When I recently posted about the Hundred Languages of Children and asked whether schools today are sufficiently resourced to support the young child’s capacity for learning across much more than traditional academic subjects and teaching methods, Naomi, a fellow teacher currently working in an Australian kindergarten responded that she felt that positive changes were occurring, especially when compared with when she first began teaching in 1993. So I invited Naomi to share her reflections on the changes that she has observed over this time.
I am one of those lucky people that loves the job I do. I always have. I hope I always will. I began my teaching career in 1993. It was my final year of university and I was able to begin work as a relief teacher. The year following I began in earnest.
Over the years I have worked in primary schools, after school care, long day care and kindergarten. I am now teaching kindergarten and that is where I think I will stay.
Since I began there have been a lot of changes to education. Changes in the way we teach, the way learning is viewed. The way children, families and those who educate them interact has changed. Mostly I think for the better.
When I began it was all about the teacher. We knew best (or so I was told), parents didn’t know much and children even less. It’s an idea that never sat well with me, and I tried to find ways around the rigidity. It was hard to assume a position of utmost know-it-all authority over parents when I was just twenty-one. I can still see the looks on some parent’s faces as they politely asked me how old I was. Looking back I can see their point.
When I began, planning was something I did and kept to myself. It was not displayed. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted families to see it. Now it is displayed on the wall as well as kept in a journal along with daily reflections, with an open invitation for families to comment and add ideas and thoughts.
Using lollies on a Friday afternoon to keep the class in line was common practice, as was the showing of a G rated movie. Now in my class on Friday we bake and share bread, read books, dance, sing and play, always play.
Reports (academic report cards) then were written in teacher generated jargon and sometimes were little more than boxes being ticked. Now (in Victorian Kindergartens) the end of year report is a joint effort, with parts written by me, parts by the family and parts drawn by the child, as well as a space for their family and myself to write what the child wants to say in their own words.
As it stood, when I began teaching, the teacher held all the cards, had all the power. Now it is a team effort, part family, part child, part me, as well as any number of other participants, such as bi-lingual workers, integration assistants, speech and occupational therapists to name but a few.
The idea of a child centred philosophy was talked about a lot when I began, but no one really seemed to know exactly what that meant. It was a buzzword but behind that word nothing much seemed to change. Teachers taught what they wanted, in line with state curriculum and that was that. I struggled to be honest, trying to find a way of teaching that I felt I could practice and really believe in.
Fast forward to today. At the front of my planning folder is the United Nations Charter on the Rights of the Child. I have a document called Belonging, Being, Becoming that is a nationwide early childhood framework, underpinned by those same rights. It talks about a child’s identity, community, communication, wellbeing. It includes space for the child’s and the family’s voice to be heard, as well as the educators. It relies on the belief that a child does not learn in isolation. That they learn in relation to other people, in relation to family, friends, community, teachers. At all the conferences, seminars and workshops I attend, the speakers’ talk of the child’s voice. Challenge those attending to really think about how the child’s voice is heard and responded to.
Now when I plan it is in response to children and families – it is based on what they need, not what I think they should have. It is based on the idea that each child and family has different needs and wants. It can be a challenge, it can be hard. But it is always rewarding. And it is purposeful. It is a meeting of the ways. Some of the planning is intentional, it comes from me after observation, photographs and notes made about the children and what they need to be supported into the next stage of learning. Some of it is spontaneous and comes from something that happens during the day. Some of it comes from families and their suggestions, or because of a family need. Some comes from the children, from their play, their discussions or their out and out asking.
For me the biggest change is that as educators we acknowledge that children come to us already knowing so much. That we need to work with not against this, and that in doing so everyone benefits.
Some days are harder than others, like any job. But on the whole I love my role. The current thinking, research and documents around early childhood education support what I do and how I do it. They give me a way to ensure I am an advocate for the children in my care. An advocate for the right to play, to investigate, explore, get messy, dirty, have bare feet, run in the rain, make mud pies, to speak in their home language, celebrate special occasions, to belong and to be heard. Anything less is not enough.
I want to thank Naomi for sharing her experiences with us. You’ll find more of Naomi’s everyday observations on life on her blog, Under the Yardarm.
- Let Go and Let Them Learn
- Active Learning Through Messy Play
- Early Learning: Following A Child’s Lead
- Playful Learning: What is it?
- What Happens When You Follow a Child’s Interest?