Why Learning Dispositions Matter

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

In my experience as a SELO provider and a facilitator for teacher professional development I work closely with centres on their assessment, documentation and planning. More often than not I have noticed that teachers seem to focus exclusively on the interests of the child when identifying the learning that has been happening in the learning story.

I have often asked why? Knowing the interests of the child is an important aspect of curriculum design. Could this be because interests are easy to see and easy to plan for?

However, when we focus all our attention on interests this is only half the picture and we only scrape on the surface of what is really happening and it can be misguiding.

Let me give you an example: Tui is a teacher in the toddler’s room. She has noticed Aria at the puzzle table diligently trying to place the puzzle pieces into the frame. Aria spends most of the morning doing this and finally after lots of concentration and effort she manages to place all the pieces of the puzzle into their correct place. She looks up at Tui and gives her a big grin – proud that all her hard work has paid off.

Now Tui could look at this situation and think Aria is interested in puzzles and she would probably be right, Aria is probably interested in puzzles. However, if Tui just documents the interest she might only end up with a singular learning story about Aria’s interest in puzzles.

If Tui chose to dig a bit deeper into the learning that is happening for Aria. If she chose to consider Aria’s dispositions for learning, she would notice that there something more complex afoot. If Tui noticed Aria’s persistence and determination while at the puzzle table, she might be aware of her inclination to this learning disposition in other interest areas.

Suddenly a singular story about and interest in puzzles becomes the starting point for a learning journey about Aria’s persistence, resilience, determination and perseverance. Very soon a learning thread emerges about who Aria is as a learner.

What are learning dispositions?

The object of assessment and documentation is to inform planning and curriculum design.

Assessment are the foundation for planning the curriculum. Documentation and assessment have little value unless they directly inform the curriculum.

Anne Stonehouse


Another function of assessment and documentation is help children to understand who they are as a learner and a thinker. Interests alone don’t really do this accurately. If we are wanting positively influence children’s identity as capable and competent lifelong learners, then we need to take a closer look at their learning dispositions.

By the time this [early childhood] period is over, children will have formed conceptions of themselves as social beings, as thinkers, and as language learners, and they will have reached certain important decisions about their own abilities and their own worth.

Kei Tua ote Pae Booklet 10

Te Whāriki talks about dispositions as “habits of the mind”. We can think of them as our inclination to think, act and to behave in a certain way and this shapes who we are as a person and a learner.

Some dispositions you might have come across are: Courage, Kindness, Playfulness, Creativity, Curiosity, Perseverance, Shyness, Collaboration, Adventurous, Resilience, Flexible, Assertive, Brave, Optimistic, Methodical.

How are dispositions formed?

We are born with some of these dispositions. You might have inherited the shy gene from one of your parents or you might be naturally curious or adventurous, or perhaps you might be more cautious and observant.

Other dispositions we learn through experiences with the environment and people around us.  Children especially in the first three years of life are programmed to be data gatherers. They gather evidence through their interactions with the environment and the significant people in their lives as to what dispositions are valued and those that we don’t value. 

Think about yourselves for a moment:  What are some of your dispositions? How has your experiences and environment shaped you as a person, as a teacher, as a learner as a thinker?

What dispositions where valued by your parents, your teachers, your peers, your culture or perhaps the media?

Dispositions are environmentally sensitive and can be weakened or strengthened by the interactive experiences of educators and teachers. It is critical in the early years to support children’s positive learning dispositions to enhance their overall motivation and engagement as capable learners with unique strengths

Dispositions are not fixed traits, rather responsive to and developed by the experiences and the people around us. They are lifelong learning capabilities that require nurturing.

Kelly Goodsir

How can we spot dispositions and how can we plan for them?

You can spot dispositions by how children approach learning and through their interactions with others around them.  Dispositions can’t be taught through a structured learning experience or at specific places or time. 

Reflect here about your own learning. Under which circumstances did you do the most learning about who you were as a person and what you are capable of?

For young children, play is the best way to foster and nurture dispositional learning.  Play is interactive and complex learning and allows children to integrate and to test out their dispositions across all learning contexts. Another way is when we allow children to be part of authentic real life experiences – when they are part of a culture or a community.

When we are communicating with parents about their children’s learning it is important that we highlight how and why dispositions are important for their children’s learning and how critical this is to their success as a human being.

When planning for dispositions, I believe the best way to foster this is through complex experiences. Think about the dispositions listed below; what experiences could you plan in order to nurture a child’s inclination towards:

Responsibility

Collaboration

Leadership

Persistence

Enrich the experience by using empowering language when talking to children or about your children’s learning.

Guiding questions

When we plan we should be guided by:

Is the child ready? Is it developmentally appropriate?

Are they willing? Do they want to do it? Is this demonstrated by the sensitivity to the occasion ?

Are they able? Do they have the knowledge and skills?

Remember we can encourage and make the experience available, but this type of learning can’t be a forced. If we force our intentions on children this just causes stress and stress hampers learning.

Perhaps after reading this you might feel inspired to take a closer look at some of the dispositions for learning that you might notice in your setting.

I have included a free resource to get you started.

Click here inorder to download a free dispositions resource.

TIP: print this off and keep it next to your computer for a quick reference when writing your learning stories.

I would love to here how this went for you.

Until next time…

Deciding What Matters

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services.

What matters in your setting?

Do you know why you do what you do?

Do you have a shared set of core beliefs and values that helps you to steer the ship?  Or are you a motley crew of people with their own agendas or are you rowing together with the same destination in mind? 

More importantly do you share the same vibe, is your “what matters, a meeting of the heart and minds of the whole team?

Let me share an example with you:

Sally is inspired by the work of Emmi Pikler, she believes in a peaceful, respectful curriculum for infants.  She allows the infants in her space lots of time for uninterrupted play while she says present as the observer allowing the child to lead their own learning through play.  Sally believes in following the infant’s cues for mealtimes and sleep and being flexible in her approach.

Maria believes in teacher-led learning for infants. She believes in strict routines for meals and sleep times.  Maria prefers mat-times and structured table-top activities. 

These two teachers work in the infant’s room together and both believe passionately in their way of doing things.  However, every time Sally allows an infant to play independently on the floor while she quietly observes this really grinds at Maria – she sees Sally as lazy and neglectful. Maria thinks that Sally should use her time more wisely.  Similarly, Maria’s practice really upsets Sally.  Every time Maria summons the babies to mat-time or insists that all the babies need to sit at the table and eat together this results in Sally rolling her eyes saying uncomplimentary things about Maria under her breath. 

The two teachers have started complaining to other teachers in the centre and are at an odds with each other.  This is causing friction in the centre and creating an extremely unpleasant environment in the infant’s room. You can feel “the vibe” the minute you walk through the doors.  This is having a profound effect on the children who are unsettled as a result.

Until Sally and Maria sit down together and talk through their issues and create a common vision and philosophy for the infant’s room there is always going to be discord and issues with camaraderie within this team.

It is likely that Sally and Maria if they are to work together they will need some support and professional develop to reach a place of empathy and mutual respect grounded in what is best for the children in their place.  There is likely to be some conversation, unpacking of beliefs and values and some compromise from both parties in order to work together as a team.  The two teachers might need to unearth the values that they have in common – and focus on the things that bind them together instead of focusing on the things that will tear them apart. 

Having this courageous conversation might seem daunting to both parties. However, the consequence of not having a shared understanding of “what matters”, is that each teacher will wage a war with-in herself and that the team, the emotional hygiene of the centre and the children will suffer because of it.  This is also not great for the teachers themselves because this is causing upset, anger and stress which robs them of their peace, passion and joy.

Why we should decide what matters?

This concept of “what matters” although it has it’s roots in the philosophy, spans much wider and deeper than just philosophy.  “What matters” is not just merely a statement of what we value but speaks to the core of who we are as a service, as a team and as a community.

We are now two years on from the publishing of the latest iteration of our Early Childhood Curriculum – Te Whāriki.  This is an incredibly deep document and as a profession we are still unpacking it fully.

One of the differences in the new document is the importance that it places on each service using the curriculum framework to weave a localised curriculum of “what matters”.

“Te Whāriki interprets the notion of curriculum broadly, taking it to include all the experiences, activities and events, both direct and indirect, that occur within the ECE setting. It provides a framework of principles, strands, goals and learning outcomes that foregrounds the mana of the child and the importance of respectful, reciprocal and responsive relationships.  This framework provides a basis for each setting to weave a local curriculum that reflects its own distinctive character and values.”


Te Whariki, Ministry of Education, 2017, p. 7
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Services

The localised curriculum is informed by the priorities of learning within the setting and can and does differ greatly dependent on the values, beliefs and philosophy of the people in a setting.  This should take into account “what matters” not only for teachers but also for children, whanau, hapu, iwi and the community.  When considering the holistic development of the child we need to consider the child within the context of the whanau and through the lens of their culture. 

“Curriculum and pedagogy recognise that family and community are integral to learning and development, with every child situated within a set of nestled contexts that includes not only the ECE setting but also the home, the whanau, community and beyond”


Te Whāriki, Ministry of Education, 2017, pg 60

Many services have an informal “what matters” that is assumed. However, I would like to challenge you in that until you have unpacked this fully as a learning community and have developed a shared understanding of what this means for everyone invested, you will never achieve synergy within your team.

Waiho i te toipoto, kaua i te toiroa – Let us keep close together not far apart.

Having a shared understanding of “what matters” is at the foundation of all assessment, planning, documentation, professional discussions as well as our intentions a teachers.  Your shared understanding of “what matters” acts as a foundation from which all meaningful learning can unfold.

How do you decide what matters?

When you think about your place, what would you consider to be the what defines your setting, the people there and the learning for the children? 

What makes you special?

Does everyone in your setting have the same view?

I would like you to think about the following questions when I unpacking this for yourself:

  • How are you deciding what matters? (Who do you involve – whose voices are we including?)

Here you might like to think your philosophy as well as how you are including the children, their whanau aspirations and the community? You might consider the theories that underpin your practice as well as the cultures of the children in your place and how this might influence your curriculum design. 

This might entail asking yourselves and the other members of the learning community :

How do we view children as learners and leaders in their own learning? 

What world do they live in and will be inheriting?

What do we think is important for them to learn?

How do we think that they should learn this?

  • How do you ensure a shared understanding of what matters?

When we are considering this question is important that we are not just considering teachers.  We should consider children’s voice, as well as the views and aspirations of whanau, hapu, iwi and the local community.

We need to decide:

How are we leading this?

What is the intentions of those leading this and how are we collating everyone’s understanding and making sense of this? 

Is the lens that we are using to create a shared understanding inclusive and equitable for everyone? 

How are we communicating about this within the setting?

It is important to consider that just as our children are all different and learn in different ways, so do our parents. You might need to consider the dispositions and communication style of the families in your setting and to be flexible and adapt your approach in order to connect with them. 

You might gain a better understanding of what this means for whanau through informal conversations where you share ideas.  Or you might use more formal channels such as parent evenings, emails, surveys or assessment documentation.

You might want to prompt your parents and whanau with a few questions such as:

In our family we value…

The qualities that I would like my child to possess are…

When my child finishes at (service name), I would like them to….

When think about my child being a successful adult, I would like them to be….

As a team you would discuss this when reviewing your philosophy, completing The Quality Practice Template, engaging in professional development or through unpacking the principles and strands of Te Whāriki together. 

Being grounded in your educational aspirations and intentions will determine the types of experiences children and their families will have in your service.  Whether you are a home-based service, playcentre, kindergarten, kohanga reo, or early childhood centre, having a clear philosophy is a way of guiding thoughtful practice and preserving the ethos of your setting.”


Christie,T. Loader, M. Childspace, 2017.
  • How is this reflected in your practice and documentation?

Here I would like you to consider how do put this shared understanding into practice?

You might like to think about how this shared understanding is interwoven into the fabric of who you are and how you communicate within your setting.

How does this influence what you bring, what you do and the outcomes for children?


What matters should be interwoven into core documents for your setting such as your philosophy, strategic plan, internal evaluation, position descriptions, appraisal, policies, assessment, planning, documentation and curriculum design.  How has this influenced your leading documents how is this being put into practice in your setting? 

How are we using Te Whāriki?

Are these just documents that we aspire to in theory or are they living breathing documents? 

Are we aware of how we are enacting our shared understanding within our practice and how this is been evidenced?

Differences in how we interpret “what matters” as well as how this looks for everyone involved can vary from person to person depending on personal experiences and life context and this can be confusing.  It is important for us to regularly revisit “what matters”, using this as a reflection tool and to talk to each other about it.

One way that you might do this is to create indicators of practice for what it will look like if you are in fact living your philosophy. This would serve to create an awareness of who you are and what you value as a community and how this is being enacted in everyday practice. You could use this as a base-line in your conversations with each other and parents.  You might create a photograph display with examples of your philosophy “in action” which would make these indicators visible and could help you to communicate these concepts to children and their whanau. 

Where to from here?

Having a shared understanding or who we are – our philosophy and our vision, provides the purpose from which teachers and whanau can work together in order to allow all learning to unfold.  This gives our children a solid foundation on which to stand as they navigate their learning pathways into the future and beyond.

You might want to reflect on some of this within the context of your own setting and unpack some of these questions with the members of your learning community.

Where are you on your making sense journey of “what matters” to you? I would love to hear from you. If you need some support along any stage for you and your team contact me for some tailor made professional development.

Until next time.

References:

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

Loader, M., Christie, T. (2017), Rituals – Making the everyday extraordinary in early childhood.

Te Whariki Online,
https://tewhariki.tki.org.nz/en/professional-learning-and-development/te-whariki-webinars-nga-kauhaurangi/

Teaching Council,
https://teachingcouncil.nz/content/our-code-our-standards

How To Raise Emotionally Literate Children?

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Services

Yesterday was Gumboot Friday, a day where we are all encouraged to “Gumboot Up” and walk through mud to support people with depression and mental illness. The particular emphasis of this awareness was to raise money for children’s counselling.

It shocked me when I was doing the research for this blog, to find that New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and that it can take up to six months for kids to get help from a counsellor.

What can we do?

This really made me think…. Although I think that children having access to counselling services is important and essential, this is only one part of the picture. I think that it equally important for us to look at how we are supporting children to develop the tools that they need to develop emotional literacy and resilience.

This is not a new bit of thinking and there are many studies that prove that when you build your resilience you have a reduced risk for depression, anxiety and PSD. You will also improve your longevity, happiness and satisfaction in life. So, if we know this, then why do we not place a greater emphasis on teaching children emotional self-help skills?

How do we empower our children to prioritise their own emotional hygiene and teach them that it is okay to ask for help when they need it?

I think here of a TED talk that I watched recently where Guy Winch speaks about the disparity between the priority that we place on caring for ourselves physically vs how we care for ourselves emotionally. He relates a story of how he observed a five-year-old brushing his teeth and slipping and scraping his leg. The boy then without asking for assistance reached into the medicine cabinet and grabbed a plaster and covered the wound. We teach children self-help skills all the time on how to take care of themselves physically, yet do we place the same emphasis on teaching them self-help skills to care for themselves physiologically?

I believe that we need to start teaching our children emotional literacy from a very young age and that this starts right from when they are infants.

The Dyad

In his video on the importance of relationships in children’s brain development Nathan Wallis speaks about the significance of the dyad relationship (this simply means “two”) between the infant and the most significant adult in their lives.

The first relationship that children have with their primary carer – whether it is Mum, Dad, Grandma, Aunty is crucially important to helping a baby to develop a healthy, complex brain. This first relationship is where the infant learns about self-regulation, trust and the world around him or her. The quality of the learning and the brain connections the infant forms is dependant on how en tuned the adult is to the infant.

Our children are constantly downloading from us. They are taking in our words, our actions and our energy. We are the windows from which our children view the world and therefore the quality of role-modelling is extremely powerful.

Our children are learning from us through our every word and action, about love, relationships, empathy, generosity, gratitude, patience, tolerance, kindness, honesty and respect. Most profoundly they’re learning about themselves, their abilities, their worth and their place in our hearts and in the world.

Janet Lansbury – Elevating Child Care

How do we teach this?

  • Empathy and Respect – This starts with even the youngest infant and our perspective of them. Do we view them as a whole, complete, holistic human being worthy of our respect? When we look at infants, do we view them as “helpless” or do we view them as dependant, but already capable? This is important, as it sets the tone for our relationship with our children and supports them to develop their identity of who they are. If we respect someone, then we put ourselves in their shoes and ask – “How is this experience for them?” or “how would I feel if I was being treated like this, or in this situation?” This is one of the first ways that we communicate to our infants that what they feel matters, that we trust them and that we value what they are communicating to us. Remember we learn empathy by experiencing empathy.
  • Self-Awareness – One thing that I am really grateful to my training as an early childhood teacher for, is that it caused me to reflect on my upbringing. This caused me to challenge my “operating system” of how I was parented, in my interactions with children. Just as we are powerful role-models in the lives of children, we once upon a time had powerful role-models in our lives too. Some of how we were parented was great and some of it was not so great. Until we become self-aware to this, we just repeat what we know.

Do the best with what you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

Maya Angelou
  • Pay Attention to Your Attitude to Mistakes and Failure – How do you respond to children making mistakes and their failures? Are these treated as learning opportunities or do we respond with anger and disappointment? Our children learn how to deal with disappointments and obstacles in life through our example. There is a correlation between how children view mistakes and failures to how resilient they are, as well how likely they are to take risks. Your attitude to mistakes and failure are also really important if you want your children to come to you for help when they are feeling overwhelmed by a situation and can’t cope on their own. What is equally important to note in this instance is that it is not just how we deal with our children’s mistakes and failures that are important, but also how we deal with our own mistakes and failure. Remember our children are always watching and downloading from us.
  • Give Full Attention and Communicate About the Small Things – Often our children will tell us things that seem insignificant and unimportant to us. These things might be small to us; however it means the world to them. Don’t dismiss your child’s concerns or fears because they seem silly to you. Instead acknowledge how they are feeling in this moment and time. Try responding with, ” That must be really scary for you.” Our children need small moments of our full attention, these are important times to top-up their emotional tanks. If we invest in our children in this way, we communicate to them that what they say is important to us, that they are important. In doing this our children will be less likely to try to get our attention through negative ways such as bad behaviour. If we make time to listen to the little things, they are more likely to share the big stuff with us when the time comes.

Telling a child that something that matters to them isn’t important doesn’t convince them that it doesn’t matter. It just convinces them that it doesn’t matter to you, it often makes them feel that they don’t matter, either. Remember, caring about the little things that matters to little people creates big connections.

L.R. Knost
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services
  • Accept and Encourage Children’s Emotions – One thing that I notice with a lot of adults (myself included) is that we are often frightened by our children’s emotions. One of the reasons that we are so confronted by our children’s big emotions is because triggers something within us. We might feel anxiety, unease, fear, guilt, shame, anger or fear in response to our child’s big emotions and we try to look for the quickest way to solve the problem. We want to help our children, but we also want to stop feeling the emotion that has been triggered in us. Some of the things that we might do, would to be to try to stop our children from experiencing the emotion by saying things like “Stop it”, “Don’t cry” or “Turn that frown upside down”. Or we might try to deflect or detract children from their feelings, by saying things like “let’s go play with the blocks” or “let’s find all the pink things in the room.” If we practice empathy and put ourselves in our children’s shoes in this situation, then we probably wouldn’t feel too great if our friends or partners spoke to us in this way if we were feeling sad or angry. If we relate this to a physical reaction like limping because we broke our leg, we wouldn’t find it helpful if someone gave us advice to “walk it off” or for someone to to try to distract us from the pain. When we are responding to children in these ways about their feelings, what are we communicating to them about the value of their emotions, their perspectives and how we value them?
  • Acknowledge, Acknowledge, Acknowledge – Another learning for me, has been that I don’t have to be the “fixer” of my children’s feelings. A powerful example in my life has been helping one of my children through a tough time in her life. In the past when she expressed her sadness, anxiety or fears to me this set off the “fixer” in me. I wanted to stop her pain (and my own) and I reacted with “helpful” suggestions and strategies that she could use to “fix” the situation. I was being a “Mum” and what she wanted was a friend. She just needed someone to cuddle her, comfort her, listen to her, to acknowledge her feelings and to tell that it was okay to feel this way. She wanted someone to tell her that it would be okay. It is the same with young children – we don’t need to “fix” them out of their problems. For example, if a toddler is upset because their mother just left for work, it is okay to say, “I can see that this is really upsetting for you. I know that you wanted mum to stay. I will sit with you until you feel that you are able to go and play.” Acknowledging children’s feelings, especially for our very young children, might feel a little bit strange to us at first. However, once again when we practice empathy we realise that this is how we all like to be treated. We like to feel that someone values our feelings, understands us and what we are going through and will be there to support us if we need them.
  • Mirror, mirror – Young children cannot differentiate between their feelings and themselves. It is our job to teach our children about emotions and that a full range of emotions are part of the human experience. When we are teaching our youngest children about their emotions one of the ways that we can do this is by mirroring their emotion back to them via our facial expression. For example, if they are feeling sad, we mirror a sad expression back to them when we are talking to them. Or we might add words to our mirroring – sad expression + “I can see that you are feeling sad”. This way the child learns that this feeling that I am experiencing is called “Sad” and it looks and feels like this.
  • Books – We can talk to children about emotions while reading books to them or looking at pictures and discussing how the characters in the books are feeling. We could support children to think about a time when they might have felt like the character in the book.
  • Help Children to Develop Problem-Solving Skills – Generally once children feel that they have been understood and that we have accepted their emotions they are more likely to be open to problem-solve and think in a reflective way. It is important for us to accept all emotions and to not label some as “bad” and some as “good”. However, it is up to us to teach children how to regulate their emotions so that can manage the behaviour that may be a consequence of their emotions. As the adult in the situation it is up to us to set the boundaries. We might say something like this, “I know that Sam made you feel really angry when he took your toy, but it is not okay to hit. Let’s think of what we might do next time.”

These are just some ways that we can help to teach children emotional literacy and support them to build resilience. Have you used any of these strategies with the children who you teach or perhaps your own children?

Let us never loose sight of the amazing human beings that our children are and view our children through the eyes of gratitude and love. Let us feel privileged that out of all the other billions of people in the world, we have been chosen to play this important role in the life of a child.

Until next time….

References:

Elevating Child Care – Janet Lansbury, 2014

How to Practice Emotional First Aid – Guy Winch ( TED 2015)

The Crucial Dyad Relationship for Infants – Nathan Wallis (Storypark 2017)

5 Steps to Nurture Emotional Intelligence in Your Child – Dr Laura Markam (2019)

Teaching Young Children About Their Emotions – Dr Kaylene Henderson (Storypark 2017)

They Are Us

Teaching children about respecting diversity in Aotearoa
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

Like all of you I was shocked and horrified by the traumatic and inhuman acts of violence carried out by the gunman in Christchurch last Friday.

My thoughts immediately went out to all of those who senselessly lost their lives and their poor families whose lives will be changed forever. Like most of you I asked myself in disbelief, “How can this happen in New Zealand?”

I mourned the lost illusion, that we live in a country where things like this just don’t happen.

I have spent many hours reflecting and asking myself why? How I can explain this tragic act of terror to my children, or even make sense of this myself?

I have been so inspired by the outpouring of support and the stand of solidarity from New Zealanders all over the country.

However, I have also been reflecting about how much truth is in statements such as; “This is not us” and “These Australians came to our country a bad name”. Along with many posts that I have read on social media from people standing with the Muslim community. These have been inspiring and heart-warming, I have also read numerous posts from people in New Zealand speaking out about racism that they have encountered as an everyday occurrence.

This has caused me to ponder on the following questions:

Have we grown so apathetic to everyday prejudice and discrimination that it takes something so horrible to wake us up to this hard fact?

And, how can we remedy this going forwards? Can it even be remedied?

No Child is Born Racist….

No child is born racist. No child is born with hate in their heart, but it doesn’t stay this way. Even the gunman who killed all those innocent people was not born racist or with hate in his heart.

My question for you is how do we keep our children this way?

How do we teach children to celebrate people for being people regardless of race, gender or age?

How do we as teachers fulfil our responsibility under our curriculum to support children to:

Experience an environment where: There are equitable opportunities for learning irrespective of gender, ability, age, ethnicity or background.

and

They are affirmed as individuals

Te Whariki 2017 pg 37.

Start with the man or woman in the mirror

Children are extraordinarily intelligent beings, in the first three years their brains are on a data gathering, fact finding mission. Our children are constantly downloading from those around them trying to figure out what it means to be human. We as significant adults in children’s lives have tremendous influence over shaping their minds and ultimately their lives. Our children pick up on our emotions, our words, our actions and our prejudices.

No you may not view yourself as discriminatory or racist, but….

I would like you to take a moment to critically reflect on things that you might have said in front of your children or the children in your care.

Sentences that begin with words like: “I’m not racist but…” or “look at that damn Asian driver!” You might have used a derogatory nickname to describe a culture of people, or you might have linked a certain behaviour to a race of people. This is all discrimination and racism.

We may be ashamed to admit it, but we might have been guilty of this in the past. If you were not, you might have heard someone else say it and not agreed but given an embarrassed laugh or pretended that you didn’t hear the remark.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke

And that my dear New Zealanders is where we need to start! Let’s all check what dormant racism or prejudices we have in our closet – lurking from our childhoods or our pasts and examine them through the lens of respect and empathy.

Ask yourself, “is this kind?”

“Would I like to be treated like this or be spoken to or about like this?”

Let us recognise discrimination and racism in others and courageously challenge it when we see it. If you see something, or hear something that doesn’t feel right, let’s say something. It might not be our fault, but it is all of our responsibility. We cannot change others around us, but we can change ourselves.

And remember that our children are always watching downloading and learning from us.

Let us be mindful of this and teach our children lessons that will make this world a better place and not teach them about hate which will tear us apart.

We are all New Zealand.

The past is where you learn the lesson. The future is where you apply it.

Unknown

Kia kaha Aotearoa.

If you would like to support the victims of the Christchurch shooting you can donate at the Victim Support Give a Little page by clicking here.

Be Careful What You Teach…

Power and Influence in the Early Years
Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about an incident that she had witnessed where a teacher had withheld food from a toddler because they were banging their plate on the table. She was horrified with what she had witnessed, but also equally horrified by that the teacher, when called on her practice didn’t see anything wrong with it. The teacher didn’t recognise the power and control that she had in that moment over the child to shape how they see themselves for the rest of their lives – their identity, their inner dialogue and their future relationship with food.

First Do No Harm

As adults and teachers, we often don’t realise the tremendous influence we have in the young lives of the children in our settings. When reflecting on this subject this brings to mind the oath that doctors make to “First do no harm.” I reckon that this is something that teachers who hold tremendous power, but also tremendous responsibility, should aspire to as well.

In order for us to recognise this power and influence we need to put on our glasses of empathy.

Tanya Valentin Professional Early Childhood Education Services.

If we say that we respect children, then this requires empathy. In my opinion respect and empathy go hand in hand.

When you respect another person “accept each person as an individual with rights and freedoms … you are prepared to receive each person without them being who you might want them to be.

Toni Christie

If we show respect for someone it requires us to put ourselves in their shoes and to ask ourselves, “How would I feel if I were that person in this situation?” Empathy requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of the children in our care and ask – How would I feel if….

I was picked up physically without any warning?

I was passed around to people I didn’t know?

Someone made me say I was sorry, when I was not sorry?

I was forced to share a beloved personal item with someone who I didn’t want to share it with?

If I were hungry and I wasn’t allowed to eat, or if I weren’t hungry and I had to eat? How would I like to be made to eat everything on my plate?

I was talked about, in front of me, as if I didn’t exist, or spoken to in a way that was disrespectful, belittled me or made me feel bad about myself?

“Being respectful to children, empathising with them. Listening when they speak and showing kindness is not “coddling,” “spoiling,” or treating them like “special snowflakes.” It is just treating children like human beings.”

Rebecca Eanes

Power and Influence

Children are extremely vulnerable; their brains are still developing. They are at the stage where they are developing their identities and figuring out what it means to be human. Young children are way more susceptible to believing anything we tell them, even if this is untrue. Because they are ‘egocentric” they can only see things from their own point of view and internalise words from others and events to make it mean something about themselves.

Young children have very little control in their lives. In most cases they don’t get to decide where they go, what they will do or when they will do it, what they will eat, when they will eat, when they sleep or where they will sleep. These decisions are primarily made by the adults in their lives.

Our influence over them is so powerful that we even control what is programmed into their internal dialogue.

We all have experiences from our childhood positive or negative that we remember. Those pivotal moments when something was said by a significant person in our lives which caused us to think or believe something about ourselves. These beliefs (true or untrue) can becomes “truths” that we hold onto, to define us as a person. When these beliefs are negative, they can rob us of our self-worth and self-confidence. We have this same power and influence in the lives of children.

“Children have this amazing way of becoming exactly who we tell them they are.

If we tell them they are strong, they become strong. If we tell them that they are kind, they become kind. If we tell them that they are capable, they become capable.

Speak life into your kids, so that they will have what takes to tackle their own life one day.”

Amy Wentherly

“With” and not “To”

I think it is important to remember what Dr Emmi Pikler said about doing things with children and not to them. When we truly respect children, we see them as unique human beings with rights and choices. We view them as capable and competent partners in their own care and learning and trust them and their right to choose.

We prepare children in advance for what is coming next and when change does happen we go slowly at their pace and allow them to be an active partner in the care ritual.

Madgda Gerber, who worked with Emmi Pikler and then later founded Resources for Infant Educators (RIE), based off of Emmi Pikler’s teachings said:

When you approach your baby with an attitude of respect, you let him know that you intend to give him a chance to respond. You assume that he is competent and you involve him in his care and let him, as much as possible, solve his own problems.

The same goes for discipline, it is important to know the distinction between discipline and punishment. Discipline is something we do with the child to support them to manage their behaviour whereas punishment is something we do to the inflict suffering for the past behaviour. To be effective, true discipline should be from a place of love, respect and empathy.

Keeping Everybody Safe

As you can see from the discussion above, as the adults we need to be mindful of our actions, our words the tremendous power that weld. To reflect on our actions and words using the filter of empathy and to be intentional with our thoughts, words and actions.

We need to remember that we are the “adults” and to have control over ourselves especially when we are feeling emotional or triggered.

It is worth mentioning that how we react to behaviours of children or those around us has less to with the behaviour of others and more about how we are feeling in the moment. This requires us to be courageous about figuring out what is triggering us and to beware of how these triggers make us react so that we can self-regulate our emotions.

This might require us to be the courageous advocate of others if we witness undue influence and power-struggle types of behaviour in our settings.

We might need to intervene when we feel that the rights of others are being infringed on.

This could take the form of stepping in and offering to take over when we feel the stress of a team mate and we recognise that in this moment they are triggered and about to lose control in a situation. This should be followed up with a conversation (coming from love for the child, but also from the place of respect and empathy for the teacher) where we address the situation and what could be done in future to avoid similar situations from happening.

This could mean reporting a teacher if the behaviour was abusive. This is never an easy or pleasant thing to do. However, as teachers if we are to “first do no harm” then that applies to us not sitting idly back and by our inactivity allowing the behaviour to occur. Our first responsibility is with the children and their parents who placed their precious children in our care. They trust that we will promote the physical and emotional wellbeing of their child. We should always ask ourselves, “Would that behaviour be okay if the parent was in the room?”

I leave you with the thoughts of Dr Stuart Shanker, a prominent neuroscientist in the field of self-regulation.

We are in the midst of an extraordinary understanding of the importance of a teacher in the early years of a child’s life.  Whereas early years educators were once seen as little more than  substitute caregivers, watching over a child until the process of education proper could begin, they are now being recognised as the guardians of a society’s future wellbeing.  The more we learn about the development of the brain in the early years of life, the better we understand how the teacher plays a critical role in the development of the core neural systems that underpin a child’s mental and physical health throughout their lifespan

Until next time look after each other.

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!

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,