Happiness. That is perhaps the most common answer when parents or anyone who cares deeply about children are asked what, above all else, they want for them in life. “I just want them to be happy”. And of course that is a lovely thing, and an important one. But we would like to throw another priority out on the table. Our top pick, our 'above all else', wish for children is kindness. For them to experience kindness and offer kindness. Now and in their future.
George Eliot said,
“what do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other”?
This is an interesting one to ponder as a team, as so often the least strong part of our entire practice is what we do for each other.
We may serve children beautifully, and be warm and responsive to families, but to the teachers and management we spend our days with? Whether we class these people as friends, or merely ‘colleagues’, sometimes there is very little that is collegial about how we treat each other.
The need to feel heard is a very real one. There is little that is as frustrating as when we pour our hearts out, or finally put words to a quiet fear, only to receive a flippant response. We don’t feel heard when what we communicate is shut down, brushed off, downgraded, or made light of.
Play is as innate in our children as pecking is in chickens. They don’t need us to teach them how to play, just to allow them to do what comes so naturally.
There is concern over this generation of children losing the art of playing, and it’s often presented under two misconceptions: that it is somehow the fault of the children, and that it’s just inevitable - nothing can be done about it. We call WRONG on both.
This name we have for ourselves - teacher - makes us feel we must be ‘teaching’. You know, as in the transmitting of knowledge, the deciding, planning, ‘extending’. Then there can be some sense of a knowable, showable outcome for this time immersed in nature. But for children to really make sense of the world they need to explore it on their terms. They can and will grow in the environment just by being in it, following where curiosity takes them, and using their hands and play urges to try out this and that. They don’t need us to teach. They know how to be in nature, and they know how to play.
We get our families on board with our nature-fying when we invite them along on the journey, and involve them in our processes. No one likes to have things done to them, so dumping a nature programme on our parents with no collaboration isn’t likely to be received well. Even if we’ve established a lot and a family is new, immerse them in the journey from their get-go. Invite them and involve them. Be open to the possibilities that every single new community member can offer. Tha is why there is no end to this path we’re on. Every new relationship we make brings the chance for new learning and ideas.
We’ve worked months on our new toolkit about young children in nature. We’ve written tens of thousands of words on multiple related topics, presented them beautifully and created additional resources to accompany. A lot of hard work and a lot of heart work, and then we had a burst of inspiration, the ‘penny dropped’ and we realised the absolute simplicity of the message.
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.