Every experience and interaction is a chance for the young child to express and develop his or her unique disposition. It is also an opportunity for the observant educator to watch, listen and work towards what children can become. In this small example, Evelyn Callaghan and Sarah White discuss how a skilled, flexible artist supports one frustrated child to persist.
No amount of help or support from the artist enabled four-year-old Kieran to draw an insect or make it with clay as the rest of the group of pre-schoolers was doing. Yet he was determined. Kieran’s first efforts increased his frustration and he destroyed each one. Unable to articulate what he wanted or translate it into the medium, he grew more angry and frustrated.
The early years are a crucial time for forming dispositions. Very young children are uniquely open to learning. They are responsive to modelling—or its absence. As educators we can do more than observe and celebrate what is: we can support children to work towards what they can become.
The artist stayed with Kieran, reassured him that it was okay and that he could try another way. She gave Kieran some wire. Within minutes Kieran made an insect that satisfied him. More importantly, once he had experienced success through another path, he was able to return to clay and drawing and experienced success there.
Persistence doesn’t always mean repeating the same thing. It can mean persisting until you find another way. But it often requires flexible thinking—by the teacher, even more than the child. Teachers needs to be alert to ways of unlocking talents and helping children persist, not by persisting until their efforts match the group’s, but until the child can unlock their own capacity.
The educator’s task is to distil for even the youngest children what it is to be in the world, to go beyond compliance and find what belonging means for each child. As early childhood educators we ask ourselves:
- What opportunities are fleetingly available at this time in that child’s developing disposition that will not be available later?
- How can we use the time at this precious, most malleable point in young children’s lives to forever enrich and enhance their view of life, to expand their sense of what it means to be in the world and their capacity to live fully their potential?
Evelyn Callaghan and Sarah White are two early childhood professionals who have worked together since 1991 creating rich learning environments for young children at several long day care settings in Canberra, including currently at Deakin School for Early Learning.
Excerpt adapted with permission from A Walk in The Park: creating, rich, irresistible environments for young children by Evelyn Callaghan and Sarah White, (2016), pp 86, 101 & 116.