Avoiding the “Shoulds”

IMG_1245Aidan sat at a small table in the house area with a doll and basket of doll clothes. He selected a small shirt and began fitting it over the doll’s head, concentrating hard, his tongue slightly protruding from between his teeth. It took experimentation, trial and error, but Aidan managed to get the doll’s head through the neck hole and the arms into the sleeves. He smiled, removed the shirt, chose a sleeper and began the process of fitting again. He found a headband that fit the dolls head, then a jacket. All the while Aidan worked silently, with intensity and focus, and no one paid him much mind.  A lovely example of a boy in the house area dressing a doll, playing ‘dad’.

Or is it?

I thought about how Aidan held the doll and the clothes, how he chose particular pieces of clothing from the basket and I began to see other possibilities. I thought about Aidan’s way of manipulating other objects and materials in this child care space, how he arranged objects in rows, fit items one inside the other, stacked things. As I considered all this it dawned on me that Aidan was not ‘playing dad’, he wasn’t ‘dressing a baby’. Rather he was experimenting with the mechanics of how objects fit together. How does a round hole in fabric, fit over a round plastic shape, the doll’s head? How do plastic arms fit into narrow cloth sleeves? How can the tension of the fabric change and accommodate the plastic body of the doll? The questions of fabric and plastic, and what they can do together, how they resist, pull, stretch, and slide are intriguing and endless.

The objects that Aidan was using suggested a particular way of seeing, a particular narrative of ‘house’ and ‘dad’ and ‘baby’. I observed Aidan interacting with the doll and clothes and assumed a narrative of ‘dressing a baby’. My assumption of ‘dressing a baby’ limited what I saw.

How often do we assume a particular narrative based on our assumptions?  How often do we limit other possibilities by not attending to different ways of seeing?

What if I had commented to Aidan “You are taking good care of that baby” or “Now that baby has pyjamas on, are you going to put it to bed?” With such comments would I have been imposing my idea of what ‘should’ happen in the house area, how materials found there ‘should’ be used, how an identity as ‘dad’ and ‘baby’ ‘should’ be played in the house area?  Would Aidan have felt he could continue his experiments with the mechanics of plastic and fabric, or would he have understood his experiments as not the right way to use a doll?

I am going to be listening and observing more, questioning my assumptions……trying to avoid the ‘shoulds’….

About Kim

Kim is an admitted ECE geek. She and Danielle have bonded over their shared geekdom and have come to terms with it. She is a pedagogical facilitator working with educators in a number of early learning settings supporting and extending new thinking and practice. She loves reading, writing, talking and sharing ideas about the potentials of teaching and learning with ece's and young children. ECE geeks unite!

2 thoughts on “Avoiding the “Shoulds”

  1. Hi Kim–this is a really interesting perspective. So how would you have approached a conversation regarding this? I, too, would have gone the route of playing house, being dad, and so on, so I’m curious how to expand on something that might be less obvious. Is it as simple as keeping questions open-ended, or would you have made more specific observations about what he was doing (rather than statements about what you think he was doing)? Love the way this site expands my thinking in these areas–thanks!!

  2. Hi Michelle, great question! I don’t have a specific answer except that I am trying to observe more and talk less. I find that as ECE’s we tend to talk a lot and we expect children to ‘explain’ or tell us what they are doing. Sometimes I think these conversations might limit what a child does as he/she can’t or doesn’t want to talk about it. By observing without dialogue we might see more, paying attention to body language, facial expression, hands. Using a camera to record what we see is another amazing way to revisit a moment with a colleague, the child’s parent and the child as well. In this way we might gain more ideas of what the child might have been doing or thinking. I also think paying attention to the traditional discourses about materials and how we expect them to be used is interesting, we see a train and think only train, but do children see it that way?
    Thanks for your comment, let me know if this sparks any more thinking for you!

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