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.

 

 

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

 

 

 

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,

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

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