I was doing a bit of a clear out in the week before Christmas and came across a piece of paper with these questions on it. I don’t know where I heard them or saw them, so apologies if these impactful words are yours.
What a wonderful check list for us to ask ourselves in relation to children and families in settings. And wouldn’t it be a great resolution to keep them to the forefront of our minds as we start a new term?
These questions chime so well with Aistear’s themes, I think. Do you know me, do you hear me, can I trust you: all reflect wellbeing. Is this place fair for me: Identity and belonging? Will you let me fly… exploring and thinking?
Let’s have a look at each of these questions and identify ways we can implement or further develop how they can be visible in practice.
Do you know me?
How do we get to know the children and families in our settings? Many use a getting to know you form, which can be very useful. Maybe review this to make sure that the questions on it are relevant and respectful. It is good to have this form in a selection of languages. Be sure that parents know why this form is in place, and remind them that the data on it is confidential, and only used to help educators get to know the child and their family to support settling in. Taking time to chat with parents and families, including other people authorised to collect the child, like neighbours and extended family can also help us develop our knowledge of the child’s context. This can be simple but important things like names of pets, the playmates on the road or where Granny and Grandad went on holidays as well as bigger life events, like house moves or the death of a family member.
Do you hear me?
In the Autumn of 2022, we spoke a lot in blogs and podcasts about multilingual children and families and also the Reggio Emilia philosophy of the 100 languages of children. Children can ‘tell’ us so much in multiple ways, apart from verbal interactions. Of course, it’s easier said than done at times. I’m remembering the suggestions made by Dr Geraldine French, in her episode of Early Childhood Ireland’s podcast in January 2021, around slow, relational pedagogy. She talks about taking time to observe play, ‘listen with your eyes’ and see what children are telling us. I recall being in a preschool early in 2005, shortly after the devastating tsunami during the Christmas holidays of 2004. A little girl painted an entire page black. I asked her to tell me about her picture and she told me it was ‘the dirty wave taking away all the people’. This little one lived near a beach. Clearly, she had heard news reports and conversations about the tsunami, and the painting was part of how she was managing her feelings and concerns about the tsunami. Letting children know we’ve seen them and heard them when they express feelings and fears in different ways helps them know we are listening and value their thoughts.
Is this place fair for me?
This one can be a harder question to tease out as it involves reflecting on any unconscious biases we may hold. And if we don’t know we hold these biases, how can we address them? Think about the family and cultural backgrounds of the children. Are these backgrounds visible in your settings in books, materials and images? Do we always speak respectfully of these backgrounds? If we hear other parents or children speak in a hurtful way about some backgrounds or cultures, do we respectfully explain that such conversation is inappropriate? Are there assumptions we make that can make things challenging for some children and parents?
Can I trust you?
We all know trust is built up. It takes time and consistency and if shaken, it can take even longer to regain. Children can be very trusting, and we must ensure that as much as we can, we treasure that trust and avoid damaging it. Equally, some children find transitions and settling in difficult, so taking time, following the child’s lead, ensuring consistency of educators who work with the child and explaining changes or absences all help to give children that vital sense of security and trust.
Will you let me fly?
One of my favourite quotes is from Hodding Carter (1953), where he refers to a wise woman who said to him, “There are only two lasting bequests that we can hope to give our children—roots and wings.” And when I saw this list of questions, scribbled on that bit of paper, that quote came to mind. Knowing children, hearing them, being fair and enabling them to trust us and be secure in our care will develop the ‘roots’ for them to enable them to have the confidence to try new things, challenge themselves, and give them the wings to fly.
What better new year resolution could we make than continue to enable children to be confident and competent learners, who are curious and respected in out settings.
Happy new year to all our members and readers!