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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Reaping the rewards of risk

As I mentioned recently on my Facebook page, I'm in the throes of a major uni assignment on risky play. I have to admit that I'm loving the uni work- not so much because of the course itself (in fact the restrictions of writing in an academic rather than a creative style sometimes drive me a bit nutty), but because of the things it's prompting me to do with the kids.

I chose the topic, 'risky play', myself.  I've got a passion for listening to what the kids want and trying to respond. And in one of my workplaces- my favourite one- risk is on the kids' agenda almost every moment of every day. If they're not trying to climb the fence and escape like Violet, they're on the roof of the shed, or up a tree, or playing Kung Fu Panda games, or crashing the bikes into one another and sprawling on the concrete pretending to be in need of an ambulance.

It's a high-energy demographic, and I love it- kids being kids, fearless and gutsy, the way it used to be in the days when parents and carers weren't so damn precious.  When the media hadn't scared the heck out of everyone by publicising and inflating every sad accident, so we'd assume the world was suddenly a more dangerous place than before.  When the lawyers hadn't encouraged everyone to play the blame game for money.

I suppose it's a bit like stepping back in time.  To me, these kids feel real. They're like the kids from my own childhood, fifty-odd years ago.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Firecracker kids: walking the right disciplinary line

I don't have a lot of voice today.

I don't have a lot of voice today, because yesterday I decided to spend some time one-to-one with 'Violet'. Violet has her problems. She's a high-energy, LOUD, I'm-over-baby-stuff kid who has been going through a Bolshie stage the whole time I've known her.

Maybe Bolshie is just who she is. It goes with being bright sometimes, and Violet is definitely very clever indeed. She's a wizard at spacial challenges. Her creative work is incredible.

I come into Violet's life frame very sporadically, being a casual worker. Each time I have to re-establish the boundaries with her and work at our relationship, while she tests the fence, and tests the fence, and TESTS the fence of my limits. She does it to all the staff. It's not personal. But as with all children, it's so much easier to deal with difficult behaviours when you have a good relationship with the child.

I'm genuinely fond of Violet; she can be outrageous, but she also radiates an inner light.  If she can harness that energy for good, she will be someone truly outstanding one day. It's not so hard for me to try to build that relationship, because I can see her light despite the Bolshie wrapper. Sometimes just seeing a child's light can be a challenge, I know. I count myself fortunate that I can see that light in Violet; with other difficult kids I've sometimes struggled away in the dark.

Ironically, yesterday Violet was literally testing the fence by climbing it, and had to be manhandled and persuaded away from it before she was over, off and away up the street. Yesterday she used her considerable problem-solving powers to work out that the ladder from the climbing frame could be used to get to the top of the said fence.  Yesterday Violet was a handful.

(Actually, Violet's nearly always a handful.)

She used up my voice, and she used up my energy, but yesterday she also gave me a priceless gift.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Remembering adolescence

Have you ever been asked what you'd do differently if you could live your life all over again?

My answer has always been that I'd pass up the chance to do that, because I would never want to be an adolescent again. Never, not ever. It was just too hard.

And that makes me wonder about parents of adolescents who do nothing but wail about how IMPOSSIBLE teenagers are.

I wonder about their memories.  Have they forgotten what it was like to be neither child nor adult, besieged by hormonal imperatives, weighed down by conflicting expectations from every side?

I wonder about their ability to apply knowledge. Can they not synthesise material from their own adolescence with what their child is going through?

Apparently not, in many cases.

This is what I remember about being an adolescent. This is how I survived teaching adolescent girls for over 20 years, and how come most of them are still speaking to me as adults.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The girls who taught me how to teach

Sometimes when I read back over my past posts, I wonder if I give the impression that I'm a painful know-it-all. I always seem to be giving people hints on how to do things better, or telling of some little triumph of mine, as though I'm some mighty guru.

Of course, from my end, things look a little different. I'm painfully aware of the mistakes I've made along the way while I learned how to teach and how to parent. And I'm also aware that I'm nearing the end of my working life; if I haven't learned a few things by now, well, it's getting close to too late! Not that you ever stop learning, of course. When you stop learning, it's time to die; that's my view.

But it's only fair if, every now and then, I share some of my bad times with you too; and so today I thought I tell you about some of the mistakes I made when I first started out, and how I learned a better way to teach.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Why I won't do Hallowe'en

I've just been reading a great post by Janet Lansbury about how we can help children take ownership of their art by backing off ourselves.  Couldn't agree more.

But it was centred around the American festival of Hallowe'en, and that made me reflect on my strong distaste for that celebration on the last day of October. A lot of people assume that I'm just anti-American, or something.  But that's not it.  Sure, I think that we have lots to celebrate in Australia without adopting other people's festivals, but that's not the real reason I feel uncomfortable about Hallowe'en. 

And it's nothing to do with religion and witches, either.  I'm not that straight-laced.

It's the modelling that worries me.  It's the behavioural undertones, and the hypocrisy of bad behaviour being amusing and acceptable for one day of the year and criminal for the rest. 

Let's take a look at the behaviour that's put up as okay at Hallowe'en, and see how it stands up for the rest of the year.