Category Archives: Image of The Child

Generous Spirits

I continue to be in awe of the generous spirit of children.

Thomas and Darwin don’t know one another well but have found common interest in moving cars through tubes.

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They line the cars up, drop them through the tube where a waiting transport vehicle moves them.

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But various obstacles emerge, a toddler who wants the cars, a parent who takes the tube, a wandering alligator (a plastic specimen held by another child) who growls and threatens destruction, an adult shushing when Thomas and Darwin revert to vocal defence of the alligator.

To all of this Thomas and Darwin maintain equilibrium, adapting, placating, offering cars to the toddler, inviting the alligator to play,  and finding a train track that will substitute for the absconded tube. No one commends the accommodations made by Thomas and Darwin, in fact the adults seem to expect it.

Would an adult be so generous?

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’….

You’re Too Young to Paint!

“Ohhh no! Come with me, you’re too young to paint! ” A toddler who has been dabbling his fingers in paint is whisked up and away by a parent and plopped down beside some cars.

Parents, grandparents and caregivers routinely move small children away from paint in this drop-in program. Whether it is paint on the table with brushes, paint on the floor or paint at the easel, all are out of bounds for some toddlers. The facilitator of this program would love to have toddlers paint, and has never imposed restrictions about an  appropriate age to paint. In fact there are photos around the room of children, small and big, with paint on their hands, faces and arms. Mess is acceptable here, there is a sink nearby, smocks are available. So why does there seem to be a ‘rule’ about the ‘right ‘ age to paint?

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 Do we think a toddler is going to go wild? Throw paint at the ceiling? Toss a brush at a bystander? Pour it on someone’s head?

 Do we think that because a toddler isn’t making marks on paper that are representational they are

therefore unable to use paint ‘properly’?

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Does making marks with hands or fingers, or pushing the brush around in circles not count as painting?

What role do clothes play? Has keeping clothing clean become a value of childhood?

 Do we think toddlers are not capable of experimenting with texture, colour, brush, paper?

 Do we think toddlers are too young to make their own choices about what materials they would like to explore?

Are toddlers simply not trustworthy?

 Is there too much unpredictability giving paint to a toddler? Does it mean we will lose control?

 When is the right age to paint? Would we ever tell someone they were too old to paint?

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 What are we afraid of?

An Empty Table



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.

Consider this:

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.

A small piece of clay with the impression of a small palm and fingers
A small piece of clay with the impression of a small palm and fingers

 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


Carlina Rinaldi

paint tower

On Being Helpful


paint towerThe paint tower.

Small jars of paint, paper suspended and trailing, chairs and stepladders to reach the highest level, an invitation to extend, experiment and test paint, paper and oneself.


A small boy, perhaps 2 1/2, stands on the floor and sees a jar of paint and  a paintbrush on the very top level of the paint tower. He stretches as tall as he can to grasp the brush, then very slowly lifts it out of the jar.  Every muscle in his body is stretched, and every nerve is tensed  so the brush doesn’t make the paint jar tip over.  His concentration is absolute.


The boy makes two thick black lines on the paper, then stretches again to dip the brush into the paint. He repeats this process, and not once does the paint jar move.


A adult is chatting nearby and glances at the boy as he stretches. The adult says “Let me help you there” and moves the paint jar down to the lower table, and then resumes chatting.


The boy looks at the paint jar now within easy reach, and walks away.

How often are we the ‘helpful’ adult?