Whilst messing about trying to find some pictures to use for a gravatar (a what?) and during the process of browsing suitable pictures to use as the title photo of this blog, I remembered taking this picture in the summer at a shop in Riva del Garda – Free Entry to the World of Children.
OK, so some Italian guy just wants you you to buy a new baby bouncer or whatever, but it grabbed me completely differently. Isn’t this what our school should be to parents?
We say, don’t we, that the child is at the heart of education, and yet, to some people, “child-centred education” has a bad odour, like something festering under a desk from the mid-Seventies (before the government in the shape of Jim Callaghan realised that they too could play with education). The greatest privilege of my professional life as a teacher has been to work with colleagues in Norway, Germany, Italy, Slovenia (above all, the Slovenians!), Turkey and Lithuania through various programs administered by the EU (Arion, Comenius, Cedefop). We took part in two wonderful Comenius projects and learnt more than I could ever have experienced through simply reading about education on the continent. Somehow, the debates that take place in these visits have a resonance you never acquire in a staff room of colleagues whose brains have been squeezed through the same toothpaste tube that yours has been. And you notice things, constantly. A lot of that will find its way into this blog, mainly because it is so much a part of what I have become as an educator, but also because I am in the hunt for new partners with whom Christ the Sower might link. And also, of course, because Jesus, in Mark 10:14f, a scripture much-memorised in Bible clubs over the years, tells us as adults that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we become like little children, all of whom have an automatic right to come to Him.
What really made our projects so valuable was that we had three partners who were partly or wholly early years educators. Our first project’s Slovenian coordinator, Boris Selan, then working for a large kindergarten in Ljubljana made it clear to all of us that we had to approach all of the work with a child’s eye view. Not for a moment did we remain unaware of the delight that he and the staff who worked with him had in the children they served and cared for. The wonderful staff of our Norwegian partner school, Trodlahaugen Barnehage in Stord between Stavanger and Bergen, had adopted totally Loris Malaguzzi’s approach in his work in Reggio Emilia, and insisted that all of us as practitioners pay strong heed to the 100 languages of children. We found ourselves coming back from visits with a disturbing paradigm shift in how we educated children. There was no “this is better, we don’t do it that way, ours is better” in the conversations, simply an awareness of the point of view being different. And this did not stop with early years teachers. The teachers and leaders we worked with at Grundschule Eidinghausen in Bad Oeynhausen and in schools in Umbertide, north of Perugia, all seemed to evince the wonder of being able to work with children, as though it was a calling, but also a delight and privilege.
Somewhere, somehow, we have genuinely mislaid this. And as a consequence, there is a generation of young teachers (and older ones too, possibly) for whom child development and a deep grasp of child psychology is almost foreign. We noticed this on a trip to a school in Piran on the Adriatic coast of Slovenia in 2005 – the staff room was filled with Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner and other titles on child development – ne’er a 100 Numeracy Lessons volume to be seen. How do we recapture the time and commitment to know how children grow, when we have so much assessment and curriculum to get completed? Don’t know the answer, but I do know which is more important. And I know someone who disagrees.
So we have much to recapture at Christ the Sower, and early years is a great place to start. Let’s hear it for those who work with small children! Let’s support and encourage them every day, giving them space to grow and learn and absorb the pressures that are unique to those surrounded by under 5s. And let’s bless the parents, and thank them and encourage them in the delight of their own children.
And no, you may not ask me why I was clutching a teddy…..
Well, his name was Fluffy, and he was VERY well travelled.
Entrata libera nel mondo dei bambini!
Or we could just have fun with Wordle and put it like this: