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Thursday, June 2, 2011

What we want for our children- and is the EYLF the answer?

I came across an absolutely brilliant list of 10 things another blogger wants for today's children, here:

10 things I want for today's kids

It reflects so much of what I believe about childhood.  And I feel a need to say more about a few of Grass Stain Guru's points, some of which I've addressed in my own posts in the past and some of which tap into my reservations about Australia's new national curriculum, the EYLF.

Yes, childhood has become restricted and over-legislated, blighted by the fears of parents that their child will be hurt and the fears of schools and businesses that they'll be sued if a child gets hurt.  See here:
physical challenge versus physical safety
and here:
teaching resilience

I was an over-protected child.  I was terribly sick with rheumatic fever when I was very young, and my mother's fear of losing me meant that she wrapped me in cotton wool from the moment I was well enough to get up again (I must say I blame the doctors who scared her to death talking about 'suppressed immune systems' and 'heart damage' more than I blame her). Physical activities were actively discouraged, and as I was a pretty thoughtful, quiet child anyway, I didn't mind much and didn't seek them out.

What did that do to my development?  Well, I can assure you that my gross motor and hand-eye skills were held back significantly, and my confidence in any physical area was minimal.  I always believed I was no good at ball games or at anything 'physical'.

Working with children saved me.  As a teacher, I've abseiled off 4-storey buildings, glided across deep gullies on a flying fox, ridden a horse (and not even fallen off when it shied) and done countless other things that terrified me to death, simply because I needed to show equally frightened children that it was okay.  And now that I'm playing with 4-year-olds nearly every day, I find that I CAN, for example, kick and catch a ball, and even teach them how to do it.  It astounds me.  All I needed was the confidence that I wouldn't be laughed at, and daily practice, and gradually the skills came to me.

What does that tell you about over-protecting your kids? Don't do it.  Let them hurt themselves.  Don't laugh at them when they get things wrong.  Help them practise skills.

The EYLF supports free play- but I wish it gave a bit more leeway for physical challenge in the preschool yard, which is still hogtied by height restrictions due to fear of accidents.

Yes, children are spending too much time in front of screens and too little outdoors or cuddled up with a book.

Play with your child outside- heaven knows, you might even end up getting fitter yourself and having fun.  Read to your child; he needs that interaction with you.  See here:
active storytelling
and here:
literacy, little boys and fairy tales

I still remember my father taking my brother and me bushwalking when we were very young.  We caught yabbies in the local creek, looked at wildflowers and learned their names, caught insects and brought them home to look at... I developed a life-long love of the bush from that simple beginning.  Take the time to share what you love with your child.

And reading? All that time in bed when I was sick... what would I have done without books? I still remember my mother reading me the chapter of 'Anne of Green Gables' where she accidentally dyes her hair green.  I laughed so much I was crying.  Share your childhood favourites.

And as for that screen- make it a social event, not a babysitter.  Have you SEEN some of the garbage that passes for children's entertainment on morning TV? Sit down and watch it with them.  If it's rubbish, turn it OFF.  Computers? Yep, great things in moderation.  And YOU are the moderator.

The EYLF is ambiguous regarding technology in the early childhood classroom; that's wise.  I'm not strongly for or against computers in preschool rooms.  Yes, they have their uses, but there are plenty of other ways to play; when they're not there, I don't miss them and neither do the kids.

But they can be awesome additions in extended periods of wet weather when a room is full of extremely active 4- and 5-year-old boys, and they can be havens for children on the autism spectrum who find all-day social contact very challenging.

Books and the EYLF? I'm hoping that every child will still be read to every day while in early childhood care.  I've seen some centres where it's not happening, because some children are allowed free play to the extent that they don't ever get asked to sit and listen.  That worries me.

Yes, children have a right to make choices, to be themselves, to NOT be coddled out of any chance to make their own mistakes, to NOT be so privileged and spoilt that they don't learn to strive and overcome difficulties to get what they want. 

Children need to hear 'NO' sometimes.

Here's where I get on my soapbox and bewail the 'never say no' philosophy in childcare, which seems to be reflected in the EYLF too.  What bollocks.  Children need boundaries.  Just don't say no all the time- save it for when they're doing something dangerous or inconsiderate or gratuitously self-serving.

NO, you can't climb on that cardboard box to get to the power point with the scissors.  NO, you can't keep all the toys in a pile and hit the other kids when they want to play with them.  NO, I won't buy you every single toy or techno gadget you see on TV- get a job and earn the money to buy it yourself, or save up your pocket money. See Respectful parenting: how to say no

We do need to say 'yes' as often as we can, and we do need to give choices that are REAL choices- ones where children can really follow either option. Yes, you can get your clothes wet playing in the yard on a hot day.  Yes, you can wear your favourite dress to preschool.  We do need to choose our battles.  See You're not leaving the house wearing that!

The EYLF supports saying yes to children and letting them choose.  That's good.  But please, let's not pretend that there are no battles worth fighting.

And lastly, yes, children need to develop a love of learning rather than being force-fed information.

Here's where I worry the most about the EYLF.  It depends so much on how educators interpret the ideals.  Certainly the EYLF is trying to deliver a love of learning rather than just learning itself. But is freedom without any direction enough?  Is that the best we can do for our children?

In my movement from centre to centre, I see many different interpretations of play-based learning.  Some centres close their eyes to the new curriculum and continue to be quite didactic in what the children are and aren't allowed to do. I've see children being handed a stencil of (for example) a wattle flower, with green and yellow pencils only, and instructions to colour it in- the roll is checked to make sure every child has completed the task.  These are 4-year-olds being force-fed 'art process'.

That's rubbish, just as it's rubbish for children to be told to stay at the painting table until the whole piece of paper is filled 'because it's wasteful' to leave blank bits.  (Yep, that actually happened too!) There is no love of learning in this equation (in fact there's not even any learning- just a product at the end).

Bad practice like that has probably fuelled many of the EYLF's directives. Yet some centres fall over  backwards in response, and remove almost all support for the children's learning.

I see children who have the recommended long blocks of uninterrupted free play, but without the educators taking the time to set up a stimulating and varied environment for that free play or interacting with the children during play in a way that supports their learning.

I see children who are not given any leg-up to (for example) learn new ways of handling materials or interacting socially, but are left to work out absolutely everything themselves without example or stimulation.

Children will learn through play, but they may not learn everything they need without help.

Is this right? I don't think so.  Here are some examples.

Children who are struggling with the inclusion of a special needs child who hits or bites need assistance to deal with the situation- they are not going to work it out for themselves.  They will 'learn through play' to hit back hard enough to make that child leave them alone.  That's not good learning for either party.

Children who are 'stuck' in a groove of using the collage and art materials only one way might benefit from having a staff member quietly sit down next to them and start making a picture a different way, or demonstrating a new technique to the whole group.  It's called scaffolding.  Some centres are throwing that away, and that makes me uncomfortable.

And some centres with privileged social demographics assume that because their children seem to learn counting and the alphabet at home without input from the centre staff, that is the case for all children.  They couldn't be more wrong.  People who make assumptions like these are contributing to a great literacy-numeracy divide between privileged and underprivileged children. I pity kindergarten teachers who have to level out this inequality in the first year of schooling, when some children have had little or no opportunity to play with letters and numbers in a guided environment and have to start from square one while their peers are off and running.

Children seem to be 'allowed' to learn by watching each other, but there is resistance in some quarters to children being 'allowed' to learn by watching and listening to great teachers at work- all in the name of play-based learning and the EYLF.  And that attitude is making it even harder for many early childhood centres to retain trained teaching staff.  Who wants to work in a centre where they're not allowed to do what they're trained to do- teach? It's bad enough that the pay is so terrible, but if you're feeling you're not allowed to do your job... why bother?

A great teacher will imbue a love of learning, will allow heaps of free play, AND will be a guide and a teacher.  Centres need to remember that as they implement the EYLF.

1 comment:

  1. I am actually shocked to be reading this. I love the EYLF and think it is the best learning framework ever. I think that if what you describe is happening then some people have really missed the point. The EYLF does embrace a play-based learning environment but it also clearly conveys the necessity for intentional teaching. I don't see anywhere in the documentation where it says play should be a 'free for all' but I do see that there is scope for child-directed and adult-directed play. I also see that play should be dramatic, sensory, physical, individual, group, game-based etc. I also see through the outcomes that children should be learning about story telling, print, letters, sounds, numbers. They should be able to transfer and adapt learning from one context to another.
    We are receiving excellent professional learning in Tasmania for staff working with 4 year old kindergarten programs and those working with 0-4 year olds in the Launch Into Learning Programs both within schools. We have considered types of play and the types of play materials which support literacy, numeracy, social and physical skill learning. We have considered ways to scaffold children's learning through play. We have also considered the environment we provide to support and challenge children's play and their learning.
    Another aspect I particularly like about the EYLF is that some aspects from other preschool programs such as Reggio Emilia, Highscope and Montessori can fit so well within it.
    I am loving using the EYLF as much as the children in my group love learning. We are all confident and involved learners.


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