My daughter in a bubble.

The Bubble

My daughter in a bubble.
My daughter in a bubble.

The bubble is wonderful, it’s a place where children are respected, curriculum is built around the children and educators interests and families are welcomed in as equal partners in learning. In the bubble you never see product oriented art, children don’t stand in lines, children aren’t shushed for speaking, expected to sit quietly or told that they can’t go to the bathroom. In this bubble we spend our days being inspired by the children, educators and families we work with. The Bubble.is.a.great.place!

I lived in the bubble for years. I was happy in the bubble.

Then I came out of the bubble. I saw educators doing product oriented art with infants and toddlers. I saw them using the hand over hand method to make sure the googly eyes went in the “right” spot. I saw children sitting in circles, crisscross applesauce, with their mouths closed listening to long winded circle times. I saw classroom spaces where the visual clutter was so overwhelming I wanted to run. I saw young children being described as having behaviour problems because they could not sit still for circle, did not want to do art and told the adults in their lives this very loudly and firmly.  I wanted back in the bubble. I couldn’t go back into the bubble though, if this is what children, families and educators are being subjected to. I wanted to change this! Not wanted, needed to change this.

When I was first confronted with this outside the bubble practice, I realized the best way to affect change was to inspire, not to preach, not to judge but to share. Share ways in which my practice changed, to share the ups and downs of my pedagogy of listening and relationships, my stories of building curriculum around children’s interests, designing spaces that invited children, parents and educators to think together, spaces that created community and spaces of beauty deserving of children and their wonderful ideas.

Living outside the bubble is hard. I can’t log onto Pinterest or Facebook without seeing questionable practice. Things that make me ask “Is this still a thing?” So today  I find that I may need to get up on my soap box and preach.

“If you have to hold a child’s hand and move it for them please do not call the activity you are doing art! Call it what it is a Pinterest fail, a craptivity, a so called parent pleaser.”

               “If you tell a child no when they ask to go to the bathroom, you are contributing to a larger problem. Although it may seem like a small thing. You are essentially telling a child they don’t know their own body and that its okay for someone else to call the shots on its functions. Do you see what I am getting at?”

               ”If you have so much stuff on your walls that you forget what colour your walls are, you may have a problem.”

Look I hate preaching but I am tired. I am tired of seeing children being disrespected and controlled. Compliance isn’t the goal. I am tired of seeing outdated practices being touted as good programming. It’s just not. I did my education twenty years ago and it wasn’t good practice then, it certainly isn’t good practice now. I understand the pressure, trust me I do but instead of giving into it we must advocate for the practice we were educated to deliver.

I am going back to my bubble now. I am tired.

Struggling in the Gulley ….. Thoughts on Rescuing

 

William copy

I am standing in the forest on the top of a small mossy mound which drops away at my feet into gullies, undulating pathways and slopes covered in salal.  Twelve small children roam this place, stomping in the mud, crawling up steep inclines, running down hills. The educators are spread out, so the children can wander freely.

On this day William, who is one and a half, descends into a small gulley that is thick with branches and salal bushes. He pushes through them to the centre of the gulley and is completely engulfed, all I can see of him is the top of his blue touque. He sits contentedly for some time, then gets up to leave….but that is easier said than done. The branches are dense and obscure his way, and he cries out ‘help!’. Mirella who is standing on a nearby knoll hears him and responds kindly, “William, are you stuck? Can you get out?” She encourages him, but doesn’t move from her vantage point. William calls out again, and again she responds with kind words of encouragement, but she doesn’t move towards him. After a few more minutes and few more exchanges, William has made no progress and is calling ‘help’ more insistently. Mirella  goes to where William is stuck, and lifts a branch, talking with him, but remains a few feet away.  William struggles, the branches catch at him and the ground is uneven making it hard to remain balanced. With fierce concentration William pushes the last of the branches away and emerges from the gully on his own.

Once free, William circles around, back up a path….and descends into the gulley once more.

The educators in this program have been reflecting on their role, the competencies of children and what learning means to them and to children. They have been thinking about the deep joy and satisfaction that comes from working through a challenge, struggling to achieve a goal. They know these children well, and believe them to be capable of roaming over a large area, picking themselves up if they fall, and negotiating a difficult climb. They do not feel the need to ‘rescue’ children, instead they watch, listen and allow time and space for children to struggle, grapple, and persevere.

William sat in the gulley for a while, enjoying the solitude. Then he climbed out…by himself.

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!

Why?

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.)