Children – where are their tribes?

No body likes

Everybody hates me

I think I’ll go and eat some worms

Fat ones skinny ones

Long ones short ones

Ones that squiggle and squirm

I’ll bite their heads off

Suck their guts out

And throw their skins away

Nobody knows how much I enjoy

Eating worms three times a day – (Unknown)

When I was a child there was nothing funnier than reciting the above verse. Even funnier when we all sang it. At school, at home, in the car, riding our bikes at break neck speed down the enormous hill near my home, no helmets, hair flying and screaming it out at the top of our lungs. The world over, children band together at very young ages on the lookout for mischief, trouble, risky scenarios, rude words, naughty rhymes. When children are able to participate in this type of play they are afforded the opportunity to create their own rules. The question is how do we support this necessary right of passage and the establishment of a “tribe” in our early learning care and education settings?

Contemporary children now experience age segregation in ways that are not reflected historically in how children have played and worked. The idea that a tribe, group or gang was formed seemingly by osmosis is not easy for modern children to replicate, and even less so for educators to support and encourage in early care and education settings.KH1

Current practice in many Australian ECEC settings is to segregate children according to age. Given that the spontaneously formed gang is typically disparate in structure, the age group setting is particularly problematic for the educator wishing to incorporate this very necessary type of play into the early childhood curriculum. In “The Benefits of Mixed Age Grouping (Katz, 1995), Katz is clear in her intent of what this means in the ECEC setting. She states, “Although humans are not usually born in litters, we seem to insist that they be educated in them”.

Children have always roamed the streets, playing games, reciting nonsense and getting up to mischief. They have always had secrets, code words, clapping games and rude words. In her book “Kith – The Riddle of the Childscape” Jay Griffiths states that:

“Children in the company of adults (no matter how kind) feel their impotence, and it hurts them. They have few rights and little money, power, acknowledgment, autonomy freedom or status. No wonder they want to live from time to time in the independent free state of childhood, which they know within their tribes, so, when they can, they subvert the status quo as carnival does, the topsy-turvy reversal of sense into nonsense, the small people overthrowing the big people, the lowerarchy overturning the higherarchy. In their own tribe, children can be the right size, but in the adult world they are miniatures, toys. Adults love the smallness of children: the very thing, which most children, most of the time, most want to get away from. They don’t want to be miniature and they are not toys so, in their own tribe, with their personhood fuller, they can be themselves at the scale they choose, epic and enormous” (Griffiths, 2013, p 184).

So how do we incorporate into our pedagogical decisions, capacity for children to engage in risky, unencumbered by adults, child led routines and rituals? How do we encourage children to have secrets, codes and a language that is only familiar to them? How do we support the nonsense rhymes, fart jokes and the need to escape adult scrutiny? The place we start is to listen, and to join our attention to children’s. Clark and Moss have developed a framework for listening that places its emphasis on knowledge creation rather than knowledge extraction. This framework focuses on children’s lived experiences. In this they suggest that we need to look further to not only the process of learning but also how educators see children. Listening to children is key to viewing children as active participants.  Vivian Paley describes this approach, as “I now wanted to hear the answers I could not invent myself” (Paley, 1986, p 125).

Contemporary early childhood sociology now has children placed front and centre, whereas historically they have been invisible.  While there are many and obvious benefits to this it has resulted in a more overt and prescriptive approach to parenting and early childhood education. The very activities and experiences that contain elements of “risk” for children, that encourage young children to develop skills in self-regulation, problem solving, decision making are not encouraged.

An early childhood environment that contains no elements of “trust” by the Educators towards the children creates very few opportunities for skill development. The Early Years Learning Framework Outcome 2: states “Children are connected with and contribute to their world ” (EYLF, 2009, P 25). Let’s aim to ensure we provide learning environments that contain elements of their choosing!

References:
Katz, Lillian. (1995). The benefits of mixed-age grouping. ERIC Digest. Champaign, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.
Paley, V (1986) “On listening to what children have to say” Harvard Educational Review, 56, 2, 122-131.
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2009). Belonging. Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework.
Griffiths, Jay. (2013). KITH – THE RIDDLE OF THE CHILDSCAPE. Penguin Books

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Karen Hope

Karen is an early childhood professional who has had extensive experience in a broad range of services situated within the early childhood care and education setting. Beginning her career as an Early Childhood Educator, Karen has worked in sessional Kindergarten programs and childcare. She coordinated the establishment of an Integrated Early Learning Centre Hub and has developed policies and strategies within the Local Government context. Karen has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education and a Masters in Education. Following her work in children’s services Karen moved into Local Government where she worked as an Early Years Adviser providing support, coaching and mentoring to funded Kindergarten programs. Following this Karen moved into the area of quality assurance in Local Government and oversaw the implementation of the National Quality Framework within the Kindergarten, Long Day Care and Out of School Hours care sector. Karen established Karen Hope Consulting in 2014. This consultancy practice specialises in professional development training and coaching to the early childhood education and care sector. Karen specialises in on-site coaching, pedagogical leadership, and developing programs and practices that support children’s rights to participation. She provides individual service support or group training. Karen also works in the higher education sector and lectures on child development play theory and pedagogical documentation. Her email is karenhopeconsulting@gmail.com

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