Among the other teachers that I work with I occupy a strange role. I am the teacher who doesn’t worry. If a child climbs to the top of the slide and stands up smiling, I wave back. If a group of kids find a pile of sticks I sit down encouraging exploration. When another teacher comes over and quickly takes one out of someone’s hands I feel a pang of sadness. Balancing on the edge of the sandbox? No worries. Running while holding someones hand? No prob.
I am a firm believer in modeling and I don’t see it as effective to critique another teachers style right in front of the children. However, in this case I don’t see my modeling going anywhere. In many cases I think that other teachers may see me as being unaware of what the children are doing or even lazy for not rushing to their side. I don’t blame them. It is in the job description to protect all of these chubby flush-faced little people. If they fall or scrape themselves we need to comfort them and clean them up, a job that isn’t always quick and easy.
I guess the reason teachers don’t seem to pick up on what I am doing is because it doesn’t look like I am doing anything. No one notices as I take a few steps closer as I wave to the boy on the slide. No one catches it as I gently ‘save’ a special stick for a little girl before she goes running off, but after she has had time to really check it out. They also can’t see the quick evaluation I go through as I see those kids run off together. What are they running on, near or around that could hurt them? Or is it really just fine that they run off laughing holding hands until they collapse, even if one of them may get a little scrape in the process?
I have noticed less and less swings on the playgrounds at schools, new schools (especially preschools) are rarely built with them due to safety concerns. Inside there are clean floors, bleached tables and toys in neat boxes. Glass is hidden far away along with scissors and anything else deemed dangerous. I know these other teachers think they are being helpful by stepping in to save them. Save them from themselves and possible danger, but are we really helping them?
Starting from birth we all try, fail, and try again. It is an innate trait in all of us that helps us stay motivated to learn to crawl, walk or hold a crayon. As these children explore their world I see it as my job to guide them but not stop them. To allow them to climb and fall. Learn about their bodies but also learn about perservance. To allow that innate desire to discover the world around them by their own power. An article by Jackie Sinnerton states “It’s vital for emotional development that they are allowed to trip up, pick themselves up and learn from the experience. They need to build up resilience.”
The world our children will enter upon adulthood is not one of safe clear boundaries and constant protection. To the contrary they will find a world of gray areas, amorphous relationships, virtual professions and vague job descriptions. It is not as simple as letting them take whatever risk they want. There is a delicate dance performed between me and the kids. They know I am there to help them stay safe, but they also know they are free to try things and I will understand. They need to be allowed to takes risks, fall down and have someone there when they need help getting back up. The amazing thing is a lot of the time if they know you are there that is enough for them to pick themselves up.