Food Should Always be a Pleasure – Respectful Mealtimes for Infants and Toddlers

I was recently contacted by a concerned teacher for some readings to support her and her team’s practice around mealtimes for the toddlers in her setting.  Her concern was that infants and toddlers were being forced to eat at mealtimes and only given a biscuit or a cracker if they ate their fruit.  This did not sit well with her, as she did not feel that was respectful to the tamariki in her setting.

I responded to her with some readings on respectful mealtimes and I have reflected on this greatly over the past few weeks.  I always come back to the same thing… The saying by Dr Emmi Pikler, “Food should always be a pleasure”.

Now you might be thinking about your settings mealtime practice. Perhaps “pleasure” is not an adjective that you would use to describe kai time in your place.  In fact, mealtimes can fill us teachers with dread.  For some it can conjure up images of chaos, noise, mess and power struggles between adult and child.

What we sometimes forget is that as the adults; our attitude, our approach and our preparation, or lack thereof, can make mealtimes stress-filled or pleasure-filled.

Building trust and your relationship during mealtimes

One of the key principles of Dr Emmi Pikler’s approach was to build trust and the relationship between adult and child during the caring moment.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, human beings need to have their basic needs met first – such as food, water, sleep and shelter.  How responsive we are to meeting the needs of our pepe (reading their cues) will determine their trust in the world and those around them.

If we are walking the talk of being a respectful teacher, we need to follow the cues of the child and allow them to lead. To do this “with” our children and not “to” them.

We need to trust that children (even young babies) can decide and indicate to us their body needs.  For our young children this takes time and requires a one to one relationship with a sensitive, patient, in-tuned adult to become self-aware of their body’s cues and needs.

All too often we make all the decisions for children when it comes to meal-times with-out consulting them.  We decide where, when, what and how much they eat.

Dr Emmi Pikler once said:

When a baby turns her head away when you offer her another spoon of veggies – she is quite clearly saying, “I have had enough”. Why then do perfectly sensible grown-ups offer another spoonful and say, “Just one spoonful for Mummy” or “Open the tunnel for the train – here it comes!” The message that we are sending to our baby is, “I know that you have a message that you are communicating to me, but I am ignoring it”.

This is teaching the baby that not only that we do not respect or value their communication to us, but we are also teaching them to go against their body’s natural urges and cues.

“Your response to your baby’s messages to you, decides whether your baby will end up fighting you around food … or not”.  Pennie Brownlee

Creating a meal-time ritual

We have the opportunity to fill not only a child’s belly but a child’s soul through the ritual of eating together.  Children get to experience at a very primal level the feeling of being fed and nourished with love and care.  However your meal times are orchestrated is entirely up to the team BUT if children are not feeling rich love through the sharing of food then sadly it is a mere routine.  A routine does not nourish the soul it is a mere task and it is with the intent of ” getting children fed” – Kimberley Crisp

The difference between a routine and a ritual is not necessarily the action, but the attitude behind the action.  On the face of it a mealtime routine and ritual have the same physical outcome – the child gets fed.  However, on a deep human, spiritual and emotional level it couldn’t be more different.

A routine has little interaction and can often be tedious and meaningless.  It is externally motivated and is something that “has to be done” it focuses on the “what”.  A routine does little to install a feeling of belonging and is focused on the completion of tasks – ticking the box.

A ritual on the other had is all about engagement and connection.  It is meaningful and internally motivated.  As opposed to routines, rituals focus on the intent behind the tasks, the “why” and “how” they are performed.  There is thought, preparation and care put into every part of the ritual.  A ritual is a celebration of life and tells the story of the culture of the place and the people in it.  Rituals install a feeling of belonging in all that participate in it – a good ritual makes everyone feel loved and special.

When we turn our mealtime routine into a ritual, instead of feeling like it is something that “just needs to get done,” it serves to add value and joy to yourself and the others around you.  It becomes something you may even enjoy doing and look forward to.

Rituals require thought, preparation, connection and reflection.  As teachers our rituals should be underpinned by the fundamental question:  “who is this for?”  Our mealtime rituals require a “Yes” environment.

Yes and No environments

You might have heard the statistic: A toddler hears the word “No” an average of 300 times.  When we as teachers feel that we have to say “No” all the time it is stressful for everyone.  Think how you would feel if someone was constantly telling you “No” all the time?  Think about how frustrating and discouraging it would be?  Yet children in many early childhood settings hear a constant stream of “Nos” through-out their day.

According to Te Whariki, our infants, toddlers and young children should experience an empowering environment that respects, values and enhances their mana.

Te Whāriki can be viewed as a framework to explore infants’ and toddlers’ rights to high quality care and the right to be taken seriously as active and competent members of society. This view of quality from an enrichment perspective values the child as a citizen with rights in the present. These are:

  • the right to be
  • the right to become
  • the right to enjoy
  • the right to choose.

(Ministry of Education, 2017)

In other words, an environment where they have the right to be respected as a unique human beings with their own personalities, likes and dislikes.  The right to choose – an empowered environment – a “Yes” environment.

A “Yes” environment where children viewed as unique human being with rights and worthy of our respect and consultation.

A “Yes” environment takes into account the age and stage of the children and their natural urges.

A “Yes” teacher uses her ‘teacher vision’ – her powers of observation to know the child well.  To know their individual cues, personalities and can see the need at the core of the behaviour.

A “Yes” teacher is prepared in his heart, mind, body and spirit and uses strategies to skilfully adapt the environment, his way of being and doing with the best outcomes for the children in mind.

A “Yes” teacher knows that no child or day is the same and that she needs to be flexible in her strategies and approach.

A “Yes” teacher is comfortable with change.

“Either we spend time meeting children’s emotional needs by filling their cup with love, or we spend time dealing with the behaviours caused by their unmet needs.  Either way we spend the time”.  Pam Leo

Unfortunately, mealtimes can be an extremely dis-empowering time of the day.  Mealtimes with children can often become “No” times.

Picture this scenario:

A large group of toddlers are “herded” to the table whether they are hungry or not.  Children are expected to keep quiet and their bodies still while teachers dish up all the children’s food into plates.  While the food is being dished up the children are “playing up”.  The children are not given a choice of what is being dished up to them, or how much.  The plates are put in front of the children and the teachers “patrol” the perimeter of the dining table while chatting to each other about what they did the night before over the heads of the children.  The children are crying, throwing plates and food, smacking or snatching food from the child next to them.  The teachers are yelling across the room, saying things like “No”, “Stop that”, “Keep your hands to your own body”, “Put that plate down!”, “Don’t climb on the table”, “Don’t take her food!”

Sounds awful right…

Or there is perhaps a power struggle going on: A toddler doesn’t want to eat their veggies but wants more rice.  The teacher, out of concern for the child’s well-being (veggies are good for the child’s health) or perhaps feeling the pressure from parents (they want their toddler to eat their veggies) tries to negotiate, cajole and enforce that the toddler will not be having anymore rice unless they have their veggies.

Are these examples of “Yes” environments? Would you as an adult feel comfortable eating under these circumstances?  Are we showing respect to the child? What are we teaching them?

Are you are having to say “No” or variations of “No” during mealtimes and play “police officer” during meals?

Are you are speaking louder and in a higher pitched voice than you would like to?  Are meal-times chaotic, stressful and unenjoyable in your setting?

If you are answering yes to even one of these questions, then chances are that you have a mealtime routine that needs to be reviewed.

Food should always be a pleasure

There is an important question that we should ask ourselves when we are reviewing our mealtimes.

Ask yourself….”How would I feel?”

Often, we tend to see children as a group, a herd of children, and we take on the one way fits all approach.  We choose the path of what is the most convenient for the teachers to get the job done.  We stop seeing children as individuals with an individual need for connection and nourishment that supersedes the need of physical hunger.

I invite you to ask yourself, every time you make a decision that effects a child.  “How would I feel…” closely followed with “I am I doing this because it is easy, or am I doing this because it feels like the right thing to do – for the children.” When we go with our heart feeling, we won’t go wrong.

So, what can we do to inject pleasure back into our mealtimes?

  • Make mealtimes special – consider your setting.  How do you like to set the table when eating with your family and friends? How can you create wonder and beauty in your meal-time environments? Adorn the tables with table cloths, flowers, candles and play soft music to set the “mood”.
  • Use real things – As the adult we are charged with providing our children with authentic life experiences.  Do you enjoy eating your food off of a plastic or paper plate? Or in some instances as I have observed, a paper towel or on the bare table?  My bet is that you do not.  Then why do we think that this is okay for children?  When we use “real” crockery, cutlery and glasses we are not only showing our respect and consideration to our tamariki, but we are communicating that we trust them.
  • Consider rolling mealtimes – Do you enjoy being forced to eat food when you are not hungry?  Neither do our tamariki.  We all have our own natural body rhythms and needs.  Some children might have slept in and had a late breakfast and come to your setting late.  Another child might have woken at 6 am and had breakfast on the way to the centre.  Some children like to eat a substantial amount of food in a sitting and some children prefer to graze through-out the day.  When we allow children choice as to when and how much they would like to eat, we are helping them tune into what their body needs.  We are helping them to develop a healthy, mindful relationship with their bodies and food.
  • Consider the group size – You don’t need a person with superhero powers of sight and perception to know that herding 20 toddlers around a kai table is a recipe for disaster.  How have you felt when you have been seated at a dinner table with 19 other dinner guests?  How has this compared with the experience of having an intimate meal with a few others?  Were the conversations different? How did the quality of the experience differ? Instead consider setting small tables that limit the group size to no more than 4 to 5 children at a time.
  • What are the teachers doing at mealtimes? Mealtimes are a time for connection, it is a time to not only nourish the body, but it is also a time to nourish the spirit of our pepe. To check-in and fill their emotional tanks – to build trust and the relationship.  Mealtimes are also a social time to learn about the art of conversation, dining etiquette and it is an opportunity for children to develop their likes and dislikes.  We cannot hope to achieve this if we are “hovering” around the edges.  We need to be seated at the table with the children, fully present in the moment.
  • Prepare mealtimes together – mealtimes are about community and relationships.  Even very young children feel empowered by helping to tend a veggie garden, picking flowers, preparing food and doing little jobs such as setting the table.  This creates a feeling of belonging as well as helping children to make valuable connections about where their food comes from and taking care of themselves and others.
  • Empower children with healthy choices – Do you as an adult enjoy being forced to eat something that you dislike? I often hear teachers say, “You can only have the biscuits/cracker” after your fruit.”  Then the classic power struggle between the adult and child ensues.  I would like to challenge you on your thinking behind that.  Quite often we want the child to eat the perceived “healthy” food before the treat.  Can I play the devil’s advocate in this situation and ask; shouldn’t all food we are offering children be nutritious and beneficial for their health and well-being?  If you are the doubting the nutritional benefit of the biscuit or cracker, then why is it even on offer?  Why not just offer a range of foods that you know are healthy and nourishing for children and allow them to choose and help themselves, developing their likes and dislikes according to their personal tastes.  It is okay not to like all foods, I am sure that as an adult there are foods that you dislike, but you still manage to sustain your health and well-being from the range of foods that are on your “likes” list.  Children’s preferences develop over time, sometimes they need several goes at seeing and trying a food before they develop a preference for it.  If we remove the power struggle dynamic from the equation, we eliminate stress – your stress and the child’s stress.  This stress could eventually be associated with the food at the centre of the struggle and cause children to reject it because of the memory it evokes and the way it makes them feel when eating it.  It also stops us from labelling or implying that some foods as “good” and some foods as “bad”.
  • Get to know your parents – One of the stress factors behind meal-times are parent expectations.  It is important for us to get to know our parents and form relationships of trust with them.  To know what is is important to them but also to know why it is important to them.   For example: it is not uncommon for a baby or toddler new to a setting to not want to eat or drink their bottle when they first start care.  This can be extremely upsetting for a parent, wracked with guilt and emotion about placing their child in care for the first time.  Parents are often, understandably worried about their child and their well-being.  This behaviour is often about the child’s need for security and connection.  An intuitive teacher sensing that the child might need more security, could work with the parent and put strategies into place to ease the stress.  Such as more settling visits, shorter hours and more one to one connection time with a primary caregiver.

Remember that with anything new things take time.  If you are reviewing your mealtimes, it will take time to get everyone in the team “paddling in the same direction”.  Preparation, commitment, a good sense of humour and a willingness to try, evaluate and give it another go is key.  But if it means less stress, and deeper connections then the journey will be worth it.

Arohanui,

 

Bibliography:

Food should always be a pleasure – Pennie Brownlee, 2011.

Te Whariki – The Early Childhood Curriculum – Ministry of Education, 2017.

Rituals – Making the everyday extraordinary in early childhood – Memory Loader and Toni Christie, 2017

A Heart For Toddlers – The Heart School, 2018

Respectful Mealtimes – Dorothy Marlen, 2015

 

If you would like to learn more about Connecting with Toddlers and A Curriculum of Care and Respect for Infants

be sure to check out these online courses at Arohanui Collective.

 

 

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One Random Act of Kindness – The Chain Reaction of One Kind Act.

I have been reading a lot about kindness, gratitude and its connection joy. I have discovered that helping others or doing kind things for others can have a positive effect on not just the person that you are being kind to, but your happiness and well-being.

Studies have shown the just witnessing acts of kindness produces Oxycontin, the ‘love hormone’ which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health.  Oxycontin also increases our self-esteem and optimism.  Kindness stimulates the production of serotonin, the feel-good chemical which helps to heal your wounds, calm you down, and makes you happy! Being kind to others reduces pain, can reduce the stress hormone cortisol by 23%, anxiety and depression.  Being altruistic is linked to lowering blood pressure and increases heart health.

In light of this information, I have been keeping a gratitude journal and thinking of small ways that I can be kinder in my day to day life.

Today while buying a coffee at my local cafe, I handed the waitress my loyalty card to be stamped.  She handed it back to me smiling and said, “the next coffee is a freebie”.  Inspired I handed it back to her and said, “Keep it, use it to pay for the next person’s coffee order”.  She was taken aback and smiled and replied, “That is so kind! Okay”.

I collected my coffee from the barista and went back to my office smiling.  I was bursting with the excitement and happiness in anticipation of making some one’s day.   Literally colours felt brighter, people seemed friendlier, my morning was fantastic.

Later in the day when I saw the waitress, she told me ” I gave your free coffee to a guy who was in after you, he was so surprised and happy. It felt good to give him the free coffee. We were all talking about it.”

THE CHAIN REACTION OF ONE KIND ACT

When I reflected on the morning,  I realised that my one act of kindness had a ripple effect that affected more than just me.

Let’s look at who was affected:

Me

When I made the kind gesture my body was flooded with a rush of hormones designed to make me feel joy.

I was experiencing a “helper’s high”.  The delicious cocktail of endorphins and hormones like oxytocin.  This boosts our sense of connection, love, trust and optimism, which increases our serotonin levels and reduces our cortisol levels.  In short being kind makes us happy.

The Waitress

I didn’t just stop with me.  I transferred my “helper’s high” to the waitress and the barista who served the free coffee.  Whom in turn would have been friendlier to their customers and been more inclined to give excellent customer service. The customers in the cafe would have left happier because of the friendly service and would have passed their joy on.  If you are kind it encourages others to be kind too.

The Recipient of the Free Coffee

The recipient of my random act of kindness, would have received benefits far beyond a free cup of coffee.  There would have been the euphoria of been given an unexpected surprise. He too would have been hit with a cocktail of feel good hormones and left the cafe with a feeling of joy.

I imagine that he would go on to tell his friends and family about the pleasant surprise that he received that morning.  He would have been more likely to be in a great mood and to be friendlier and kinder to others.  Those that he would have come in contact with would have been positively infected with his joy and would have passed this on.

WHAT HAVE I LEARNT FROM MY KINDNESS EXPERIMENT?

  • Kindness packs a powerful punch.  One small act of kindness has far reaching consequences and is felt by many.
  • Kindness is addictive.  The kinder you are the more you want to be kind.
  • Being kind brings you joy. Practising gratitude and kindness makes you happy and attracts good things to you.
  •  Actions speak louder than words. If I want the world to be a happier, kinder more caring place it starts with me.

Just one question remains, what kind thing will I do today?

Do you want to chat to be inspired by kindness?  Join The Kindness Project Facebook group to post about kindness and chat to fellow kindness seekers.

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The Emotionally Literate Teacher’s Guide to Mindful Decision Making

developing decision making skills

I was recently reflecting on my leadership journey and a piece of advice that I was given by my manager when I was a brand-new leader in early childhood education twelve years ago.

It is advice that I am sure that many of you might have received during your own journey as a leader, “Take your team along with you for the journey”.  Sounds simple enough, right?  What many of us, and certainly I, didn’t realise at the time was that not only was I bringing my baggage along for the ride, but so was everyone else.  I didn’t realise that part of my role was to help my team to manage their baggage and I hadn’t even started learning about how to manage my own.

During a workshop I attended I was asked, “did you plan your role, or did you land in your role?”

I recon that most of us land in it.  We are good teachers with, great ideas, motivation, initiative and “leadership potential”.  Someone “taps us on the shoulder” and says, “How would you like to be a head teacher?” We receive a rush of emotion and we usually feel extremely honoured that someone saw the potential – the value in us.  We crash land in these roles with very little formal experience of how motivate, inspire and lead others.  All the while we are dealing with our own baggage of self-doubt, overly high expectations of who we should be and guilt for not living up to our own expectations and our perceived expectations from others.   Not only this, but we also feel responsible for helping others to carry their baggage.

One of the key areas that we have little to no training in is sound decision making.  No one trains us to make mindful decisions so we go into emergency mode – we go into reactive mode. We spend our whole day putting out fires and making decisions from a place of weakness – it is overwhelming and it is exhausting!

Hitting Reset and Getting Yourself Out of Reactive Mode

It always starts with us.

In order for us to influence we first have to connect and the first person we need to connect with is ourselves.

There is no magic secret, quick-fix, but the first step in the journey is self-awareness.  In order for us to be self-aware we need to stop living in denial.

We first have to admit to ourselves that we have baggage and own up to that baggage, even if it is tempting to try to hide the extra weight in our cabin luggage or the extra bag that we don’t want to declare.

This luggage could be in the form of narratives that we have made up of our lives, behaviour loops, dispositions, mindsets, emotions and self-doubt.  Owning up to this can be difficult, confronting and sometimes a bit messy, but self-awareness is also incredibly healing.

Are you making decisions when you are running on empty?

When we are depleted, not getting enough sleep, worrying too much, stressed out and not nourishing ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually it is very easy for us to go into reactive mode.

A quote that I love, from Nanea Hoffman puts this beautifully into words,

You know how you’ll eat anything when you’re starving? Like, you’ll go to the grocery store on an empty stomach and just come home with weird stuff that you don’t need?

Yeah don’t go out into the world with an empty soul.  You’ll fill up on all kinds of weird crap.  Be sure to nourish yourself first.

I have learnt over time, that I don’t make the best decisions when I am tired or stressed out.  I have realised that I should give serious decisions the time and clarity that they deserve, by choosing to delay the decision till I am physically, mentally and spiritually full.

I know that this might seem pretty obvious and slightly ludicrous when you read this – I know, duh, you don’t make good decisions when you are emotional, tired or stressed??? But when you are caught up in reactive mode, you just react!

There is no denying it, we are defined by our decisions and our decisions are largely influenced by the filter of our values.

Decision-making is a lens that sharpens your values and brings them into focus and makes them materialise in the choices that you make. – Dr Joe Arvai

Therefore when making an important decision, I find it helpful to reconnect with my vision, my core values, my “why”. I also give myself permission to percolate:

 

When we brew coffee and allow it to stand, the coffee strengthens and becomes richer in flavor and aroma.

When we give ourselves time and space to percolate, our ideas become richer and more complex.
We become more focused on the direction we would like to take and clearer on our intentions.
Sometimes when we give ourselves space, solutions or creative ideas might just “appear” in our head.

We often get into the habit of thinking that we have to give an immediate answer to everything and everyone that comes our way.  This switches us into reactive mode and we make decisions that we might not have made if we had given ourselves the time and space to apply wisdom.

What type of a decision maker are you?

Part of this process is owning what kind of a decision maker you are. Perhaps you might recognise yourself in one of the following decision-making styles.

The Creative – you have a spark of inspiration and you leap into taking action.

The Creative is really comfortable with change, they are passionate, have lots of momentum and often inspire others with their passion, energy and creative ideas.  If you need decisive action, then The Creative is your go to person.

The Creative can often act with-out thinking through the consequences of the decision and the “how”.  They often rely on their ability to problem solve on the spot.  Creatives often take action from narrowly gathered information or without considering anyone else in the decision- making process.

The Collaborator – you need to get everyone’s input before you can make the decision.

The Collaborator is democratic and flexible in their approach.  They are flexible to change, and they are working from the place of “what is best for the collective good”.  They like to bounce ideas off other people and make a decision by what suits the team.  Collaborators make decisions from a wide range of information and often make sound decisions.

However, Collaborators can sometimes get caught up in other people’s drama and find it challenging to make the “hard” decision when it falls to only them.  They can come across as indecisive and “wishy washy”.

The Procrastinator – you always find something more pressing to do that stops you from making a decision.

The Procrastinator dislikes change and will do anything to avoid making a decision or embracing change.  Procrastinators will often find things that are more important to do or leave the decision to the last possible moment.  Procrastinating behaviour often stems from some underlying narrative about themselves or some underlying barrier that they are in denial from, which stops them from acting decisively.

The Planner – you need to look at the decision from all angles and then look at it again before you can make the decision.

The Planner likes to be in control, they are not entirely comfortable with change and taking risks scare them.  They need to work through every possible scenario of what could happen as a result of the decision.  They need to know “How”.  Planners are super organised and have sound decision making processes.

However they can sometimes “over-think” things and create a lot of stress for themselves and the others around them.  Planners need to control the situation and often find it challenging to let others be part of the decision-making process.

Which one are you?  We can sometimes see a little of each of these in ourselves depending on the situation.  For many of us the type of decision maker we are stems from the narrative we have about ourselves, as well as our dispositions.  We also need to be aware with our behaviour loops (behaviour patterns that we default to).  Are you a serial controller? Do you have the tendency to sabotage? Do you fall into the trap of “I don’t know?” or “what do you think?”

Beware of decision fatigue

Decision fatigue (yes it is a real thing!) – the average person switches between tasks 566 times a day – especially in this digital age.  These constant “micro decisions” deplete our neural resources and slowly strips us from our focus, willpower and energy causing decision fatigueThis reduced focus and energy can deteriorate our ability to make good decisions.  This can be both exhausting and overwhelming.

Some ways to guard yourself from decision fatigue are:

  • Simplify the choices that you need to make through-out the day.  Decide the night before what you are going to wear and eat the next day.  If you prepare the night before this amounts to less decisions that you need to make in the morning, safeguarding precious neural resources for more important decisions later in the day.  It has been documented that Barrack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs all simplified their work wardrobe to one or two choices in order to counteract decision fatigue.  This is why you always see Mark Zuckerberg in his signature grey t-shirt and jeans and Steve Jobs in his polo-neck sweater and jeans.  Barrack Obama only wore blue or grey suits in his entire 8 years in the oval office.
  • Keep your important decision making for earlier in the day when your energy levels are higher.
  • Link similar tasks and decisions together.
  • Stop unnecessary internet surfing.  Do you need to constantly check your emails and social media status? All this unnecessary browsing is sucking up important decision making energy!
  • Spend some time during the day doing nothing.   Percolate!!! When we do nothing, this allows our brain the time and space make new connections and better decisions.

How to make more mindful decisions?

It is important to note that as with any leadership skill, the skill of sound decision-making is something that you can learn over time.  With awareness, reflection, personal risk-taking and an open mind and heart.

Firstly, it is important to pay attention to the narratives about yourself that are playing in your subconscious.  These are the things that you tell yourself about yourself.

Are you a Planner who is sub-consciously saying to yourself “I can’t trust anyone else, so I need to do everything myself”? Are you a Collaborator, who is subconsciously saying “I can’t trust myself, so I have to get everyone else to make the decision for me”? Or are you a Procrastinator who is subconsciously saying “I am so afraid of making a decision because something bad may happen, I will just avoid it”?

I challenge you to look at your past experiences, whether in childhood or adulthood and determine where these messages came from, examine their validity and the power you are giving them over your decisions.  Are they causing you to make bad decisions?  Are you subconsciously sabotaging yourself, choosing to be the victim or going to “I don’t know-ville”?

I know that thinking like this and examining yourself through this lens is scary and it takes extraordinary courage, but remember that fear is just a feeling and strong emotions are the price of admission to a full and empowered life.

I then challenge you to find new evidence in your life for the person that you REALLY are. When you catch yourself saying mean and horrible things about yourself, you then purposefully tell yourself a new truth – a kinder truth of self-love and empowerment.  Think about how you would talk to others.  Remember your brain is a muscle, you have the power to rewire it.  You have the potential to learn new habits – to learn new knowledge and apply this to your life.  Over time you will learn to trust yourself and listen to your heart and gut about what “feels” right.

Once you are self-aware use the following steps to make better decisions:

  • Analyse your goals and objectives (what is the desired outcome?).
  • What options do you have to choose from?
  • What are the possible consequences that result from your choices?
  • What are the costs or trade-offs of your decision and can you live with them?
  • Reflect, evaluate and practise, practise, practise….

decision making building code

Remember that you are still learning, most of the decisions that we make are not fatal. If you make a bad decision you can always admit that you made a mistake and that this is something that you are working on and make a different decision next time.  After all, don’t we tell our children that mistakes are okay and part of how we learn?

What decisions will you make today, and how will you approach them?

If you want to find out more about growing your emotional literacy skills go over to www.arohanuicollective.com and check out the course The Emotionally Literate Teacher

where we will unpack tools for self-awareness and self-management as well as examining how we can use emotional literacy to unlock tools for inspirational leadership and building team cultures.

Until next time,

Ka kite,

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Risky Business – Risky play in early childhood education

 

risky play in early childhood education

Since my move to rural Northland I have had the opportunity to see children’s play from a different perspective.  Most of my early childhood experience has been at various settings in the city of Auckland, and I have definitely noticed that children play differently here.  Northland children climb trees every day, they play with mud, and in the rain, they are barefoot most of the time, they climb on TOP of the monkey bars – they take a lot more risks than what I am accustomed to compared to my experience in Auckland.

I recently observed a group of children engaged in sustained play for an extended period of time (several hours) with only a hill and three gym mats.  The play (completely child initiated) involved placing the gym mats length-wise down a hill and then sliding, rolling and somersaulting down the hill onto the mats.  This resulted in pile-ups, wrestling and lots of unbridled laughter.  There were a few moments when a push and an angry word was exchanged, however the children knew the rules of engagement and quickly corrected the offenders and reminded them that it was not okay to play like that, without much interference from a teacher.  At the end of the play I noticed muddy, grass-stained trousers, a few friction burns, one stubbed toe and a lot of grinning, out of breath, smiling faces.

I thought back to some of the centres that I have worked at in the past. I know that there are centres in Auckland that do empower children to take risks beautifully.  However I know that in many centres this type of play would have resulted in numerous parent complaints and nervous teachers.

I myself had to challenge my thinking and remember back to when I was a child and this play would have been the norm.  I found myself having to force myself to stand back and to be the observer.

Why is the play different here?

I have reflected after experiencing play in Northland, as to why play is so different here. The short answer is, the adults.

One of the biggest dangers facing our children and their play is our imaginations.  As adults are incredibly gifted at the art of worrying, 99 percent of which will never come into fruition. We see all the possible scenarios of “what could happen” and then we deem the situation as being too risky.  When I was growing up, my Dad used to tease my Mum when she asked us to put a jumper on and we objected that we weren’t cold.  He used to call a jumper, “the thing that your mother asks you to put on when SHE is cold” Are we passing our worries and fears onto the children in our settings?

The truth is that they are already being careful. The instinct for self preservation is strong in humans. It is a pity that we feel that we must teach them to live within our catastrophic imaginations – Tom Hobson.

Types of Risky Play

Risky play is an innate urge that we all experienced as children.  Ellen Sandseter, a professor at Queen Maud University in Trondheim, Norway, identified six universal categories of risky play that attract children.  If you think back to your childhood, you were probably intrinsically motivated to play in this way.  You probably notice these types of play with the children in your setting.

  • Great heights, climbing trees, and other structures – We have all had the urge as children and even as adults to swing really high, climb a tree or perch on a tall climbing box. As an adult you might like to climb a mountain or look out from an observation deck.  There is something magical about seeing things from a bird’s eye view, to feel the exhilaration of climbing or the slight feeling of danger of being up really high. There is often a feeling of “I did it” as a climb challenges our courage and persistence.
  • Rapid speeds – Think about that rush of Adrenalin that comes with going really fast!  It causes our heart to beat a bit faster, and our bodies to feel excited.  It is such an addictive feeling of pleasure that many adults I know still haven’t out played this urge!
  • Dangerous tools – Children love to use real tools just like… Mum, Dad, Granddad, Uncle.  When we allow children to use dangerous tools like hammers, drills, saws, knives this tells our children that we trust them and reaffirms the message that they are capable, confident learners.
  • Rough and tumble – All children love a game of chase and fight playfully.  Our playgrounds are full of super hero games and “goodies” and “baddies”.  Children often enjoy being the one being chased or the one underneath in wrestling–the position that involves the most risk of being hurt and requires the most skill to overcome.
  • Hiding away or getting lost – Hide and seek is an evergreen game played my most children.  In fact, our interest in this game starts when we are infants playing “peek a boo”.  Children enjoy the thrill of temporary, scary separation from their friends or the adults in their lives – only to relive the joy of rediscovery.
  • Dangerous elements – Most humans have a fascination with fire on a primal level. Children also enjoy being buried in the sand or being submerged in a large body of water.

dangerous elements - playing with fire

 

What are the benefits of risky play?

Think about the last time you were challenged by something… really challenged.

It might be that you were challenged with a weight-loss goal that took months of sacrifice and gruelling exercise to fit into a pair of skinny jeans or a difficult assignment that you grappled with until you and aced it!  You might have thought, “this is too difficult, I should just give up!”

But, how good did feel when your hard work and persistence paid off? The feeling of accomplishment, joy and pride in your achievement which made you feel invincible and on top of the world.

This is the feeling that we deprive our children of when we see them struggling with something such as climbing a tree, jumping from a high box or an infant learning to crawl over the edge of a step and we “rescue them”.  How would we have felt if during the midst of our struggle our lecturer, partner or colleague had said to us, “that is too hard, stop doing this, this isn’t safe, you will hurt yourself”? How different would this have been if that same person had said to us, “I can see that you are feeling frustrated/nervous, I am here to help you if you need me” or “I can see that this is important to you, let’s think of a plan.”

Think of the relief of having a confident empathizer who sees your struggle and gently encourages you to achieve your goal without getting in the way or “pushing” their help on you.

We want to send our children the message that we trust them, and will support  them with gentle guidance to achieve their goals.  We want our children to see challenges as part of learning and that learning is rewarding.  We want our children to know that they can achieve anything with the right strategies, help and effort.

These messages although rooted in play, are habits of the mind or dispositions that our children will take along with them for the rest of their learning journey.  You see children don’t learn to make decisions by being told what to do.  They learn to make decisions by making decisions.

Risky play provides great practice for children on how to regulate their emotions.

In risky play, youngsters dose themselves with manageable quantities of fear and practice keeping their heads and behaving adaptively while experiencing that fear.  They learn that they can manage their fear, overcome it, and come out alive.  In rough and tumble play they may also experience anger, as one player may accidentally hurt another.  But to continue playing, to continue the fun, they must overcome that anger.  If they lash out, the play is over.  Thus, according to the emotion regulation theory, play is, among other things, the way that young mammals learn to control their fear and anger so they can encounter real-life dangers, and interact in close quarters with others, without succumbing to negative emotions. Dr Peter Gray.

The Gender Debate

The ability to revel in risk taking allows children to develop a growth mindset.  By developing a growth mindset, our children will be more likely to try new things, persist with difficulty, put their hand up in class to ask a question or to volunteer and idea.  In later years this mindset will stand them in good stead when applying for a job, backing their ideas in a staff meeting, asking for that raise, or even asking someone out on a date.

Not taking risks can lead children to have a fixed mindset about trying new things and they tend to play it safe.  There is a tendency for children who are not allowed to take risks in the playground to strive for perfection and for them to give up or not even try if this perceived perfection cannot be achieved.  This is particularly pertinent in girls who take less risks in the playground than boys.

Think about your ECE settings.  Where are the majority of the girls playing?  Where are the majority of the boys playing?  Are we sub consciously programming our boys to be brave and our girls to be prefect?

During a TED talk by Reshma Saujani an American lawyer, politician and the founder of Girls Who Code, spoke about how women are underrepresented in STEM in boardrooms and government. She theorises that this is mainly because women are too afraid to try new thing for failure of not being perfect.  In fact, a HR study found that men will apply for a job if they only meet 60% of the criteria, however women will only apply for a job if they meet 100% of the criteria.  She argues that men and women have been programmed to see risk differently. That men are more confident risk takers because they were encouraged to take more risks on the playground when they children.  Girls on the other hand, especially in some cultures are encouraged to look “pretty” to write neatly, “because you are a girl” and to behave “like a lady”.  This leads to men externalising their challenges (there is something wrong with the challenge) and women to internalise the challenge (there is something wrong with me).

Does she have a point?  Is it time for us to reflect on this and challenge our programming?

That fine line…..

As early childhood teachers it is a difficult balancing act between taking unnecessary risks with someone else’s child and allowing children to not be limited by us and our fears.  There is a fine line between knowing when to intervene and when to sit on your hands, zip your lip and allow them to figure it out for themselves.

We have many rules and regulations designed to keep children and ourselves as teachers safe.  It is can be tricky to know the difference between allowing children to be challenged by taking risks and hazards.  It is important for us to keep our environments safe and to minimise or eliminate the hazards.

What risky play is NOT:

  • Letting children do what ever they want without any supervision.
  • Letting children put themselves in harms way.
  • Not stepping in when a child is doing something dangerous to themselves and to others.
  • Being too physically far away to help if needed.
  • Ignoring the children while they play.

I conclusion, I ask you to examine yourself.  As a teacher your attitude and mindset is key.  It is vital that you reflect on your own experiences and attitudes to risk.  Is there really a danger? Or are we just saying no because of our own fears, anxiety and our need for control?  Remember that as with anything this is a partnership with the child and they are looking to you as to how do deal with the situation. We need to be “doing with and not to”, so instead of “Be careful” we could try fostering the child’s awareness by saying:

  • Notice how  – the log is slippery, the branch is strong
  • Do you see.. the running water, the long grass, your friends nearby?
  • Try moving… your feet quickly, carefully, strongly
  • Try using your … arms, legs, hands, feet
  • Can you hear…. rushing water, the wind, birds?
  • Do you feel …. Stable on that rock, the heat from the fire?
  • Are you feeling … excited, frustrated, tired, scared, safe?

Help the child to problem solve by prompting:

  • What is your plan…
  • What can you use….
  • Where will you…
  • How will you..
  • Who will…

(adapted from www.backwoodsmama.com)

I leave you with the wise words of Magda Gerber,

Education begins the moment that we see children as innately wise and capable beings.

Happy playing!

Ka kite,

Are you interested in finding out more about fostering a growth mindset in children?  Check out my online course “How to Raise a Child With a Growth Mindset” on www.arohanuicollective.com

 

 

 

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What to do when you are feeling blue?

teacher depression

I was saddened last week to hear about the unexpected death of news reader, Greg Boyed and his battle with depression.  His death has renewed conversations about depression and mental health and has made me reflect on my own battle with depression and the battles of those close to me.

Depression is an old friend of mine that has come to visit me during various periods of my life. I am sure that there are many of you out there that are fighting your own battles with this familiar foe.

In a profession where we give so much of ourselves to so many, the needle on our emotional tanks can so easily point to empty.  In a sector with alarming burnout rates due to stress, high child to teacher ratios, mounting paperwork, and the challenges of working in close proximity with others with differing beliefs and pedagogy it is easy for us to feel a bit disillusioned and sometimes even depressed.  Yet we often feel pressured to put on our “happy face” and to be there for others when we are feeling really low inside.

What we are not talking about….

I belong to many of the online ECE social media forums and I often see posts from teachers who have “lost their spark”, feel unsure how to deal with challenging behaviours and who are stressed out by the demands put on us by teachers.  I recently surveyed 100 teachers at random about their satisfaction in our sector. I was saddened to find that only 26% of teachers who took part in the survey where happy in their current job.  That is 74% of teachers who were somewhat happy to not happy at all.

Some teachers wrote about working in “great homely environments with supportive management” and “working for fantastic owners with great ratios…well-resourced and great remuneration”.  However, many teachers wrote about feeling unsupported by their leaders, or feeling the strain of quality vs budgets. Many teachers spoke about the pressures of never-ending paperwork and being expected to work unpaid overtime. A high proportion of teachers reported to work in centres with high child teacher ratios or in centres where the ratios “on paper” did not match what happened in reality.

Teacher mental health and the effect on children

The survey results saddened me on many levels, but the thing that saddened me the most was the children in the middle of all of this.  The children who do not have choices about which setting they attend or the people that they are around.  It saddened me that our children are around so many stressed out, unhappy people and spend sometimes 8- 10 hours in sometimes emotionally toxic environments.

There are many brain development studies out there documenting the effects that educator/parent mental health has on the developing child’s brain and mental health. In fact, a study undertaken by Ohio State University in Columbus across 15 American cities found:

a direct relationship between teacher depression and “externalizing” problems in children, such as anger and aggression, as well as “internalizing” problems, such as anxiety, sadness or withdrawal.

Walter S. Gilliam, the director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University. Gilliam’s research found that “prekindergarten teachers and child-care staff who report elevated symptoms of depression are somewhat more likely to engage in child-care practices that are rated as less sensitive to children’s needs, more intrusive, and more negative.

The reason for this is that our children are constantly downloading from us.  Our mood, our emotions, how we are responding to them and to others around us.  Our youngest children, our infants and toddlers are designed to learn by being in a dyadic (two way) relationship with a receptive, in tuned adult.  Teachers who are depressed and unable to emotionally connect with themselves cannot emotionally connect with others.

Our children are spending longer hours in early childhood settings and are often in ECE centres for more waking hours in the week compared to being at home.  What emotional frequencies are they picking up on?  How can they become happy, fulfilled, intrinsically motivated, resilient collaborative and successful human beings if they are not having this modelled to them?

This is only learnt through having relationships with happy, fulfilled, intrinsically motivated, resilient adults.

 

What can you do?

Let me start off with saying, your mental health is important.  You are not alone in this, one in six New Zealanders (more common in women than men) experience some form of mental disorder including depression.

Some of the symptoms of depression that you shouldn’t ignore are:

  • constantly feeling down or hopeless
  • loss of enjoyment or interest in doing the things you used to enjoy doing
  • negative thinking and sleep problems
  • You may even feel so bad that you have thoughts of self-harm or even suicide.

If you notice that you are suffering from these symptoms it is important that you get help.  I know from my personal journey with depression that this is very difficult.  We often don’t what to “burden” others with our problems.  Or we don’t like to admit vulnerably, but the sooner you find help, the sooner you’ll start to feel better.

Some of the ways that you can do this, is by talking to someone you can trust.  Your GP is a great place to start.  Your GP can check to see if you are deficient in certain vitamins or minerals such as iron, vitamin B or vitamin D (especially in the winter months), help you with regular check-ins, medication (if you need it) as well as coping tools or a referral to a counsellor.  In most cases this is free.

  • Get Support – You can also speak to a friend or a trusted colleague, ideally someone who has known you for a while and can help you put your current situation into perspective – after all a problem shared is a problem halved. It’s natural to want to dive under the covers and hide when you’re feeling depressed. Avoid feeling isolated by reaching out if you are able. Make a coffee date, invite a friend over for take-out pizza.
  • Talk about it – Speak about your feelings and avoid keeping things that are bothering you bottled up inside. Remaining silent or bottling can cause you to wage a war within yourself.  These conversations might feel challenging at first, but they do get easier with practise.
  • Consider your environment – are you in the place that is the right fit for you? I know that you might feel guilty about leaving the children and families or letting your team down, but if your own happiness is suffering because of it you are just adding to the bad “emotional hygiene” of the setting and doing your team, children and families a disservice.
  • Focus on today – When we focus too far in the future it can be very overwhelming.  Instead focus on what you can do today.  About 99% of what we worry about in the future never even happens, all you truly have is today.
  • Get moving – Dust of your walking shoes and get out in the fresh air for a walk.  It sounds like cross purposes but even though you might not feel like have the energy to exercise, participating in regular exercise can boost those “feel good” chemicals, your energy levels and your mood.  You are never going to feel like it, sometimes you have to push yourself do it, in order to make yourself feel better.
  • Know your triggers – Think about the children in your settings, through time and careful observation you get to know their behaviour triggers.  You know that the wheels are going to come off if you ignore the tired or hungry signs.  Or that behaviour is going to escalate if you don’t take time to give the child who is feeling hurt or upset a much-needed cuddle.  We are no different, we “play up” emotionally when we are not meeting our own needs.
  • Take care of yourself – Be vigilant about your self-care.  I am not talking about a trip to the spa of a candle-lit bath here (although this is a lovely way to treat yourself).  By this I mean be mindful of your nutrition, unplug from screens and the internet and create a sleep ritual that ensures that you are getting the rest that you need. Be careful with your personal boundaries, create a healthy space for yourself away from external negativity – beware of those energy pirates!
  • Pay attention to yourself talk – When we think negative thoughts we cannot expect to have positive results. Our negative thoughts become “negative affirmations” holding us back and leading us to repeat the same behaviours over and over again, this can become a habit loop.  We need to pay attention to our thoughts and intentionally replace the negative affirmation with a positive thought.  This can be can be hard work, but it trust me it does get easier.
  • Become mindful – Gift yourself a bit of time in the morning to practise, gratitude and mindfulness and set yourself up for the day. Meditation has been shown to reduce levels of stress and perceived stress.   Meditation and mindfulness have been proven to change the structure of your amygdala which is the part of your brain that controls feelings such as anger, fear and anxiety. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build stronger relationships.

Realize that it’s not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy. Make a habit of noticing the goodness that is already yours first thing in the morning, and you will see more goodness everywhere you look throughout the day.

Marc and Angel.

  • Find yourself in the service of others – Looking for a natural “high”? Helping others or doing kind things for others can have a positive effect on your happiness and well-being.  Studies have shown the just witnessing acts of kindness produces Oxycontin, the ‘love hormone’ which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health.  Oxycontin also increases our self-esteem and optimism.  Kindness stimulates the production of serotonin, the feel-good chemical which helps to heal your wounds, calm you down, and makes you happy! Being kind to others reduces pain, can reduce the stress hormone cortisol by 23%, anxiety and depression.  Being altruistic is linked to lowering blood pressure and increases heart health.
  • Rekindle a passion – Think back to a time when you were happiest, what things where you doing that you no longer do?  What passion or leisure activity can you rediscover? Create a network of people who have similar interests and whom you will look forward to meeting up with on a regular basis.
  • One step at a time – Remember that only one little step is all that is ever needed.  There is always hope, you won’t always feel this way.  One day you will look back to this day and realise how far you have come.

Knocked down,

But not out;

Crying but still breathing;

Broken

but Brave;

I’m strong

Enough to survive this

– the love yourself challenge.

 

Thank you for reading my blog.  If you or someone you care about is suffering with depression please reach out to Lifeline on 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO), or www.depression.org.nz for online resources as well as Depression Helpline, free phone 0800 111 757 and Anxiety Line 0800 ANXIETY (2694 389).

Kia kaha,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who’s Fault Is It?

Who's fault is it?

Early childhood education in New Zealand has been in the media a lot this week, first there was the infamous New Zealand Herald opinion piece by Deborah Hill Cone comparing ECE centres to “factory farming children” and then there was the article by National’s ECE spokesperson, Nicola Willis with an opposing view.  Then on Thursday there was another article from a mother’s point of view by Cecile Meier, on Stuff, encouraging people to not judge parents for having to work and put their children in “daycare”.

These stories stirred up heated discourse online and in social media forums.  As parents, centre owners, leaders and teachers we felt attacked, undervalued, anger, indignation and guilt.  We felt that we needed to defend ourselves, our calling, our right to work and in many cases our need to work to provide for our families.  We felt that our very motivations to own centres, to be teachers and our judgement about what is right for our children was under attack.  This spurred us to go into defensive mode and in defensive mode we start to assign blame.

Who’s right? Whose fault is it?  Who’s to blame? Who can we attack in response to this?  Quite often we attack the only people that we can, other people in our profession, other teachers, other parents, ECE providers.

Why? Because we can.  Unfortunately, when we lash out at each other we all suffer as a consequence. This causes many teachers who are already feeling, run down after a long hard winter and feeling the pressures of teacher shortages, regulations and increased documentation pressures to feel even more demotivated and undervalued.

Fault vs Responsiblity

How this has played out in the media got me thinking about an inspirational video that I saw this week by Will Smith (Yes, you heard right – the actor, AKA the Fresh Prince) but he made some really great points about fault vs responsibility.  In his video he speaks about how it may not be your fault that something is broken, but it might still be your responsibility to fix it.  For instance, it is not our fault that people, like Deborah Hill Cone, has a negative opinion of all Early Childhood Centres, that’s on her, but it is our responsibility  as teachers, leaders, team members, and carers to be the best possible versions of ourselves that we can be.

When we focus on whose fault something is, we get stuck in victim mode powerless to change the situation. The power is in taking responsibility for your heart, your life, your happiness.  Accepting responsibility is not an admission of guilt, you are not admitting that you are wrong.

What are we taking responsibility for?  We are taking responsibility for ourselves.  Worrying about what other people are doing, saying and thinking is a waste of our energy.  We have no control over any of those things.  The only thing that we can control are what we think, what we say and what we do.

Tanya Valentin - things I can control

As a Teacher What is Your Responsibility – What can you control?

Firstly, you are responsible for yourself. Your attitude, mindset, emotions, thoughts, heart, life and happiness.

Are you in the place that is the right fit for you? I know that there are teachers that are loyally “hanging in there” for the children and families, but if your own happiness is suffering because of it you are just adding to the bad “emotional hygiene” of the setting and doing your team, children and families a disservice.

It is your responsibility to fill your own cup of happiness , so that you are capable of serving others – no one else can do this for you.

Have the courage to do things that make you happy, emotions are infectious – be a positive infection!

You are responsible for the lens with which you see others.  Are you viewing others with kindness, compassion and empathy? Or are you viewing others through a deficit model?  Are you looking to assign fault, blame and guilt?  Is your motivator to be right at any cost?

“In our profession people are quick to point out the not quite rights and are slower to come forward with the positives.  We can change this within our teams by extending the strengths lens (that we apply to children) to the adults within our setting.  Notice and comment on the positives.  Pass on any great feedback given to anyone in the team who didn’t hear it first-hand. Let your positivity infect others so that they can do the same.” The Heart School 2018.

It is your responsibility to ask, “who is this for?” to be curious, courageous and a life-long learner. Do you have an open heart and an open mind? Are you a reflective practitioner? Do you question the status quo? Do you inquire into your own pedagogy?

It is your responsibility to be worthy of imitation, to hold the child at the heart of what you do and not to walk past things that don’t feel right. It is our collective responsibility to strive for excellence and to not settle for “good enough”.

It is your responsibility to create a homelike, safe, inclusive, supportive learning environment. A place where children, whanau and fellow teachers feel a sense of belonging and where the aroha and manaakitanga are palpable when you walk into a space.

It is your responsibility to create equitable opportunities for all children to develop across all areas of Te Whariki, and to affirm and value a child’s language and culture.

It is your responsibility to be a playful adult and to have fun!

It is your responsibility to promote the wellbeing of children and to advocate for children – their right for respect as unique human beings, their right to be, their right to play, make choices, to be seen, heard and for us to be an emotional safe haven for them.

It is your responsibility to build a relationship trust with children, to get to know them through careful, reflective observation.  To respond to their needs and cues, to be prepared and to respond intentionally to children’s learning. It is your responsibility to build relationships with parents and whanau and to engage them in their child’s learning and respect their aspirations for their child.

It is your responsibility to be emotionally literate human beings, respectful to others, uplifting and supporting others in our community.  By doing this we provide the blue print for children as how they are to treat others. When we show respect to others even if they are undeserving, it reflects our character.  We earn respect by respecting others.

“Raise your words, not your voice. It is the rain that grows flowers not thunder.” Rumi

As the ECE community it is our responsibility to lobby the minister of education if we feel strongly about certain areas.  We are also responsible for working with our colleagues not only in our centres but in those around us to come up with ideas around where to next for ECE in Aotearoa. Together we can make a lot of noise about what quality could look like in the future.

These are the things that you have control over – your practice, your heart, your happiness, your responsibility.

If you are feeling that this a long list of responsibilities…

Take heart, chances are that you are probably already doing many of these things  and you just needed a bit of reminding.  Like most of us you are probably the most critical of yourself, so remember to treat yourself with a good dose of compassion and kindness.

So instead feeling disheartened by what you read on social media.  Next time you want to hang your head and say, I am just one person, what difference can I make? Remember that you can be the change that you wish to be in our profession. You have control over being the best possible version of you and you are enough.

This brings to mind the Martin Luther King Jnr quote,

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”

 

So as you go into this day or week, take time to celebrate yourself and the amazing job that you are doing and while you are at it tell someone else that they are doing a great job too!

 

Kia Kaha,

 

Join me at my upcoming Auckland workshop, The Emotionally Literate Teacher, click here for more details.

 

 

 

 

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The Emotionally Literate Teacher’s Guide to Conversations for Change

 

conversations for change

Love them or hate them, fear them or get excited by them, conversations for change are an essential part of being not just an early childhood leader or teacher, but also fundamental to being human.

Even though our brains do not like change we need change.  As a society are constantly striving for excellence and innovation.  How can we do things better? How can we do this more efficiently? How can we work smarter not harder? What is the next big thing?

As teachers we are taught to reflect on our practice and how things are done. We undertake internal evaluations into the running of our rooms and centres, our policies and our pedagogy.  We attend professional development or read literature, exposing us to new ideas and research provokes new thinking and action.

Why then are so many of us afraid of change and afraid of even having conversations with others about change?  The answer to this is rooted in Emotional Literacy.

 

What is Emotional Literacy?

If we are emotionally literate we have self-awareness and recognise our own feelings and we know how to manage them. Emotional Literacy also includes being able to recognise and adapt to the feelings of other people, whilst at the same time, learning how to manage and express our own emotions effectively.

If our goal is to be effective change agents, we need to recognise that the reason why change and even having conversations for change, are difficult for us, is because we are having an emotional response.

You have activated the part of your brain called your amygdala which is essential to your ability to feel certain emotions and to perceive them in other people. You are in fact experiencing an amygdala hijack.

An amygdala hijack can be defined as:

“An Amygdala Hijack is an immediate and overwhelming emotional response out of proportion to the stimulus because it has triggered a more significant emotional threat. The amygdala is the part of our brain that handles emotions. During an Amygdala Hijack, the amygdala “hijacks” or shuts down the neo-cortex.” Daniel Goleman

Let me put this into context for you.  You can see that change that needs to happen, you know why it needs to happen, you even know how to make the change happen.  This is all perfectly rational and part of our neo-cortex function of our brain.

However, for most people the thought of change does not stay in our rational, thinking part of our brain.  As human beings our brains are wired for our first response to be an emotional one. We get triggered by past experiences of change and feelings of fear and uncertainty and this causes an emotional response in our brains. This some cases can cause a physical response in us, like sweaty palms, a racing heart, feeling flushed, dry mouth and a queasy stomach. This is in short, an amygdala hijack and this is triggering your fight or flight reflex due to a perceived attack.

How do we move past this emotional response and take action?

You may not be able to control the emotional response, but you can control the thoughts that follow an emotion if you are aware of it.  I will clarify this for you in the steps below:

  • Recognise – Emotional literacy starts with you and your self-awareness. You need to recognise within yourself that you are in fact having an emotional reaction. Motivational speaker, Mel Robbins talks about using the five second rule in this instance.  When you are experiencing an emotional response, recognise it for what it is and count backwards from five to one.  This helps you to shift from the limbic part of your brain which controls emotions into your neo-cortex where you process rational thought.
  • Observe the emotion impartially and name the emotion. For example, “I am feeling fear”.
  • Analyse – Where did this feeling come from? Most feelings come from our past experiences, or the messages that we heard from others growing up, or as part of our cultural programming. We then use these to attach meaning to situations we are currently dealing with or faced with in the future.

For example, most people when faced with addressing practice in others or change, might have an internal dialogue of, “Why should they listen to me?” “If I give them feedback about their practice, they will look at me and see that I am not perfect all the time.” “If I suggest that we change this, it could cause disagreements.” “It might not work and then everyone with think badly of me, blame me for the failure or be angry with me.” “They will think that I am incompetent as leader.” “This will expose me as a fraud and that I don’t know what I am talking about.”

You might like to unpack some of this and write down the self-talk that is going on for you.

This where self-management comes in – rationally work through what you made things mean. What is the worst-case scenario? What is the likelihood of your worst-case scenario even happening?

Part of being emotionally literate is that you develop the mind-set that you don’t always get it right and you don’t always have to have all the answers.  Our failures are just and opportunity for us to grow and learn new things about ourselves and others.  One of the most powerful things that we can do as leaders is to admit it when we have made a mistake.  Vulnerability inspires respect.

Being emotionally literate means that you are the quiet observer of your thoughts and emotions. Often, we’ve received a message about ourselves from an outside source, and real or perceived we hold onto it as TRUTH which robs us of our self-worth and self-confidence.  When we become the objective observer of our thoughts, we can then intentionally recreate the narrative of who we are and who we were meant to be.  Your subconscious mind believes everything you tell it.  Feed it love, feed it kindness, feed it truth.

  • Connect with your why – One of the most powerful tools you have is your vision. Why is the change necessary? Having self awareness and then knowing why, are your best tools to moving you from a state of fear and self-doubt and motivating you to take action.

Consider this scenario:  Perhaps you are a teacher in a toddler’s room.  You have noticed that meal-times and sleep times are chaotic.  Children are being “herded” from one area to another with little or no connection between teachers and children.  Children are given little or no choice and their natural rhythms and need to connect during care moments are not being respectfully met.  Teachers have become “crowd control officers” and this is very stressful and not very empowering nor respectful for anyone.

This doesn’t sit right for you and you would like to make a change.

The first thing that you need to do is to decide, what you would like to happen in its place. Why this is important to you, the children and the other stake holders?  You might like to curate research and readings as evidence for your vision.  If you are still feeling unsure about having the conversation or making the change – ask yourself, what are the consequences if I do nothing? How will me not acting influence the rights of others and how does this resonate for me?

Once you are armed with your vision you can ignite the other part of your “why” – your passion!

You might be passionate about respectful interactions between teachers and children.  You might feel passionate about children’s rights to have calm, respectful, emotionally satisfying care moments.  You might feel passionate about creating a culture that is rooted in respect, kindness and peace.

In this moment, even though you are fearful of change and having a conversation for change with the other members in your team, you know why the change needs to happen. You are aware of the consequences for your inaction and you feel passionate about your vision.

You have the tools to manage your emotional state in order to take action.  You are armed with the catalyst initiate a conversation for change.

Passion led us here

Influencing others to change

Whether we successfully create change in our settings largely depends on whether you can get buy in from your fellow team members to make the change and to sustain it.  This relies heavily on our emotional literacy skills in social awareness and social management.

Social awareness is our ability to have empathy for others as well as read the dynamics and power relationships of a group of people.  Social management is our ability to motivate and inspire others to trust us and go on a journey with us.  It is our ability to coach and mentor others, work together as part of a team as well as how to cope with and manage conflicts and barriers as they arise.

“The work get done through people, in order to influence we must first connect” Joelle Hadley.

If we look at this from a “conversation for change” context we can apply the following steps:

  • Have empathy – The other members of your team are probably having similar emotional responses to change. Have some compassion for where they are and the emotions that they are experiencing.  Recognise that they are having an emotional response, don’t take this as a personal attack against you and your vision.  Instead give them space and help them to name the emotion.  You might say something like, “I see that you are feeling angry do you want to talk to me about what is going on for you?”
  • Choose the right time to share your vision – Early childhood centres are busy places. Choose a time when you can have everyone’s full attention, such as a staff meeting or non-contact time.  Be clear and succinct about communicating your vision.  Your vision, your “why” is what will drive passion and behaviour.
  • Be aware of different personalities and power dynamics – Not everyone has the same motivators or ways that they like to be communicated with. What is their “why”, their values, passions and beliefs? Do you have values, passions and beliefs in common? How, can you motivate and inspire them to take a risk and trust you, to share your vision? This comes from being interested in others and getting to know them on a personal level.

According to Simon Sinek, “The very survival of the human race depends on our ability to surround ourselves with people who believe what we do.  When we surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe trust emerges.  Trust is a feeling that comes from common values and beliefs.  When we surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe, we are more confident to take risks, to experiment and take chances.”

  • Create a common goal – Get everyone on board through open and honest communication, share concerns and barriers that come up for people. Design a plan, problem solve strategies for success and create a time-line to keep everyone accountable.
  • Acknowledge uncertainty and adversity – Discuss the fact that not everything will go according to plan all the time and setbacks are part of the process. Predict what some of these barriers to success might look like and how you will deal with this as a team when they arise. Reinforce that this a safe space to be curious together, reflect, refine and to make mistakes.
  • Commitment – Commit to the vision – “the why” the plan and the process. You need to hold onto the vision and the passion, as a means to get through adversity and that takes discipline and commitment.

 

I would like to leave you with the following quote from Charles Darwin,

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive, but those who can be manage change.”

The Emotionally Literate Teacher, Tanya Valentin ECE

Thank you for reading this blog if you find the subject of Emotional Literacy interesting and would like to unpack this further click here to find out about my upcoming workshop, The Emotionally Literate Teacher.

During this workshop we will dig deeper into Emotional Literacy. We will be inquiring as to why teachers need high levels of Emotional Literacy.  We will be exploring tools to enhance your self-awareness, manage self as well as how to connect with others and enrich your relationships.

Arohanui,

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Being Courageous – Becoming Comfortable With Discomfort and Fear

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about courage and what it means to be courageous.  I have come to the realisation that courage can look different to different people depending on where they are in their lives.

For me being courageous is overcoming my self-doubt, pushing myself to write this blog and share my thoughts with you.  It has also been overcoming my fear of looking stupid in public and appearing live on my Facebook live sessions.

Courage however might look different for other people. It may be that you stop ignoring a lump in your breast and see a doctor to get it checked.  It may be that as a mum you confront your addiction to your mobile phone and realise how much time it is taking from your children.  It may be that you need courage to admit to yourself that you are feeling unhappy and you need to do something about it. For you courage might be getting up every morning, getting dressed and getting through the day. Being courageous may be saying “no” to someone because you know that one more “yes” will push your life into overwhelm. Courage might be choosing to do something for yourself or to follow a passion or a dream. Courage may be letting go of a toxic relationship or things in your life that no longer serve you.

As a teacher, courage might be reflecting on your practice and “the way it has always been done” or speaking to a team member about something that they did to upset you.  As a centre director, it may be having that difficult conversation with a parent whose baby has been bitten by another child. It may be having a courageous conversation that addresses someone’s practice.

Being vulnerable hurts

As human beings, we do not like to be uncomfortable and we hate change.  Change often requires us to feel vulnerable and to confront thoughts and feelings that hurt. It can make us feel a little panicked and even defensive. We can be so fearful of discomfort and change that it can cause us to feel physically sick.  Being vulnerable and confronting yourself is not for the weak or the faint-hearted.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness – Brene Brown.

Pain = Growth

We have no problems accepting discomfort and pain as something that is needed for our physical bodies.  I am sure that we have all at one time visited the gym or done some form of physical exercise where we have pushed ourselves and felt the pain of stiff muscles the next day.  “It’s a good pain” we told ourselves.  Children with growing limbs go through “growing pains” all the time.

If you have ever injured yourself and seen a physiotherapist, they will actually give you stretches and exercises that make you feel pain and discomfort in order to strengthen the muscles and heal you.  Even the healing act of massage require an element of pain interwoven with the feelings of pleasure. We accept this on a physical level, we tell ourselves, “No pain, no gain” but we have a really hard time accepting this at an emotional level.

Our brains don’t like change, they will do anything to take the easy way out and to maintain status quo.  However, our brains need change.

In fact, I challenge you that change and discomfort are essential for growing your emotional intelligence, your resilience and your staying power or grit.  Think of these moments of pain and discomfort as burpees for the brain.  We know that it is going to hurt, but it is oh so good for us.

Accepting that it is going to hurt and going there anyway.

In another lifetime, I would have done anything to not feel the discomfort and the pain of confronting myself – my truths.  My younger version was happy to keep myself safe, to do as I was told, to go with the flow, to not ruffle any feathers and to play it small.  I would do anything to avoid conflict.  If you met me on the floor of my centre, you would think, “wow she is always so calm” “she always looks so happy”.

Inside I was at war.  I was at war with myself.  I knew that there were truths that I was swallowing, conflicts that I was avoiding and incompetence, unkindness and prejudice in others that I was tolerating.  I was doing so to keep the peace.  I told myself that this was for the best for everyone involved. However, I was lying to myself – things that you bury have a way of festering and coming back up to the surface.

If I was being honest with myself, I was PETRIFIED.

I was petrified of admitting that I didn’t have the skills to handle the situation, of not having all the answers. I was petrified of making a mistake and letting my boss and my team down.  I was petrified of not being in control of the situation of not living up to my own, impossibly, high expectations of myself.   I put off challenging bad practice in others, because I was petrified about what shortcomings it would unearth about me.  I was petrified of looking like a fraud and I was petrified of appearing weak.  I was petrified of being wrong, and any feedback that wasn’t glowing praise. Paradoxically by the time the glowing praise had filtered through my brain it sounded like criticism to me anyway.

There was a thought loop, a narrative playing over and over in my head keeping me rooted to the spot.  In this thought loop I was telling myself that I was not good enough, that I just couldn’t do it, that I just wasn’t strong enough.

But here’s the rub… this fear, was literally keeping me frozen in place, unable to move and grow as a teacher, a leader and as a person.  And the sad truth is that those whom we serve, our children, our families our teams can’t afford for us to be disconnected and living in a state of denial and fear.

If you are reading this and feeling this right now, thinking that you are not strong enough….

Then let me be the one to tell you

You are filled with infinite, untapped reserves of strength, courage, creativity, persistence and possibilities – more than you will ever know.

As a child you could have been anything and everything your imagination allowed you to be.  You haven’t lost it, you have just forgotten that you had it. You are just out of practice on how to use it.  Have faith in yourself and listen to your intuition – you are just one choice away from being brave, from doing what feels right and doing something amazing that will change your life forever.

How to feel the fear and do it anyway

I have been told that fear is a projection and isn’t real, but I know first-hand that fear is very real.  In some instances, such as stopping yourself from jumping off a cliff or protecting a loved one, fear is not only extremely real but vitally necessary.  As human beings we have an innate sense of self preservation.

The fear that I am challenging you to tackle today is the crippling fear of not being right, not being in control, not trying, not speaking your truth and not living your potential as a human being.

We all have a purpose for being here, we all have a gift to give.  Figuring out your true purpose might be the scariest thing that you do.  It might mean feeling emotions and letting go of things that you have relied on to keep you safe. When you suppress your truth and wage a war within yourself you are allowing your fears to stop you from doing what you are meant to be doing.

The clincher is that the only thing that you can control is your own thoughts, feelings and actions.  You cannot change other people and their thoughts, feelings and actions. The only person that you can change is yourself and that is enough.

 

Mastering yourself, your thoughts and your fears might be the most courageous thing that you ever do.

So how do you feel the fear and do it anyway?

These are some of they ways that I have helped me to move blocks in my life and overcome the fear.

  • Be vigilant of your thoughts – realise that your thoughts have power. Your reality is shaped by your thoughts. You have a choice to allow the thought to control you or for you to control the thought. This might involve digging a bit deeper into the core beliefs that you have about yourself and doing a bit of spring cleaning of the soul – I know scary stuff!
  • Your brain is a muscle – capable of growth and change.  Watch your language, a key learning for me was to replace ” I can’t do it” with “I can’t do it yet”.  Think of challenging situations as an opportunity for your brain to grow, develop and learn new skills.
  • They are just feelings – as scary as they seem, feelings themselves can’t hurt you. They have as much power as you give them.  Tough feelings and emotions are the price of admission to a meaningful life.  Suppressing or denying feelings will only make them more difficult to deal with in the long run.  Instead ask yourself, “what is this feeling here to teach me about myself?” “What am I making it mean?” Learn to observe your feeling from a distance, label it accurately and focus on the unfulfilled need at the root of the feeling.
  • Replace self-pity with self-compassion – there is a big difference between feeling sorry for yourself and feeling kind towards yourself. Self-pity is a bottomless pit of misery that sucks you deeper and deeper into the feeling of despair. Self-pity allows you to perpetuate the endless cycle of being a victim.  Victim thinking allows you to abdicate responsibility for yourself, your thoughts and your actions – it is never your fault.  Self-pity is a form of control – it allows you to avoid making mistakes and possibly failing and getting some-one else to feel sorry for you.   Self-compassion on the other hand is empowering and uplifting.  When you choose to be kind and gentle towards yourself you are choosing to acknowledge that although this new way of thinking can be challenging, and you will make mistakes, it is not because you are not good enough it is just part of the journey of staying curious and courageous about yourself.  You are acknowledging the emotional and personal growth that you are undertaking, the strength, persistence and resilience that this takes.  Wisdom comes from knowing yourself – when you need to push forward and when you need to rest.
  • Start a gratitude ritual – no matter how dire your life might feel, there is always something to be grateful for.  At the very least you have been blessed with another day and you are breathing.  Starting a gratitude practice will reshape your brain and your responses to life.
  • Anchoring your thoughts with your “why” – according to Mel Robbins, author and motivational speaker, the extraordinary fact about fear, is that fear and excitement have the same physical symptoms in your body. The only difference is what your brain is doing.  You can trick your brain to believe that you are excited instead of fearful by using an anchoring thought. Next time you are about to do something that you find challenging and makes you nervous such as having a courageous conversation you can use an anchoring thought to help yourself to take action.  Connect with why it is important for you to have the conversation, then picture yourself after the conversation is finished.  Picture yourself telling someone how well the conversation went and the positive impact your action has had and take this feeling into you meeting.
  • Take action – making any type of change is scary and can be completely overwhelming.  Instead sending yourself into panic-mode, do an honest “internal review” into yourself and ask, “what is the next ‘right’ action I can take now?” And then once that is done, “what is the next ‘right’ action I can take? And so forth.

Often all that is needed is the 10 seconds of courage that it takes to make the decision to take action – Nadine Champion.

I challenge you in the week ahead, dig deep and find your 10 seconds of courage to take the action that you need to in your life, one small shaky step at a time.  All journeys are accomplished one step at a time.

There is no value in playing small, but there is huge potential in starting small – Natasha Vanzetti.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, please comment below.  I love to hear from you.

Arohanui,

 

If you are interested in the topic of emotional literacy and how you use it to unlock your skills as a heart-led teacher and leader contact me about my PLD The Emotionally Literate Teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

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Unpacking the learning – Carpentry in Early Childhood Education

I recently had the privilege of observing two children playing at the carpentry table.  The two boys (around the age of three and four) had been working side by side, when one of the boys wandered over to where a piece of wood had been fixed onto a small bench with a vice.  He started to saw the wood but was battling because the bench was wobbling.  His friend who was still at the carpentry table seeing his struggle went over and sat down on the bench to steady it.

Not many words were exchanged between the two but the manaakitanga between them was so touching to observe, that it made an instant impression on me.  When the boy with the saw tired of his efforts, his friend swapped roles with him, having a turn to saw the wood while the other boy steadied the bench. They worked together like this for some time reversing roles and sharing the workload with each other, until they got distracted by another friend and ran off to play robots.

Unpacking the learning

As the observer I was really touched by this powerful learning experience.   I could have so easily intervened, and the magic would have been lost.

In unpacking some of this learning I have interwoven some of the principles, strands and goals of Te Whāriki , MoE 2017 as well as dispositions for learning.  I have also made links to Te Ao Māori learning concepts found in Te Whatu Pōkeka, MoE 2009 and Tataiako, MoE 2017.

Firstly, these two children did not need my help at all.  They did not need to me to mitigate risk, to extend their play nor to provide a mediator for social competence.

It was all part of Ngā āhuatanga o te tamaiti – their way of being (I contribute my own ideas and participate, I can take responsibility for myself, people and things.)

They were empowered, capable, confident and the experts in the moment, learning how children learn best through play. This was such rich learning which encompassed many learning dispositions and holistic learning.

In an empowering environment, children have an agency to create and act on their own ideas, develop knowledge and skills in areas that interest them and, increasingly, to make decisions and judgements on matters that relate to them. (Te Whāriki, MoE 2017)

I was immediately struck by the confidence and the mana with which the children approached the experience. They had a plan that  they knew how they were going to implement .

The kindergarten that I was working at has a philosophy based in a strong sense of Whakamana (seeing children as competent and able.)  Kaiako encourage tamariki to take calculated risks and the children are trusted in their own abilities to use the carpentry tools safely.   The boys returned the trust shown by the teachers in their abilities, by making responsible choices and managing themselves. This is a wonderful example of Tangata Mauri (knowing the rules of the kindergarten and being trusted to make decisions.)  This also links strongly to the well-being and belonging strands of Te Whāriki .  (Well-being goal 3 – keeping themselves and others safe from harm and Belonging goal 4 – knowing the limits and boundaries of acceptable behaviour.)

There was a lot of turn taking, give and take. and both children shared responsibility for helping and taking care of each other.  The kindness they showed each other and camaraderie of accomplishing a shared tasks helps to forge a friendship and fostered a feeling of connectedness and belonging.  This is at its core, Ako (I am confident to share my ideas with and learn from others.) This also links to the contribution strand of  Te Whāriki – (Contribution goal 3 -Children are encouraged to learn and work alongside others.)

During this process the children where developing working theories about the physical and material world and problem-solving skills. As well as experiencing ways to become confident with their bodies and developing their fine and gross motor skills (Exploration goals 2,3,4).  This experience helped to develop persistence, perseverance and resilience which relates to Hinengaro – (I think and know, I can think in abstract ways) and Taha Tinana – (I challenge myself physically.)

Getting past the barriers

I know for some teachers and parents the carpentry table is a bit of a pain point.  Parents feel wary around the risk of allowing young children to play with real tools such as hammers, nails, saws and drills.  Teachers sometimes struggle with articulating how the benefits outweigh the risks to parents.

It is often a bone of contention for teachers, because someone must supervise the carpentry and the outdoor area. It can become a power struggle of reinforcing safety “rules” and asking children to “bring that back to the carpentry table”.

Often, we are unsure of carpentry ourselves as it is not something that we grew up with or were encouraged to play with as a child.  There can be different cultural barriers for teachers and whanau.  It is often an area of the curriculum that we dump in the “too hard” basket.

However, as you can see, this one experience of carpentry encompasses so many strands of the Early Childhood Curriculum.  In fact, if loose parts play is defined as “materials that can be moved, redesigned, put together and taken apart in a variety of ways” then carpentry is loose parts play at its core. It is the very essence of a holistic learning experience.

Because children develop holistically, they need a broad and rich curriculum that enables them to grow their capabilities across all dimensions…A holistic approach sees the child as a person who wants to learn, the task as a meaningful whole greater than the sum of its parts. Te Whāriki, MoE 2017.

How can we improve the carpentry experience we offer at our ECE settings?

Some of the ways that you can improve the carpentry experience for the tamariki in your place are:

  • Get comfortable and excited about carpentry yourself.  Research carpentry PD in your community, attend a free workshop at your local hardware store, watch Youtube videos.  Building stuff with your hands is fun!  Your attitude to the experience is key.
  • Create ground rules with your tamariki, get them to come up with responsible choices at the carpentry table.  Use mat times and group times to go over this with everyone.  Get buy-in from the children, if they help to make the rules they will be your allies in reminding each other about making good choices.
  • Review your carpentry area, do you have a range of quality, child sized tools in good working order?  You don’t need to get everything right now, make a list prioritise and get a few things each month.
  • Have a variety of untreated pieces of wood in different shapes and sizes available for tamariki to use creatively.
  • Provide a wide range of loose parts and “junk items” to fuel the imagination, invention, allow open ended play and problem solving.
  • Provide occupational, safety gear in your carpentry area.  Hardhats, gloves, safety goggles, ear-muffs and high-viz vests are great for provoking creative play as well as discussions about how to keep ourselves safe and making responsible choices.
  • Don’t forget, carpentry is a great way to provide meaningful literacy and numeracy opportunities through play.  Stock your carpentry area with tape measures, builder’s pencils, clipboards, paper, blueprints, plans and books on architecture, building and engineering.

The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experience – Loris Malaguzzi

Happy building!

Arohanui

The kind folks at Curiate Resources have created a special promo for the readers of this blog who are in the market for some quality carpentry tools for their centre.  Simply click the link here.

Use the promo code  WOOD20 for a sweet discount.

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Rediscovering Your Creative Genius

 

Before my move to Northland, I fell in love…. With the idea of being an artist.  I discovered mixed media art and I knew instantly that I wanted to do it.  I watched endless Youtube clips online for inspiration, purchased canvases, gesso, modelling paste, paint brushes and then put them all away in my cupboard in the spare room.  I kept on making excuses not to paint; I didn’t have enough time, I didn’t have the space to paint, I needed to spend time with the children, it was Christmas…. and then the ultimate excuse… I needed pack up the house because we decided that we were moving to Northland.

Now these are probably good reasons not to pull out a canvas and some paints and to get busy.  However, one of the real reasons I was so hesitant was fear.  A thousand thoughts went through my head “What if I was no good”  “What if I made a mistake” “I’m not an artist” “What if…”(insert your excuse here).

Rediscovering your creative genius

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Big Magic” (a book I thoroughly recommend to anyone wanting to live a creative life).  In it she introduced me to the concept of our creative genius.  Everyone has one, your creative genius is very closely related to your intuition.  Another name that you might know it as is inspiration.

I times when we are relaxed and mindful or doing something enjoyable, our creative genius whispers ideas to us.  I hear my creative genius speaking to me when I am going for a walk, or I am relaxed and just about to fall asleep.  We often become so busy and stressed in our daily lives that we block out our creative genius or tell it to go away by thinking negative thoughts and doubting our abilities.  Our creative genius doesn’t like drama, it will just move to the next person until it finds someone who will work with it. Which is why often, after you thought of an idea and dismissed it you will notice someone who has had the exact same idea and has turned it into a success.

But, if you hear your creative genius and accept the invitation to work with it, that is where the magic happens.  I know that you might wonder about my sanity, but it is almost as if a magical force is working with you in the creative process, you just have to be open to it.  If you learn to listen to your inspiration it will spam you with so many good ideas that you will have to write them all down before they disappear.

Saul Bellow, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts, said,

You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.

Overcoming fear

So, today I decided to stop making excuses.  I went to the cupboard of my new home where I had unpacked all the art supplies, I had purchased before my move and was too afraid to use. I made the decision to be courageous.  I will be honest with you; the hardest part of this experience was opening the supply cupboard.

Once I made the choice to silence the fear and trust my creative genius I realised that I had nothing to worry about.  There was no right or wrong way of doing this, there were no mistakes.  Instead of fear, I felt joy and at peace – I was living my bliss.  (I also discovered that while I was painting that my creative genius gave me another gift – the inspiration for this post.)

In fact, there are many scientifically proven mental health and brain boosting benefits of creating art.  Relieving stress, raising self-esteem, reducing feelings of depression, increasing our empathy, tolerance and feelings of love to name a few.  Creating art increases our brain connectivity and plasticity.  Creating visual art, has been proven to enhance the quality of life for people suffering from dementia.  So, there are loads of great reasons to get creative.

Your divine birth-right

We were all born to be creative beings.  Being creative is an innately human ability.

Steve Jobs once said:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty, because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.  It just seemed obvious to them after a while.

As parents and a teachers, we see this all the time.  Children don’t even think, they just create!

Our young children are full of infinite creative energy, imagination and self-belief. They live in the moment and experience the pure joy of putting paint and colour onto a page.  They thrive on the sensory rich experience of seeing colour, feeling cold paint between their fingers, tasting it and just being.  They are not particularly worried about the end result or whether they will make mistakes.  Often once they have completed their art piece, they forget about the product and move onto the next thing.  We were all once like this and as a role model in our children’s lives our attitude towards our own creativity has an enormous impact as to whether our children will remain like this.

 

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up – Pablo Picasso

When, did we as adults lose this ability to just be creative? Not to over-think it, or to worry about mistakes? But to just listen to our creative genius and enjoy the process?

To just be?

I issue you with a challenge today:

  • Next time your creative genius whispers in your ear, listen.  The more aware you are of it the more you will hear it.
  • Think of a way of being creative that has always interested you.  This might be something that you have done in the past, or it might be something completely new. It may not be painting, it may be pottery, cooking, gardening, knitting, crochet, cake decorating or scrap-booking.
  • Find a class, a community group, watch some Youtube tutorials or join a Facebook group.
  • Buy some materials.
  • Make some time and just start being creative.

Starting is the hardest part, but I guarantee that you will love it. You will wonder what took you so long to get started.

Happy creating!

 

 

 

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