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More than ever, we need to communicate
Last week, we received a very thoughtful greeting from Dr. Jacqui Cousins, who'd been browsing our Diary articles, and she's kindly agreed for us to share it.
"In the year 2015 should we really need to explain why young children have many different voices and need to play to develop at a very variable and individual pace? They need to be given ample time and opportunities to find their own confident voices ... we need to guide them creatively and thoughtfully so that the foundations for their life long learning are firmly set. In a Refocus Journal article 'On an education for being' written seven years ago, I quoted Ghandi who emphasised the need for adults to give children a good start in life because 'children are the change!' In our very troubled world it has become increasingly clear how we adults need to link even more with each other in order to be able to solve some of the problems. The Sightlines Movement and all your creative time and energy is very important in that process. Have a very Happy Christmas, Robin, and all at Sightlines!"
Her full reflection follows:
Since we met at the last of our 'What Matters to Children' gatherings in London we have all had to contend with and navigate a senseless tests and targets education system. Now we have the threatened imposition of ridiculous baseline testing! In our own way, we have managed to keep our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds firmly on the holistic development and active play and learning of our youngest children. Somehow we have managed to put vision into action but the cuts and speed of change has made it difficult for many in our profession to be given the proper support and on-going in-service they need. This has become evident in so many of their reflective evaluations at my recent Conferences. Those who work in settings where they are at odds with 'the system' and cannot connect in principles or in practice with other senior staff to "get children ready to read!"…..are finding it difficult to keep going or move to new more compatible schools. For many, their former LEAs and University support networks, all inter-agency or 'play- worker' or arts groups have ceased to exist. There is a gaping hole for them and for all of us who really care and want to share our positive ways of working with young children as they develop and learn.
To listen and give support more effectively and boost my own morale while raising funds and awareness about the youngest Syrian refugees with WARchild, I have been making more connections with very experienced Early Years people. Most significant have been the two years spent in guiding the Elinor Goldschmied Froebel Archive Project. Rather than give any detail, the Froebel Trust's and University of Roehampton's DVD and booklet Discovered Treasure explains it all. While working on that project I linked locally here in Totnes and Dartington with the Steiner Kindergarten and our 'Rainbow' and 'Daisy' Play Centres. Many staff and elders had been to and had been influenced by the Exeter '100 Language Exhibition' of Reggio Emilia. I also read two current books on 'Child Observation' written by my friends and mentors Professors Mary Jane Drummond and Tina Bruce. With that confirmation of my way of being and doing I could hardly wait to get back to my local settings and take part in some proper child watching as an 'elder' myself!
With the freedom to choose who to give my time and energy I have seen in practice many of the early childhood principles which underpin my thinking and still guide my actions on behalf of young children. I also discovered common ways for everyone 'to be.' In each setting they paid attention to holistic development and (in particular) to the emotions, the feelings and the spirits of the children. They also shared food for their bodies and minds and took care of themselves. They had time to encourage respectful relationships and actively include families. Time to be truly democratic by facilitating the freedom of speech and rights of children to play and express themselves in any way they chose. Time to listen and observe the children and to reflect together and truly share.
One of the 'elders' who like me also volunteers her help, told me about her inspirational visit to Reggio Emilia in Italy. She waxed lyrical about the practice there and how she became more confident in her setting to ensure her children enjoyed that kind of early childhood experience. As she spoke with such enthusiasm, I thought about all those Early Years people at recent Conferences who are struggling or (as one wrote) I feel I am abusing our youngest children!
That is totally unacceptable! If our system of education is having that effect on people who really do care, we elders have to find ways to connect more with each other and not be unwitting rivals. For far too long, our early childhood associations have not communicated enough or connected with each other. They may have had to compete for their funds or become politically motivated even when most of the finer points in their principles and practice have matched they became rivals.
We now need to give a stronger voice to those who are able to negotiate and navigate this damaging system through their own creativity, professional knowledge, long experience and commitment to our children. We need to help them to share their excellent practice and take advantage of golden opportunities and blow their own trumpets more on television and with celebratory Exhibitions! Why not begin at Eton where their 'new' thinking Head is taking more scholarship pupils from disadvantaged communities who he believes add another dimension to discussions and are very capable of becoming our future Prime Minister! The media shapes the mind but we need to guide and show them other ways!
More than ever, we need to communicate about the excellence of our observational and active listening skills. This is no easy task when "them-up-there!" still have little understanding of why all children have a right to develop holistically and healthily as they play. We too need time to support that development without giving the children, their families and their educators any sense of failure. On that subject, I will always remember a troubled and totally silent Thomas who came from Wales to live in Totnes. Aged 7 he came regularly to the 'therapeutic' pottery workshops I held in Noel's studio. Thomas always thumped the clay on his table to get rid of all the air but a wise Noel said it helped him to express his feelings without any pressure to use words. Thomas found his emotions very difficult to manage but had learnt how to release his anger without hurting anybody else. In a very confident and calm voice one Saturday he proudly announced…."……thumping clay is good….I feel MUCH better….let's make dragons! ….I can't go wrong with dragons!"
In the year 2015 should we really need to explain why young children have many different voices and need to play to develop at a very variable and individual pace? They need to be given ample time and opportunities to find their own confident voices just as Thomas found his. As the children's guardians we need to guide them creatively and thoughtfully so that the foundations for their life long learning are firmly set. In a Refocus Journal article 'On an education for being' written seven years ago, I quoted Ghandi who emphasised the need for adults to give children a good start in life because 'children are the change!' In our very troubled world it has become increasingly clear how we adults need to link even more with each other in order to be able to solve some of the problems. The Sightlines Movement and all your creative time and energy is very important in that process.
Have a very Happy Christmas, Robin, and all at Sightlines! Please come back refreshed to face all the challenges and find even more creative ways through these troubles for all our children in 2016!"