We must trust ourselves,
we must trust our instincts,
but most of all, we must trust children.
Children are competent, capable human beings. They are born competent, unfortunately we have created a stifling education system that instead of growing this competence, strips it away, layer by layer, until they themselves believe that they need to teachers direction in order to learn.
When we finally expect to see this competence as they get older, they disappoint us by struggling to be independent and we wonder why.
We have robbed children of the gift of trust and it is long overdue that we gave it back.
I am not blaming anyone here, I think it is so engraved in our psyche that we don't even know what we are doing. We have absolutely come to believe that children need our supervision and guidance 100% of the time, because they are not capable of competently looking after themselves without an adult hovering somewhere in the vicinity.
We have developed a system based on class treaties, rules and timetables, in the assumption that if we didn't have these things, control would go out of the window. We have created environments that are completely without risk, yet things continue to get worse. Our job continues to get harder, children are diagnosed with a range of behavioural issues and everyday a new gadget is invented to engage and motivate them and to just keep them still. People are earning good money designing convoluted positive behaviour management systems, because children simply couldn't behave without them.
Even when a school does include a little risk and allows a child to climb trees, they can't stop themselves from painting a line on the highest point a child can climb to, hey let's face it, a child wouldn't be able to judge the risk for themselves without this painted line.
I think we should be very worried.
If we took these things away, what would happen?
Obviously children would run riot, right? It would be an absolute circus right?
I can just see the carnage now!
Sorry for the sarcasm, but I just want you to mull this one over for a moment. At our place we discarded school rules a while ago. I think we are going on six or seven years since we shredded them. We didn't discard the rules because our children were not breaking them, far from it, we discarded them because we believed the rules simply were not helping anybody.
We've never had a more positive playground. Very few accidents other than skinned knees, and the odd bump and bruise. No need for any 'behaviour' management system. Do our children run riot?
No, very novelly they actually look after each other brilliantly. They show us their competence each and every day. Yes they are children, they make mistakes, they learn from them and we move on. If a child falls off a bike at our place there will be no shortage of people to pick them up. If a child gets stuck up a tree, there will be a convoy of children to the staff room to let us know. If they hit their thumb with a hammer, they learn to be more careful next time. They look after each other because they feel a responsibility and empathy towards each other, not because we will give them a special sticker or card at the end of it.
Since we have embarked on play-based learning we have had to transfer this same trust to the classroom. I would be bold enough to state that it is just about impossible to run an effective play-based environment if you don't trust the competence of children. Play is not something you can timetable or micromanage. It is not simply children selecting activities from a 'can do' list while you are taking a group.
It comes down to letting go. Our children have access to the outside most of the time, the outdoors at our place is quite vast, and we are not able to keep an eye on them at all times. Children thrive on our trust, they don't need us hovering. They do love it when we play alongside, or engage with them, but the don't need us to supervise them constantly.
This trust allows us to truly engage with children, to pay attention to a small group, without wondering what they others are up to.
If the do something to let us down, they know that they outside won't be an option for them for a few days...this is not something they want.
They grow in competence every day, instead of being stripped away by a prescribed programme, this competence blooms, their individuality and personality shines through and it is simply awesome to witness.
I believe trust is key. We must bring back programmes and approaches that allow us to show a high level of trust in children, and we must also trust ourselves.
Rather than dangling carrots to encourage positive behaviour and manners, we need to build on the competence they enter school with, building on this competence will allow them to develop resilience, responsibility, independence and empathy...no dangling of carrots required. Does this happen overnight, of course not...it takes time to allow children to develop back the competence that has been taken away. It will take time, but it will be worth it. Along with showing this trust, it takes a focus on empathy, kindness, citizenship and leadership. It takes specific modeling and teaching of these things and approaches that encourage the process over product with a focus on dispositions rather than academic outcomes.
But ultimately we do this by showing trust.
As one of my lovely colleagues who is on her own play-based journey this year said..."it is about being confident enough to just let go."
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