Last week, I talked about expectations. We need to suspend those as much as possible. We can have inklings or guesses or pictures in our heads, but we cannot be frustrated when children approach something differently than we do. We're adults - we've been in training for decades, and we are creatures of habit. Just the other day, I had put up the children's names next to a sign up sheet at the easels - we are embedding more name writing into out days, and signing up for popular activities is a way to make those marks. One girl walked up to the list, dipped the paintbrush into the orange paint, and basically highlighted her name on the list of names that was thee as a reference. Why not? She saw her name and painted on it. And in her mind, it is a valid way to show that she wants to paint. Her name is literally covered in paint.
As teachers, we can have ultimate power if we want it. Children also know how to get the power if they want it. We all have our ways. I have my agenda, and each child has their own as well. Who am I to say that mine is better?
You can picture a room where children are doing whatever they want - jumping up and down on tables, painting on the floor - whatever. The classic image is from Miss Nelson is Missing:
That is one extreme. The other extreme is children being forced to do things that they are not interested in at all. But most of what happens is somewhere in the middle - especially when it comes to preschool. There is no one way for it to look. I've never had two environments that were set up just the same; I've never dusted off last year's planner and put it all into action again; and I've never expected one group of children to be the same as another one. Not only would that be boring, but it would make teaching monotonous and repetitive.
I like that children paint in random places and have different funny names for the baby dolls and a million different stories to dictate. But I also like the common things that children do on their own, without instruction from me. Play dough with popsicle sticks always turns into a birthday cake, three-year-olds always draw people like tadpoles, and four-year-olds put more weight on the word "friend" than any other word they know at that point. Our job is to connect with children and make decisions based on that, with the input of the children. We can try to make all the decisions as teachers, but it is not going to work. But we have to facilitate and stay sane. The better we are at seeing and listening and adjusting and listening some more, the better the experience is for the children. I am thinking about preschool, but this probably applies to education in general.
I do not claim to be an expert at this - I'm writing about it because it is a challenge. We need to be able to work with children, not create a free-for-all. There would be no point in school if kids just ran around. That middle ground is my ultimate goal. Children engaged in the things that interest them, and teachers facilitating that work to help build on it and make it deeper and more meaningful. Some might call it the Project Approach, some might call is Reggio Inspired, some might call it unproductive. Call it what you wish. Engagement might be children in a forest Kindergarten, children conducting science experiments, painting planks of wood, or making bread. All of those things are able to happen because adults facilitate them.
I'll end this rambling with a quote from The Hundred Languages of Children that describes the curriculum of the early childhood centers in Reggio Emilia:
"The curriculum is not child centered or teacher directed. The curriculum is child originated and teacher framed." - Forman and Fyfe
Everyone in a classroom plays an important role. And if we're teachers because we want to provide positive experiences for young children, that is exactly what we should do - and we should try to make those positive experiences engaging, explorative, meaningful, and personal.