This is new for all of us, and scary
It’s easy to shift our focus onto the kids, when really, this is all about us. We are the ones who decide what the bubble we are living in will be like. Will it be a place that will make happy memories for our kids, or will it be a place they would rather forget? This could be an adventure they will never forget for all the reasons we ourselves cherish the adventures in our own life stories. It’s up to us. No pressure.
So starting at the beginning:
A sense of calm
Children look to us to create and maintain an emotionally safe harbour, they can’t do that. That’s our job. When we grown-ups practice techniques to manage our own reactions, our stress and our fears we create a calmer ‘bubble’ for everyone else to live in.
Turn off the media
This is an easy way to create calm. Many of us are in the habit of having non stop media filling in our living space. Constant news casts (and advertisements) exacerbate stress and anxiety, and that infects our bubble and how we will be with each other. If we get our information from the Ministry of Health’s Covid 19 website each day we will be up with the play.
When we lose it
We are human, and despite our best efforts we can lose it if we get into overwhelm. Remember, when our children press our buttons they are not responsible for the buttons that are there, so don’t take it out on them:
2. Find the gap - that’s the gap between the thing that pressed your buttons and you reacting.
3. Breathe. Slowly. Consciously - that just means put your attention on breathing in and out.
4. Put your hand over your heart as you breathe.
5. Work out how you could respond from your heart - and not from your hurt or anger.
Putting our hearts into nurture
“What can we do?”
This is a big question for all of us, children and adults alike. The key word in this context is do, as in how shall we interact with the three dimensional world? For children it is crucial that they are the heroes and sheros in their own story, in the real three dimensional world, with their imagination, bodies, and souls. This is true at any time but especially now when many choices for independent action have been taken away, and along with that, their sense of having any personal power.
We’re the species with an opposing thumb and we make things. A huge part of our human brain is the result of our ancestors making things with their hands. That urge to make things is alive and well in our kids. When we invite our children to work alongside us in the kitchen, not only do we end up with co-created scones and soup, our children get to feel that they are important players. Their contributions are appreciated and valued as an essential service for our Bubble. There are plenty of tasks that keep your place ticking over that you can do together with your children. The outcome is pretty much decided by the attitude-energy you bring to the job. Any kid can spot the difference when you think, ‘It’s time you got off the couch and did your share’ and ‘It’s really a pleasure to have this time with you’.
Make more things
Knit a scarf or a blanket for Teddy, make a hut under the feijoa tree, make a blanket hut in the lounge, perfect the mud pie, do a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle, set a Lego challenge, plant out the winter vegetable garden, make some paper maché and go in for models and masks, make an origami crane for each day of this rahui (lockdown) and then make them into a mobile, weave a flax basket, make a frame-by-frame animation, make some cards to send to the people you love who aren’t in your bubble. In other words, build anything you and your kids can think of with anything you can get hold of.
Limit entertainment time
Entertainment is great - as entertainment. A bit like icecream is great - as a treat, but not as a person’s total nutritional intake. Entertainment is a treat - there’s nothing we have to be-do-think. Great though that might seem, our children need to be, to do, and to think. It is their active participation in this world that unfolds their intelligences. That’s why making things is so great. It is problem solving in three dimensions with built-in feed-back: either what you are making works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t you keep going until you come up with ‘workable’ solution. That’s grit in action right there.
Make your own entertainment
In years gone by families made their own fun because we didn’t have television in New Zealand and the internet hadn’t been invented. We played games, made music together, played cards, made art and models, and we read a lot. Your family will have lots of ideas, but to get you started, you could organise a talent quest, or make up a play and put on a performance, or take a favourite song and choreograph it together. You could video any or all of your family’s cultural creations and put them up on your smart TV. Or your family could make up your own charade cards based on your experience, favourite songs, favourite people or favourite stories. Our family made up sets of Harry Potter charade cards to entertain ourselves after our weekly family dinner. Too funny.
Limit Screen Time
As much as we might be tempted to park the kids in front of a device for long periods because it shuts them up and stops them fighting, prolonged screen time takes kids out of life and the life out of kids. They don’t get to hone their problem-solving skills in real life, nor their ‘getting-along-with-people-when-in-conflict’ skills when they both want the scissors or the glue. A major developmental crisis is showing up in our schools now as more and more children who have screen time from babyhood onward enter the classroom. And the last but not the least consideration, screens are addictive: full blown, clinically recognised addictive.
Which leads on to...
You are there, so be there
Courtesy goes a long way at any time, but it is crucial when you’re living in a family bubble. Your children will be looking to you for connection, for their information, for their cues and clues as to what’s going on in this very different daily reality. Most of us have had kids put their hands either side of our face and look us in the eye. It’s a subtle message: they want to know if we are ‘on line’, they want to know if we are connected. Relationships are two way and so we need to show up and we can’t do that when we are scrolling through the phone. There are many things it is courteous to do in private and scrolling through social media is one of them.
Life is an adventure
Humans crave variety, why else would be bungee jump or go on a cruise? We can get creative with adventures in our own patch. I know of families who are packing lunch together with their kids and taking a blanket outside and having a picnic. Simple! You would have lunch anyway, but together you have had a holiday from the same-old-same-old. ‘Eating out’ can take on new meaning in the evenings while we still have good weather and daylight saving.
Play Play Play
Nurture and play. These are the two absolutely essential requirements that enable the human brain to unfold into its human potential, the more emotional nurture and play the better. Bringing our playful spirits to any task turns living into an adventure.
And Be Kind
Kindness is us at our best, it is us nurturing and caring for each other. We can do this.
Perfecting the mud pie
In your heart of hearts...
I have started asking early childhood teachers one question, and I let them know that their answers are for themselves alone. The question? In your heart of hearts do you believe babies should be in care? Even though I specifically state that their answers are theirs alone, to date they have ignored that directive, and to a person they have answered out loud, "No, babies should not be in care". And that is from the people whose job it is to care for the infants and toddlers.
While we weren't looking, the shape of childhood and family has changed, almost overnight. The reasons for the seismic changes are economic and ideological; they have little or nothing to do with the welfare of individual children or their families. Or education for that matter, despite the stories we tell ourselves so that we'll feel better. There isn't one baby who would choose to be in care, we have made that choice for them - and having made a choice that runs counter to their biological needs and longings, we had better 'know what we are doing'. And with few exceptions, we don't know what we are doing. There are valid reasons for this sad state of affairs.
It doesn't help...
We do not have a history of illumined group care for the under threes in this country (NZ), so we have been faced with two choices:
As a result things (most often) get off on the wrong foot right from the baby's first day in care because staff and management haven't had the training around the very specific needs and requirements of all three parties (child, parent, caregiver) when a baby is taken into care.
Take the quiz: Meerkat Alert in the Nursery
Along with a small number of other New Zealanders, I have learned a lot from the people at the Emmi Pikler Institute, Budapest, Hungary about the needs of infants in group care. They had 63 years of exemplary practice in their residential nursery, and now they continue their work in the day-care setting. They have much to teach us about that tender, crucial period when the child first goes into care. Take the quiz of 20 questions, and see how your centre measures up - or if you are a parent, check out any prospective centre against their settling policy. Measure their settling policy (they should be able to give you a copy) up against the quiz. If it measures up well, you know you have found a place that understands the importance of the Transfer of Trust. If it doesn't, keep looking.
Click here for the Meerkat Quiz
The Sacred Urge to Play
Deepening in Play - two sides to the story
In the weekend I overheard someone talking about the continuum of play. I pricked up my ears, only to find she wasn’t talking about the genetically encoded biological continuum of play that is my passion. She was talking about the ‘man made’ ideological continuum of play. The two are very different. The biological play continuum is a predictable sequence dictated by the unfolding of the child’s biology. Here’s just one obvious example: children are not going to be playing hopscotch if they haven’t mastered balancing on one leg.
Biology Rulz OK
The biology of the child determines the unfolding of the child; and the predictable, sequential order of unfolding constitutes a continuum. So from conception, when the egg and the sperm begin their dance, there is a predictable continuum of physical unfolding. At no point does it go backwards, and at no point does the wee life-form change plans and become a horse or a rose bush.
Timing is everything
‘Human’ is a genetically encoded pattern, suppress it or rush it at the baby’s peril. Suppressing it is the equivalent of putting a garden seat over an oak seedling (duh); rushing it is the equivalent of pulling a child’s teeth down with pliers to hurry them up, or propping a baby to sit before she can sit for herself (abuse). And yet both suppression and rushing are prevalent in early childhood - suppressing what is coming from inside the child, and rushing things from the outside. Neither aligns with all the fine words in our policy statements and philosophy folders. The ERO (state auditors) seem blind to the mismatch of what we think we do and what we actually do. Indeed, most auditors in the Education Revue Office actively encourage rushing from the outside. There is a huge push to get the primary curriculum fitted onto early childhood; rather like the ugly sister trying to shove her foot into the glass slipper.
Patterns and the Universe
In the Human Pattern, there are patterns within patterns within patterns.... For those of us who work alongside babies, toddlers and young children, it makes the world of difference to the child if we are aware of the human patterns, and of their sequence of unfolding. Here are just two examples of patterns so you get the idea: There’s the continuum of the ‘get your teeth pattern’, starting with the lower central incisors, all the way up to the wisdom teeth. There’s the ‘gross motor physical development pattern’. On this continuum, the baby first works for stability with the muscles on her front (flexors) and her back (extensors). To do this she needs to be on her back on a firm surface during her ‘play time’, without anything hanging over her. She will respond to the impulses coming from within by moving her arms, legs, head, shoulders and hips until she achieves this balance in her core. Only then can she begin to unfold the next steps on the continuum: getting onto her side, then rolling, then creeping, then crawling, then sitting and so on.
The brain itself unfolds in a pattern
The predictable-sequential unfolding pattern of the child’s brain ‘determines’ all the possibilities of all of the patterns/continuums coded into that child: besides the obvious physical patterns, there are heart-relationship patterns (involving electro-magnetic heart frequencies); patterns when different levels of consciousness come ‘on stream’ (electro-magnetic brain frequencies); language patterns, cognitive patterns, patterns of moral development... and, not least, there are play patterns.
Play is the power-tool of Co-creation
While play doesn’t have much (if anything) to do with a child’s teething patterns, it has everything to do with just about every other pattern within the human child. It is the power-tool of co-creation and unfolding. Nature has coded play into the Human Pattern as the process by which to unfold the physical, the social, the psychological, the cognitive, the imaginative, the creative, and the spiritual patterns of the human child. The degree to which the child gets to play in all of her ‘realms’ is the degree to which she can unfold the potential within her and become (what Joseph Chilton Pearce terms) the ‘Magical Child’. The Magical Child is dormant within every child, and play is the process by which the Magical Child unfolds and emerges - or not.
The patterns are universal and predictable, not hit and miss
We need to understand what the human play patterns are so we can support the child’s biological play continuum; that really is our role as teachers and parents. When we have no idea what the play patterns are, we cannot recognise them even when they are right under our noses; therefore we cannot support them, neither can we offer more loose parts so that the children themselves can extend their own play. Instead, with the best of intentions, we will get in their with the ‘scaffold, teachable moment, intend, extend, interest’ mantras we’ve been taught, and we’ll miss.
Click here for a human pattern quiz.
Click here for a list of most of the play patterns you will encounter in early childhood.
Support or suppress? Hold or hurry?
In outstanding early childhood centres the teachers take their task of supporting the child seriously. Their understanding of ‘child led’ play includes - and goes far beyond - ‘provocations’ or ‘inquiry’ or ‘teachable moments’ or ‘scafflolding’ or ‘intentional teaching’. Teachers in outstanding centres know that without a deeper understanding of the inherent human patterns, and knowledge of how those patterns unfold, those pedagogical approaches can be hollow, and even damaging.
Here’s a common example: The adult reads a story about fairies (say), and wants the children to make a fairy. So she makes one for the chlldren to copy. Her rationale when questioned is “I want to give them some ideas to get them started.” It’s hardly her fault, she has a student loan, and the people who trained her obviously weren’t successful in transmitting understanding about how to support creativity - which always comes from the inside. Children don’t need ideas on how to do it. Ever. What they need are the materials with which to do it, with which to make their expression. BUT - and this is a big but - expression always follows impression; whatever makes an impression on that child seeks expression. So have the children had some stories about fairies? (One won’t cut it - that hardly leaves an impression.) Have they played fairies, have they had more stories about fairies...? Because if they have, the impression will seek expression and they’ll do their own expression about fairies. It may be a model, a painting, a fairy house in the bushes, a play that they sell you tickets for... but it won’t be a copy of yours. That’s activity based busy work, it is adult led, and there is no way you can dress it up otherwise. The defining human gift of imagination and creativity is meant for far greater things than activity based busy work.
Teachers see that there is rich content in the rich environment - the children process it
Remember, impression - expression. Too many teachers ask children (students) to make an expression (draw a picture, write a story...) when there is no impression deep enough to warrant an expression. It’s not real. It’s busy work and it has no relevance whatsoever to the inner life of the child. So it is our task to choose carefully because everything makes an impression. It is up to us to locate stunningly beautiful story books (“The Waterhole”, “Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes” - not the fart and bum variety); to tell great stories (How Maui found his Mother, or the time Nana swallowed a gobstopper...); to play great music, world music (not the bus-wheel variety); to have live music; provide lots of interesting things (wind-up gramophones, alarm clocks, saddles...); to provide real work (making the bread each day for morning tea, cleaning up after making the bread...) etc. Lucky are the children who have adults who understand how to pass on the highs of human culture - instead of sinking to the lows. Pop culture will deliver children enough lows in just one evening in front of a screen, so it is up to us to offer a balance.
On the same page
Outstanding centres are centres where staff have worked hard to come to a shared philosophy. Every member of the team needs to be on the same page philosophically, because it is the philosophy that holds the practice in harmony. I cannot emphasise this enough. When you are all on the same page you generate the harmony that characterises an outstanding centre.
Let ideology serve biology
Philosophy is the point where the second play continuum comes in, the ideological play continuum. At one end of this continuum there are the teachers who have structured the children’s day into 20 minute periods rather like a secondary school timetable. At the other end of this continuum are the teachers who give the whole of the day for children to follow their own interests in child-led play-learning - and there are all sorts of combinations in between. How would we judge one from another? The question to ask is, “Does this support what is coming from the inside the child, does this support the biological play continuum? Or is this an imposition of what I think a child should ‘know’ from the outside?” If you can answer in all honesty that what is on offer supports the child’s biology, then you and your team can unite in your philosophy, knowing that together, your practice supports child-led learning.
All the ‘greats on the behalf of children’ worked out approaches to match two things: who they believed the child to be, and how they believed the human child learned: Friedrich Froebel, Rudolf Steiner, Margaret and Rachel McMillan, Emmi Pikler, Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, Loris Malaguzzi, Urie Bronfenbrenner, Lev Vygotsky, John Holt et al - they all came up with approaches to match the unfolding of the child. In the end, it isn’t about the approaches being ‘better than’, it is more about ‘different from’ - and the differences suit different people. No matter who is the greatest influence on a teacher’s practice, or where they fit on the ideological play continuum, as long each practitioner resides in their own heart, with the intention to honour and serve the Human Pattern of the child first, (and not criteria drafted out of political-economic considerations), our children are in safe hands.
I think therefore I am
Now that the weather is warming up I have been thinking about thinking. It's funny what goes through your mind, over and over and over and.... I have noticed that "it's too cold it's too cold it's too cold..." seems to have lodged itself in my brain somewhere. It starts up with just the slightest provocation, "It's too cold it's too cold it's too cold...".
This isn't the first time I have noticed it either. Some years ago I was thinking about it in relation to swimming. When I was a kid I was a water-baby, I would stay in the water for hours and hours and I always had to be dragged out. Our Mum was happy to sit on the 'beach' of the creek reading for hours and hours (beats housework), while we jumped off the bank, bombed out of trees, had underwater-walking races carrying huge rocks to weigh us down, dived for preserving-jar lids, and generally just mucked around. Eventually Mum would look up and announce, "Come on you kids, you're cold, get out." We would protest that we weren't cold, "Yes you are, your lips are bright blue." We weren't silly enough to argue with Mum, she was always right. Bruce's lips would be bright blue so I suppose mine were too, but I never felt the cold and neither did he.
What was I thinking?
What I got to thinking was, what has changed? What is different now (when I inch my way into the creek like a nana) from when I was eleven (say) and I couldn't get in fast enough? Obviously not the water. The water is still the same temperature as it was back then - maybe a tad warmer with global warming - maybe not. So if the difference isn't the actual environment, the difference must be in me - in my expectations, in my thinking. "It's too cold it's too cold it's too cold..." isn't even based on perception. Actually, it isn't even thinking - it is the replay of 'automatic-habits-of thinking', rather like a CD that is stuck and can't move on.
The Spring-Clean Challenge
There are a lot of us working with babies and young children who have got automatic-habits-of-thinking that make it next to impossible for the children in our care to become ecoliterate - or even to have a childhood. I know this because when I am working with teachers and tell them, "We are going outside now, bare foot", their thinking escapes out loud: "It's too cold. It's wet. But it's going to rain. We'll catch our death of cold. I hate bare feet." Spring is a great time of the year to get your shoes off and get out there and feel the warmth of the earth. When those same teachers do go outside and dance on the damp grass in bare feet we all stop and take note of the temperature of the earth through the soles of our feet: "It's warm! I thought it would be freezing. It's soft, I thought it would be prickly...". And when we come back inside, "My feet are all tingly. My feet are warm. That was a real surprise for me".
The Spring-clean Challenge: Just notice
So the Spring Challenge is not about taking your shoes off (although that would be better for your health), it is about noticing your automatic-habits-of-thinking. The Spring-clean Challenge is about just-noticing what that little voice in your head has to say when it comes to going outside, when it's raining, when the wind is blowing, when it's sunny... catch your automatic-habits-of-thinking and see if they will cause you to rob children of their chances to be ecoliterate and rob them of their childhood.
Is this true? Can you categorically say you know this is true?
"We are not allowed to. The owner won't let us. We have to have the door shut. We haven't got enough people to have on outside. It's too wet"... All of these automatic-habits-of-thinking betray the adult's loss of childlike curiosity, their sense of adventure, their open mindedness, and their capability for life-long learning. So listen out for this kind of automatic-habit-of-thinking as well, and submit them to the Spring-clean Challenge. These institutional blocks to ecoliteracy are a kind of virus that doesn't actually kill you, but takes away the richness that could be there for our children and ourselves.
Let’s talk about the white elephant in the classroom
The post “There is no place for computers in early childhood” on my ‘Dance with me in the Heart’ facebook page set off one of the most lively conversations since I launched the page in November 2012. The title of the post is an accurate statement, intended to attract readers’ attention.
Nature needs nurture
Now that I have your attention, let me explain why there is no place for computers in the child’s early years. What happens in the young child’s developing mind-brain-body when she uses computers interferes with what is supposed to happen in a young child’s mind, brain and body. Just one consideration is movement. Movement in those early years builds the brain. It literally constructs the brain using body-mind-brain sequences trialled and fine-tuned over thousands and thousands of generations. Educational kinesiologist Carla Hannaford states, “Movement is the architect of the brain”, and you know what happens when someone has a stroke in the brain. The body is affected because body and brain are indivisibly connected. Being in front of a screen precludes the movement that builds brains.
Novelty is a brain hit
The human (brain) loves novelty, and that is one of the drivers behind the curiosity of the young child. It is that curiosity that generates the child’s exploration, rolling, touching, smelling, tasting, balancing, moving, jumping, comparing, weighing..., all of which build not only the brain (as important as that is), but contribute to building a literal body of knowledge unique to that child. Every body of knowledge is unique to the individual because the connections-skills-competencies that are developed, are dependent on the experiences the individual has. It is the human brain’s love of novelty that assures infants and young children will physically follow their curiosity and explore everything in their environment.
Novelty in information technology
Who could fail to be impressed with the novelty within the range of information-technology hardware available? Who could fail to be impressed by the functions and capabilities of the different devices, and similarly impressed by the vast range of programs-apps available for those computerised devices? It truly is mind boggling. No doubt about it, information-technology hardware and software designer-engineers are good. They know how to serve up the novelty required to keep aficionados wanting to upgrade, which not coincidently, keeps the shares of their respective corporations afloat.
Novelty: the two-edged sword
Normal human fascination with the novel capabilities of technology drives much of the push to have computers as a major factor in every child’s ‘education’, from tertiary where it is a most suitable tool, to early childhood where it couldn’t be more unsuitable. Like it or not, there will also be a commercial element behind this push to have computers introduced in the early years. Research shows children’s buying behaviours are largely set by age 6-7, so product allegiance at an early age is not something manufacturers will have overlooked. Further, if teachers can be persuaded that information-technology has benefits for early childhood, those same teachers become the agent of persuasion to others within their profession.
Child magic wins
And that is what has happened. Teachers who are fervent about the capabilities of the technology have omitted to look beyond the magic of the device toward the magic of the young child. In their delight in the technology, teachers have overlooked
Child-centred not skills-based
The arguments put forward by those who exhort the use of computers in early childhood do not line up with the requirements for young child’s unfolding, and/or are based on ‘logic’ and research about the competency/skill-sets that can be gained by very young children using computers. There is no denying that young children can build up impressive computer skills. Indeed, young children have baled out many tech-illiterate parents and grandparents with their expertise. However, it is the role of education professionals to have the child’s wellbeing to the fore and weigh up the benefits of the learned competencies-skill-sets-expertise against the developmental priorities of the human child - mind, brain and body. It is not that computers are ‘bad’ (hell no, I love my Mac); the issue is about age and developmental appropriateness.
Start with the hardware
The brain is the hardware, the original ‘computer’. Computer ‘nerds’ don’t try to run software while the hardware is still under construction, and the young child’s brain (hardware) is under construction. At birth the brain is 25% of its adult size, by three years it will be between 85% - 90% of its adult size. Construction happens in the brain when the child interacts in the world in three dimensions - not in two dimensions. A two dimensional screen encounter is, by definition, impoverished in sensory input. There is not enough sensory information with which to construct a body of knowledge involving multiple senses and multiple intelligences. The child must interact with their mind, brain and body. That is how they are designed. In computer terms, you wouldn’t expect brilliant performance from a compromised operating system running on a miniscule amount of RAM.
3 is the magic number
At three years of age the actual brain construction is almost done. That is one of the reasons the first three years of the child’s life are so important, the bulk of the child’s hardware is built, complete with individualised default settings. The child uses the next three to four years installing the programs that three dimensional living and playing provide free with each child, all of which will be the exact right platform to launch into the next phase/mode of information processing in the neocortex at age 6-7. These three dimensional play programs prepare the way for the neocortex to handle abstract symbolic learning. It is beyond me why education professionals would risk compromising and/or damaging this exquisite genetically fine-tuned design by introducing 2D technology when it is not age appropriate? What is the hurry?
The real world rules
There is general confusion among teachers about learning in the real three dimensional (3D) world, and in the virtual two dimensional (2D) world. When children play in the real world with all of their dimensions (physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual - at least), they use all of their senses (19 recognised so far) to build a body of knowledge. This ‘body of knowledge’ that they ‘build’ is quite literal. The intelligence of the body learns how to do whatever it perseveres with: eg. to balance, crawl, sit, walk, or to deliver an ace of a tennis serve, or to become the barista who can use the coffee machine and make an awesome flat white - while the other barista who uses the same coffee machine makes rejects every time. One barista can learn while the other barista is slow on the uptake. Why? Like all learning in the real world, barista learning is learning in all dimensions. 3D learning includes the body intelligences, which take into account details like the grind of the bean, the humidity in the air, the temperature of the milk, the duration of each phase... and on and on. In the real world the choices are many - maybe even infinite. Playing and operating in the real world is the way people learn how to learn.
A child is a spirit, in a body, who feels, and thinks - in that order
So important is this practical body of intelligence that according to play researcher Stuart Brown, JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) NASA and Boeing will not hire graduates for their research and development teams, no matter how great their degrees, nor how prestigious the university that awarded the degrees, unless the applicants have done things with their hands, made things and fixed things, like making rafts, building flying foxes, pulling apart toasters and fixing cars. People who have not worked with their hands cannot problem-solve in real life, and this because the hand and brain are linked in ways neuroscientists believe to be seminal to the actual structure of the neocortex - the great thinking human brain - and in its development. So get out the clay, the sellotape, the flax and the cardboard... our children should be making things in three dimensions, in the real world, ideally up until they are eleven years old when yet another cognitive shift occurs.
3 beats 2, exponentially
2D learning is just that - working in two dimensions (width, length - but no depth - literally and metaphorically) with predominantly 2 senses (hearing and sight), with binary choices. Yes, computers are ‘clever’, yes, even very impressive - and they are not the real world, they can only offer a virtual world. Even a ‘3D screen display’ is a 2D optical illusion. Virtual is an adjective meaning, “not physically existing as such, but made by software to appear so”. In a virtual world you cannot be there; you can only learn about it. It is little wonder most educators are confused and think computers are great. Schools rarely do experiential learning which would enable students to build for themselves a body of knowledge so critical for learning and problem solving. Rarely do teachers facilitate a real experience so their students can make knowledge from ‘the doing’ for themselves. Most commonly, we teachers task our students to ‘learn’ about things - i.e. google it/find it in a text/watch a video. In other words, we task them to seek information, to see what others have done-thought-felt. That’s the difference between having a delicious Middle Eastern meal - and reading the recipes. No comparison.
The screen-spread virus in the human brain’s abstract-symbolic ‘processor’
All abstract symbolic metaphoric higher learning depends on the ability to think in images, and not only two dimensional images, but to think with the whole body of knowledge recalling every dimension of the image. For example, if I say ‘aardvark’ (the stimulus) your response will be as good as your experience of aardvarks. For some there will be no response at all, but for most of us we’ll recall a two dimensional image of an aardvark we saw in a text or on a screen. Among us, someone might have (improbably) kept an aardvark as a pet, and that person will have a body of knowledge about aardvarks. That person will know their habits, actions, communication vocalisations, reactions, smell, movements, bowel movements, texture of skin, of fur-hair... and on and on. It is all of THAT knowledge which is the aardark keeper’s rich and instant response in the mind-brain-body to the stimulus of the word ‘aardvark’. Now extrapolate out of that example and you will understand why computers short change young children who are just getting to explore, know and understand being here on this three dimensional planet. Further along in the child’s education teachers will speak about poultry, thrust, centrifugal force, thermodynamics, metamorphisis etc. The child, who may have picked up all sorts of information about those topics in front of a screen, simply cannot have the knowledge from which to work in the abstract in a meaningful way. Keeping hens, riding the zip wire, self induced giddiness, spinning with a full bucket of water, lighting fires, growing swan plants - real life living in three dimensions - that is what sets children up for the abstract symbolic processing we call reading, writing, and numeracy. After all, reading and writing are just recording in a way to stimulate the brain to recall-synthesise-amalgamate-create data from the body of knowledge existent.
When the virus is deadly
You and I take it for granted that when someone offers a stimulus - e.g. the word ‘hedgehog’ - the brain will automatically offer a response and provide an image. If the child is lucky and did the real-life-3D-get-to-know-hedgehog-thing, the image-response will be multidimensional. What most early childhood teachers overlook is that this stimulus-image response is a learned skill, which every child can learn, as long as the conditions are right. So what are the right conditions that enable the brain to set itself up for imagining, creating and processing abstract symolic information? I have written an article that goes into this in more detail, but here is a short version: three dimensional experience builds up a body of knowledge which includes the actual images of the experience being available ‘in’ the brain. Children are curious and get into everything, so they build up heaps of images available in the brain. Are you still with me? Then when someone speaks (stimulus) about the little red hen (three stimuli there: little, red, and hen) and the grains of wheat (stimulus), the child calls up her images (response) of little, red, hens and wheat from her experience, and sets about moving-combining-synthesising her own images into a creation so she can make sense of the story/stimulus. Try this: maz sarkans vistu. No response? It isn’t the right stimulus for English speakers, maz sarkans vistu is Latvian for little red hen. This stimulus-response function is pure brain alchemy, and all higher learning is dependent on this function.
There is a window for the brain-alchemy function
The child isn’t born able to do this, the brain is not complete enough at birth. The child has to prepare and install this function through their exploration and play. In other words, the brain develops this function during a biologically determined window of time. Miss the window and the child (and society) is in serious trouble. This window happens to be in the early childhood years. Until recently this particular stimulus-response brain function has always been developed and installed like clockwork, but not any longer. There are many children who have so much screen time that the process is stymied. These children don’t develop the stimulus-response function, and to understand why that is, we need to look at how screens differ from real life. When I say to you, “the little red hen”, your brain responds to the stimulus with images. When the screen says to you, “the little red hen”, the screen (stimulus) supplies its own response; the image of the little red hen is there before you on the screen. There is nothing for your brain to do: no retrieving, no connecting, no synthesising, no creating... no growth and no development. Too much of this for a young child and the window is missed, and closes. Encepholograph readings of people watching screens read very close to brain dead, there is nothing for the brain to respond to. That’s fine if you want to blob out in front of a screen, but it is not fine for the human child building the functions of her ‘brain processor’, functions which will decide her ‘computing’ capabilities.
Justification is the art of telling ourselves stories so we’ll feel better doing dodgy things
One argument put forward by the pro-technology-in-early-childhood lobby is that we need to introduce computers at an early age because, like it or not, we are living in the age of technology. True. Many infants and children know what it is to be sidelined by their parents in favour of phones, screens, and/or computer games, and children learn to use whatever technology they are surrounded by. Almost every child comes from a home where there are smart phones, MP3 players and computers, and many spend the bulk of their waking time being entertained in two-dimensions. What these children lack is enough time living and playing in the 3D world. Too little screen time is not the burden of today’s child; quite the reverse.
The ‘we use it as a tool’ story
This week I have spoken with teachers who are enthusiastic about computers as tools - me too, this program I am working in now beats handwriting for speed any day. But for teachers to say computers encourage research skills, curiosity and creativity in early childhood is justification at best, and disingenuous at worst. There isn’t an child who has to be encouraged to research, to be curious or to be creative - they are all born that way. Young children just have to touch, they use all of their senses to get to know what they examine, they are fascinated. What we have to do is make sure they stay that way by ensuring their environment is as rich and harmonious as possible. Such an environment is always going to be in the three dimensional world. Sorry, a 2D tablet simply won’t cut it.
Computer engineers, programers, designers wanted: Apply if you are 7 or older
Children who meet computers/screens after they have turned seven will have all the time they would need to become first class computer nerds because of the cognitive shift that occurs at 6-7 years. That shift enables the brain to engage in the mode of functioning where the two dimensional abstract virtual world of computers becomes an appropriate field of play and learning. The few computer nerds I know started on a Commodore 64 in their teens. It was early enough. As for the argument that ‘children love them’, they love chocolate biscuits and cartoons too. That doesn’t mean a diet of chocolate or screens is good for them - or us. Both are addictive and addictions take us away from engaging in the rich living which Life offers.
Age and stage appropriate
Legality aside, we wouldn’t let a child of ten drive a car on the open road even if they could (and some can) because it is not age appropriate. We don’t start teaching children to drive before they are 15, even though they could learn, because there is no need to teach them until it is age appropriate. Instead, we use that freed-up time to offer/facilitate learning opportunities that are age appropriate. Let’s use the same restraint and wisdom with information technology.
Don’t be sucked in
Early childhood is not school - don’t be fooled-wooed into thinking your children need technology at your place. They don’t. Use this precious window in each child’s life to support their 3D Play in Real 3D Life.
(References for this blog are listed in the PDF, see under 'Articles '.)
Autumn Sale of Superior Educational Equipment
To those of you who are fascinated by superior and amazing learning materials for our children, this is your season. Nature's harvest in the Autumn doesn't stop at pumpkins, apples and feijoas; educational equipment is also part of the harvest. As is usual with Nature's abundance and generosity, her harvest won't cost you anything more than the time it takes you to harvest it.
Just as they have done for thousands of years, children express their in-built, genetic patterns of 'being human' with these treasures. Not surprisingly, the patterns children express using multiple natural materials lay the platform for literacy and numeracy. The child's urge (humans urge) to sort, order, pattern, group, connect, classify, seriate..., these patterns of play are the physical prerequisites for the more abstract versions of the same skills that will come on stream later: (3X3) X (4+13). There are other bonuses when we use natural materials instead of bought plastic stuff. These natural items themselves are the epitome of the mathematical patterns nature employs in creation, affording our children the chance to 'down load' these patterns, as well as the subtleties of colour, texture, smell and sound. Much of this play and learning happens naturally, outside, as in days of old: in the sandpit with the shells, under the trees with the acorns, in the hedge with the leaves.... Inside is a second best as far as most children are concerned, but objects of beauty inside add harmony and beauty - think of photos in the House and Garden magazine.
Beautiful Containers for Beautiful Materials
Even though the equipment comes for free, there will be a cost - you will have to source some beautiful containers to store your treasure. Beautiful baskets and wooden bowls can be found for bargain prices at garage sales and opportunity shops. A wooden bowl that is stained is easily sanded then oiled back to its original glory. If you want sets of containers, Trade Aid is a good place to look, a place where you know your dollar is doing more good than you thought a dollar could do.
Baskets, Heuristic Play, Exclusion and Inclusion
I hadn't heard the term heuristic until about twelve years ago. I couldn't guess from the context what it meant, so instead of pretending I understood, I owned up; "What does that mean?" Turns out, the person using it wasn't too sure what it meant either, so I went home and looked it up.
Heuristic [Hyoo-ris-tic, or, often yoo-] Adjective
a: serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of further investigation
b: encouraging a person to learn, discover, understand, or solve problems on his or her own, as by experimenting, evaluating possible answers or solutions, or by trial and error - an heuristic teaching method
c. of, pertaining to, or based on experimentation, evaluation, or trial and error methods.
When you look at the definition, most of our learning in life is heuristic. 'Heuristic' does not apply exclusively to the infant 'treasure baskets' people tend to be referring to when they use this term. I am not in favour of those of us in early childhood using the term 'heuristic' - except in assignments - because jargon is exclusive, it excludes those not in the know. Using the word heuristic in conversation with parents, or in learning stories that parents will read, leaves most parents either wondering what on earth are 'they' are talking about. The parents who want to understand what we are talking about will have to ask us point blank, "What does that mean?" At that point they can feel included.
Beauty and Education
Beauty needs to part of every child's education, and all of the great educators understood this, from Plato, through to Steiner, Montessori (oh those beautiful geometric shapes), Loris Malaguzzi... and You. Two quotes from Plato:
"The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful."
The mathematical patterns of this earth are stunningly beautiful. Nature is always works in patterns: from the pattern of an atom, of a molecule, of a cell, of a crystal, of a shell, of a walnut...
"The most effective kind of education is that a child should play among lovely things."
Human Beings - Human Doings
In this time of high stress for parents, babies, children, and teachers it is time to reevaluate what we want for our children and for ourselves from our education system. Part of the solution will be remembering the balance between being and doing, and then working to achieve that.
Education and Cultural Imperatives
Education as we know it is a cultural activity, and different cultures have different takes on what works and what doesn’t. For example, the education practices of Japan and Korea could not be more different from those of Sweden and Norway if they had planned it that way. That’s because cultural activities are always ‘man-made’, and sometimes they line up with how people are designed and how they work, and often-times they don’t.
What about Biological Imperatives?
Training people to work in the education industry is likewise a cultural activity and is ‘man-made’. Sometimes what we are taught - and how we are taught - lines up with how we ourselves are designed and learn, and most often it doesn’t. Moreover, almost without exception, what we are taught is not in line with how children are designed nor how they learn. It not that the information about age-appropriate biologically-neurologically-compatible teaching and learning isn’t available, it is. It’s just not taught in most education pre-service training, including Early Childhood pre-service training, and the consequences for the child under three are dire.
If you are set on measuring, then unseen-reality poses a bit of a problem
I believe that one of the reasons for the mismatch of biological imperatives and cultural imperatives is our compulsion to measure, especially when it rubs up against our bias against the unseen, the ‘spiritual’. ‘If it can’t be seen and measured it doesn’t exist’ seems to be the underlying mantra. Tell that to someone who is contented, curious, excited, full of wonder, in love, relaxed, or confident. These are all aspects of reality, and I would argue, they are better indicators of a successful programme than anything you can measure. It is nigh impossible to measure something you cannot see like children’s happiness; it is too hard to quantify, too hard to evaluate it’s worth empirically, and this might be the genesis of murmurings from individuals in the ERO who want a more prescriptive early childhood curriculum. It would make it easier for them to measure.
Being or doing?
Traditionally, teachers have been trained in skills of ‘doing’ to the exclusion of skills of ‘being’, the skills of the unseen, skills of the spirit. Our pre-service training drills us in how to ‘do’ teaching, and included in the teacher’s tool kit are the ‘doings’ of teaching, extending, planning, scaffolding, questioning... We have been modelled these behaviours - these ‘human doings’ - and we have been taught them. As a result, we often end up believing that these skills are what being a teacher is all about. To add to their legitimacy, there are rules and regulations which enforce these cultural imperatives: you have to do it or you could be mentioned in your workplace report as noncompliant and/or not ‘up to scratch’.
The ethic of reciprocity - How would I like it?
But what if these skills and behaviours (as valuable as they can be), block the child in her learning? What if these cultural imperatives are a poor match for the biological imperatives of the child? If we were to put ourselves into the learner’s shoes and ask ourselves, “How would I like it?” we would get a better idea about what is appropriate, and when.
Let me do it
If you or I were learning something that was new to us, we’d want to take our time. We’d want time to ponder, to figure it out - then try it out. If it didn’t work the first time we would try again. We’d try to figure out another way and then try that out. It depends on how much stickability we had developed as learners how long you or I would keep this ‘figure-it-out-try-it-out’ pattern going, but most of us keep going until we get it. Or until we are stymied. If we achieve it, there is such a sense of joy and wellbeing. If we are stymied then - and only then - we ask for help. And we only want as much help as we ask for, we don’t want the ‘teacher’ to take over and do it for us. This pattern of discovery is the age old human pattern that is also known as learning. It’s a species thing, it’s good for all ages of homo sapiens sapiens. We are born curious, and if we get a fair go, we want to try things out and discover how they work, in real time, in real life, not in assignments.
Too often what is deemed scaffolding, open ended questioning, extending and teaching does not facilitate the independent experimentation Emmi Pikler is talking about. Too often it is adult intrusion and leads children to learn the practice of 'brain-borrowing'. Brain borrowing is when the child takes all the cues and scaffolding to achieve something they wouldn’t have achieved independently, at least not at that time in that way. For example -
“What would happen if you turned it around? Would it fit then? Keep going.
That’s the way, that way looks like it could work. Try that.”
From teacher to educator
This is an extreme example, but my guess is that we have all done it sometime during our journey towards being an educator rather than a teacher. That journey asks us to become skilled in Human Being, so that we know when to apply the human doings, and how to apply them in ways that allow the child the satisfaction of making her own knowledge.
Pennie Brownlee • October • 2013
Not everything that counts can be counted,
and not everything that can be counted counts.
Paintings: Top left - Adriana Mufarrege. Top right - Morgan Weistling. Bottom right - Sayda Afonina
How will your children notice the changing seasons in a way that will give them real, authentic knowledge of the way Life unfolds in the place where they live and play?
Although it isn't officially Spring here until September the 1st, you can feel it in the air and in the warmth of the soil. Spring is edging its way in already. Now is a good time to think about how to notice this 'edging in' with the children in an authentic way. How will your children notice the changing seasons in a way that will give them real knowledge of the way Life unfolds in the place where they live and play?
Most of us 'did Spring' somewhere in our education. We were given the templates of skipping lambs to draw around, cut out and stick cotton wool on. They gave us yellow paper and a model we could copy, and if our 'daffodil' was good enough, we could put it onto the class freize of daffodils. We might even have been given pink crepe paper or pink tissues and shown how to make paper blossoms to tie onto a bare branch and hang from the ceiling. It is true, many of us enjoyed these busy-work activities, but the activities themselves carry absolutely no knowledge of the season called Spring.
If we don't stop to think about real learning and authenticity, we too could pull these old ideas out and do them with our children, and we could think we 'had done' Spring. If we do that, yet another generation will have little idea of the magic of Spring, they will have little idea to no about what transformations are happening at 'their place'. It is the transformations taking place that constitute the real stuff of Spring, so our task is how to become aware of the unfolding in a way that is not forced. Fortunately, that has got easier as technology has got smarter.
In a centre where the teachers, owners and managers understand Belonging - Mana Whenua there will be at least one plant from each category growing in the centre grounds. If, however, your centre is bereft of plants, you will have to use the plants in the street by your centre - or you can bring branches in with you and keep them alive by feeding them with sugar in the water, and keeping the water clean. For the long term, wait until Autumn and plant for ecoliteracy and Belonging. If you feel you know nothing about trees, ask around in your community - tree lovers will be only too pleased to advise you.
Child: "What is it?"
You: "Not sure yet, shall we wait and see what happens? We could make a guess though?"
Child: "What is if for?"
You: "Good question. We might have to see what it is first and then we see if we can work that out. But look at that neat red bit there. I reckon you could guess what it is doing there."
When you and the children have fallen totally in love with the miracle of Life unfolding, when you have it documented with marvellous photos - write it up and put it in your newsletter to remind parents what a stunning little planet we live on. Send it to 'The First Year's Journal' or to the 'Space' magazine, to inspire other teachers who are working out how to offer authentic opportunities in our quest for ecoliteracy and Belonging.
PS: I don't know whether to give you a preview, or let you discover for yourself, but sometimes, when we have no idea what we are looking for, we can miss it even though it is staring us straight in the face. So here are a few hints:
Lately I have encountered some confusion around self-love, arrogance, conceit and unrealistic self images. Self-love bears no relation to the latter three. Self-love is a measure of health itself, and the other three are the psyche bent out of shape.
The Buddha had something to say about the kind of loving kindness that is self-love:
"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection."
And Jesus reminded us,
"Love your neighbour as yourself".
Tacit in that reminder is that we do love and respect ourselves.
As long as we are breathing we are 'works in progress', so I invite you to check your progress in self-love and self-respect with this quick quiz for parents and teachers alike.
Your mouse won't interact with this quiz I'm sorry (that is a bit beyond my technical ability at this time).
Click here if you want to print off a hard copy.
Still a believer in the printed word - does that make me a fossil?