In 2006, Early Childhood educator Peddie Cafarella was a co-recipient with Sandy Love of a NEiTA (National Excellence in Teaching) Award. The Australian Scholarships Group www.asg.com.au formed the NEiTA Foundation in 1994 www.neita.com.au to conduct a program of national awards, honouring exemplary teachers in Australian and New Zealand schools and early childhood centres.
The awards promote public recognition of the teaching profession, and specifically those teachers whose inspirational approach to teaching stimulates student learning.
In this Teacher Talk article, (part of Peddie and Sandy’s submission to the NEiTA Foundation), Peddie talks about her unhurried approach to teaching at the preschool level.
My general teaching method could be summed up in three words: The unhurried approach.
I grieve the loss of the extended family, the simpler, slower pace of life, where one was more in tune with nature. I shudder at the marketing industries’ influence on the qualities of children’s culture, which pressure and increase their hold over our children’s imaginations with their dolls, character toys and merchandising.
Such a masterful seduction of childhood only exaggerates my passion to want to protect childhood innocence within a world of magical play allowing a child’s natural spontaneity to bud and blossom with joy, laughter and a sense of freedom.
Children are the creators of images, life’s little philosophers who can experience power and mastery of their world by escaping into the rich world of their own imagination. This naturally instinctive ability, so inherent in a child’s life, is the very source from which I attempt to harness their natural curiosity and motivation. It is the very essence of childhood.
On a one-on-one basis, I find it so easy to love what is beautiful about every child but in a collective (group), the reactive process of the different personalities varies from day to day, and no assumptions can be made about the flow of the day. The energy required to keep a calm cohesion throughout the day is certainly one of our greatest challenges as teachers.
What does become clear is that the sociological framework is vital in understanding the different personality types as well as the different ways in which children perceive their world. All children learn differently, and we must embrace all personality types - extrovert, introvert, or the invisible child.
Developmentally, a young child’s need is to be active, and he or she is constantly seeking expression through movement – an expression of energy and fresh life forces. Children need sufficient time, space and opportunities to practise movement. ‘Playing is the self-education of the child.’ (Friedrich Froebel, 1782-1852).
How this movement can be guided toward self-control is one of my greatest challenges as an early childhood teacher. It is the balance between freedom and form that I am always seeking to achieve in my day-to-day programming. The nature of our outside playground is too large to be safely observed unless all our children are outside, or all our children are inside at any given time.
Creative play is at the very heart of childhood. All play is determined from what the child sees in his/her environment. Through imitation the child can come to terms with events in their lives and integrate them in a healthy way.
The child naturally absorbs attitudes, ideas, moods, and habitual responses. These become imprinted in his very being, laying the foundation for a lifetime of self-discovery. Therefore, as a teacher, my challenge is in creating clarity of space using simple props to encourage imagination, and I like to incorporate natural materials wherever possible to keep the child in tune with their natural world.
The nature table becomes the treasure table, the story table, or the interactive play space. There needs to be the balance of expansion, where the children are either immersed in creative free play inside or large muscle physical play outside. This must be balanced with times of contraction, when children sit in a circle to sing, dance, play a game, or share story time together. In keeping this clarity of rhythm throughout the day, there is a sense of natural order instilled into the heart of the child, helping to provide a feeling of trust and comfort. ‘Fantasy play is their ever dependable pathway to knowledge and certainty. I pretend, therefore I am. I pretend, therefore I know. I pretend, therefore I am not afraid’ (Paley, 1998).
For the time when physical energy looks like getting out of control, I have created spaces that allow for the release of creative energy. The carpentry table is popular with both boys and girls, and helps to strengthen eye/hand coordination and finger dexterity. The magic garden provides hours of fun coupled with a digging patch, and as a ‘cardboard queen’, I also incorporate cubbies of different shapes and sizes for fantasy play.
My focus has been to create an environment that attracts creative discipline, which encourages self directed positive responses, rather than focusing on strategies that instill fear of the consequences of inappropriate behaviour.
I am concerned about the increasing absence today of the focus of mum or dad and just hanging out at home. Many children today aren’t given the simple rhythm of the day as outside pressures perpetually squeeze the childhood out of the child.
The choices are great, yet for far too may children, they bring about confusion and a cluttering of the mind. Unless children are given opportunities for self-expression and self-direction, they will lack the grounding to strengthen their self-confidence and self-esteem.
I see my most important role as teacher as not so much filling children’s minds with cognitive processes, but focusing more on their emotional well-being.
As an early childhood educator I must become an astute observer of the physical, emotional, social, cognitive and language development of each child in a free, spontaneous and flexible play environment.
This demands that play experiences are open-ended enough to allow children opportunities to explore, experiment and express their creativity, nurturing a strong sense of themselves, which in turn develops a child’s self esteem, self confidence and a feeling of security in their world.
Play experiences require an environment rich in diversity. Children require an environment that maintains and strengthens the skills and experiences children bring from home, and where each child is accepted as an individual, with opportunities for child-initiated, self-selected experiences, so that a child succeeds at their own level and at their own pace.
I see the need to recreate elements that can so easily be lost, and that are of greatest importance to the very young child – the simplicities of life that bring about the most pleasure. And I see the need to provide a nurturing and stimulating quality program that offers a secure, caring and supportive environment.
Let’s savour every moment of a child’s early years as the very essence of a child determines not only his or her life as he or she blossoms into adulthood, but profoundly affects the collective quality of life itself.
Jean-Paul Sarte succinctly sums up the absolute significance of those first few years in a child’s life in just two words : ‘Childhood decides’.
Article written by Peddie Cafarella, co-recipient of a NEiTA award for teaching excellence (2006).