We can take inspiration for how to be with children outdoors by looking at how gardeners nurture the plants in their garden. We can aspire to this more gentle, non-interfering manner than to the traditionally thought of ‘teaching teacher’.
Our children are born with an innate connection to the earth. They are a part of nature, and crave to continue that connection.
When they have freedom in a natural environment you see how authentic their joy is in this type of setting. They want to be outdoors, IN nature, learning WITH and THROUGH nature. They want to keep this bond strong. They know how to, it’s not something we need to ‘teach’, but we absolutely need to allow for it. We need to offer the right space, lots of uninterrupted time, and see the inherent value of young children being truly immersed in a natural setting.
Being passionate. It is something high on the list of qualities for an ECE teacher, and rightly so.
There is certainly a need for passion if we are to serve our children well, and to rise above the level of care that is called ‘good enough’ in our sector, but we know is not good enough. We want to offer exceptional care, and passion seems to be one of the major ingredients needed to make this happen.
We so often forget that our young children don’t need new, new, new all the time. They find the familiar comforting rather than ‘boring’.
If the environment and materials we offer are stable for them, they can invest their energy in playing, creating, and navigating the social landscape. If each time they arrive there is a new set up their energy goes into orienting themselves instead, into finding the ‘lay of the land’. It is only once they’ve found that sense of security they can engage in play and relationships.
A really powerful saying we love talks about how your energy introduces you before you even open your mouth. Your energy. Is that something you’ve put a lot of thought into?
Often during our training and first few years as a teacher we put a ton of thought into the words we use. We might put the same focus on what we say (and equally don’t) if we then find ourselves on a journey to being more heart-centred.
To care for the young child is to also care for their parents. They are so inextricably woven together that we can't do one without the other.
And if we are to care for our parents we need to leave out the judgements and embrace them for who they are and how they do things.
We can view our teaching career in two different ways: as a series of roles, promotions, qualifications and upskilling, or as a story of pivotal moments that changed and shaped our practice.
The first way looks more at the big tangible moments, whereas the latter is in the smaller, but just as significant, human moments. They may not be as recognisable to others, and there mightn’t be a certificate to mark that growth, but it’s there all the same. We really do believe it’s the little moments, our lived experiences that matter most on our journey.
The quiet pull into or away from what brings you deep JOY.
I have been pondering about what people are called to do and the difference in their life and the world at large when we do that which we are called to do.
Clearly the variety is enormous and what is right for one is not right for another.
To understand the context of this post it’s important to know the background that initiated the ‘birth’ of the following story.
If you have been in the ECE sector for quite some time as we have, you may have noticed something. Have you seen it too, the formerly bright eyes of teachers have dimmed a little, more and more are feeling burnt out? Sometimes it seems as if the morale in our sector resembles one big deflating balloon. We come into our work so passionately at the start but become disillusioned and just plain exhausted on the way.
In a society where the ‘novelty bug’ is rife, Christmas offers us a beautiful opportunity to go for tradition instead. Rather than brand new decorations every year we can have recurring ones that can be looked forward to each year. Seeing these back in the environment reminds everyone what time of year it is, while still being ‘special’ enough to light eyes up year after year.
The tendency can be that we want to start winding down as year end approaches. Several things start getting added to the ‘too hard basket’, where at other times of year they would feel manageable. Our home lives are getting busy heading into the Christmas season and we’d quite like to just cruise through our final month, biding time until we can close the door for the year. That would be ok if this work we did was about us. Sure we matter too, but we aren’t the focus.
When you think of Christmas in ECE settings you may be thinking things like the tacky tinsel on mantels and sills, the ‘no-personality crafts’ where every child’s collage is the same, and some half-hearted kiddy songs about Santa. We’ve probably all seen examples of this. And even though it’s supposed to be a joyous time of year, you can see how these ‘lifeless’ attempts actually take the joy out, for our teachers and our wee people. This is why some settings have left Christmas off their yearly menu, and we can see why if these are the only seasonal dishes they know can be served.
The festive season is exactly that - a season. It’s a short space of time that comes and goes, built into the rhythm of the year. For our children it is such a short window of time in their year but one that truly matters to them. They find this season exciting and magical, and it is up to us whether we leave the festivities at the door, claiming we don’t have the time or energy to ‘do Christmas’, or whether we say YES.
Here is an activity for you to do. Either at home or at a staff meeting! Get yourself a pen and paper and a timer/stopwatch. Time yourself or get some one else to time you whilst writing down the following on your piece of paper, from top to bottom, as fast as you can:
A1, B2, C3, etc, all the way down to Z26.
The rule is to write each letter with the correlating number next to it, before you go to the next letter.
“It must be so sad to see the children move on”, is a comment we hear all the time as teachers.
At a setting so centred on relationships we do build wonderful connections with our children and a child leaving is an occasion for a range of emotions.
We talk a lot about heart centred teaching. We thought we will give you a short run down of what we conceive as heart centred teaching qualities.
A passionate heart-centred teacher is one you have to search for when you enter a room. They are not a dominant force, and you certainly don’t hear their voices rising about the children’s hum of activity. Imagine if all teachers of young children had this same way about them? Children could grow and learn in a relaxed, peaceful environment that gave them time to think and be.
We need to find a healthy balance between being a “change junkie” and being set in our ways. Frequent change is unsettling, and change for the sake of it tends to only skim the surface before the next change is made. This is not what our ECE settings need. The reverse is also not desirable - places that sail along, doing as they’ve always done and not ‘rocking the boat’ with any new thinking. What we really need is hearts and minds willing to embrace change if and where necessary.
"Teach me the art of small steps". These words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery are the key to how our own settings developed from small beginnings to a thriving community with its own unique character. What really stands out to others is not just what we do, but how consistently we do it.