When we work with children, our intrinsic instinct is to guide them; to hold their hand every step of the way, to ‘push them in the right direction’. I want us to start questioning whether we’re doing the right thing.
One of the most pressuring things about being an early years practitioner is the constant need to ‘do something’ with the children. It’s like that if we take a step back, we’re purposely slacking, despite the fact that this may very well be the exact opposite – we could actually be improving the quality of our practice.
It seems unnatural because it’s constantly enforced upon you throughout life: “be proactive”; “don’t be lazy”; “watch what they’re doing”; “are you paying attention?”. This relentless, incessant need to be engaged with children in practice, is quite frankly a flawed methodology, driven by a false agenda that has its roots in what provides an employer with ‘value for money’, as opposed to what’s most beneficial for the children in our care.
If I sound incoherent, let me be more blunt: very often, us adults, are an absolute nuisance to our children. I know this because last week, I was guilty of being exactly that. The children had creatively came up with a game in the woods where they took their hats off and wanted to hang them up on branches that were high up. To do this, they needed an adult to help them; I duly obliged. I hung them up on high branches, and then the children found two very long sticks they wanted to use to knock them back off to the floor. It was child-initiated play at its finest, and what did the adult want to do? Well, I incessantly insisted on helping them hold the sticks, in order to help them. But guess what? As long and as difficult to hold as the sticks were, the children did NOT want my help on this aspect of the game. They did not approve of me attempting to hold the stick and guide it towards the hats. All’s this was doing was taking away their sense of achievement from doing it themselves.
I had an epiphany: why was I disrupting their play, and in the process hampering their learning and development? By needlessly interfering, I assumed that the children were dependent on me to achieve their task. I instantly noticed a similar pattern during the rest of practice: I am too quick to help them wash their hands, peel their bananas at snack, and put their bags on them at home time. I am creating an adult-dependency on the child’s behalf, and it’s completely unwanted.
The last few days I’ve played the role of keen observer. Constantly reflecting, I’ve even took a step back during arguments between children to see how they resolved them. Surprisingly, our children are excellent mediators – they’re not overly prone to aggression, and they have superb social skills for resolving conflicts and tension. I wonder whether tempers would flare more profusely in an indoor setting…
We must remember that ultimately, we are animals. Children, as much as adults, crave space, freedom and personal accomplishment as much as us adults do, as much as they require emotional nurturing and adult care for their well-being. Striking a delicate balance between these factors is not easy, but we’re certainly guilty of over saturating them in some aspects. I urge us all to make a conscious effort to resist interference – let their spirits roam, and let’s sit back and enjoy their journey instead of trying to control it to suit our own.
By Adam Kitchen – Follow on Twitter here
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