The Birthday Hat…. otherwise known as “Making Memories”

Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 1.50.48 pm
Sometimes we just do things – and we don’t really think about the impact or the specialness, until somebody else brings it to the fore.
 
We have always celebrated children’s birthdays in our service, by sharing a cake (or something) with them – that they bring in from home. They usually sit with their room group to do this at afternoon tea time.We’ve always come together as a whole service for staff birthdays to sing and recognise. (When I say always – I am referring to since before I was at my service (so longer than 6 years).
 
While doing our reflections together late last year, we considered why we didn’t come together as a whole service for children also? Our shift has been to a very open program, that is multi aged. So children spend less and less time in age groupings for us.  Why were we still scaling it back to celebrate birthdays?  Were we really making this a special day for children?  
 
We decided to try coming together for children also. All of us. It was rather spontaneous the first time we were doing it – and we looked around for something that would bring attention and let everyone know – and be fun.
 
We plucked the bells that were hanging on a hook on one of the verandahs. They were so perfect, that they immediately took on the new role, as the “Birthday Bells”.  Coupled with the “Birthday Hat” which has also been around for many years…… a new tradition was born.
The birthday child circles the playground and the rooms wearing the Birthday Hat and ringing the Birthday Bells, gathering everyone together.  We all head up to the yarning circle, where there is recognition of the special birthday we are coming together for, coupled with a choir to be reckoned with singing “Happy Birthday”!  The cheers echo throughout the neighbourhood.
fullsizeoutput_69e
 
A parent approached me recently, quite anxious as to whether her little boy would get to do the birthday bells and hat, because he didn’t come to care on his actual birthday. She said it was all he talked about in relation to his birthday, and his excitement outweighed any requests for gifts.  She was terribly concerned.  And of course – it doesn’t have to be the actual day.  The closest day they come to care is the best pick.
 
I do really love the creation of our new tradition. And the sense of togetherness it gives us all. But more so, the sense of belonging and specialness a child gets when we recognise their special day with them. They get to be the centre of the universe for just a while.
 
This custom and tradition has another spin for me too. A child with autism, who has been with us for a few years now – yesterday gave me the warmest glow inside. As he heard the bells ringing – he skipped his way up to the yarning circle. As I got closer to him, I heard the soft singing of Happy Birthday. And the little grin across his face showed me how much he was with us all in that moment.
Having been thrown the opportunity to reflect on this new little tradition, which is now only a few months young – I sit with a tear in my eye. Realising and understanding that we have seamlessly formed something not only very special for children – but something that will likely form one of their early childhood memories.
 
And that little grin creeps across my face, as I understand fully, that we got this one right.
 
It is the special times in a child’s life, that will become the memories that stay with them as an adult.
fullsizeoutput_6a0
“We didn’t realise we were making memories.  We thought we were just having fun.”
Agency Vs. Being the adult.

Agency Vs. Being the adult.

story_image_v2_o_1balm3pdh6b157j1isr13971oerh_640_wide

I call myself a fierce advocate for children’s agency. I like to think that I am current, progressive and contemporary in my thinking and practice.

The children in my world experience a great amount of freedom.  They get to make decisions about their days that many would only dream about.  <insert mental image of a child lying on a grassy green mound, staring up at the sky with a big empty fluffy white thought cloud>  They get to choose when they eat, play, sleep, poop, sing, read, climb…….. you get the picture.  There is an exponential amount of freedom for them.  And they love it.  It facilitates joy.

There are some things they don’t get to choose though.  For instance – they don’t actually get to choose that they come in the very first place.  Very few of them anyway.  They come because the adults in their lives make that very significant decision for them.  For some it is because parents are working, for some it is because parents need their own space for a time for their well-being, for some it is because parents feel they need something more and different than home provides.

While I would be so bold as to say and assume that most children enjoy most of their time with us – they aren’t really given the agency to make that decision.  Don’t get me wrong – this is not a bad thing. It is because we as the adults in the lives of children sometimes have to make choices for them.

Giving children agency, does not mean that we stop being the adult in their lives.

One thing I know about me – is that I am adult.  Just that.  There are times when I have to help children through a situation.  There are other times I need to make decisions FOR children…. in their best interests.  It is my job as an adult to make sure that the children in my world are safe from harm.  It is my job as an adult to ensure they know how to keep themselves safe from harm.  So they don’t always get completely free reign.  There are times when we have to step in.  There are times when we have to direct.  And there are times when we have to say no.  Of course – we can also choose exactly how we go about those things too.  We can certainly do it without creating a dictatorship. or making children feel inferior.  It’s not about superiority – it’s just about having been on this earth for much longer, and knowing more about it – the joys and the perils.

There are several things that speak to me, telling me that no matter how much agency I wish to afford a child – I HAVE to, at certain points, be their rock.

The Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics calls me to “act in the best interests of children” and to “create and maintain safe, healthy, inclusive environments that support children’s agency and enhance their learning”.

The Early Years Learning Framework states that, “Children’s agency, as well as guidance care and teaching by families and educators shape children’s experiences of becoming.”

Whilst giving many statements around children making decisions in their lives and having control – the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 3:  “States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health…..”

As professionals, many of us use and promote the concepts of the Circle of Security in our work with children.  The top part of which promotes a secure base for children to be in, and experience the agency of their world.  The lower part creating that foundation of a safe haven for children, where adults keep children protected by their very presence.

7122a22f580b6334074cdafd376a4050

There are many places that support agency for children, but also rule the line for the need of the existence of adults in children’s lives, and their input.  And aside of all these professional directions – there is the plain old human instinct we are given.  We don’t allow children to put themselves in harm’s way.  We teach them that the world is not an innocent place, and that they need to be and act in certain ways to protect themselves.

As we strive in our work to allow children agency to make decisions – let’s not forget that we have a responsibility to them to keep them safe.  And while I love nothing more than to see children in control of their world, there is a certain specialness allocated to us, to also be their champion, and to be the one to wrap our arms around them at the end of all that is said and done.

“Agency” and “Being the adult” to not have to be in competition with one another.  There can be a harmonious balance.

“Always: be BIGGER, STRONGER, WISER, and KIND.
Whenever possible:  Follow my child’s need.
Whenever necessary:  take charge.”