Childhood Advocate

I consider myself an advocate of childhood. I’ve been personally involved in pedagogy for only just about 2 years now (preschool age), but I have delved in and been swallowed by “the black hole of love,” as a fellow early childhood once put it.

Since I am a big kid myself, I know how to relate, I listen, I play, I help, I offer a peaceful, patient and understanding form of guidance. And I deeply believe that kids are my buddies. I have gotten rid of my “hot buttons” and see the whole child. I do not develop favorites, but develop deep appreciation of each of my students. Appreciation for the child that is, and the grown-up that will be.

Children need to be acknowledged, need to be given chances, need to be invested in with your time and attention. They need to be encouraged to love one another, and I believe in encourage them to greet, respect and care for one another fondly and meaningfully. Our young pupils should be encouraged to be friendly and build relationships with their peers, no matter their age or… no matter anything. Friendship is a skill that must be shown by example (through teachers, puppets, general and continual kindness) and nurtured.

I also truly believe in making the child feel important and wanted, loved and welcomed. But one must also balance that with a sense of responsibility, a good work ethic, and a balance of fun and not fun or not preferred things – e.g., cleaning, organizing, learning to love raw spinach.

I believe in positive deposits into their mind banks. I believe in less No’s and more set ups of expectations, goals, and given the right balance of support and freedom to let them explore and meet these goals. They will do what is right in the end.

The photo above captures the essence of my philosophy: kids using tools (with proper supervision, of course), working together with natural items, discovering new things, solving problems, barefoot, working on something yet given free range. Here, they have locked in, and are trying to remove the bark from the stumps to make stools. They found bugs, celebrated when they removed pieces of all shapes and sizes, helped each other, and loved using the tools. You see a boy in a dress and a girl in a costume. You see they are outside. You see they are using fine and large motor. You see humans growing.

This was at a child care that I worked at, and I wish for the kids to remain anonymous. These are my buddies, and I learned from them probably more than they learned from me.

What I loved about this child care center was their play-based philosophy. The days were long, but they flew by since so much time was spent playing, and this is how children learn. They had a very flowing rhythm at that center.

When kids are given free range to play, with loving supervision, guidance and good resources, they are more mellow, and they learn in such a huge, deep and impactful way. They seem to make more meaningful choices, compared with kids who are only given 15-20 mins to play (I see that a lot, and it is troubling).

What I disliked about this center and what ultimately made me leave, was the (lack of) pay. I was often stressed and often cried (deep cries) about my horrid financial situation. I had to borrow money from my parents, often. I had to leave. I told them I couldn’t afford to work there, and instead of offering more pay to help and wanting me to stay, they basically just said, “aww.” So I left. I am grateful for their experience and they did pay me for my time putting together their new websites.

Another thing, they were very wary about exposing too much nature. They had a garden, which was fantastic, but that was the extent of it. I really think kids need to explore more, in an open format, with lots of time to learn and look and listen.

Now I am subbing in the public school system. All grades, all subjects. I love the variety of my days, and though the public institution can be stifling and rigid, I am learning a lot and want to get back into preschool, because I can see that so many problems can be addressed within that brilliant preschool time frame.

The other day, I had the opportunity to sub at a local preschool. They were the only full-day, 5-day-a-week program in the building*, and two teachers were out that day, so there was one paraeducator and us two subs. The plans were easy, and since we had the whole school to ourselves, we could be outside for an hour, or more. What glee! Thank god, I thought, after being inside in one room for a few hours in the morning… kids start to build up an energy that can only be expelled outside.

*(Note – I don’t understand how families manage to have their young one in a 4-day a week half day program, but many do.)

Now, I’ve subbed for this school before, and usually the kids only have about 20 mins of play on the playground, and they go full blast the entire time. This time, we brought out balls, trikes, scooters, a kid friendly “rocket” w/pump and chalk. I noticed how the kids went full blast, running around like wild, cooped up kids (as expected) but AFTER 20 minutes, they lightened up, got into a more even-tempered pace and rhythm. Even the “notorious” boy became a sweet, centered child. I ran around on the grass after a ball with  few of them, then sat by a tree with them, picking out seeds from fallen poinsettia pods, looking in the grass for little treasures such as more seeds and tiny pebbles. I told them how I will take some seeds home to plant them, and one boy said it will grow into a big tree! I said yes. They were so absorbed, it was so lovely, we totally forgot about the chilly wind and the passing time. Soon we had to go in. But my heart was set.

Early childhood education is CRUCIAL to society and it is a crucial investment. There are studies on why it should be invested in. It creates better, more stable adults. Yet, good, caring, qualified teachers are necessary. Livable salaries are necessary. There is huge turnover because as much as it is a labor of love, it is just not realistic nor MORAL to pay someone who is qualified/working towards qualifications a salary that does not meet the basic needs of that person.

Luckily, I have tapped into a network of pedagogical educators and have learned so much. I am so grateful. The main message is compassion, acceptance and social-emotional development. Can you believe that expelling preschool aged kids has become a common practice? This has to be done away with. We need to learn to help kids with their emotions, not stifle them, not throw them out. It should be team effort. And I truly believe that by letting kids play with each other and in nature, they can calm down and learn symbiosis, learn complimentary biology, learn the balance of natural systems. Perhaps this is what they crave.

We are a privileged society. Many people get to choose where our kids can go. But many don’t have access to good education, facilities and educators. These are the ones who need it most. I have worked with wonderful, passionate educators. I have also seen a lot of turf protection and resistance to change. I’ve seen practices I don’t agree with. I’ve seen unrealistic expectations. I’ve seen stifled kids that I’ve just wanted to release into the playground. I’ve seen kids who are discouraged and feel behind because they weren’t given the tools to handle the situation/lesson. I’ve heard of nature-based schools being shut down because Licensing didn’t like their handwashing facility.

 

I prefer a lighter-spirited way of going about education. And to not take it so dogmatically!!! A loose schedule, improv, love in action, learning, listening, sharing, showing the little magics all around them. This, to me, is early childhood education.

I know there are many philosophies, rules and restrictions, and the list keeps growing, for safety and for “good” but there comes a point that it feels choked. We shouldn’t make it a turf war or a legal war. Let childhood learning be learning, simple and free-flowing learning. There are a lot of problems, and there are a lot of solutions in the mix. Listen, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how to make good education for all affordable/accessible to all, regardless of economic situation, and how to get teachers a good pay. But I am passionate about it, and I want it to happen.

Perhaps more subsidies? Perhaps smaller class sizes?

I just want to see kids learning in an organic way, encouraged, walking in grass, looking at bugs in plants, learning balance and respect, caring and working. That is my ideal.

I see pictures and have seen first hand what happens to kids in other countries, in other unfortunate political/economical  situations. I’ve been to a favela in Northern Brazil. There, kids were playing. There was love, there was food. Who knows what futures these kids will have? Who knows what futures ours will?

All I can do is support our local place, our local learning, our local growing minds.

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