Tag Archives: listening



jessieThe following post is a guest post from Jessie Gill an Early Childhood professional who practices at Moss Rock Preschool.  Jessie has been an Early Childhood Educator since 2007. She studied at Vanier College in Montreal. She then went on to get her BA in Education and Cultural Anthropology.  She has strong image of the child, educator and Family and we were so happy to have her join our team at Moss Rock Preschool.

A Preschool is a cultural community; one that includes children, families, teachers, and community members. In beginning my new position as Educator at Moss Rock Preschool, my main objectives during the initial weeks was to observe the culture of the group and begin the relationship building process. In my observations of the children and how the group navigates through their morning, I have begun to notice daily patterns occurring, that the children, parents and educators move through with confidence.


I was recently reading a blog written by a particularly reflective Educator that brought to light the distinct difference between routines and rituals within an Early Childhood Environment. We all have routines in our lives that are repetitive and perhaps we go through the motions without giving much thought to what we’re doing. However, Danielle, Morgan and the children of Moss Rock have established some routines that hold significant importance for the group. Despite their apparent simplicity, I argue that they are more than routines, but in actuality special rituals. Coming from a cultural anthropology background, I studied rituals of all kinds but had never really taken the time to notice the incognito rituals that enrich Early Childhood Environments.


Cracker Time at Porter Park

It’s 10am and the group is dispersed around Porter Park, some children play in the spacious sand area, others groupings of children are tucked away in the trees, others stand or crouch a top the mossy rocks. The children appear deeply engaged in their work, their play. Wendy approaches Morgan in the sandpit area and asks, “Is it cracker time? Cuz I’m hungry!” Morgan replies with enthusiasm, “Yes yes yes!” The two of them head over to the coniferous tree that is our gathering place at various times throughout the morning. Wendy announces “CRACKER TIME” with gusto. The message of cracker time is passed amongst the group and children flock to the big tree. Circling around the educator, eager anticipation can be seen on the children’s faces. Morgan retrieves the crackers from the backpack and hands out crackers to the children, acknowledging each child as they are crowshanded a cracker “one for Rory, one for Polly, one for Gerta” and so on. Our park cohabitants, the crows, swoop to lower branches in anticipation of fallen crackers. The children munch on their snack and some notice and comment on the crows behaviour. As crackers are finished, the group naturally returns to play.


Rituals don’t have to be complex, but they must offer a sense of belonging and predictability to the children. Cracker Time can be initiated by any group member, however all participants have active and important roles. I wonder if Cracker Time would exhibit the same message of care and group belonging if the children didn’t gather all together under the same tree each day, or if the Educator didn’t acknowledge the children as the snack was handed out. From my point of view, this ritual provides children with more than a daily snack. It is a ritual that the group collectively looks forward to, where the children willingly break from their play to spend a moment gathered together with other members of their community. It is more than a routine; it is a daily ritual that holds value for the children and Educators of Moss Rock Preschool.



The Good, The Bad, The Mindful and The Self-Regulated

IMG_7269Sometimes when I have a few minutes free to myself I like to peruse the parenting or education section of bookstores to see what is being shared. My last visit to the bookstore the shelves were inundated with books with mindful, present, self-regulated in their titles. I was bothered.

I was at a professional lunch not long after when a colleague said “I just want the children to be more mindful.” As the word mindful slipped out of her lips I felt an inner cringe occurring deep within me. I was rejecting this word.

A week later I found myself facilitating a professional group discussion on practice. The word mindful came up several times in our conversations.  As the word came up again and again I could feel my body rejecting the word, cringing at its use. I wanted to interject into their conversation and ask “What does it mean to be mindful?” I knew though I may use a judgemental tone in that moment that wouldn’t convey a desire to understand but more a desire to reject that word. So I listened to their thoughts on it, as well as my own body and thoughts. What was it about this word that upset me?

What does mindful mean?  When I looked it up Mindful was defined as being conscious or aware of something. I have watched children consciously kick or bite someone. Would people label that behaviour as mindful? Probably not. To me it feels like mindful is another way to label a child. Being a mindful or self-regulated child is just another way of telling them they are a good child.  Telling parents they are not mindful or present parents is just another way of saying they are bad parents. Who decides who is mindful and who is not? Who decides how much being present makes you a good parent?

We as educators know it is wrong to label people as good or bad. We know that we internalize these labels and no longer see our choices as good or bad choices but ourselves as good or bad people. We know this but yet we still struggle not to label a child or parent. These words mindful, present, self-regulated, etc… are still labels no matter how enlightened they are.

I think all children are mindful. I think they are very aware of the choices they make good or bad. I also think parents are some of the most mindful people I know revisiting and examining  every choice they make as parents. I also think all children have the ability to self-regulate, I think we as a society just don’t like it when their way of regulating feels like chaos. I believe language has power, it’s probably one of the most powerful things I have as an educator. Words like mindful and self-regulated are not used in my practice because it requires me to make a judgement about someone and that is not my job.


Interesting People

IMG_3114 copyI am visiting a child care setting and am lucky enough to be invited on a forest walk on a cold icy day.  Emma looks at me steadily “Where did you come from?” she asks. I answer that I am a visitor and will be coming weekly. She walks beside me and begins to talk:

“Do you want some ice? I found this for you.  Do you need a stick? You could have this stick. Do you want to make a hole in the ice? You pound a stick like this. Come with me, pound right here. I have another piece of ice for you.  Can I hold your hand?  Want to have lunch with us? I could give you some of my lunch.”

Emma stayed by my side for the rest of the walk, chatting easily. Milo joined us, took my other hand and solemnly declared that all animals and all people poo and pee. All of them. He described how he did a little dance when he had to pee but couldn’t get to a toilet, and we all laughed and did the ‘pee pee dance”. We continued to walk and talk and laugh until we arrived back at the school.

Sometimes in our writing, thinking, philosophizing, and planning I think we may forget that the best thing about being with kids is talking with them. Shooting the breeze. Just listening and chatting and laughing.

The fact is we adults spend a lot of time talking to kids, directing, instructing, cautioning, marshalling. We listen, but sometimes it’s a polite gesture, we smile and move on. On that walk I had the chance to have a long and interesting conversation, meandering through topics, getting to know two very interesting people.

I left that visit happy, and I smiled the rest of the day. I was blindsided by the kindness of two children I didn’t know who took me by the hand and welcomed me into their group.  They reminded about what is important; enjoying the company of interesting people.

The Dead Duck

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So yes that’s a picture of a dead duck. A duck the children found on the beach. A duck I tried to keep them away from. A duck I was worried little fingers would poke. As I tried to usher the children away from this duck a child stood their ground and said “But we have to do something. We can’t just leave him here!”

“Well what do you think we should do?” I asked.

“We should put him in the Ocean.” I was told.

“Well okay.” I said “But I am not touching it so we need to find a long flat piece of wood.”

The children searched the beach for the right piece of wood. It was found rather quickly and I slid the duck (without touching it) onto the long flat log. We walked it down to the water’s edge. I had visions of sending the duck off in a Viking style funeral sailing it out on his wooden pyre. (there would be no fire in this ceremony though) It would be a more sailing off into the sunset type funeral.  I place the log on the water and hold one end.

“Should we say something?” I ask.

“Goodbye dead duck. We will miss you.” Says a little girl.

As I go to launch the duck into his last sail across the sea, he falls off and I am left with his body lapping in the waves by the shore. I was always taught to be respectful of the dead creatures we find. So as I try to push him out to sea with my failed pyre I find myself apologizing to the duck.

Finally the duck starts to drift out to sea. The children are wishing him well. “Go to the sunset.” one little girl yells to him.

WP_20131011_009 (768x1024) Eventually the children and I walk up to the driftwood where we were first playing.  The children start talking about death and the duck.

I ask “What does it mean when you die?”

“You never see them again.” says a little boy.

I listen as they talk about death with such honesty. I am moved by their openness to discuss it. I have had a year full of death. I have had to say goodbye more times then I cared too this year. With all this death I had been witness to I had never once engaged in such an honest and philosophical conversation. As I listened I could actually feel a swelling of emotion. There I was on a beach trying not to cry over a dead duck.

A young boy comes up to me, puts his hand on my shoulder and says “Danielle its okay.” And I brace myself for it, that big truth this child is going to share with me. “There are lots of ducks out there.” he says.



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’….