions, cultures, and beliefs. It also includes appreciation and valuing of property and of the environment.

Being respectful breaks down communication barriers and conflict. It allows children to explore their own cultures and form their own beliefs. It allows for a beginner’s mindset in which the educator sees each child as a newborn every day; a blank slate that is given many chances to learn and to make mistakes on a daily basis. It is an emulation worthy of imitation, creating a safe and positive space for young minds to flourish in.

Part B: Practical Strategies for the Application of the Two Inner Qualities I Value Most

Passion and respect are two inner qualities that I value most to be an effective Early Childhood Educator. Together, these two support in building up sensitive, responsive, and caring educators. Passionate educators enjoy learning and developing professionally, as well as teaching and facilitating children’s learning, while valuing respect gives them the ability to be flexible and open-minded, and to distinguish between personal needs and the children’s needs.

Passion Reflected

A passionate educator creates a supportive early learning environment that fosters initiative, autonomy, and independence. She provides open-ended materials that are “developmentally appropriate” (Tate, 2016b) to coax a child’s initiative. This promotes choice and decision-making, allowing for the child to explore her own interests and discover answers to her curiosity. In addition, according to Deb Curtis and Margie Carter, “[e]nvironments should provide opportunities for children to feel the power of their bodies and ideas” (2015, p. 24). Thus, it is important to create an active, play-based environment wherein these open-ended materials exist. The educator’s passion translates onto her “recogniz[ing] and encourag[ing] the child’s reasoning and problem solving” (Tate, 2016a) as she allows the child “to do things for [herself]” (Tate, 2016b), to “explore, manipulate, combine and transform materials [she chooses]” (Tate, 2016a), and to express herself through language.

Furthermore, arranging the active, play-based environment into interest areas “encourage[s] engagement of children”, “foster[s] decision making, problem solving, inquiry and exploration”, and “promote[s] independence” (Tate, 2016d). Organizing the environment into interest areas “requires observing and listening [to the children], and careful thinking and rethinking, ideally through a process that gathers the perspectives and investment of others” (Curtis & Carter, 2015, p. 30). Here, then, the educator utilizes her passion and drive to persevere through any challenges she may face. Curtis and Carter suggest that she “[s]eek out people who are forging ahead, find ways to reflect on the intent of regulations and assessment tools, and go beyond compliance as a definition of providing quality” (2015, p. 31). Her enthusiasm enables her to reach out to others and to persist through the tasks of creating an active, play-based environment divided into interest areas filled with open-ended materials despite any undesirable encounters.

Respect Modelled

Likewise, an educator who values and exhibits respect creates a supportive early learning environment that nurtures trust, cooperation, empathy, and self-confidence. She establishes a prosocial environment “where behaviours benefit others and demonstrate a presence of a social conscience and regard for the rights of others” (Tate, 2016c). She creates this atmosphere by “handl[ing] aggression positively”, “enforce[ing] appropriate rules”, “protect[ing] individual rights”, and “provid[ing] affirmation, affection, [and] acceptance” (Tate, 2016c). All these actions reflect having respect for others and for property, and “model[ling] [this] appropriate behaviour” (Tate, 2016c) further enriches the establishment of a prosocial environment.

The materials chosen also play a significant part in the educator’s portrayal of respect in the early learning environment. Firstly, “[m]aterials should reflect children’s interests, . . . experience, [and] culture” (Tate, 2016b), as well as “reflect diversity in an unbiased way” (Tate, 2016b). By representing the children’s interests, experience, and culture through the materials available in the play space, the educator shows respect for each child as an individual. She also illustrates respect for others and for diversity as the children interact with these materials and with each other. Secondly, labelling these materials’ storages appropriately goes a long way in letting the child know that she is respected and that the materials need to be respected. By choosing the appropriate level of labelling according to the child’s developmental level, the educator demonstrates respect for the child’s learning and development needs. As the child decodes the labels accordingly, she “feel[s] better about [herself], [becomes] less frustrated, and [becomes] more cooperative” (Tate, 2016d). The child also exercises her independence and initiative as she is able to “find things easily and put them away” without needing extra help (Tate, 2016d). Moreover, this teaches the child respect as she takes proper care of the materials and returns them into their proper places.

Conclusion

Passion and respect can translate into the early learning environment in various ways. For instance, an educator’s enthusiasm allows her to project this passion and encourage the children in pursuing their own interests through independence, autonomy, and initiative by providing open-ended materials, creating an active, play-based environment, and dividing this space into interest areas. Additionally, in establishing a prosocial environment and offering materials that reflect children’s individuality and diversity, and arranging appropriately-labelled storage spaces, the educator models respect and the children learns respect accordingly.

References

Colker, Laura J. (2008). Twelve Characteristics of Effective Early Childhood Teachers. Beyond the Journal: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Curtis, D., Carter, M. (2015). Designs for Living and Learning: Transforming Early Childhood Environments. Canada: Redleaf Press.

Tate, J. (2016a). Module 1: Quality Indicators in Early Learning Environments [Lecture Notes]. Sheridan College.

Tate, J. (2016b). Module 2.1: Creating a Supportive and Inclusive Learning Environment [Lecture Notes]. Sheridan College.

Tate, J. (2016c). Module 2.2: Creating a Nurturing and Responsive Classroom Culture [Lecture Notes]. Sheridan College.

Tate, J. (2016d). Module 3.1: Organizing the Early Learning Classroom for Play [Lecture Notes]. Sheridan College.