I hold a great deal against this system of organization, that is the separation of things that should not be separated. We categorize everyone. We send the old here: the young there. We ship adolescents off to war. We send everyone to prison every day: the children to school, the parents to the office or the factory, the musicians to the concert hall in the evenings.– John Cage
I have been thinking more closely about what I have been doing for a living the last few months, and it seems to me that I spend a lot time meeting regulations that try to ensure the safety of children, when in the end it seems mostly to limit their lives in ways that makes their days less authentic to who they are. It is as if we were wrapping them and our hands in bubble wrap, expecting them to learn and develop through the barriers. This also makes it more difficult for teachers to develop complex and authentic relationships that aid in that process. What we often end up doing looks more like safely storing children in a warehouse while their parents go off to whatever they need to do, because parenting is not seen as an important enough job to pay someone to stay home and do well.
We have been doing some wonderful activities around Andy Goldsworthy‘s ideas, and the children seem happy most of the time, but I have to constantly worry about keeping them all in sight. This is not how I parented. I allowed my young children to play in other rooms and checked on them every now and then. I don’t know all the things they did, and they did not feel overly scrutinized. I did my best to childproof the house, and backyard and let them go. They learned, though I am sure we were lucky at times, how to make fairly common-sense decisions about what to do. I had to help them clean up messes every now and then, but they survived quite nicely without any major catastrophes.
The idea that we can always keep children safe or that this is good for them seems to me to be a mistake. Children need to take risks and just be who they are without feeling like someone is looking at them all of the time. I understand the reasons behind the rules. Children do need to be taken care of as their common sense is often not completely developed. Especially if they have a good self-image they can think themselves capable of doing many things that they cannot possibly do safely, like walking home by themselves, driving a car, using sharp and dangerous tools without supervision. For these and many other reasons we need to be aware of where they are and what kinds of items are available to them.
The main problem with most large daycare situations is that there are too many children in a group with not enough teachers. This is the main cause the warehouse effect. Some children do fine in this atmosphere, but some are swallowed up and overwhelmed by it, and there is little even a sensitive teacher can do about it. These are the children that hide in the corners and slip into quiet spaces. They need the alone time, but must at all times be observed. They give teachers heart attacks because they are the ones who you have to look for when you are short on your count, or who slip away during transitions. With the trend toward larger groups and higher child to teacher ratios, the trend will be toward teachers being child managers and children being shelved and labeled, waiting for their parents to come back and claim them from child storage. Just keep them safe for their future lives.
I am missing teaching at a school where children are allowed to choose to be away from the group, making their own explorations. I was the one checking on them every now and then and knowing where they were and what they were up to. I did not see them every second. They had a little space to be alone with their thoughts, stories, and games. It was not up to me to give them ideas, but to talk about where they had been and where they were going next, and maybe ask if we as a group might want to go along if that was possible.
Even with all the barriers to the kind of teaching I like to do, I am managing to set up experiences that inspire my students. I hope that when they have to lay on their mat quietly for x amount of minutes, or eat at x hour, that they are able to carry some ideas and dreams from the choice filled, vibrant life of our active class hours along with them. I know for some of these children their time at daycare is the most positive part of their day. For some it is just a place to wait for Mommy or Daddy with a few distractions. Fortunately most of the children fall somewhere in between these extremes, and we do the best we can to provide space for their growing bodies and minds to develop and thrive around to obstacles.