Sunday, 6 September 2009

A trip to the seaside

We were preparing a big trip to the seaside, and I was new in post in a big London nursery centre. “What are we going to do if it rains?” I asked Andrew, the member of staff in charge of the outing. “Um – plan B” was his answer. I knew that there was no plan B: if it were needed, it would have to be thought up on the spot.

Previously that summer, during a memorable water-play afternoon, plan B had consisted of drying and changing an endless line of children. They had decided that paddling pools and buckets meant sitting in water and throwing buckets of it over each other, not the dainty filling and emptying we had planned. It was wonderful fun, and completely unforgettable.

That was quite a few years ago, and now we would need to have little plans A, B and C ready like the Cat in the Hat, and a written risk assessment too. Of course, being well-organised is no bad thing in itself, and one person’s space to improvise can be another’s failure to prepare properly. But perhaps many of us are planning so much now, and recording such a lot of information, that we end up taking our eye off the ball. We can miss enjoying the company of the children and experiencing life with them in the here-and-now, with all its unpredictability and passions.

On the day of the big trip, once we had finally arrived at the seadside, I remember one of the children looked out into the grey Thames-estuary water for a few minutes before turning away, upset and disappointed. He had been born on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, with its many miles of beautiful beaches, before the volcano erupted and destroyed his family home, sending him off to a new life in London. Yet only twenty minutes later, he was with Andrew and they were digging a massive trench in the gritty Essex sand, having a great time. It was like his recent life in miniature: feeling disappointed, displaced and let down, and then finding a way to make the best of his new surroundings. That could only happen because Andrew had the time to notice him, to wait, and to respond with play.

I think that early education and childcare should be about rousing and inspirational events: but doesn’t it sometimes feel like we live under a deadening blanket of rules and requirements?

Originally published in Nursery World.