Tag Archives: meaning



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.


Picture 1

I Confess….

True confession: I can’t stand Show and Tell.

There, I’ve said it. I can’t abide the whole thing. It takes a lot of time, mostly it’s only fun for the kid showing and telling, the rest of us just get fidgety.

But I can see the value, the stuff kids bring is important to them. And I see the value of having the chance to speak in front of a group. So what to do?

In my visit to the Portland Art Museum I saw an idea, an installation, an invitation to share, called Object Stories. The museum has invited people to bring an object that is meaningful to them and tell their story in a video booth. These stories are then available to view in an interactive display.

 Show and Tell for adults?

 More or less. But without the fidgeting.

 By putting ordinary things and the public at the center of its inquiry, and calling attention to the things we overlook in our lives, Object Stories ruminates on the ways objects make us as fully as we make objects, and the myriad ways objects speak to and shape who we are—our ideas, emotions, values, relationships, and aesthetics. 

 Portland Art Museum

 I think there is something we can take from this in our work with kids…..how can we think about objects and their meanings in different ways, more interesting ways?  What if we re-named show and tell Object Stories and filmed it? Or each child dictated an object story? Or made an audio recording?  How could parents be invited into the stories? How could educators share their stories?

And I’d never have to fidget through show and tell again…..

Picture 1

Hope For Education

Today’s typical classrooms do not reflect the outside world. If you placed a physician of 100 years ago into today’s operating room, she would be lost. However, if you place a teacher of 100 years ago into today’s classroom, he wouldn’t skip a beat.   Trish McNabb

Danielle and I talk frequently about schools as a political place, a place that reflects the values of a society. We reflect on the spaces that house childcare; basements, church halls, portables; places that not many others want. I tell the tale of my 30 years as an ECE in which I have never worked in a space that was purpose built, how I’ve had my fair share of silverfish (those tiny fish shaped insects….ugh!) invading all cupboards and drawers.  Schools fare somewhat better, but still reflect the above quote.  The teacher from 100 years ago would have no trouble identifying the classroom of today.

But here is an astounding exception.

Danielle and I were honoured to be invited to the Peace River North school district in BC to present to kindergarten teachers and ECE’s. We engaged in wonderful dialogue and reflection, had thoughtful discussion, great food, a snowstorm and a delayed flight.

We were also treated to a tour of the Energetic Learning Campus, a brilliant new satellite school for grade 10 students that defies traditional thinking. Look closely at the photo. The lockers? They all move. The tables and  chairs? They all move. The cool benches and low tables? They move too. The walls? Yup….they all move. The philosophy is revolutionary:

The ELC will foster student engagement by knowing students well, tapping into student experience and interests, and building a strong sense of community through an advisory program. All of the teachers will have shared preparation time where they will have the chance to reflect on and refine their day-to-day practice. This weekly shared-time will provide the occasion for powerful and productive discussion of the issues and needs that teachers identify in their work. 

Here is further food for thought;

I believe that if schools fail, kids lose and therefore society tends to stick to the safe ideas and traditional schooling, knowing the outcomes may not be amazing, but they are predictably mediocre at worst. I realize change is a difficult journey but to take education to the next level it is going to be hard. However, “difficult” or “hard” is no reason not to change.   Trish McNabb

Can we argue with that? Not likely. How about this?

For over 75 years the North American high school has followed three critical “operating instructions” that are so ingrained in the culture by now as to seem natural:

•    Segregate students by class, race, gender, language ability, or perceived academic ability.
•    Separate academic from technical teaching and learning.
•    Isolate adolescents from the adult world they are about to enter. 

Sheldon Steele 

 This is all about high school kids, but don’t these issues resonate for early childhood? Don’t we believe all areas of learning are overlapping, that one “subject” cannot be” taught” in isolation? That we fail to engage children in discussions of the real world? That class, gender and race still impact our programs?

It was wonderful to see a school district intent on exploding the myths of education.

Theories of representation

Batteries in the Swing and Other Theories

I give 3 year old Diana a push on the swing, then step away. She sits contentedly, letting the swing move her back and forth, up and down.

She says ” The batteries are working”.

“Batteries?” I say, “What batteries?”

“The batteries in the swing” Diana replies.

“There are batteries in the swing?” I ask

“Yes” says Diana confidently. “That’s how the swing keeps moving”.

 Cute, creative? Sure. But as an educator what is our responsibility to this child? Diana has conceptualized that things do not move without something making them move. Putting together her understanding of how things work, she has produced an idea to explain the movement of the swing. By connecting what she knows, what she sees, what she has heard, and Diana has constructed a new and  innovative theory.

Carlina Rinaldi says: “Can a three or four month old child develop theories?  I like to think so because I feel that this conviction can lead to a different approach …to the concepts of listening and relational creativity.”


She continues by outlining two kinds of schools:

“On the one hand, there are schools that do not listen ….because they have a curriculum to follow and the try to correct ‘mistakes’ immediately, to provide quick solutions to a problem and not give children the time to find their own solutions. On the other hand, there are schools that believe it is right and proper to listen more attentively and propose other opportunities where (children) could continue to  pursue their own research….”

I know what kind of school I’d like to be in.

IMG_3990 copy

When Play Isn’t Nice


Kristen and Alice are packing up a plastic grocery cart. Dolls, blankets and baskets are crammed into the cart and a cash register is balancing precariously on top. A suitcase is stuffed full of food, a cat is in it’s crate and these, along with phones, chairs, and keyboards are carried to the other end of the room and arranged neatly on a carpet. “Where are you going?” I ask. “To rescue Grandma, she’s trapped in a cave” is the response.

A few moments later Grandma has been saved, but now the girls shriek “A fire is coming!! The babies will burn!’ They frantically shout into the phone  ” Come and save us, the fire is coming! The babies will die!” but the fire continues to threaten. They rush around moving babies from place to place. Suddenly Kristen announces “An invisible shield! An invisible shield is here and will protect us!”  All is well.

On the other side of the room some boys are fighting off the bad guys and dragging other children to jail. The children being dragged to jail protest, but the boys are insistent causing tempers to flare.  Another group is attempting to use a remote control to drop fire on top of the dramatic play area, much to the dismay of the children playing there.

I am intrigued by the common theme of danger or evil that often infuses children’s play. As children fight for survival, rescue each other or the babies, defend themselves, it seems they are exploring power, courage and good and evil. But they also exclude, try to ‘put fire’ on each other, steal, spy, sneak and  plot against one another.

I have been considering what we as adults think play should look like, our expectations. I think we want play to be ‘nice’.  We want everyone to be happy and all of us to be  friends. Play should be fun and fun is pleasant, cheerful.

But we know from our experience that play is not always nice, that it can be unsettling to us, that children can be unkind, and will explore ideas we might find difficult, such as violence and discrimination. When kids put the baby doll in the oven, or shout that Johnny can’t come in the block area because he’s mean we admonish them for ‘not being nice’.

While I’m all for talking to kids about kindness, empathy and thinking about how Johnny might feel about being called mean, I also want to acknowledge that kids know about the ‘not nice’ parts of our world. They know injustice, unkindness, and evil exist and they need to explore these difficult issues just as much as we as adults do.  For us to want play to be ‘nice’  is to ignore the fact that children see that the world is not always nice.

If we are  in a relationship with a child I think we have a responsibility to engage with the ideas that children bring to us, even the not nice ones.

Children are able to bring new thinking to their explorations when they play with others, when they think together in play. …It is more complex than we imagine, I believe. We cannot be young in this particular time and at this unique point in history and thus there are aspects of children’s thinking that will  always remain a mystery. We should remain humble in the face of children’s extraordinary explorations of life and all the possible relationships with it. 

Enid Elliot