This is a re-write of a post from February 2011. A lot has happened since then, but the post concisely summarizes my basic view of children that has developed over time---and deserves a little update.
I would like to explain the picture I chose for my profile. The picture
does not speak directly to sand and water tables, but rather to my view of
children. That in turn, influences my practice which includes building
apparatus for the sensory table.
This picture was taken in 2008 in a park in Los Banos, Peru. Los Banos
is famous in Peru for its thermal baths that were used by the Incas. The baths are a short ride by combi from
the city of Cajamarca in the
Northern Highlands of Peru. My daughter was living and working in Cajamarca at the time, so I went to visit her. My daughter worked for a
non-profit organization that gave mircroloans to women. On this
particular day I accompanied her to one of her meetings with the women with whom she worked. As she was talking with one of the women in the park after the meeting, I
noticed the woman's two children playing. Before long, they were
bringing me flowers.
So why the picture? It has to do with connecting with and respecting children for who they are.
It began when the children noticed that I was watching them. Children
are always looking to make connections and form relationships. They
reciprocated immediately. It was then my turn to reciprocate. By the
way, often times it works in reverse: a child initiates and I reciprocate.
There are two things to notice about the picture. First, I was down on
their level. There is really no other way to understand the children's perspective of the world. A colleague once related a story of a
little girl who kept telling the teacher to look at the bunny in the
snow. The teacher could not see it no matter how hard she tried. The
child was insistent and finally the teacher bent down to see what the child was pointing at. It was only then she saw what the child saw: the snow had
drifted into the shape of a rabbit. The teacher was so intent on seeing a real rabbit hiding in the bushes that she could not even imagine anything else until she looked from the child's physical perspective. The world from a child's perspective is full of surprise and wonders. How often do we miss those surprises and wonders because we do not take time to get down on their level? How often do we fail to show respect for the children by not validating their perspective?
The second thing to notice is that we were focused on each
other. Our actions were our shared language even without words. That was
doubly true in this instance because I did not speak Spanish and they did not speak English. All our communication was non verbal. There was no script to
our interactions, so we made it up as we went along. We were living in
the moment: both sides initiating and responding; both sides reading
each other's cues.
When I build an apparatus for the sensory table, I use it as a
provocation to prompt a dialogue. For the most part, I am interested in the dialogue between the children and the materials. Ideally, the apparatus is inviting and rich in possibilities. There is no script to follow. Rather, the children bring
their own set of abilities, interests and ideas to the
table---literally. My job is to notice. In noticing and recognizing the context of their interactions, I, myself enter the dialogue. For the most part, I am not playing with them or the apparatus; I do not try to guide or direct their explorations. Rather, I am there to bear witness to their ideas in action; I am there to understand their perspective and all the surprises and wonders that ensue; I am there to show how much I respect their thinking. Though I am always trying to put words to what children are doing, I can't stress enough how much the reciprocal dialogues depend more on actions than on words.
One last point about what the picture says to me. The act of giving
flowers is an excellent metaphor for the beauty all children have to
offer if we are primed to notice their cues, prepared to receive them,
and ready to reciprocate in kind.
And, if we are able to take their perspective, we are more likely to appreciate and value that beauty.
This is a blog for early childhood teachers looking for ways to expand and enrich play and learning in and around their sand and water tables with easy-to-make, low-cost apparatus. It may also be of interest for anyone who appreciates children's messy play.
- Tom Bedard
- Early childhood education has been my life for over 40 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
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