I’ve been reading lots of comments from preschool teachers recently that, on reflection, make me wonder why some educators find it so difficult to display the kinds of traits we want to see in the children we work with. Traits such as compassion, understanding, empathy and a sense of curiosity. It also makes me wonder if they are even aware of their thinking patterns. It’s difficult to read comments online and not judge, especially without more background information. However, I think this is a great metaphor for early childhood education and how we need to deep dive to find the underlying background information to find out what children are discovering.
And the best way to do this? Let. Them. Play. (quelle surprise!)
For some educators, this mindshift is the first hurdle. They might say, “I love working with children, they’re just so cute! They play all day!” It is true, they’re probably super cute, but that is not enough. Do THEY really play all day? Or do you provide playful activities for them to complete? What do you do all day? Do you play?
You have to have a genuine, heartfelt interest in each individual child so you can actively seek out what makes them curious, what makes them wonder, what brings them pure joy…what makes them light up. When you find out what makes them tick, you change the whole game of learning, behaviour and teaching.
There are several practices you can do (and are probably already doing!) to help discover more about the children in your care with a nod to building connection. There are simple getting to know you activities that you might do at the beginning of the school year – all about me tasks, family meetings, home visits etc. These are all great places to start, but they are worthless if they are just used as a format to check off to say “Look at us! We are finding out about this individual child and doing family engagement!” If your birthday board is only used for your reference, the magic of childhood isn’t there. If your classroom has a stick hanging above the art table because you liked it when saw it on Pinterest, take it down. No magic there. Only reading one book a day that you choose at story time because that’s the time you need everyone to sit down together? Reading a book on the carpet while your assistant takes children individually away to complete an art activity? You might as well just set the rabbit from your top hat free and dismantle your wand.
You have to walk the walk if you are going to talk the talk!
You can’t say, “Everybody is welcome in our class!” if you send children home when they display challenging behaviour.
You can’t say, “We have an open door policy for parents” if you try to kick them out (or sneak them out!) as their child is screaming and crying for them at drop-off.
You can’t say, “We teach the children through play” if all your centers are set up with teacher-led activities you designed before the children even get a toe in the door.
But all is not lost. Educators can (and should be) constantly learn and grow from and with the children in their care. Using the skills of compassion, connection and curiosity – the building blocks of relationships – will create the foundation needed for a community of inspired co-learners. But the change has to start with you, that shift to where the child is at the heart of everything.
What do you notice when you look around your classroom? Be objective and stick to the facts. Now, what do you think about what you see? What do you think is happening? Can you back up what you think with evidence? Finally, what do you wonder? How could you use the skills of compassion, kindness and empathy in your classroom to provide a platform for these wonderings?
Stay curious and the door to children’s magical worlds will remain open, complete with a signed invitation to step inside. Are you ready to open that door? It can be a scary world out there when the children are ‘just’ playing (*eye twitches at the word just), but I am here to hold your hand and guide you through to the other side of that door. Play IS the magic of childhood.
Have questions about play? I got you! Leave a comment or send me a message and I will get back to you.
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