Pause for the Applause – Taking Time to Celebrate the Wins

wine glasses toasting

It’s that time of year again… Time for prize givings, awards ceremonies and year end functions.  There is merriment, gift giving and recognition for all the great things that have been done and achieved through-out the year.

2018 is fast coming to a close and December might have been a joyful yet frantic, busy time of the year for you and those around you.  If you are anything like me you are stressing out, thinking about all the things that you haven’t done or still need to do before you can have some much needed time to relax with family and friends. 

You might be beating yourself up about all the things that you haven’t achieved yet; that learning. story that you still need to write, the self-review that still needs evaluating or the teaching inquiry that you still need to write reflections for.  There might be a family corner that needs a bit of love or an area in your centre that needs a jolly good clean.

Honestly, we can be our own worst enemies, our harshest critics and we can so easily get caught up in a negative mind loop.  If we look for it, we can always find more things to do, or things that we could have done better.  However, there comes a time when you just need to say to yourself, “I have done enough and that is good enough.”

Often we find it so easy to praise others around us for all the fabulous things that they do.  However, how many times have you stopped this year to give yourself a well deserved pat on the back for your achievements and your wins big or small?

Yeah sign and confetti

Celebrate the wins

Now I know that you might need a bit of encouragement to do this for yourself. We are not programmed to sound our own trumpets. 

But I urge you to sit down today (with a cuppa or maybe something a bit stronger) and write down all your wins and achievements big and small. Here are somethings that might get the ball rolling…

Write about obstacles that you have overcome this year about how strong and resilient you are – Yeah!

Write about ticking something off your bucket list. Yeah!

Write about the days when you felt that you couldn’t face the day, but still found the inner strength of character to get dressed and get out there because you knew that someone else was depending on you. Yeah!

Write about being a good friend, colleague, partner, sister, daughter, mother, father, grandmother, grandfather and all-round good person. Yeah!

Write about the families that you connected with, the children’s lives that you have made a difference in and are forever changed because of who you are. Yeah!

Write about how amazing you are for juggling a career and being someone’s parent and managing to finish assignments and bossing them. Yeah!

Write about how you inspired and empowered others and how they grew as teachers and people because of your feedback and encouragement. Yeah!

Write about your failures and mistakes, the lessons you learnt along the way and how you grew as a person. Yeah!

This might feel a bit strange at first, but once you get going you will be astonished by just how much you have accomplished in your personal as well as your professional life.   

And then it is time to take a moment to reflect on your list of achievements, pause for the applause and celebrate all the amazingness that is you!

Thanks for reading.  I wish you an amazing 2019 – Here’s to more of those wins!

When “Smarter Not Harder” Is Not Always Best

Spending time together and meaningful interaction that focus on connection this Christmas

I am sure that you have all heard the saying; “work smarter not harder”.  As teachers, parents and human beings with a lot to do and not a enough hours in the day, this saying sets us in good stead. 

I mean, we would be silly not to use our time wisely so that it serves two purposes. Like for instance, checking your emails while eating your lunch, or wrapping gifts while the Christmas cookies are in the oven, or using one piece of documentation for our planning and as evidence for our teacher registration – Right?

For the most part, learning to multi-task is an essential life skill.  We are all time-poor and “time management” is often a skill that we are constantly working on.  Getting the most out of your time and being more productive is a human obsession – you just have to look at the internet and social media – after all who doesn’t love a good “life hack”?

When we shouldn’t multi-task

Multi-tasking is all good and well for tasks.  However the danger creeps in we are trying to “multi-task” our interactions with the people in our lives. 

As life gets busier and especially at this time of the year when there is so much to do, it might be tempting to do “something” while having a conversation with someone.

Dr Emmi Pikler spoke about

Full Attention – especially when involved in caring moment 

The relationship is all.

Now this principle was in the context of caring for infants and toddlers, however, I recon that this is a pretty good principle to use to live life by.

How many of us have had a conversation with someone and switched to “multi-tasking mode” by doing something else (like thinking about we will say next, thinking about what’s for dinner, typing on the computer, texting, checking an email, checking your status). 

I get it, we are busy people trying to get the most out of our work hours.  Our minds get really busy with everything that we have to do and we are easily distracted.

However, how would you feel if you if you are on the receiving end of such an interaction?

I am sure that we have all had conversations with someone where we haven’t felt listened to.  Where the other person’s focus has been elsewhere or they have made a random comment that didn’t pertain to the conversation at hand?   I am sure that we might have felt hurt, undervalued, angry and frustrated.  We might have thought to ourselves “well that was a big waste of my time” or “why did I even bother?”

We often do the same to children.  How many of us teachers have been feeding a baby a bottle or changing a nappy while talking to a colleague or another child? How many of us have been distracted when we should have been engaged in a moment of connection with the child and missed the opportunity to fill their emotional tanks? Only to complain about how impossible their behaviour is when they try to get their needs met in another, often disruptive way?

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

As leaders  the same applies to our akonga (learners), the people in our teams.  If we don’t spend the time connecting with them in a meaningful way we spend the time putting out fires from not meeting their needs.

The gift of time

One of the most important things that you can gift someone is your time. 

When we give some-one the gift of our full attention it communicates to them that we care for them. 

We are saying; I respect you, you are important to me. Your thoughts, needs and opinions matter to me. I value this time that we are spending together. I value you.

So how do we do this? How do we give someone the gift of our time and our full attention?

We can start with being intentional about having more meaningful, respectful interactions.

  • Create a hygge.  A hygge is a danish art-form of creating intimacy, warmth and contentment in any given moment. A hygge is not a thing, or a place, it is about the feelings this evokes.  It is the feeling you get when you curl up in front of a fireplace or a child curls up on your lap for a warm hug.  Infusing more hygge into your interactions means being prepared in your heart as well as your head.
  • Plan to set this time aside to give the other person your full attention.  This could mean having a conversation with your team about how important connection time during care moments is and supporting each other to be more present with the child in that moment with no interruptions. Or as the leader you might have an understanding that if you are speaking to someone in your office with the door closed, that this means no interruptions. As a parent it might mean letting your other children know that this is your special time to spend with this child, and that their turn will be later.
  • Get rid of distractions. Switch your mobile phone or your tablet off and put it away. Close your lap-top or switch of your computer.
  • Slow down.  This is the time for connecting in a meaningful way with another person.  Rushing or conveying that you are in a hurry to end the conversation is counter-intuitive and will not serve you in this instance.
  • Be an active listener.  Active listening is listening to the other person and hearing everything that they are saying.  It means being interested and present in the conversation – not thinking about what you will do later or how you will respond or that clever anecdote that you just have to add to the conversation. This interaction although beneficial to you, is not about you it is about the other person.
  • Look them in the eye.  You can’t give someone your full attention when you are looking at someone or something else.
  • Be aware of body language.  Our interactions and and conversations are often so much more that what is being said verbally.  What is the other person’s facial expressions and body language telling you? Use this to tune into cues of how they are feeling in the moment. What are your facial expressions and body language communicating to the other person?
  • Listen with empathy and respect.  Meet the person where they are at in that moment of time and accept them even if they are not who you would like them to be, but rather a person who has rights and freedoms and is worthy of your respect.  

Empathy has no script. There is no right or wrong way to do it.  It is simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting and communicating that incredibly healing message, “You are not alone” Brene Brown.

In this festive, busy time, although we might have a lot to do, this is also a time for love, joy and connection. So remember to slow down and be present and give your loved ones the gift of you time. 

I would like to take this time to thank you all for your kindness and support during this year and for giving me the gift of your time. 

I wish you and yours, a Christmas that is decorated with cheer and filled with love. Have a wonderful holiday!

The Importance of Being a Playful Adult

Tanya Valentin, wearing sunglasses and a sunhat being a playful adult

Happy New Year to all of you! (I hope that it is still okay to say “Happy New Year” in February!!!) Hasn’t the summer weather been amazing? I hope that you all had some well-deserved time over the festive season to unwind, have fun and recharge your batteries. I am sure for some of you the holidays are fond and distant memory.

I am one of those shameless summer lovers. I know that it is hot, but I try my best to get the most out of the beautiful kiwi summer. I am really grateful for our amazing uncrowded beaches and native bush especially in my new home Northland.

a person having fun with a boogie board and the ocean in the distances

Me the sea and a boogie board…

I have been reflecting lately about the importance of being and staying a playful adult. You see, I have this boogie board that my hubby bought me for Christmas 10 years ago. It is a bit banged up and faded but it is still going. It is without a doubt, one of the all-time favourite gifts that anyone has ever given me – because it allows me to be playful.

If you have read some of my earlier posts, you would know that the ocean is a special, magical place for me. When I am at the beach it is impossible for me to feel angry or stressed. In fact, just looking out at the ocean has a calming, rejuvenating effect on me.

When I am in the ocean with my board, I am able to be fully present in the moment, enveloped in the sensations that only swimming in the waves can give you. The pure joy of being alive and in this place in time, connected to all that is.

Sometimes I play with my children in the waves, or I become one with the surf and I catch a wave into the shore. Often, I will just float for a moment without a care in the world. I absolutely love the feeling of being one with the effortless flow of nature, whether bobbing up in the water with the sun on my skin or catching a wave.

Life lessons from the ocean

There are lessons that I have learnt from my time in the waves; about life, but also about my dispositions as a person.

I have learnt that if you are swimming or surfing in the ocean that you have to be fully focused and present. One of the reasons is safety, if take your eyes off the waves or the shoreline this could spell disaster. You could be caught unawares by a big wave or you could get caught up in a dangerous undercurrent or rip. You have to be fully present to changing tides and read the cycle of the swells in order to catch the perfect wave. If you catch the wave too soon or too late – never mind, there always another opportunity with the next wave. It is an incredibly mindful experience, even if you have other people around you it is just you and the wave, and it is up to you as to whether or not you will rise to the invitation to take the risk and play.

The same could be said for our life’s journey. We need to be focused on the here and now. We need to be mindful of the subtle changes in our thoughts and attitudes as well as the tides and undercurrents of those around us. If we remain present and in the moment, we are anchored into the joy of the here and now. Even though others are around us we are walking with us, we are all on our own journey, catching our own waves making our own decisions alongside others. Ultimately, we responsible for our own lives, the risks we take, how we play as well as our own happiness.

Another lesson I have learnt is about control and fear. When you are standing in front of a huge wave, you can either be fearful of the wave and try to get out of the way or stubbornly stand your ground. Either way this ends in being bowled over by the wave or for it to pummel into you painfully. Or you can surrender control and catch the wave – you experience the joy and exhilaration of the present moment, moving in perfect balance with nature and what was meant to be. In life we can give into fear and end up “doing” life instead of listening to our intuition and living in “what else is possible?”

Isn’t that what play is? Not overthinking things, not trying to control the situation but going with the flow, having fun and discovering the pleasure and joy in the moment and perhaps learning something about ourselves and others along the way.A

Your body cannot heal without play. Your mind cannot heal without laughter. Your soul cannot heal without joy.

Catherine Rippenger
two hands forming a heart over the ocean - being playful can bring you joy and happiness

Allow uninterrupted time for play


When I think about being a playful adult I think about what Dr Emmi Pikler said about allowing children uninterrupted time for play as well as the exploration goal in Te Whariki :

Children experience an environment where their play is valued as meaningful learning and the importance of spontaneous play is recognised.

Ministry of Education, 2017, pg 47

As early childhood teachers we know the powerful learning benefits of free, interrupted play for children. Often when we get caught up in the grown-up business of being busy or in our efforts to being viewed as “professional” we forget the simple joy of play and being playful adults.

As we strive for recognition for our profession, we can often dismiss others outside our profession who say, “aren’t you lucky that you get to play with children all day!”  We can often take offence and try to convince the other person and ourselves about the seriousness and importance of our role. 

I for one, value my role and the important job that all of us as early childhood professionals do. I know that there are times where we need to be serious and responsible, but…… I am extremely grateful to have a job that allows me to play, be creative, imaginative and joyful.  I count myself lucky to work in a profession that allows me to come to work in my pyjamas, or with crazy hair, or brandishing a cape!

Being playful at crazy hair day

As adults we need to time to for “free play”, for enjoyment, for creativity, for innovation and creative problem solving.  Play keeps us young, builds resilience and helps us to stay excited about life and full of wonder.

Time for “play” daily inside our settings as well as outside of the environment of the early childhood setting as a team builds relationships and comradery. 

After all a team that plays together, stays together.

It is important to gift ourselves the time and flexibility to learn and to be creative.  Brain research has proven that we are far more likely to learn something new when we feel safe and are having fun.  Play comes naturally to human beings, it allows us to experience joy, think outside the box and to be better critical thinkers. Playful people are often happier and have better quality relationships.

Feeling safe and having fun is great for team cultures, as feel good hormones such as Serotonin and Oxycontin get released into our bodies which boosts our confidence in ourselves and our collective pride in our teams, strengthens our relationships and builds trust and co-operation amongst team members. 

A team who plays together and who have strong relationships and high levels of trust and co-operation are more capable of being there for each other and get through tough times or disagreements. They are more present for the children in their settings and are powerful role models as to the importance of play, team work and how to have strong healthy relationships with each other.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing

George Bernard Shaw

Over to you…

So how playful are you?

How will you allow yourself uninterrupted time for play this weekend?

I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections on the quality of your play.

So until we meet again… I hope that you find time do something that leaves your feet dirty, your hair messy, your heart racing and your eyes sparkling.

But We Tried That And It Didn’t Work!

How to make positive changes in early childhood.

You might know this scenario well:

You are part of a teaching team, or perhaps the leader of a team of teachers.  You have been observing the care routines in the setting and you know in your heart that there is a different way of doing things that would have better learning outcomes for the children, make things less stressful for the team or improve practice.  You reflect on this, do your research as to why this would benefit the team and you decide to share your idea with your team.

Only to come against the brick wall of all responses, “We tried that, and it didn’t work” or “That won’t work.”

Or perhaps you are familiar with this scenario:

You and your team decide to make a change.  Let’s say for argument sake, you have observed the children at mealtimes and have decided to give rolling kai times a go.  The day arrives for you to implement this change and it is disaster!  One of the teachers shakes their head, roll their eyes and say, “See I told you that this wouldn’t work!”

So why did it not work when we tried it?

There are a number of reasons why new ideas or ways of doing things do not work in an early childhood setting.

Mindset

Many a great idea has died a quick death at the hands of a negative mindset or attitude.

Sometimes we can approach a new idea or situation with the mindset that it won’t work.  Unfortunately, a journey that starts with this attitude is more than often doomed to failure.

“If you believe it will work out, you’ll see opportunities.  If you believe it won’t you’ll see obstacles.” Wayne Dyer.

It is easier to stay in the comfort zone

As a teacher or even as a team it is often easier to stick to what we know, what is easy or doesn’t take much effort.  When we are in the comfort zone it is safe and comfortable, and we have the illusion of control.

It can be tempting to stick to what we know and how we have always done things.  However, if it doesn’t require discomfort you probably aren’t growing as a teacher.

Commitment

We might like the idea in principle but for whatever reason, perhaps out of fear or it was way more work than we thought it was going to be, we fail to commit to change and so we set ourselves up to fail.

“The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work.” Mark Twain.

You either have to commit and do the work or say that you don’t want to do it right at the start.  If say that we are committed but don’t follow this up with action, then we are quite frankly just wasting everybody’s time and inadvertently sabotaging everyone else’s effort.

We were not all on the same page

Many new ideas or initiatives are unsuccessful because we were not clear in our communication towards each other.  We followed our own assumptions and did not ask enough questions or clarify expectations or intentions.

When embark on a new journey together as a team it is important that we all know where we are going, why we are going there and how we are getting there.  We need to be open and honest in our communication, ask the difficult questions and clear with what we mean.

Don’t be afraid to speak up. When we clarify assumptions, expectations and intentions we save ourselves a lot of confusion and frustration along the way.

We fail to plan

Benjamin Franklin once said:

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”

Any change that we make as a team requires planning.  This plan can be done informally as a discussion but can also be documented as part of a formal internal review.

During this process we:

  • Prepare – This is where we decide what we will review and how we will review.
  • Gather – This is where we decide what evidence, information, readings etc we will need for the review.
  • Analyse – This were we decide WHAT the information gathered says.
  • Decide – This is what we DO as a result of what we have learnt.
  • Implement This is where we ACTION the what we decided to do.
  • Evaluate – What was the outcome? What impact did it have on practice? How can we sustain the changes?

We fail to plan for obstacles and failure

Sometimes we are afraid to speak to each other about the possible barriers and obstacles that may occur.

When we have planned for obstacles or detours along the way, we are prepared for them and they are way less likely to derail our efforts or our moral if things don’t turn out the way that we hoped.  We are more likely to see the barriers and even failure as part of the learning journey.

It is important to stay open, curious, courageous and see it as a process of “trial and error”.

Instead of saying, “I can’t do this.” try saying, “I can’t do this yet”.  Or instead of, “This is just too difficult” try saying, “this is difficult at the moment, we haven’t figured it all out yet.”

We didn’t give the change a chance

Change is often challenging to begin with.  In early childhood settings there are many variables as to why something might not work the first time.   Not everybody responds to change in the same way and some people can be particularly fearful of change.  A disastrous start to the change can sometimes be the proof, the justification that we were right not to take the risk or trust the change.  It can be used as evidence that we needed to prove that we don’t have to change and that we can go back to where it is comfortable and safe.

Remember that it takes approximately two months to form a new habit, so it might take a bit of encouragement to get everyone (children, teachers and families) to embrace the new idea or routine.

Final Words

So, if you believe that in your idea and that it will make a positive difference in the lives of children, families, your team or your setting, be courageous, stay curious and remember:

“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and beautiful at the end” Robin Sharma.

What barriers have you encountered to change in your setting?  I would love to hear how this has gone for you.

Until next time,

Arohanui,

If you would like to chat to me further contact me here

 

 

 

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

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.

 

 

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

random acts of kindness

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.

The Emotionally Literate Teacher’s Guide to Mindful Decision Making

Mindful decision making

 

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,

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.