For the untrained observer, a British kindergarten, that follows the principles of Early Years Foundation Stage might seem a bit chaotic, to say the least. Picture this setting: a place where there are children at different interest centres, making use of the environment as they wish. Some role play taking care of a baby, others are going to throw a party and are now making guests’ lists. In another corner, there is a key-worker reading a story for a small group of children. Children ask questions, express their emotions, learn to set boundaries, get involved in some activities and move away, from others. Another key-worker helps a little girl find her doll. There are toys and books everywhere and children move freely from one interest centre to another. They interact with each other and make social- emotional bonds. The key-worker intervenes when needed and helps them set boundaries or models appropriate behaviour and uses those emotionally charged moments, as teaching opportunities. Because as easy as it is to explain to a child about appropriate behaviour when he is calm and collected, if you are not present (and trained) in those „hot” moments, when the child loses his/her emotional control, you’ve just missed a teaching opportunity. Fortunately enough, children will present you with these teaching opportunities daily, until you learn how to react, in order to meet their emotional needs.
You might choose to make „bad’ feelings go away, by distracting the child or by trying to „solve” the problem, when the child simply needs your empathy. They don’t need solutions, they need help in finding their own. When big emotions take over, there is no point in reasoning with a child or worse, give in to what he/she wants. But in those moments children offer a grown-up, something of unquantifiable value: their vulnerability. What are you, as a grown-up, going to do with it? On the answer to that question and on your reaction depend if the child will trust you in the future, will be himself around you, will come to you when distressed, will open up to you, will listen to you.
We all watch how „modern” children go from one structured activity to another, from a club to another, in a frentic rush and under the pressure of knowing more, learning more, being more cognitively prepared. But we lose sight of the fact that at least in this case, less is more. If a day goes by, without being present for a child,emotionally, without catching his eye, without being a safe vessel he can pour his complaints and frustrations into (with certain limits)…. it is a lost day.
There should be no pressure on a child to perform academically. When the child is emotionally secured, he is placed in a stimulating environment with plenty of opportunities to interact socially, to be creative and curious, he will make the right acquisitions. And that is not something we should take credit for, it is simply the nature’s way: there is a natural curiosity in all children that is nearly unstoppable. I say „nearly”, because we, as educators have the power to give them wings and put to good use the natural potential in all children, or on the contrary, to pull out even their roots. The cognitive acquisitions in the first years of life are important, but more important are the ways in which children make those acquisitions. A good educator is not the one who teaches a child something, but one who makes a child feel valued, respected and heard throughout educational process. „It’s not what you teach me, it’s how you make me feel, while teaching me”-that’s what a child’s inner voice screams out loud. If teaching is not a common project and is not at times, child-led, it is doomed to failure.
Children adapt to any environment, one way or another. But if the environment is not emotionally welcoming, sooner or later maladaptive behaviours surface: some children become people pleasers and they are afraid that if they are not „nice” enough, or obedient enough, they will be rejected. Others, turn to passive aggressive behaviours and become disruptive, or cannot sit still during a structured activity. They seem perfectly adapted, but their emotions have become inaccessible to them. It is never too late, but it is also never too soon to do something about that. And yes, it is our responsibility as adults to help children access their emotions and assure them that it is ok and safe to do that.
How easy it is for an educator to keep an eye on children who move freely, who run into many social interactions for which their young brains don’t have yet the skills to master, but they are of crucial importance in these early years? How easy is it to keep them physically safe and emotionally secure? It might seem a daunting task, but there is no way around it.
The alternative is to sit children around a table in a strictly controlled and at all times adult-led environment; that is clearly not the key to their healthy development. They will learn, but in an unnatural way, their brains are not prepared for that and there are costs to it. It is easier for the educator and it might seem academically rewarding at some point, but I am afraid that if we don’t allow our children to be children now, they will take childish behaviours and unmet needs, into adulthood, later. Do we really want our children to learn, the way Sir Ken Robinson nicely put it: „in spite of education”? He keenly observed how the educational system nowadays kills creativity and children have to fight against the educational rigours, in order to genuinely learn.
Choose a British pre-school. A real one, that really applies the principles in EYFS and has feed-back from a genuine British educational body. You can check the list of genuine British kindergartens in Bucharest, here: https://www.cobis.org.uk/schools/cobis-schools
Choose it, not just because children learn English -although, that is always a plus, but mainly because key-workers are trained to prevent and react to many difficult situations that take place throughout the day, to observe and make use of appropriate methods to secure a child. Early years are crucial to a child’s development and have a major impact both on academic and on personal success. Choose BritAcademy, of course J)
But nevertheless, let’s get our children ready: in the morning, before sending them off to school, let’s make sure we fill their pockets with love, appreciation, respect, empathy and optimism; they need all these ingredients as food for both their roots and their wings. Leave the rest, to a higher power; it is going to turn out, just fine.