Friday, 3 December 2010

The world, re-visioned

If you want to see the world from unexpected perspectives and through unfamiliar lenses, then spend time around young children.

I was thinking that last week, after I heard a four year old boy describe his painting as “like a dog, but like a pattern.” After some thoughtful listening and conversation between him and a teaching assistant nearby, the painting was finally described as a “spotty dog”. I love the way that the boy was putting his painting into two distinct categories (patterns and dogs) and holding onto those categorizations – it seemed a very philosophical way of dealing with the world. It was striking for me to see how making time to listen helped this adult to “tune in” and understand some of the uniquely creative thinking behind the painting. Looking at it later, it could easily have been mistaken for a mere group of dots and smudges – and, it seems to me, it is those mistakes that lead to children’s creativity being missed or neglected.

 Later in the same week, I met a teacher who had recently been back in the nursery school she attended as a child and had been amazed by how the windows, which she remembered as being huge and high up, were actually of a fairly normal size and quite low too. It was like having a real-life Alice in Wonderland experience.

Both incidents reminded me of how difficult it is to see or to understand the world like young children do, however hard we try. When we sit together as adults and recollect times of transition in our lives as a way of trying to appreciate how children might feel whilst settling into nursery, we are making a valuable attempt to make an emotional connection. But of course we cannot begin to know how young children feel. I may have strong memories are of moving house, changing jobs, or starting university; but when all these events happened, I was able to draw on previous experiences of change, and I was able talk to friends and family during the process.

Young children do not have the same facility to talk in detail and draw on memories. The best things adults can do, is to observe them with care and sympathy. We need to be open, attentive and intrigued by the unique freshness of their communication. 

First published in Nursery World

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