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.