Children are born with an in-built sense of curiosity. Who is that? Where am I? What is that noise? For most children it will be over a year before they first begin to talk and longer than that before they begin to question, yet, in that time, they have heard hundreds of thousands of words and experienced every sight, smell and sound that the world can throw at them, in addition to physical and emotional feelings. Their little brains have already filled with inquisitiveness and begun to try to make sense of the world.
In most children’s lives they will begin their second year understanding most of what is said to them and with a vocabulary of about 50 words themselves. Over the following year they will begin to understand and ask questions, use sentences and be able to follow one step then two step instructions. Many of these children will also be engaging in imaginative play, understanding different emotions and able to make choices.
By the age of four, if not before, they will be learning to empathise or put themselves in other people’s shoes, though some support may be needed for this step. I am not saying that all children will take this path of development. All children are different. Some children develop and progress differently and some face additional challenges. What I am saying is that this is that magical, sparkly, dazzling, wonderful window of opportunity when children are like patches of well-tended soil, ready to receive their first philosophical seeds. They are still living a beautiful life where all things are possible but this stage can puff away like dandelion floss in an instant as soon as they begin to get older and their thoughts become more rigid. At the age of four, if they are lucky, young children will not have had opinions and ideals of adults forced upon them too harshly and will still have all of the imagination and interesting ways of seeing the world.
To get even a tiny glimpse of that precious time, that most of us sadly forget, try going outside and cloud spotting sometime. Choose a sunny day, lie in the grass and daisies, let them tickle your skin. Listen to the sounds around you and feel the breeze or heat on your skin. For added sensory input take your shoes and socks off and wiggle your toes in the grass and dirt. Childish huh? Right, now look up at the blue sky and gaze at the clouds as they move. Breathe deeply and let your imagination wander. If you are meteorologist then wipe all scientific cloud knowledge from your brain. Don’t be a spoilsport. Now look, feel, listen and let your mind wander. Focus on your senses as questions and curiosity about the world you are experiencing drift (or flood) into your brain. Well done. For a moment you got a brief glimpse into the wonder of childhood. The wonder that our under-fives experience every minute of every day.
My personal mission is to now rediscover and embrace that part of myself and, in doing so, access the full potential and joy that can be found hiding in plain sight in the Early Years. I hope you can join me.
The Foundation Stage isn’t called the ‘Foundation Stage’ for nothing. It is the foundation of later learning in all areas. But in an increasingly government driven curriculum children are being forced into formal schooling priorities sooner and sooner.
Of course mathematics and literacy are essential skills and we teach these in fun and multi-sensory ways but how many of us still feel the pressure to make mathematics and literacy our primary focus and all thanks to the DfE and Ofsted. Some skills, like maths and literacy, will come naturally over a child’s time in education and, at the very least, the vast majority will end up with a level of maths and literacy skills that comfortably gets them through their days.
Some skills, however, are in built as children but almost disappear by adulthood. Think about all of the adults you encounter in your daily life; family, friends, people on Facebook, people who are on the television. How many of these people still ask questions and ponder the wonders of the world that we all share? How many of them take a moment to soak in nature and wonder about its intricacies? How many dare to dream and wonder? Now think about how many have already built their ideas and habits and view of the world and that is that. They will be swayed by a compelling argument but otherwise are pretty fond of their own view of the world and comfortable in their knowledge of it. Comfortable enough not to need to wonder and explore.
There is nothing wrong with this. Being grateful, satisfied, mindful and settled is what we all strive for and it is what I hope for my own children but then… is it really? Are the great explorer, scientists, inventors, artists and innovators of the world the people who were happy to settle? Or are they the ones who never stopped wondering and imagining? Is our job as educators and parents to teach the children in our care that there is a certain fixed, straight train of thought that they should follow and a predestined future that there is no need to bother questioning? Or is our role to help them to, not only be mindful and find happiness where they can, but also to never stop wondering, never stop imagining and never stop questioning? There is a reason why Communication and Language is one of the prime areas. Let's never let the changes in the curriculum make us forget that.
We all have hard times in our lives but those of us who work with young children are lucky.
When you are work with tiny humans you do not have the luxury of wallowing in whatever is happening in your real life. You have to spend every day having to fake happy and interested and having to act like a cross between Mr Tumble and Brian Cox just to make sure that you all make it through the day inspired to learn.
Very soon fake happy and interested becomes real happy and interested because, let’s be honest here, it is just too damn tiring to fake that much energy all the time. It is much easier to feel it for real.
Tiny children do not have the same level of empathy or emotional intelligence as they will do a few years down the line so there is no little part in them picking up on the little shards of sadness in you and telling them to back off. Tiny humans are full on! They are weird, they are crazy and they are wonderful and they are desperate to take you along for the ride whether you like it or not.
The unique thing about the under-fives, as opposed to older children, is that they truly do believe in the things they conjure up in their imaginations. They have questions too. So, so many questions and they ask them ad infinitum. They are still in that period of their childhood when no question is silly and they are still at the stage in formal education when no hands up are needed, well not during play anyway.
They play, they explore, they imagine and they talk. It is for that reason that I truly love every minute I spend working with young children and see that this is the truly golden glittering time of childhood where the child and teen they are to be begins to be formed.