Sometimes when I read about or observe other methods within early childhood education, I wonder what their image of a child is. If asked, what would they say? Would they have an answer? If I were asked prior to my discovery and development of my own approach, what would I have said? From pre-set curriculum, to assessments and testing, to stoplight and other punishment and reward systems – I can’t help but want to scream.
Children are human! They are not a sub-species. They are not aliens. They are human. Just smaller.
They don’t need to be trained through punishments or rewards. They don’t need to be entertained, distracted or occupied with shiny things. They are just like us expect they have fewer experiences to draw from and a brain that is still developing.
But why then do we treat them so vastly differently than we do adults?
If your sister stubs their toe or gets a paper cut do you say, “Oh, you’re okay, it’s not a big deal.” or do you sympathize with them, “Oh, I hate when that happens!”
If a friend drops their hat do you scold them, “You should’ve known better than to walk around with a hat on with the wind blowing like this. Now you have no hat.” or do you try to chase it down as it blows in the wind?
If your mom doesn’t like fish, do you insist on cooking it for her regardless? Then coerce her to “just try it, you might like it this time.”?
No. We treat adults much differently because we have this false belief that adults and children are vastly different from each other.
The reality is they are not.
We are much more similar than we realize. We both want our feelings acknowledged, our needs met, our problems understood. We both want caring, loving relationships filled with respect and understanding.
We are all human, just in different stages of our lives. It is time to start treating children as they are – capable, whole human-beings.
When interacting with your children, ask yourself, “Would I speak like this to an adult? Would I approach an adult in this manner?” I can promise you you will find that we often speak very differently to children, in a way that would be considered rude or disrespectful when talking to adults.
I also warn you that once your position shifts, you will find it almost unbearable to speak or treat children as “just kids” or hear or watch other adults do the same.
If you follow the Reggio Emilia Inspired approach, you already treat children as capable of directing their own learning. You facilitate them, acting as co-learners. You document and reflect with them and others. You probably are like me and find yourself constantly in awe of just how amazing children are.
Yet so many of us still think children aren’t capable of falling asleep without a hand on their back, eating when they are hungry, recovering from strong emotions, regulating their own peer relationships, or evaluating risk. We still tell them how they should feel (“Oh you don’t have to be sad, you’re okay.”) and what their body need (“You have to eat snack or you’ll be hungry later.”).
We claim that we think children are capable, but do we really demonstrate that image in all areas, or just in the ones that require the least amount of trust?