An empty table. Not what we usually consider part of our morning set up in early years settings. We in ECE have the habit of setting out a lot of stuff. We spend our early morning getting out materials, arranging paint, glue, paper, putting the playdough out with some enticing tools. An empty table signifies a lack of planning, a lack of time, maybe a lack of interest. An empty table means we haven’t done our job.
But maybe the empty table needs to be reconsidered. Maybe an empty table is an invitation. Maybe an empty table opens up a space for us to listen.
I am visiting a drop in program for young children and caregivers. Most of the families come with some regularity and are familiar with the program and materials. On this morning an empty table sits at the back of the room. Eleven month old Cate goes over to it and pulls herself into a chair. She puts her hand on the table and begins moving her palm slowly in tiny circles. She sit there silently, just making tiny circles. The educator watches her, and then moves quickly to a shelf and brings out the clay. Cate and her caregiver settle down with it and Cate smiles as she moves her palm in circles in the clay.
The educator told me later that she knew Cate was asking for clay by the movement of her palm, that Cate often made this motion as she worked with clay.
An empty table became a place for a small child to make a request, to be heard. This child knew she was a valued member of the drop in community whose interests would be respected and listened to, who could contribute to shaping the curriculum.
Listening means the capacity to respect others, to take
them out of anonymity, to give them visibility, enriching
both those who listen and those who produce the