Child gardening

Giving Children a Purpose

Child gardening

A sense of purpose is a powerful thing. It provides us with meaning; it helps guide our decisions and has a positive influence on our mental well-being. 

Without a sense of purpose, we can easily find ourselves feeling lost, and we become more vulnerable to feelings of depression, boredom, frustration and pessimism. Many psychologists argue that there is a strong relationship between addiction and a lack of purpose.

Psychologist Vikor Frankl calls it the ‘existential vacuum’. 

What does this have to do with children? 
Our jobs as parents and educators are to help prepare children for life. 

With a strong sense of purpose, we become more resilient; we can overcome challenges and bounce back faster after setbacks.  According to William Damon of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, “Purpose is the number one, long-term motivator in life.” 

Life seems easier; we embrace a more positive outlook on life bouncing out of bed in the morning, ready to tackle the day head-on. Characteristics that we want our children to have, qualities that we know we serve our children well as they head into adolescence. 

While there is a lot to be grateful for and a lot of positive in the world, we must not be naive and think that our children are not going to face adversity at some point. Thanks to technology, things like bullying are now 24/7 and no longer reserved for the playground. There is more content that children can access. 

How can we help our children find a sense of purpose? 
Helping children develop a sense of purpose is not something that accomplished in an afternoon; it is something that is encouraged (authentically) overtime. 

Lead by example – Be positive and share wisdom. 
Having an optimistic mindset and actively working to instil that in children can help them adopt the same outlook. When faced with a challenge, teach them how to deal with it positively. 

Talk with children regularly. 
Regular conversations with children will offer hints about their values. Ask them about their opinions on everyday events or activities, or what they think about certain TV shows or commercials. By carefully listening to what children say and repeatedly asking them ‘why?’ we can learn what is important to them. 

Let them to the work. 
It can often be tempting to jump in and help children with their tasks. However, it is better to keep a distance and let children learn. Completing chores (at least while they are young) gives children a sense of accomplishment and pride. 

Let them make decisions. 
Let children make as many decisions as they can. Of course, please use good judgement here and not put children in danger, but this is the fastest way they will learn. They need to know that actions have consequences. By falling (from time to time), they will learn quickly how their choices affect their outcome. 

Help them discover their purpose.
While this is easier said than done, parents and educators can help children find purpose based on their conversations and interests. Again really listening to what children have to say and repeatedly asking ‘why?’ can help guide them. Getting them to write it down can make it more concrete for them. 

Helping children find a sense of purpose is a rewarding endeavour in itself. Knowing that another little human is as prepared as possible for what life has in store is a purpose all of its own.

Kindyhub is a certified Kidsoft partner. Kindyhub enables educators to simplify and streamline documentation, enhance communication with parents, in-turn improving children’s learning outcomes. Learn more about Kindyhub and how they can assist your business by clicking here.

Laughing boy lying on green grass

Turning group time from grumpy to giggles

Laughing boy laying on green grass

Tips and tricks for successful group times

When it comes to bringing the whole group of children together at various points in the day – to listen to a story, to put on sunscreen, or to transition from one activity to another – educator views are divided.  

Some educators insist that group time is a must – after all, if the children don’t practice how to sit still and pay attention, what will happen when they go to school?  

Other educators believe that children shouldn’t be forced to participate in any activity which doesn’t capture their interest, and that, if the group time is interesting enough, the children will be drawn to joining in.  

Rightly or wrongly, and for a variety of reasons, there will be times in the early childhood day when it is necessary to bring the whole group together, for a variety of reasons… so how can “group time” be done in a way that supports children’s rights?

Know your audience 
Each early childhood setting, and each group of children within that setting, has different needs. These needs grow and change with time, and can shift more than once within a day. The presence or absence of a lunch time sleep, socks that don’t fit quite right, or bigger problems, such as worrying about whether or not a parent will return can all weigh on the mind of a child.  

Most children, particularly those with additional needs, will respond well to routine, consistency and predictability. Using visual aids, such as a storyboard, liquid timer or other sequencing tools can help children know that group time has a defined beginning, middle and end.  

Comfortable group times might need cushions instead of scratchy mats on little legs. Music might need to be softer, lights less bright. Consider the positioning of the children during group time – are they staring into bright sunlight? Getting too hot under a heater? Environmental conditions can make it difficult to focus.  

Be like a Boy Scout, and come prepared! 
Rather than gathering all the children into the group time space, and then frantically trying to remember how the tune for Mr Clicketty Cane goes, do some pre-planning.  

How will you gather the children to the group time space? A sound? A song? A signal? Transitions are important – think about how group time will start and finish.  

Once the children have gathered, have you got a way to keep them engaged? Will you sing? What song? Will you read a story? Which book? Are you going to give them each something to hold while you sing – a scarf, tambourine or maracas? If so, do you have enough for everyone? How will you handle the disappointment if someone doesn’t get their preferred choice?  

Most importantly, what’s your plan B, in the event children lose interest? If something isn’t working, taking too long, or otherwise holding group time up, what will you do instead? 

Go for gold, but know your goal 
Perhaps the most important consideration in any group time experience is “who is advantaged and who is disadvantaged when I work this way, and why?” – you may recognise this reflective question from the approved learning frameworks.  

Questions such as these encourage educators to think more deeply about their practices. Group times might be great for the educators – they allow one educator to keep the whole group in one space, while others re-set the room, put out beds, or tidy up after lunch – but do they serve the needs of the children?  

Is it necessary to have a group time every day? Could routine tasks such as applying sunscreen be achieved in any other way?  

When evaluating the use of group time in a service, using the lens of the child may help.  

Further resources:
Early Childhood Australia – Small Group Time Vignette  
Phoenix Support for Educators – How do I ‘manage’ children’s behaviour during group time? 
Early Childhood Australia – Perspectives on Group Time 

children playing in trees

Sustainability – without the sadness

children climbing trees

With recent research finding that children’s relationships with nature are complex, and that feeling a strong sense of connection to nature can also generate negative emotions linked with environmental issues such as climate change, educators are faced with a dilemma – how to educate for a changing world, without upsetting children about the world they stand to inherit?  

Speaking to children about complex environmental issues such as drought, fires, and climate change needs to be done in a delicate way, which educates without overwhelming. 

Early childhood expert, Dr Sue Elliot, has said that at the heart of all sustainability education needs to lie the concept that change is possible. These changes can be small – such as turning off the lights when we leave a room – but, when added together, create a movement which has a big impact. 

There are many ways that children can be involved in contributing to their world and acting for a more sustainable future, including:  

  • Using recyclable materials where possible. 
  • Encouraging children to use half flush on the toilets, 
  • Encouraging children to turn the water off when they have washed their hands, 
  • Encouraging children to recycle paper and rubbish within their rooms, at home and when in the wider community, 
  • Talking with the children about electricity and encouraging them to turn off lights, 
  • Educating children in the natural decomposition cycle through exposure and participation in worm farms and composting food scraps, 
  • Educating children and having them participate in ‘garden to plate’ activities i.e. seed sprouting, weeding, vegetable gardens, cooking amongst other activities, 
  • Educating children in how to care for pets and letting them actively participate in caring for the Centre pet, 
  • Educating children on caring for plants and our waterways i.e. recycling water etc 

Children can also take part in attending rallies or protests, writing to local members about issues, or inviting members of the community into their settings to view sustainability in action.  

Helping children to take appropriate action in response to sustainability concerns can help them to feel less helpless and hopeless. Actions taken in response to children’s concerns about sustainability need to be age-appropriate, practical and achievable, and ideally, help them to see the impact of their decisions.  

Further resources:
Child Australia – Climbing the little green steps 
Early Childhood Australia – Early childhood environmental education – making it mainstream 
Shellharbour Council – A sustainability resource kit for educators   

Smiling baby with balloon

But they can’t talk! Programming tips for pre-verbal children

One of the most common concerns from educators when they find they will be working with children under the age of two years is how they will follow children’s interests and plan for an emergent curriculum when the children can’t talk, and tell educators what is interesting for them.

Smiling baby with balloon

Here, the thinking of Reggio Emila’s educators might be supportive. Loris Malaguzzi is best known for his instrumental role in creating, developing and refining the Reggio Emilia approach, a child centred way of educating and caring for children which views children as competent and capable individuals with an ability and desire to construct their own knowledge.

Malaguzzi wrote a poem – the Hundred Languages – which talks about the hundreds of ways in which children communicate their ideas, beliefs, interests and desires, all without saying a word.

From the roots of this poem, the pedagogical strategy for the construction of concepts and the consolidation of understandings came about.

Although verbal language and expression is recognised as being very important in communicating with children, there are many other ways of communication.

Babies communicate from birth, and a born hardwired to make connections with their caregivers. They use sounds, such as grunts, cry’s, coos and squeals, facial expressions such as smiles and grimaces, and gestures and body movements, such as pointing, or waving their arms and legs with excitement.

This communication grows when babies see that their actions elicit a response from their caregivers, and they quickly learn to refine their communication skills to work with the adults around them to get their needs met.

Using communication to support programming
Understanding that communication can take place without a word ever being said, how can educators use non verbal communication to program for babies?

When working with very young children in particular, a lot of the focus is on care, and meeting immediate needs for food, sleep and comfort. For infants especially, much of a day in an education and care setting may be taken up with nappy changes, feeding and settling to sleep.

Even in these routine times, however, there is space to make connections.

When changing a nappy, for example, is baby looking up at a mobile? Does baby feel more comforted when they have something in their hands? Are they practicing a new skill, such as rolling over?

When you said “there you are, a nice clean nappy!” did baby smile in response? All of these moments are opportunities for reflection, communication, observation and ideas for next week’s plan.

You might change up the texture of what baby is given to hold – adding something crinkly, or perhaps something smooth? You may sing a different song, or change the mobile hanging above baby’s head.

What can you look for?
Some of the elements an educator may choose to look for, observe, and program about when working with pre-verbal infants and toddlers include:

  • Changes in behaviour
  • Strengths
  • Developmental milestones – such as sitting, walking, wiping their own face etc
  • Interests – what makes their eyes light up? Do they have a favourite toy or meal?
  • Changes in routine – have they dropped a nap? Do they now engage more with stories?
  • Interactions with others – educators, other children in the room, special visitors?
  • Gestures and facial expressions
  • Movements and responses to music and to art
  • Sensory experiences such as engaging with grass, touching different surfaces etc.

While working with children who cannot verbalise their interests may seem a challenge at first, if you take the time to stop and listen, babies have a lot to say!

Further resources:
ECA Learning Hub – Engaging with Babies and Toddlers
First Things First – Mirror Play
ECA Learning Hub – Babies and Toddlers Amazing Learners