Sunday, 23 October 2011

How about being genuine when we talk with young children?

Sometimes it seems as if the language spoken in nurseries is evolving in its own unique way, distinct from the ways that other people speak.

Take a recent example, which I keep hearing. Practitioners keep asking young children to do “good looking, good sitting and good listening.” There is not any other field of life where people do “good listening” – I think generally people are described as listening well, or listening carefully. It is the same with “good sitting”. I think people generally sit still, or they fidget and generally move about. It is rare to be complimented on how well you sit. At least “good looking” sounds like the English the rest of the world speaks, though it should be used with some care beyond the nursery gate.

Does it matter that children are being talked to in odd ways? Perhaps not. Children are pretty resilient, and this is probably mostly washing over them. I doubt nursery children go home and compliment family members for “good looking” at the television, or “good sitting” on the sofa. 

But in another way, I think it does matter. I would argue that one of the most important things any of us can do, when working with young children, is establish a relationship based on being genuine and straightforward. In order to do this, we need to be aware of the times when we are in danger of treating children in an institutional rather than a genuine way.

Many years ago, the writer and trainer Elinor Goldschmied – who helped to develop the key person approach – illustrated this by treating staff on training sessions to  “nursery lunches”. Adults found themselves waiting at empty tables for quite some time, with no obvious prospect of food; then they had food plonked on their plates, wanted or not, and were prevented from taking anything else until they had finished everything on their plate. Her message was beautifully clear: think carefully about the way you do things in an institution. If you do not like to be treated this way at lunch, then why should small children like it any better?

Being genuine also means using ordinary language, not institutional language with children. Why not ask the children to listen carefully rather than telling them to “do good listening”? I am sure it will feel much nicer.

First published in Nursery World.

Tracy Seed comments on this piece in her blog: It's just not good enough