Tuesday, February 21, 2017

This Is Why We Are Here...

Years ago, I was given Jon Muth's beautiful book, The Three Questions, as a graduation gift. It was a gift from my then-boyfriend's parents (who are now my in-laws).
This beautifully illustrated picture book, based on Leo Tolstoy's story of the same name, is a  meditation on the meaning of life.

The little boy in the story ponders three questions, "When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?"

His friends offer many possible answers, all tailored to their own particular interests and habits, until he is led to the answer through a series of experiences with Leo, the old tortoise, a mother panda, and her baby (it's a truly beautiful story and one that can be appreciated on multiple levels - I urge you to pick up a copy and read it if you have not).

He is led to these truths, which I try to meditate on daily:

The best time to do things is now.

The most important one is the one you are with.

The right thing to do, is to do right by the one who is by your side.

I can't say I'm always successful.

Children are simply better at this, at being here in this moment, with whatever it offers. 

There is a lot of angst and worry and anger in the world right now. We, as adults, are walking around with a lot of weight on our shoulders. We think a lot about what's wrong, and we wonder how to fix the things we don't like, and we feel overwhelmed. 

A dear friend asked me if I'd be interested in writing a guest post on her blog and made a point to ask that it be "positive and non-political." This sounded like a piece of cake but I am ashamed to say that I have yet to complete this task.

I realized that I found this request to be far more of a challenge than I'd expected. I could never get very far into a post without connecting to something "bigger," and those "bigger" themes were always heavy. They were dark, they were angry, and I was frozen with my inability to work my way around this, to write the "right" things.

Now, look, there is a time and a place for anger, and I have many dear friends who are dedicated activists and their strong emotions are warranted and purposeful. Worry and fear serve their own valid purposes, too. 

But not properly harnessed and channeled, these emotions muddy our better judgments and intentions. They're distractions. This is not why we are here. 

If you know me, and you talk to me often, you know that my stance has always been that the most valuable thing we can do to change the world is to help shape thoughtful, empathetic citizens. People who are kind and giving; who help their community and think critically and independently and find their niche - the thing that makes them truly happy and allows them to give back to the community.

This has ALWAYS been my passion. I really believe this. 

But to do it, I need to show up, be present, do the hard joyful work. 

Kids know this; they live in the moment.

In The Dude and the Zen Master, Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman meditate on this idea that "people get stuck a lot because they're afraid to act...We need help just to move on, only life doesn't wait."

 The solution?

 "[Y]ou want to row, row, row your boat -- gently. Don't make a whole to-do about it. Don't get down on yourself because you're not an expert rower; don't start reading too many books in order to do it right. Just row, row, row your boat gently down the stream."

When I ground myself in that moment, when I push aside my adult agenda, when I row gently down the stream, the joy comes rushing back in.

It's not hard work, living and being present, once you allow that weight to lift from your shoulders.

It's joyful. And it's meaningful. And it's a very effective way to get some very important work done.

"Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world.

This is why we are here."

Originally posted at Sylvan Taylor's Sprouts Playschool Blog.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Not A School

By Kisha Reid 

If you listen to my podcast, Dirty Playologist, you may have listened to the episode called "NOT A School" It's the one where I tell the story of an angry parent who shouts out to me... THIS IS NOT A SCHOOL! The most ironic part was that she was upset because there was no space for her child to attend. At the time, I was offended, hurt, and a little heartbroken. I had spent so much time and energy trying to convince the world that we were a school, that play was important and that our work was valuable.  It took me another three years to get to the point where I came to terms with the fact that we, in fact, are not a school.  Yep, I said it, WE ARE NOT A SCHOOL!! At least not in the typical sense of the word.  Do children learn here? Yes, in every single way, during every single second, but that is not what makes a school.  So what are we then?

We are a venue through which authentic childhood is practiced. We provide a safe, richly stocked space both inside and out that supports the intrinsic needs and desires of children. The role of the adults in the room is to love, trust, and care for the children. By loving the children we understand their needs and support them, by trusting the children we allow them to act out those desires with little interference unless in times of real danger, by caring for the children we physically and emotionally provide what they need to explore their interests in the most meaningful ways. 

I have not yet figured out what to call us, but I know we are NOT A SCHOOL! And I am OK with that, in fact, I am proud of that. 

by Lakisha Reid 
Founder of Play Empowers, Early Childhood Presenter and Consultant, host of Dirty Playologist Podcast and Owner/Director/Educator at Discovery Early Learning Center 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Power & Freedom #2: Throwing Sh*t off a Ledge

(posted originally at The Childcare Brofessional)

The outdoor area for the Nursery at my school is much bigger than my original 2 year old program.  My favourite thing about it is that part of it is on relatively substantial hill that the children can go up, and look down on the play area, the rest of the school and neighbourhood.  As I am getting to know all the children in the nursery, a group of them have repeatedly wanted me to go up with them on one part of the hill.  There’s a walled off ledge here, and a path under and along side it.

Up on this part of the hill we’ve spent time just sitting and watching the action below, making pretend sneezes to laugh about, playing with ropes I tied to tall tree branches and more.  It’s a great place to get away from the commotion and fluorescent lights inside.  I do my best to not hog the spotlight of the play but since I am new to the nursery, and I want to build good relationships with the kids  I am leaning more into my funny, entertaining new-adult-in-the-room mode.  As the relationships get in place I will increasingly pull back from the center of the action and let them get on with their play more and more.

Yesterday one boy suddenly decided to start to throw everything he could off find of this area and off the ledge.  A small dug up dead bush, plastic cups and plates, two logs almost as big as him and two big plastic crates.  It was getting on the path below and it looked messy.  He was having a really good time!  I wish I was able to take a picture of all this so you could see what I am talking about.  This is notable to me because I distinctly remember when I would’ve stopped this sort of play straight away.  I would have thought it looked destructive, messy and if allowed to continue, might lead to Lord of the Flies situation.  Children need to obey our orders to not make needless messes.  I don’t say this only to pat myself on the back for my supposed enlightenment but more to be honest about the path I’ve been on working in early learning.

Learning to trust children more and tolerate more mess, I observed as I let him continue with the chucking everything in site off the ledge (there were no children below and if any were coming I would’ve asked him to wait until they passed).   Since I do not yet know this boy, and our setting is in a working-class, immigrant area and many of the children aren’t given many opportunities for messy, risky, big body play my assumptions about his play started off honestly pretty paternalistic.  He hasn’t had opportunities to explore the trajectory schema (good on me for letting him do so).  Not that I think I was wrong at all here, but it puts his supposed setbacks in the foreground of the situation.  After a few minutes I think I looked at it more positively.  This boy is developing full body strength as he actively explores weight, gravity, trajectory.  He is feeling powerful, something every human needs, using his body to send this stuff through the air, and most of all he is really enjoying throwing sh*t off the ledge!  Allowed power and freedom to play how he liked, this boy was engaged in most every single Characteristic of Effective Learning and his Laevers Scales were strong fives.  

Do you remember how much fun it was to throw things as a child?

Many of our assumptions about, and rules and expectations for children needlessly interfere with children’s hardwired plans for their healthy growth and development.  I won’t delude myself into thinking anybody reading this isn’t already part of the choir but what would be gained from stopping this boy from enjoying this activity?  I think the only real answers are concerns over safety (besides getting to know the kids I was up there to make sure nobody would get hit), “respect for the toys” (nothing was broken),  but if we are really being honest, it is about breaking the child’s will.
I don’t think many would be happy to look at this way but again, I remember how I used to look at children.  I remember what I felt and thought when I first started working with kids in the US without any understanding of early childhood development.  I simply did not understand the biological and psychological reasons behind much of their behaviour.  I started working in a preschool because I “liked kids,” but I now know I was completely ignorant about them.  I saw a large part of my job as providing consistent limits, expectations and consequences so they would eventually, somehow follow adult expectations of behaviour.  This was how they would be socialised into well-functioning adults.

I saw children through what I call the all-pervasive “cute, empty-headed beasts” lens of childhood.  If we don’t know about children’s development so much of their behaviour will then be inscrutable and maddening.  It is something to be managed, corralled, punished, praised, bribed and manipulated until they eventually live up to adult expectations of behaviour.  If I remember correctly, I would have worried “how else will children know how to behave?”  If this boy thinks it’s okay to throw the toys off this ledge now, how is he going to learn to delay his gratification enough to get through the hardships of adult life that are to come later?

The answer to this very legitimate concern is that children in stable loving environments full of secure relationships with adults and other children will naturally grow into stable, loving adults who are secure in themselves.  It is not complicated but it does require faith, trust and respect for children in a culture that thinks these are outlandish ideas.  Babies and young children learn how to be decent adults by the example of being treated decently by adults.  As Magda Gerber put it, “Personality characteristics such as generosity, empathy, caring and sharing cannot be taught, they can only be modeled.”

I  put sh*t in the title of this piece because I think much of the reality of children’s play can be a bit distasteful or controversial to our adult senses.  Children’s play is not always respectful or part of polite, adult society.  We can get trained on and read books about schemas and understand it all intellectually, but genuinely being okay with things getting thrown through the air is and the path getting messy is an entirely different ball game.

If our settings are supposed to be for children’s growth and development, I am going to let this boy and and any other child throw sh*t off the ledge and engage in other behaviours that might challenge some of our adult hang-ups around mess, risk, and safety.  To be clear I am not saying I have the monoply on “best practice” here.  I am not arguing anybody needs to go to work and to pretend they are okay with behaviours that they are not (it won’t be sincere and you will drive yourself nuts), nor is this saying children don’t need age appropriate expectations and limits, but I am advocating people engage in some serious yet gentle reflection and find their growing edge of comfort with these topics.
Who are our settings for?  What is the worst that could happen if you let that child follow their urge to put the sand in the water table?  Stand on a chair to make their block tower higher? Not come to your mandatory circle time and instead carry on with their play?  Take the play dough outside?  Roll a tire down the slide?  And of course, what is the best that could happen if we let our children have more power and freedom in how they play?