At the weekend I was facilitating my final workshop of the school year at the Aberdeen Early Years Conference. The theme was Going Out to Play with Fred the Ted – Creating On-going Dialogue with Children.
It was a fitting end to a busy year, in that it was an opportunity to celebrate some of the lovely ideas practitioners have shared with me and others during all the outdoor play courses. I put together a small handout about these which you can download and enjoy too. Feedback, further ideas and thoughts are gratefully received and acknowledged.
The aim of this handout and the ideas is to help practitioners ensure that Article 12 of the UN Rights of a Child is embedded in the ethos and approaches used in their setting. This is the one about children having the right to be consulted, to be listened to, encouraged to express an opinion and be taken seriously. I’ve blogged about this before. Cowgate Under 5’s Centre is recognised for its efforts here ensuring that not only does dialogue happen, but changes as a result of this dialogue ensue.
This past year, Fred the Ted has been a strong ally for me to try create this ongoing dialogue with the children in the classes in which I work. I cover the non-class contact time for three classes with children who have additional support needs. Although I’ve worked extensively in a support for learning capacity, my experience up until this year was largely limited to children who were able to work within a mainstream class most of the time. What this means is that, particularly with the younger classes, the abilities of most children to express themselves verbally are limited.
This has not stopped dialogue. It’s just changed its nature. Every child is incredibly good at making their thoughts and feelings known in a variety of ways. Some children can use symbols and pictures. Others can use sign language. Most demonstrate their thoughts and needs via their behaviour. We observe the children’s body language. We monitor their well-being and level of engagement. We watch, listen, talk and then act upon what is needed. Patience isn’t a virtue, it’s a necessity to the process.
Fred has been helpful in that he can be naughty. He can be found reading. Often, he’s not wearing the right clothing for being outside on a wet day (but the children do know his fur works well, the T-shirt is just for decoration). He sometimes gets stuck in places. He is a bear that many of the children can relate to. He facilitates conversations. He helps find out what changes are needed.
Sadly, Fred has gone missing. Even this has been an ongoing topic of conversation – one child has written to Fred’s mum to find out what’s going on, and she doesn’t know either. None of the children at school have seen him and I’ve no idea where he is. So next year, if Fred doesn’t appear, then I think Ned, his cousin, will have to step into his paws.
Finally, I’m finding this quote by the late Dorothy Heathcote particularly relevant to conversations with children. She founded the remarkable Mantle of the Expert approach, which is a drama-based inquiry approach to learning…
“You are unlikely to discover the wisdom of children, unless you provide them with an opportunity to demonstrate their wisdom.”