I’ve always had a bit of a thing for Robert Downey Jnr. I don’t know if it’s his good looks or his bad boy image but there’s just something about him that makes me want to watch his movies. I liked Iron Man and the less well-known Through A Scanner Darkly but my favourite by far has to be his portayal of Sherlock Holmes; a madcap, other-worldly, flawed, yet brilliant genius.
It might be reading too much into the character of Sherlock Holmes but I’m often struck by how he always seems obsessively exploring ‘meaning’, an incessant search for something beyond the obvious or not-so-obvious that leads down a labyrinthian path until the truth rears its head - usually a truth that Sherlock has discovered long before the doting Watson or the bumbling police led by the well-meaning but ultimately blinkered Inspector Lestrade have even begun to put two and two together.
I can’t help but think that this search for meaning, this drive to interpret the evidence before our eyes is very reminiscent of working in Early Years. Unfortunately this isn’t always in a good way...
As adults working with young children, we see the world in a particular way. We’re constantly looking for evidence, for proof that children are behaving, producing and being in a particular way so that we can in turn head to our children’s learning journeys to tick off at least three times no doubt that we have seen them do ‘x’. We do this even though very clearly on every page of Development Matters it states that it is not a checklist. In spite of this, even though it’s not a checklist we seem determined to treat it like one. We therefore, like sleuths, go on the hunt, either setting up provision or questioning children so that we can compile our evidence to present to the combined courts of moderation, parents or SLT.
By doing so we immediately and unwittingly close down children’s magic, their ‘language’, their experiences and their fascinations. We try to steer them to our outcomes, what we are looking for. We bring a value judgement to their interactions. Adults then begin shutting down children. We put our layer of meaning over them and then discount things that lie outside our parameters. Children begin to have to fit into our preconceptions rather than us fitting into their magic realm and breathing their ether.
Take this photo for instance. By way of context four children have gathered the flotsam and jetsam from around the playground and piled it all up at the foot of a brick wall.
My adult brain whilst walking towards them is already in overdrive looking for meaning. Since I haven’t planned this to happen, as it lies outside my ‘control’, because it doesn’t offer an obvious clue I cannot find meaning in their activity. I can’t see how this is anything other than a clear indication that there is no learning happening. In effect I am striding over all prepared to shut this down.
However, because I hopefully know a little better, because I believe in the magic of children, I switch off the Sherlock part of my brain and instead of steaming in all guns blazing, I hold back to see what might be taking place, to discover. Are these children engaged in something that not only offers potential for my possible interaction but also might teach me something about children, about their ‘language’?
Of course the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ - it’s a Bug World... I don’t find this out by asking - I don’t over-approach. I just hang back and listen. I listen to the collaboration, the debate, the inference, the child chat of what might be, what could happen, how the bugs needed a home, How they might collect more materials, if there are bugs around that will be jealous, if they should build more homes and where, what bugs might live in the cracks in the wall and what they might like to eat. There is a real sense of meaning here. Not meaning to the adult world - meaning to them. It’s here that I then begin to interact, sharing with them, joining in as an equal almost.
My interaction leads to language extension, to the mathematics of estimation, to sign reading, sign writing - the adult world needs. I don’t do the classic over-questioning however. I just collaborate with them. I get a ‘sense’ of this deeply meaningful ‘project’.
To do so I’ve had to discard the Sherlock in my brain, switch off the fear that other adults walking into my environment still have their Sherlock brains running at full speed, and allow myself to be absorbed in the magical realm of children. When we listen, it’s when we learn and children have bucketload after bucketload to teach us :)
As a challenge why not reflect on a time that you’ve seen children offer an insight into their thought processes that lie outside the adult preconceptions of ‘learning’?
If you’ve never seen this then why not give some time to think about how you might enable this, how you might give some space to children to show you their magic? It is there. You might just need to un-Sherlock yourself...
Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....