I *knew* a lot about child development before I had any training or children of my own.
I was convinced that children could be geniuses if adults took the time to introduce them to as much as possible. Young children should be in dance class, spoken to in dual languages, handed tiny violins, and have regimented schedules to become better people.
When I had been working with preschoolers for a couple of years my son Noah was born. I was convinced I had a handle on this child development thing. Three days after we returned home from the hospital, I was laying with him on his bedroom floor exhausted, and had completely lost my voice. It occurred to me that for the past 72 hours I had been constantly singing, reading, and talking to the young lad, to the point of no longer being able to speak. I was going to make sure he had a “leg up” in life. In my mind at the time, I guess that meant me incessantly imparting my wisdom onto his tiny infant consciousness. Manic parenting. This is when I started to back off and research what was actually best practice in childhood development.
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats
I can relate to the intense, young, and involved parents that we have as early childhood educators. I have never forgotten the fervor with which I read, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” and trying my very best to be sure that my kids would feel happy, loved, cared for, and prepared for life. There should balance in all things. As educators we need to be mindful of balancing expectations of parents, meeting student learning goals, and utilizing what we know is best for children.
Children need a variety of experiences
Children should be introduced to many different learning adventures. This is not for the expectation of creating mini-Mozarts or soccer stars. In the early learning years it is more important to plant the seed for appreciation. This will result in a more open minded adult in the future, and their interests will develop naturally.
Children need down time
Children should have periods of time to entertain themselves. They should have the opportunity to look for things to do, or simply choose to do nothing. This gives children the time to think, which leads to the ability to sort out their world and their feelings.
Children need creative time
The best types of learning are balanced between adult-led and child-led. Utilizing only one or the other will short change children on a broader range of learning experiences. Sometimes the sky is purple, and that is ok.
Children need expressive time
Children must have a lot of time to communicate about what they are thinking and feeling. Constantly being told to be quiet and sit down can have many negative outcomes. Children can become disengaged in their environment, lose self-confidence, and will not form important emotional bonds with the adults around them.
Battling the myth of the super school/super teacher/ super parent
If we are led by self-awareness and observation of the children we work with, we will get it right. There will be families who will wonder why we are outside so much, and others who say we are not outside enough. There will be those who are upset that we allow the children to nap, and others who are grateful. You don’t have to be Mary Poppins to be a good early childhood educator. You need to be invested in your students, respectful of them and their families, and act in their best interest.
Noah is fourteen and doing quite well. I still find myself talking “at” him, trying to prepare him for what he will face in the years ahead. I have gotten better about listening to him, and giving him space to just be “Noah.” And Noah is a pretty amazing guy!