What’s in a room name?

If a statistic could be found representing the number of early childhood services that name their rooms after Australian animals it would be included here, but unfortunately the data doesn’t exist. In my experience I would estimate it would be high—around 80 per cent, at least. Often there are online posts in early childhood forums asking for advice on this decision and the typical response is to point people in this common direction. However, in early childhood there is a consistent theme throughout our research, ideas and practice: promoting a positive self-identity in young children. The Early Years Learning Framework’s (DEEWR, 2009) Outcome 1 is ‘Children have a strong sense of identity’ (p. 20). It is something we should be embedding into our culture at any early childhood service. Another practice which is frequently discussed with great importance is ‘intentionality’. One has to question whether rooms named after animals is a decision that has stemmed from deep thought in regards to children’s developing self-identity.

KidsMatter Early Childhood (2014, p. 8) recognise that ‘a child’s first few years of life are crucial in developing a sense of identity’. Yet how often does one walk in to an early childhood service only to hear an educator call out ‘Come on Emus’. It happens all the time, and it is a natural instinct which is difficult to avoid. We recognise the importance of calling children children not kids because a kid is a baby goat. So why is it acceptable to call a group of children by their room name which, in most cases is an animal? Additionally, is there any relevance in those children’s lives to these animals? In most cases, there probably isn’t. So how do these stereotypical names support a strong sense of identity in children?

Room names, like any other decision we make in early childhood should resonate with intentional thinking. Avoiding room names that encourage educators to address children as something which they are not is paramount. In order to create a strong self-identity, children need to connect with their world in a meaningful way. Bringing their local culture into the service environment is one way of doing this. We can also create a sense of belonging by collaborating with families. Selecting room names for your service can be an opportunity to do both. Ask the parents and any other stakeholders for their input—collaboration will ensure a meaningful decision is reached. Further to this, suggest bringing the local culture into the service and wait for the ideas to pour in—people are often quite connected with the area in which they live and will feel engaged with a process that represents this. However we choose to make this decision, the point is that we should do so with intention. Young children are constantly making connections and developing their understanding of the world, so it is important we support this process as thoughtfully as possible.

References

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2009). Belonging, Being & Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia.

KidsMatter Early Childhood. (2014). Connections with the National Quality Framework: Developing children’s social and emotional skills. Canberra, ACT: KidsMatter Early Childhood.

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Kate Hodgekiss

Kate has been in the sector for almost 20 years. Trained in Early Childhood Education at Macquarie University, Kate spent many years working as a teacher both inside and outside of Australia before commencing her management career. Over the course of her management career Kate has worked in a variety of roles including nominated supervisor, educational leader, start up consultant, regional manager and online program development creative head. Kate is passionate and known for her commitment to quality learning practices and environments, having directed a service as recently as 2016 through the assessment and rating process receiving the coveted exceeding in all 18 standards. Kate is the owner and director of Engaging Curriculum Solutions.

4 thoughts on “What’s in a room name?”

    Murphy Peoples says:

    Interesting point! Room naming could be a fun, collaborative process to run with families.

    As an aside, I reckon I could get some data for you about room names in Victorian Kinders if you’re really keen (not quickly but it could be done!). We collect room names when we take bookings for our Museum incursions to kindergartens. I agree on the Australian animal theme, but a very good chunk of them are colours, and more rarely Australian flowers.

    Mark Watson says:

    Thank you Kate,
    The role of stereotypes in our society and especially in respect to children is put simply, all-pervasive. I believe stereotypes operate on a spectrum, from useful to destructive, and at times, even when uttered ‘innocently’, can be contrary to the intended meaning/s. I think of my Macquarie University education in the Human Sciences, and the concept of ‘unintended consequences’ rears large in my thought.
    Your short blog is thus a salutary reminder of a need to practice regularly the process of critical reflection in early childhood education and care.

    Su-lee Ling says:

    Hi Kate,
    An excellent point to raise regarding rationale of name selection for groups of children in a room.

    The point regarding development of self identity is a cogent one and bringing attention to a more integrated application more nuanced attention to practice is worthy of discussion and creativity in my world.

    I am not sure I agree with your assessment of the names currently being applied as stereotypical as such, more clichéd and perhaps automatic, unconscious and spontaneous, although meant in a meaningful spirit.
    I think there is merit in referencing aspects of our social identity as Australians with these unusual and unique animals as representative of this; plus mining that proclivity to ‘cuteness’ that an image of an anthropomorphised baby animal brings to the human heart!

    As I read your piece I was waiting for suggestions and I find myself a bit thoughtful now, in considering the actuality and potential of your ideas, so I appreciate this. I hope other folks and educators get on board with some reflection and this can all be discussed further.

    I agree heartily regarding bringing in ’local culture’ as a place to begin and involving relevant stakeholders as making sense. Personally, I immediately think about the Country on which the service exists quite literally and involving the indigenous mob local to the area in exploring these ideas of naming respectfully. This may open an avenue to connection to local indigenous practices and culture, create inclusion within the service and the greater community which may be appreciated if carried out in respectful and appropriate ways.

    Many cheers,
    Su-lee Ling

    Thank you Su-lee, Mark and Murphy. I am so glad this piece got people reflecting!

    Mark, it is interesting you bring up ‘unintended consequences’ as when I think more deeply about this subject, I often consider children who have been exposed to adverse experiences and the myriad of triggers which we can unintentionally expose them to. In cases of complex trauma one might find a ‘pet’ name to be a trigger, for instance. This would be an extreme example of what you are saying I understand, but nonetheless plausible. So unintended consequences is a truely worthy point to consider.

    Su-lee, while I agree there is merit in referencing our social identity as Australian’s, I am inclined to think of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory and consider the child’s identity from the microsystem out. The closer something is to the child’s microsystem, the more meaning it will have to their identity.
    I think the idea of using this as an opportunity to encourage indigenous connections is a strong one and considers many of the principles encompassed in our framework. In terms of suggestions, I did consider including some, but I felt this would undermine the point I was making, given that I can’t give meaningful suggestions for services I do not know and understand. However, an example I can give you might be a service on the northern beaches using the local beach names to identify rooms. A simple idea, but one that would have meaning to those children.
    Yes Murphy, this process of collaboration around something so simple can be a lot of fun! At my last service, a group of parents came up with the names, one parent came up with a sign design idea for room doors, and a third parent actually made the signs! It was a wonderful collaborative process that really utilised the ideas and skills of our families.
    Thank you for your offer of collecting some data! That is very kind of you. It isn’t anything I would want you to go out of your way to do, but if it is easily collected, it would certainly be interesting to know. I expect it differs state to state.

    I really appreciate the comments and thoughts. As, I mentioned, it’s great to see this has provoked some critical reflection!

    Kate

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