Update (05.11.2019) You can learn more about this project at David’s Page on Facebook.
David Cahn is an early years practitioner in a busy inner-city Leeds primary school and children’s centre. He is self-publishing Umar, a children’s book for 2-4 year olds that proudly showcases the intelligence and deep motivation to learn of a young South Asian boy from Leeds. You can help him get the book printed, while getting yourself a signed first edition of the book at his kickstarter page. There are only a few days left in the campaign.
The way we view children and childhood influences absolutely everything about our practice. I am so incredibly different than the early childhood educator and carer I was 12 years ago.
I wrote and and am in the process of self-publishing, Umar, my first children’s book after reflecting about one particular 2 year old boy I had in my nursery in 2018 named, well Umar!
Umar was utterly fascinated by keys, locks and doors. He spent a great deal of energy and determination in getting as long as possible to figure them out while with me. Any time I had to open a door he wanted to use my card key or other keys. He could spend a great deal of time at our outside gate door, incredibly focused on learning how to use the key himself.
How would you feel and respond if you had a child wanting to use your your keys at nearly every single opportunity? How do you balance supporting individual young children’s unique interests while completing all the tasks necessary to keep our rooms humming along each day?
12 years ago I simply would not have seen any value in letting Umar do anything with my keys. He doesn’t know how to use them. I have a million other things to do than wait around for him to figure it out. He will learn it easy when he’s older so why bother now?
Though I now see young children as competent and deeply self-motivated learners, who are in a very important stage of brain development, I still had to go through my own learning process of how I responded to Umar. With all the other daily tasks on my plate I didn’t have the presence of mind to notice his interest for what it was at first. As he’d reach up for the keys I was using on our outside gate or toy cupboard I would initially tell him “sorry Umar I am doing it this time.”
Speaking with his parents I knew his fascination with keys began at home. I started to make deliberate time for him to use my keys when I wasn’t focused on one of my tasks. I saw his absolute persistence to develop these skills begin to shine through. Spoiler alert: with enough time, space and support to practice he got quite skilled with my keys and I let him lock and unlock doors for me all of the time.
In the process though he developed things neuroscientists and researchers call executive function and self-regulation. These are simply our brain and body’s capacity to set goals and achieve them both physically and mentally while dealing with stress and distractions along the way. To me they are essential characteristics for healthy and successful lives. We can help young children develop these capacities simply by giving them time, space and support to plan and follow through on their own goals – even if they seem “childish” to us at first glance. If we get skilled in our observation skills we will see that young children’s play is basically practice for just these skills!This keen interest in keys also lent itself to what early childhood experts call “Sustained Shared Thinking,” which is a powerful tool for all of us in early childhood education and care.
Finally, respecting Umar’s interest in keys let me engage in countless “serve and return” conversations with him.
Are you asking for a turn with my key Umar? You can definitely have a turn, let me go help Alisha with her bike and I will be right back.
Figuring out locks can be tricky Umar, it’s okay to get frustrated. I see you trying very hard to figure it out.
Is there another way you could try to turn the key?
I could go on and on linking Umar’s loves of keys with any area of an early childhood curriculum and developmental goals. No I did not let Umar use my keys all of the time but what matters most is that I eventually saw Umar’s interest and behaviour in the proper light and gave it the respect and support it deserved. We early childhood educators do have so many tasks to juggle every day but we need to prioritise reflecting on how we view the children in our care.
Some early reviews of the book