“All I am saying ... can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” ~ John Holt
This morning, I had the great pleasure of spending time in The Small Park with the toddlers and most of the preschoolers.
At one point, one of the older toddlers called out to me:
"HEY WISSA! I'N UP HERE!"
"Oh, hi E," I replied, walking over to the platform he stood on, "You're standing on the platform here."
"Yeah! I climbded up. But... How do I get down?"
"Hmm, how do you get down?"
"I don't know, I can't go down. I need you help me."
"You're worried about getting down from there. I wonder; how did you get up?" We won't lift children onto playground equipment that they cannot climb independently, so I already knew that he knew how to climb up.
He peered over the edge, then carefully turned around, balanced on his belly on the edge, and confidently stretched one rain boot to reach a beam below the platform, followed by the other boot, and then stepped down to the ground. "There. I climbded on that part!" he said, patting the beam.
"I saw; you used the beam to climb down. You knew how to do it. You got down by yourself and didn't need my help at all. I knew you could!"
This afternoon, I stepped into the preschool room, where the volume level was very high, and everyone was very busy. Some children had used the big hollow unit blocks to create a long, narrow "skating rink", complete with a very challenging "hill" consisting of the two "ramp" blocks arranged to make a V shape. The majority of the children in the room were each standing on one of the smaller unit blocks (think about the size of a 2x4 cut to about a 10-inch length) with each foot, "skating" around the track. I was informed that everything else was water, and I was floating in the chair I sat in to watch the skating show, and my clothes were now all wet. Two children "splashed" into the empty space in the middle, declared it to be a "swimmin' pool" and proceeded to read storybooks to each other.
The hill feature was rather tricky, as children skated down one side and then found it very difficult to get enough traction to get up the other side. There were some falls and bumps, but the children stood (mostly) patiently and waited for each child to make the attempt over and over and over and over until either managing to stride far enough to get to the top without falling down, or giving up and crawling or picking up their skates and walking.
At one point, conflict arose between a few of the oldest preschoolers, as one kept breaking the ice track apart and yelling at the others "GET OFF RIGHT NOW!" and then screaming furiously when the others tried to fix the track. They very nearly came to blows a couple of times, but managed to regulate themselves with verbal reminders. My role as the adult in all of this was to try and make sure both sides were heard, and then trust the children to come to a solution together (whether or not that turns out to be the solution that makes sense to me or that I would have chosen!). "E, you sound very angry. You want everyone to get off? It seems like shouting at them is not working. I wonder if they need more information to understand why you want them to get off." "J, you seem upset that E keeps breaking the track. I wonder what kind of information you could give so that E understands what is making you feel so upset." "E said the ice is breaking apart because it is getting wet and sloppy. She said she wants to fix the ice to make it safe again. She said everyone has to get off so she can fix it."
Eventually "everyone" made a tiny "ice" bridge to go around E's broken spot, and then "everyone" wandered off to do other things. E, in the meantime, fixed up the ice and then told me "The ice is fixed now, it's safe to skate again."
"Oh, you've finished fixing it?"
"Did you want the others to know that it's ready?"
"Yeah. I could tell them."
"Sure, you could tell them, though they seem a bit busy now."
Sure enough, when E yelled that the skating rink was open, no one made any indication that they had even heard her. I said "It seems like the others are involved in other things right now. What if you made some kind of message so that people would know the rink is ready when they come?"
"A sign! I can write a sign!" After staring expectantly at me for a few moments, and listening to me idly wonder what we would use to make this sign, she popped over to the art card and returned with a paper, a black pencil crayon, and a clipboard.
"How do you spell 'skating rink'?"
"Well, it starts with a 'ssssss' sound... I wonder which letter that could be..."
Suddenly, a crowd of children gathered to help E puzzle out the letters to use for her sign. Exclamations of "HEY! That's MY letter!" and "I have an I in my name, TOO!" and "HEY! My mommy starts with that letter!" mixed with chatter about the difference between a NNN sound and a MMMMM sound, how easy it is to change one letter into something different by adding or removing a line here or a curve there, and descriptions of how to draw a G or a K. Keep in mind that we have never explicitly taught letter recognition, sounds, or formation in our centre. The children are motivated to learn to read and write because it interests them. E spent close to fifteen minutes producing her sign that said "SKAtinG RinK" at the bottom, and "opEn" above it. I asked if she felt like signing her name, and she did. Then she leaned the sign against the far end of the "rink" and went on with her day.
These hollow blocks made up the skating rink, though this photo is of a "stage" created by preschoolers about three years ago.
These rich experiences would not have been possible without trust. It is challenging for adults to trust children. It is easier for us to just swoop in and dictate a solution when there is a problem, to impose restrictive rules when things seem even mildly risky to us, to do the writing for them, to lift them where they ask to go. But when we step back and trust children to show us what they are capable of, we get to revel in moments like these. Moments of "I knew you could do it!" and of seeing the pride, the confidence, and the triumph in the face, nay, the entire being of a child who dared to try something difficult, who stuck with a tricky task until it was figured out, who was given the time and the space to create real, meaningful words on a page. Trust children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult.