Why do we think children have no opinions?

Crowds of People at Matterhorn at Stelli Lake, above Zermatt. Or is it?
Crowds of People at Matterhorn at Stelli Lake, above Zermatt. Or is it? See below to find out.

Danielle and I recently facilitated a four week course on re-imagining art with young children with a group of 20 educators. The discussions were wide ranging, sometime intense, sometimes funny. The educators shared many stories of children and art, how art was perceived in the places they worked, their struggles and their wonderings.  We challenged each other, argued about practice, and looked to the work of artists to inspire us.

We wondered about the conventional ideas around art in early years settings:

• Art happens at the art table.

• Materials are chosen by educators.

• Art is an individual endeavour. Keep your paint on your own painting.

• Art materials come from catalogues and include glitter, paint, pom-poms, stickers, and felt pens that smell like candy.

• The art materials offered are different every day.

• Children are never forced to do art, but are highly encouraged to visit the art table. There is value (pressure?) placed on having something to take home.

• The goal of art is to work on fine motor skills, follow instructions, and have a finished product, preferably a product that is representational, that looks like something.

All of this got me thinking…do we think children have no ideas? No opinions on what they like to work with? No inkling of what  inspires them and what doesn’t inspire them?

As we investigated what art means to ‘adult artists’ we found that art happens everywhere. It happens here . And here. And here.

We found that artists collaborate like this. And this.

We found that art doesn’t have to look like something to have value.

And that anything can be used as an art material.

So here is my challenge to you:

Ask children what they want to do with materials. Ask them where they would like to do art, what they like to do and what they don’t like to do. Take art to the sandbox, to the park, to the forest, to the block area, to a big empty space in the middle of the room. Give art time. Work with one material for weeks.  Be ok with mess. Bring in art books. Look online and bring crazy ideas to children. Listen to their crazy ideas….try crazy ideas.

Let children tell you what inspires them. Listen to their opinions.

Note: Thanks to the participants of the Re-Imagining Art Course for being open to the dialogue, and sharing the mundane and the marvellous of your practice.

Note on the above photo:

T^rash People. One of the largest displays of recycled art in the world, Trash People was created by HA Schult and features 1000 trash men constructed out of aluminum cans, computer parts and plastic. It took over six months to complete

Lining Up


A moment of meandering....letting go of lining up
A moment of meandering….letting go of lining up

On a damp and misty day a group of educators and toddlers are walking on a path to a grassy field with a playground. The children are lined up two by two, holding hands with their partners, the adults take places at the front, back and middle of the line. The line nears the playground, and the children excitedly point to it. One pair of partners heads for it, taking the most direct path…..but not the path that everyone else is taking. They are no longer part of the line. Immediately an adult shouts to the two wanderers, admonishing them that they must stay in the line.

I observed this scene as I too walked in the park, meandering where I liked with no one to tell me to stay in line. I was a bit sad for the two wanderers. I saw nothing dangerous around, no cars, stray dogs, cliffs, rivers, forests…just a field and a playground.

But we’ve all done it, haven’t we? Lining kids up is part of what we do. Lining up to go outside, to go down a hallway, to go to the next room, to go to the bathroom, to wash hands, to wait for turns. Hands down, don’t poke the person in front of you, stay in line!


We want to keep children safe, we want a modicum of organization, of coordinated movement. But I also wonder if we want kids to line up so we are more comfortable, more in control.

What would happen if we started not lining up? How might we re-think our schedules and routines to avoid lining up? How might we move between places differently? What ideas do children have about movement, waiting, taking turns?  What happens when we are in the role of making children stay in place?

What are we missing when we ask children to line up?

Stand Up and Whoop!

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 1.31.12 PMDanielle and I sat there listening, smiling, nodding, clapping. What we really wanted to do was stand up and whoop while doing some major fist pumping, but as we were in a university lecture hall that seemed unwise. So we contained ourselves and clapped vigorously instead.  We were listening to Maureen Dockendorf, the newly appointed British Columbia Superintendent of Early Years, a position jointly shared between the Provincial Office for the Early Years and the Ministry of Education.  This is a woman with clout on the BC education front, a woman who has been collaborating with teachers across the province to spearhead a transformation of the BC curriculum, shifting  how we think about educating our children.

And her message?

Her message is not about the curriculum at all. Her message is this:

What matters most is not the curriculum, not the content. What matters most are the kids.

Welcome conversation, listen to stories of students, spend time, pay deep attention, get to know them.

Be present in the moment for those children, you are not in a rush. (She repeated “You are not in a rush” multiple times, pointing her finger at the audience)

Children come with funds of knowledge, understandings that we need to pay attention to.

We are not covering curriculum, we are covering children.

It is about the process of becoming.

Don’t you want to stand up and whoop and fist pump too?

(The revised curriculum can be found here.)

Fake it till I make it

InstagramCapture_54d78944-37eb-41d8-b17a-296a53177b9e_jpgAt the beginning of this preschool year our class was inundated with babies. There were babies everywhere. Little wee babies only weeks old, smiling cooing babies, and almost toddler babies. We had families who were defining new normal for themselves now becoming families of two or three. We even had a couple of families who were adopting preschool children and becoming parents for the first time. It was an exciting time in the preschool. I myself had a little secret of my own I was 15 weeks pregnant expecting a baby in the New Year. It just seemed like a perfect time to have a gaggle of babies and new families surrounding me.

635601429133700103In early February I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. He was preterm but perfect. Small yes but ready for this world. So ready he was out in 13 minutes flat. We were now a family of four and going home to define a new normal for ourselves. My daughter was a big sister and my partner and I were now parents of two. A little adjustment period was to be expected.

What I didn’t expect though and what shook me to my core was an absolute feeling of disconnect. I absolutely did not feel connected to my baby. This feeling of disconnect lead to feelings of guilt, sadness and shame. My partner adjusted to having two children so smoothly he was so in love with his family and children. I did not want to burden him with my shame. My baby gained weight slowly and the midwives were concerned. I was fearful of telling them how I was feeling, scared they would blame this disconnect on his inability to gain weight quickly or latch properly. So quietly on my own I decided to fake it till I made it. I put my best parenting foot forward. To the outside world I was a good mom, I snuggled my baby, I smiled and I griped about lack of sleep. Inside I felt like I was dying. How could I not have a connection with my own child? I connect with other people children every day.

I was also overtaken with anxiety. I was constantly worried my baby would get hurt and that it would be my fault. So I tried not to be alone with him often. I was thankful for sharing circles with colleagues, preschool pick up for my daughter and family functions.

Struggling hurts, struggling alone is soul crushing. Two things saved me. At eight weeks the health nurse called. I found a quiet room in our house I locked the door and I told her everything. I cannot thank her enough for listening, letting me say a hard truth and all the follow up phone calls and appointments.

The other thing that saved me happened at pick up for preschool for my daughter.  Morgan one of her wonderful educators came and checked in with me. She said to me “Just so you know we haven’t brought up baby with Helaina. We are waiting for her to talk about him. We are just focusing on her right now and she is doing great.” I cannot tell you how much those words meant to me. They were exactly what I needed to hear. Two wonderful caring educators were looking out for my daughter every morning and focusing on her. Which gave me permission to just focus on my baby.

Ten weeks have passed since that time and I am absolutely in love with my baby. I can’t wait to see his smiles in the morning. He is the happiest little man a parent could ask for. He gains weight like a champ so much so that he is already at four months of age wearing 12 month old clothing. The health nurse informed me on our last visit that he was in the 90th percentile for head circumference, length and weight. So in her words “He is a big baby but he is proportionately big.” I feel absolutely connected to both of my children.InstagramCapture_087684b2-76b5-4623-b048-8d3d6aa641de_jpgI can’t help but think about all those babies in September, all those families defining a new normal for themselves and I wonder were any of them faking it till they made it? If they were I hope we said or did something to help.

If you are struggling with  postpartum depression or anxiety please don’t fake it till you make it. Seek help. Talk to your midwife, doctor and/or health nurse.


A Daughter, a Mother and Educator

20150510_150120I was invited to speak at the Stroller Brigade for Childcare today by the local branch of ECEBC. Below is the speech I gave at the event.

I come to you today as a daughter, a mother, an early childhood educator and a proud member of ECEBC.

As the child of two working parents I can speak first hand  at how child care was an integral family support for my family. Because of childcare both of my parents were able to return to work, provide for our family and be contributing members of the economy.

As a mother I know the struggle to find care for my children with qualified educated educators. I know the disappointment of never getting off the waiting list and having to make hard choices when options run out.

I know the sadness of handing in my resignation because I could not find or afford child care.

As an early childhood educator I have seen how getting a spot can transform a family’s life. How knowing their children are cared for by qualified educators and being able to return to work, can lift a family up.

For these reasons I personally support and endorse the $10 a day child care plan.

Early childhood educators have a specialized education and knowledge about young children. We dedicate our lives to life long learning. We know how to tie shoe laces, we know how to make an ouch feel better. We know how to tell a story with the gusto of an academy award winning actor. We know the complexities of play and understand the learning that happens there, and we know how to push that learning in new directions. We know how to provide and facilitate new learning. We know how to expand on the questions of young children.  We know how to support  families when they are low and down. We know how to give a hug when needed. We know how to say I see you. We know all these things yet many of us, dare I say most of us earn below living wages, receive no benefits and quite often don’t even get sick days. Which seems ridiculous to me as we put ourselves in rooms with 20 children with runny noses every day as our career.

It is for this reason that ECEBC supports the $10 a day childcare plan.  We believe the 10$ a day childcare plan will give living wages to the dedicated educators in our field. It will retain educators in our field. It will boost our economy by allowing more people to go back to work and creating more jobs for early childhood educators. Most importantly though it will acknowledge and invest in our youngest citizens. Thank you.

Some more images from the rally

Celine Beattie and Joanne Gordon speaking to the crowd on the issues facing young parents and early childhood education students.


A group of us standing up for child care
A group of us standing up for child care
Our youngest supporters
Our youngest supporters
The men of childcare


If you want to learn more about the plan please go to the ECEBC website to read more.