The Advocate for Childhood Part 2 by Sandi Phoenix

15th June 2017

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Throughout the course of the year, Jacob’s carers will be forced to reflect on their practices, consult a behaviour specialist, attend professional development, network with colleagues, find a mentor, request support to include him. Eventually, Jacob’s teachers will learn new things. They’ll realise that providing a flexible program that respects each child’s individual rhythms is not only respectful but possible. They will decide to allow children to move inside or outside for most of the day. This will see some children still playing outside under the shade of a tree at midday, while others choose to move inside earlier. It will become apparent that transitioning Jacob and all the children to a meal at once while Jacob is deeply involved in play outside will result in behavioural challenges. For this reason, his educators have learnt to respect his deep level involvement, then nurture it and foster it. So, eventually morning tea becomes an unhurried flexible routine where small groups of children at a time sit with a carer when they’re ready and enjoy their meal in a social setting that allows for sustained shared conversation and meaningful interactions.

Jacob’s carers will learn about sensory development and understand children’s need to move to develop and integrate their senses. They will discover new knowledge about the developing proprioceptive and vestibular senses and realise this development is much more important in the early years than a ‘school readiness’ program that focuses on developmentally inappropriate outcomes (for Jacob) of phonics, scissor skills, counting and letter recognition through rote teaching and indoor activities and forced group times. As a result of their new understanding about children’s development, the early years practitioners that care for Jacob will increase physical challenges in the learning environment with rope ladders and higher climbing frames. They will start allowing children to lift, push and pull heavy things, climb the trees and hang from the branches like they’ve always felt the urge to do. Jacob’s carers realise they will need to know about the benefits of supervised risky play then how to articulate this information to families. Their research around this soon inspires them to stop risk managing by removing risk and start making informed risk benefit analyses. Jacob’s teachers have now realised his need to run fast, move big, climb high, so they will access natural open green spaces in the local community once a week (to start). The children respond to this time in nature with joy and enthusiasm beyond any other part of the program. It’s soon realised that the children’s interest in nature needs to extend into the program every day, both indoors and outdoors.

Jacob has, in effect, transformed the childhood experience of all the children in his learning environment. He’s an activist. He burst into the lives of his early years carers and shook things up. Practices that had continued simply because they were always done that way were reflected upon, rethought and evolved. New ideas were considered. Evidence and research was consulted. Change happened. Fast. In less than a year, Jacob has inspired change that will outlast his time in this space. Jacob is an advocate for childhood. He has a lesson for everyone he meets. He will resist, inspire and reconstruct the childhood experience for himself and his peers. He is a revolutionary.

By Sandi Phoenix, Principal facilitator at Phoenix Support for Educators.

The Phoenix Cups Kit professional development resource (including an online workshop with Sandi) is now available to early years practitioners in the UK. Mention Childcare Expo when you order for half price shipping and handling. Click here.

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