“There is an inner voice that pushes children on, but this force is greatly multiplied when they are convinced that facts and ideas are resources, just as their friends and the adults in their lives are precious resources. It is especially at this point that children expect – as they have from the beginning of their life adventure – the help and truthfulness of grownups”.Loris Malaguzzi – ‘The Hundred Languages of Children’
Over the past few weeks, we have welcomed parents back into our Early Learning Centres – and what a joy it has been. The children are proud to show their parents where they spend their days, who they play with, what they enjoy doing and how much they are learning. The parents and educators are starting to make those warm and helpful connections, sharing observations and strategies with one another, easily and informally, effectively supporting children in their development.
We love to see how Rafi resembles his dad, not only in looks, but in his walk, and how Ayla uses the very same facial expressions as her mum when explaining how she spent a day with Zaidi; how Hannah invites her mum to share their exciting family news, and Oliver and his baby brother have the very same hairstyles. All the little details that make our children and their world so full of difference, so lively, saturated with colour; each child unique – no two families the same.
We are also so interested in how the children come to school each day, ready for another round – excited to see their friends, confident in knowing what they can look forward to, and curious about what they have not seen before. And we are encouraged to see how our plan for each child unfolds – providing them with ways to engage, choices to make, and opportunities to practise new skills and contribute to the many different experiences.
The children never disappoint us. We see their working brains growing neural pathways, their moving bodies mastering the challenges of being in time and space, and their beating hearts working through a wide range of mixed emotions and then, arriving at the end of their days, knowing how to be kind, and how to take care of one another.
You and I both know this does not happen by chance. Quite the opposite. For despite each child being born with his very own temperament, genetic predispositions, and individual strengths, it is in their relationships and connections with others that they come to be in the world, successfully. It is the most important reason why children come to school. Our role, the adults in their world, is not only to provide the program and materials, but also, to provide children with authentic and appropriate modelling – walking the talk, doing as we say, demonstrating all the important nuances and skills of how to be. We, in the early years, are inspired by the pedagogy of listening and responding:
“I observe you [and I hear you], and whilst I observe you, I ‘capture’ you, I interpret you. And at the same time, I also modify my own knowledge. So, observation is not only an individual action but also a reciprocal relationship. It is an action, a relationship, a process that makes us aware of what is happening around us.”Carlina Rinaldi, In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia; Listening, Researching and Learning
As parents and educators of young children, we need to model what we want to see in the world. We know that children become what they see. We are the original influencers – those that have the power and sway over a target audience; we have special expertise, knowledge, and the authority around a specific subject. Children look to us to know how to be in the world. And when they come to Preschool, they practise this as they bring their truth, every day. This is different for each child – one may check their imaginary Apple Watch, with a swipe of a finger; another pat their baby doll to sleep as they hum a lullaby; or a child who throws their arms up with an exasperated sigh because things are not what they should or hope to be.
“Children – for the ways in which we have encountered them – are the first great researchers. If we are capable of listening to them, children give us back our pleasure in wonder, in marvelling in doubt. Children can convey the joy of search and research which belongs not only to children, but to women, to men, to humankind; it belongs to life.”Carlina Rinaldi, In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia; Listening, Researching and Learning
And when we realise this, then we can become a little more conscious and thoughtful around how much we can influence and impact each child’s development. As mindful parents, we are given a chance to change what we may have seen, in our own childhoods, and deliberately and determinedly, make sure we do not repeat it for our own children; breaking a family pattern, disrupting a natural transference of what might be unhealthy, dangerous, or destructive. And as considerate educators, no matter what age and stage we are working with, it is a vital part of our daily work to ensure that the quality of our interactions with children, and each other, is reflective of what we want the children to learn, to integrate, to have and to hold as they move out into the big world.
The bottom line is, we need to show the children how to become the person we hope them to be – we do this by sending them the signals of what is an appropriate way to interact and engage, of giving them the chance to make mistakes and the opportunity to think about what they could do differently next time; of providing them with the helpful feedback they deserve; and the encouragement to practise doing the right thing and making good choices.
Part of being an effective role model is not being perfect – but rather demonstrating for the children how we can correct things, repair and improve others; that making a mistake requires courage to set things right. What we can also do is our best to develop trusting and loving relationships with children, so that they are given the chance to feel safe and thereby the opportunities to keep growing well.
Recently, I played an imaginary game of ‘find the magic gem’ with a small group of three-year-olds – it was a game they had created together; they taught me (and each other) that if you find and hold the right gem, then you will know what to do in different situations. Once the gem has done what it was supposed to do, then you put it back for someone else to benefit from it. I could not believe how sophisticated and well thought through this game was – how the children knew the rules and the consequences, they knew the language and the responses – but most of all they knew how to be with each other. Some of them only 36 months old, and they were mastering one of life’s greatest challenges – the art of collaboration and the gift of community. I will watch and wonder about this little group for they are modelling something I would love to learn more about. Role modelling works both ways – and when we are open to new ideas and ways of being, and seeing this played out, then we understand that we are all ‘precious resources’ for one another.
About the author
Cathy Milwidsky is the Head of Early Learning and Development at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW