The stolen year…..

I’m sitting here this morning, and I just can’t get off my mind, how many little 4 year old babies across the country are about to head in to their first day of school tomorrow.  They will be full of excitement and wonder I’m sure – as they prepare for this next big stage in their lives – one that is going to consume the next 13 years of their lives.  Many of these chlldren have been attending preschool programs – and during this time have been engaging in the build up to this moment in time.  They don’t even know it – but all the things their teachers have been doing for them in preparing them for school will assist hugely in this transition.  And I’m not talking of “school readiness programs”, I’m not talking of giving them a head start in the types of things they’ll be learning…… I’m not talking about what was years ago referred to as the “three Rs” (and obviously the person who made THAT up never did so well at their spelling lessons!).
I’m talking about teachers standing softly on the sidelines as children engage in disputes – watching that nobody gets hurt, but trying to encourage children to sort it out themselves.  I’m talking about caring enough to take the extra time to encourage children to do things for themselves, rather than just doing it for them – putting their belongings away, dressing themselves, opening their own lunch containers.  But also, I’m talking about the carefully prepared experiences that encourage children to work together on projects…. or build their creativity…… or encourage exploration that leads to understanding…… or encourages children to build empathy toward others and toward the earth they live on…….. or builds those many muscles in a child’s body to prepare them for all the things their bodies will need to do in the years ahead.  There’s a lot to be said for quality early childhood programs.
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But even above all that – there is the TIME IT TAKES CHILDREN TO JUST BE CHILDREN!
That time to be filled with wonder as you discover the natural world.  That time to feel elated as you feel the wind whooshing by your face as you swing higher than high.  That time to hide with friends under a haplessly placed sheet, that becomes a secret hideaway.  That time to spin around in circles until you are dizzy.  I can go on and on……. but you get the picture here…….. that time to just be a child and be free……. the time to PLAY!
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I know in my heart, that at four and a half – these little angels have still not had enough of that freedom.  There is still so much more play time necessary to get their minds and bodies fully prepared for formal learning at school.  And yet, we keep dragging them into school, ignoring all the research, and NOT DOING THE RIGHT THING by our children.
But today….. today my heart goes out even more…….. today I have literally shed tears……. for those hundreds of children across our “great” state, who have been told literally only days ago that they will now be heading off to Prep tomorrow.  Children who have not had the time and space to prepare for this moment, children who have not had the chance to participate in a Kindergarten program, children who have not had a year of preparing with a group of peers for this moment in time – probably the biggest moment they have yet experienced in their little lives.
I’m sure if you asked most of them – they’ll be excited about “going off to big school”.  I’m sure that many will cope (and I’m sure there are many who won’t cope also).  But even if they do cope – this is not about coping.  This is about children who have just had a year of their childhood shamelessly stolen away from them…… by adults who are only thinking of their own agendas – perhaps a year less daycare fees, perhaps the social status of being proud that their child is so “advanced” that they get to start school early, perhaps the rush to have children off to school so they can have more time to themselves, or go back to work, or whatever…….  There is no agenda here for the child – it is all adult driven rot.

And those principals who are accepting these children into schools – SHAME ON YOU!  Perhaps our principals in schools also need to have some relevant early childhood training.  They need to know enough about development, to know that a “well rounded” child, does not mean “ready to take on the school system” – especially as it stands.  Record numbers of Prep children in their first year – being suspended and expelled from schools!  Yet that doesn’t seem to set off alarm bells for so many!  WHY?  Why can’t they see what they are doing??Give these little children back that year – STOP engaging in this ridiculous notion of “Early Entry”.  Do what is best for children and encourage more DELAYED entry.  It’s not about being “bright enough”, “switched on enough”, “mature enough”……. children need AS MUCH time as we can give them to play – so that they grow and develop in the way they were created to do so.  It is through play that children will become better learners – not through the ridiculous push down of formal education to children as young as four and a half!  There is not a single child who would not benefit from having an extra year (or two….or three!) before being subjected to school – NOT A SINGLE CHILD!

GIVE CHILDHOOD BACK TO OUR CHILDREN……. JUST GIVE IT BACK……..

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Singing in the rain…..

Yesterday it rained….. Not just a shower or two, but that constant all day rain, type of rain.  A beautiful day!  (Many I’m sure would add a disclaimer in there something along the lines of “If you’re home tucked up in bed, and watching movies”.)

I didn’t think so much about it all as it was happening throughout the day – but when I came home last night, I was drawn to reflection on the way things have changed for me.  It doesn’t feel like all that long ago (and I suppose in retrospect, it isn’t), that to wake up on a “school day” to the sound of rain, brought with it dread and a feeling of impending doom about the day ahead……  oh no!  to be “trapped indoors with room full of children” ALL day!  The stuff that nightmares are made of!

rainBut what happened yesterday?  Well, the children came in…….  The doors stayed open……. Some came in their raincoats and gum-boots……. Others came in old clothes and bare feet.  You see – rain these days doesn’t mean what it used to.  Rain these days means a whole DIFFERENT world to explore.  One that is laden with wonder when you are a child (and even too when you are an adult).  When everything is dripping with water, when the ground changes completely, where muddy puddles beckon……

Almost always these days – playing (aka working) with children, sends me on those walks down memory lane…… the ones where I think about all the memories I have from my own childhood.  It never used to.  It used to be a far cry from that.  A rainy day used to mean the dread of continually having to deal with children’s caged up energy….. finding ways to keep them “amused”, while they couldn’t go out to play….. bringing out all the tricks in the book, just to get through the day…… being even MORE restrictive about what they could and couldn’t do.  I shudder – and I send out my sincerest heartfelt apology to all those children I ever “did that to”.

So…..  I come back to my own childhood once again.  I didn’t intentionally go here yesterday, it just happened for me.  Because once again, I think when we work with children authentically, and give them the freedom that childhood SCREAMS that we must…… it’s actually quite an automatic thing.  Because we start seeing from children, those little things that provoke our memories, and bring them out from behind all the cobwebs we let accumulate while we were too busy “doing to” children.

So as I watched a group of Toddler aged children (two and under), head off into the great outdoors – umbrellas overhead, bare feet, and smiles that were just way too big for those little tiny faces…… I went back….. I remembered as a child walking down the road in the flooding gutter.  I remember the way the water just poured down like a raging torrential river.  I remember seeing things floating by in that water, and then being intrigued to see what else the water would carry away.  Taking sticks, seedpods, leaves, flowers from the garden (oops!), and whatever else wasn’t tied down – I’m quite sure that a thong or two over time also went floating down the road river.  I remember learning that rocks didn’t get carried down on the water – that they just plopped into place…….  Same with bricks.  I remember that I learned that paper floats by…… and I remember that some time my dad had built me a little paper boat…… so using my own make shift kind of origami, I would make little boats to float down that river…… No idea how to do it “right”, but doing it through the sheer determination of wanting to have a paper boat to sail…… a little boat that would take a huge amount of time to make, only then to be sucked down into the waiting drain after a triumphant 10 second launch and trip – a journey abruptly ended.
boatAh yes…… those were the days indeed!  And yet, why was it for a period of time, that I seemed to think that my memories were not the way the world was supposed to be?  Why did I get flipped around in some sort of “stay safe” “take no risks” “don’t do anything that somebody might frown upon” kind of way of doing things?

Those days of my memories still ARE the days.  Children STILL deserve to have a childhood.  One that is free from adult agendas, one that wakes their curiosity, one that provokes learning in a truly authentic, and for a child – UNDERSTANDABLE way.  I want the children I play alongside to get to the stage of life I am now at – and remember back to the time  they were given a HUGE umbrella, and they got to walk outside with the rain beating down on it, while they stayed somewhat dry.  I want them to remember pulling that umbrella back for a time, and putting their face up to the sky – feeling the cool rain on their skin, and the taste of the world pouring into them.  I want them to remember stepping into puddles, and splashing water at their friends.  But most of all – I just want them to remember…….

…….because memories are made of experiences – not standing at a door staring out into a world that you are not allowed to enter.

“We don’t remember days, we remember moments…”  ~ Cesare Pavese

When we stop saying “NO”…….

Quite a few years ago now (and as I was just calculating back, it is a few more than I thought!)…. but anyway – quite a ‘number’ of years ago now, I set tracks to participating in my very first action research project.  I’ve been involved in quite a few more since – but this particular one, aside of being the first and a very significant learning curve for me, has almost set the tone for the way I play….. (substitute “work”)….. with young children.  And ironically enough – the broad topic of this project was – yep, you guessed it – PLAY.

At that particular time, as a fairly new director, I was still scrambling my way around a horror story of regulations – but even more so, trying my darnedest to unravel what I have come affectionately to know as the “EC myths & legends”.  You know – all those things that we (supposedly) “can’t do”.  All those things that shut down children’s play.  I had become weary of trying to box children into this little safe haven, where no harm could come to them, and they followed the rules – somewhat like the little tin soldiers of my Grandma’s that sit on my shelf.  I’m sorry – that just isn’t what childhood is about!

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After a lot of throwing around different things that we wanted to change in our service, what we finally cut it to was basically something along the lines of – “how do we push it to the absolute limits of the legal boundaries to allow children to play?”.  Now it sure wasn’t worded that way – it was about 5 lines longer and no way you could orally project our question without several big deep breaths!  But that was essentially the essence of it.

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Our first step was something that is still a favourite thing for me to do – it was for our educators, our parents, our community, and anybody else we could rope in – to think about what they valued about play in their own childhood, and then submit to us what they wanted for their own children.  It became very clear to us, that we had to somehow break free of the mould we had been set in by our predecessors, and get right back to the roots of play and what it was.  We did this with a great amount of gusto.

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As a result of this project – I am proud to say that I became a regulation nazi!  I could almost quote verbatim every single word that people might try to use to shut down what we were doing.  I knew exactly what those black and white words said, and I knew exactly where we could go to without ever breaking a single regulation.  Instead of becoming my enemy, these words became my friend.  And I have stuck by that principal to this day – know exactly what you are talking about – and you know how to stand up for the rights of children…… in particular Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child….. which if you aren’t familiar with, I’ll leave you to research for yourself.

What is the most significant learning that came from that year long project for me?……… the thing that I have clung to the most….. well, it’s what that long winded question boiled down to by the end of the 12 months, and what we continued on with as a part of our core philosophy, and what I have now carried into a new service with me –

“What happens we stop saying ‘no’?”.

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There’s a really really long answer to that question somewhere in me.  But I think to be more effective, those words should be left hanging.  Because when we stop saying “no”, and give children some agency – they give us everything in return……. amazement, surprise, wow moments, love, gratitude…… but most of all, they let us remember what is was to be a child…… what it means to be free…….. and what it means to truly be alive……

What happens when we stop saying “no”…….. is that we start seeing play.