Tag Archives: listening

The Clay House

IMG_2236A grandfather sits on a child’s chair, his legs straddled comfortably so he can reach the child size table. He is working with the clay on the table, rolling it, patting and shaping it. He builds a small slab structure, makes a roof, adds details, texture. His grand daughter sits beside him working on her own clay creation. Mostly they are silent, but now and then they share a joke and a smile.

Every day this older gentleman comes to this drop in program. Every day he brings his two grandchildren, sits with them, talks with them, watches them. Occasionally he finds someone who speaks Cantonese who he can chat with, but mostly he remains silent, smiling.

His grandson, perhaps 18 months old, grins as he pushes a small chair around the room. The grandfather keeps an eye on him, but so do the others in the room. A mom offers a steadying hand when the chair begins to tip. The grandfather, still immersed in his clay building doesn’t notice.

The clay house is finished, and the grandfather places it in the centre of the table. I gesture with my camera, a photo? He nods, and I snap a couple of shots. I show him the photos on my camera and we both laugh with pleasure. Later a boy takes up a spray bottle and gently sprays the clay house, watching closely as the mist envelopes the house, making the clay glisten.

No words are spoken in any of these moments, they were unnecessary. The clay, camera, water, adults and children all came together, encountered one another, and spoke in many ways. Just not verbal ways.


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

Chanting and Banging and Shouting

IMG_1658 copySing along….you know the tune…..



Gummy bears are good to be

One is yellow, one is red,

One is blue and one is dead


Gummy bears are good to be


Not lyrics I’m familiar with but to the 4 girls I who were singing it was very familiar. They were sitting outside a coffee shop, swinging their legs and singing. And singing. They sang it about 10 times that I heard, continuing to sing as they walked so that their voices reverberated throughout the street.

I lingered in my walking so I could listen and it made me smile.  The song was silly to be sure, but there was great joy in the voices, I perceived the warmth of friendship, of sharing, of belting out a song communally.

As I walked away I thought about how children seem drawn to communal sound making, or as one sound artist put it, organized noise. How spontaneous chanting can erupt at a snack table, how a chorus of spoon banging can ignite in a second, how one happy shouted phrase can spark a cacophony of shouted phrases.

I thought about how we adults really don’t like the spoon banging and the shouting, how we are tolerant of the chants but usually only when we deem it appropriate.  I thought about how children seem to love the spoon banging and the shouting, that it seems to always be appropriate, no matter the time or the place.

I continued on my walk with the ABC refrain running through my mind, thinking I just might try joining in the chanting and banging and shouting next time. I might be missing out on something good.


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?

Could You Just Stop Talking?


r6 copyWe in ECE are talkers. Yes I know I am making a big swath of a generalization and you can tell me I’m all wrong. But I think I’m right. We are talkers, we like to talk to everyone, big and small, we are story tellers, singers, and humourists. (Danielle and I are finding that ECE’s are wine drinkers as well, but that’s another post)

Don’t get me wrong, I love talking, just ask my husband. And I love working with ECE’s who love talking. We’re trained to talk, ask open ended questions, engage with children and parents, facilitate, negotiate, build relationships, all by talking.

But I think it’s time we thought about not talking. I think it’s time we stopped, looked and listened.

Yesterday an educator was telling me about bikes, a familiar story; lots of kids on lots of tricycles going fast in a fairly small area, a perfect opportunity for an ECE to caution, remind and offer rules of the road. But she didn’t do any of that, she just watched. And you know what happened? Nothing. No crashes. Nothing.

I’m in the pretend hospital, sitting on a small chair in the furthest corner. I’m watching a baby being born, nurses and doctors bustling about.

“Is it feeling good?”  Sara says “Your baby is in danger, your baby is in distress.” She then delivers the baby and hands it to Bria saying “Here she is, here is your baby.” Bria takes the baby, cradles her gently and says “I’m going to name her Cinderella”.

As I watch this scenario I bite my tongue…..over and over. I want to ask why is the baby in danger? What does it mean to be in distress? And why Cinderella?  But what would all those questions accomplish? Do the answers matter? And most importantly, would the conversation have continued if I had interrupted?

Listening to children, really listening, opens up their world to us, allows us a glimpse into how they may think, how they are interpreting what they see around them. We can get clues as to how they make sense of media, of what families and friends do. And we can be filled with wonder to see just how much children know, how they solve problems with great logic. And we can see that each child understands the logic of the other child, it is we who can’t quickly follow why the baby is named Cinderella.

What are we missing when we keep talking?