The last day of the year! Tomorrow, a change, a transition that we move through every three hundred sixty-five days. For some of us a time of anticipation, expectation, excitement. For others, a time of uncertainty, anxiety, stress – and, we are the adults!
But what about change and transition with the children in our early childhood programs? Have we given enough thought to the many changes and many transitions that our children experience throughout the day? More importantly, have we thought about the impact of these transitions on the children? Are we producing anticipation, expectation, and excitement, or, are we causing uncertainty, anxiety, and stress? Certainly, children move through the day, and transition in and out of activities, experiences, and routines.
But, when I see seemingly happy children suddenly act out, or cry, or withdraw into themselves, I wonder what just happened. I hear things like this: “well, it was clean up time, and so his block construction needed to be knocked down and everything put away,” or, “well, it was time for snack, so I ended the art project – we needed the table,” or, “they just move so slowly, I have to keep telling them to hurry up.”
Sometimes, the entire day is a series of fragmented changes for the children – they spend time upon arrival in the morning with one teacher in that teacher’s classroom; when their own teachers arrive, the children quickly end their play, take their belongings into their own classroom and settle in – for a while. At the end of the day, children move into another space with other adults; yes, carting their belongings once again. A cadre of adults come and go during the day – and, in some cases, these children are in the care of 10 different adults during that one day! The many comings and goings are attributed to “staffing issues” – all adult driven. Is anyone thinking about the impact of all of this change on the children?
I ask us to put ourselves in the children’s place – see what they see; hear what they hear; feel what they feel during these transition times. And, pay attention!
How would we feel to have worked on a block construction for the last hour – only to have it taken down in seconds? What does that say about the value of our construction, our work?
How would we feel about having to stop creating our spectacular art project, which we were thoroughly enjoying, so everyone could sit at the tables for snack? Especially when we’d rather continue to work on our project!
How would we feel when we just couldn’t “hurry” any faster? We tried, but we just couldn’t do it.
We become the best of the best teachers and directors when we can see, hear, and feel what others are experiencing – in this case, the children. It is from this vantage point, from this perspective that we are able to more clearly see the results, the impact of our words and actions. And, when we do, we often question our teaching practice.
How often have I heard: “I have no idea why we do it this way,” or, “I never really listened to what I was saying,” or, “I never thought about how it would feel to the child.” Then, upon reflection, “couldn’t we think of a better way?” or, “let’s put ourselves in their shoes,” or, “there’s a big disconnect between what I know to be best practice and my actions.”
Once we have recognized that what we have been doing is no longer working for us and (more importantly) for the children, we will make changes that put the focus where, I believe, it belongs – on the children and their experiences.
I ask you to consider another way – to read about and to reflect upon the fundamentals and principles of the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy.
In the philosophy of Reggio Emilia (I am a huge fan), the children come first. They don’t come first after budget constraints or staffing issues – or anything else. They simply, and significantly, come first! Everything centers around them, and evolves through them. They are the focus of all that happens at school. “Will this work for the children?” is the question that runs through the day. Children’s needs first – above everything else!
Children’s own sense of time and their personal rhythm are considered in planning and carrying out the activities and routines. The pace of the day is leisurely and this seems to provide sufficient time for the children to be together among friends and to get things done with satisfaction (these last two words bear repeating, “with satisfaction!”). There is time. Time to enjoy the process of learning, time to experiment, and time to make mistakes and readjustments, to laugh, and to complete a task. There is also time to return to a task to re-examine and experience growth.
If we teachers and directors slowed down our pace and our programs, and really focused on the children as we created the staff schedule, the classroom schedule, the routines, the procedures, the activities, the experiences – and, yes, the transitions – would we make any changes to what we already do? Hmmm…
As this year ends, I invite you to take a closer look at your early childhood program. Are children the focus of all that happens? Are their needs met first? Are their insights valued? Do the transitions and changes during the day work for the children? Are there too many changes for them? Does the pace of their day flow gently from one thing to another? Or, does the day feel fragmented by too many transitions or changes?
Lots to think about. But, I believe that observing, questioning, reflecting, and then acting is the natural process for all master teachers and exemplary directors. We continually raise the bar – and, always for the children.
If this topic speaks to you, if your program is struggling with these issues of change, transitions, child-focused program, procedures and policies, let’s talk. Beginning the discussion is the first step.
Happy New Year!