I have a philosophy that I try to live my life by.
“Everyone should have the right to think freely, to feel freely, to create freely, to move freely, and to believe freely, as long as doing so doesn’t limit someone else from doing so as well.”
I developed this philosophy based on the learning domains that we focus on in early childhood education.
Thinking refers to cognitive development: learning about science and math, cause and effect, logic, literacy, history. Learning the facts, theories, and ideas of how our shared world works. Thinking freely allows us to seek knowledge at our own discretion and empowers us to ask questions, even uncomfortable ones, and to get real answers.
Feeling refers to social and emotional development: learning that each relationship and each emotion have their own strengths and learning how to utilize those strengths. Feeling freely allows us to acknowledge all emotions and types of relationships, and allows us to decide which ones we choose to embrace for ourselves.
Creating refers to creative development: the ability to make something out of nothing, or add to previously existing work in our own way, whether for self-expression or exploration of an idea. This can be simple like a block tower, detailed like a picture, or abstract like a lie. Creating freely allows us to work uninhibited by time, space, or expectation, giving ourselves permission to make things truly our own on our own terms. This could mean a focus on the product or a focus on the process.
Moving refers to fine and gross motor development. The development of our body. This could be anything from the holding of a spoon, to the running of a race, to the running of a race while holding an egg with a spoon in your mouth. Moving freely allows us not only to dance or run or shake to our hearts desire, but also allows us to rest and slow down when we want, taking time to learn how to tie our shoes when we are ready, or to stop and stare at the stars until the sun comes up, or just to have a nap.
Finally, to believe freely refers to our sense of wonder and spirituality. This can be a difficult concept to break down, even as an adult, but this is our ability to contemplate the world around us and create our own understanding of who we are and what everything means. These beliefs are the connections we make where facts don’t exist, or our interpretation of the facts varies. This is our ability to discuss ethics, to hear a story and pull our own meaning from it, or to find an emotional connection with a song. Believing freely allows us to decide for ourselves what we want the future to look like based on what we think is important. It allows us to hold onto or break away from the values and beliefs of those around us. It allows us to decide who we are and who we want to become.
Many experiences provided in an early childcare setting can develop these skills. Even an activity as simple as painting can provide growth in each area. Children can explore the mixing of colours, learning how to get the exact colour they want. They can develop fine motor skills as they practice the grip and precision of handling a brush. They can apply paint wherever they want, including paper, a table, the floor, their arm, or even their mouth. They can be overjoyed over their creation, or mad when they spill the paint, or laugh when someone else does. And they can believe that what they have created is the prettiest rose, the ugliest monster, or even the most flattering and realistic portrait of their pregnant mother.
When I discuss with parents what a child is learning when they do an activity, while there is typically an obvious lean toward one or two skill sets, I will mention how they may be developing in all areas. However, it is also important to find opportunities for all domains to take the forefront. This will take a lot of observation, reflection and discussion with parents and other educators. I find for my own life, I am happiest and healthiest when I am feeding each of those domains. For me, it means finding time each week to read, run and rest, spend time with my wife and dogs, draw or write, and argue movies with my friends. Some weeks are better than others for this. Some years are better than others for this.
As educators, we learned to provide opportunities for children to develop skills in each of these categories, but I really think it is important to understand that it isn’t just about providing opportunities, but about making sure that when children want to develop in these areas that there is nothing standing in their way. I think the first step here is to try to prevent ourselves from limiting a child’s actions and ask ourselves how we can modify the experience so that everyone gets what they want. For example, if a child wants to scream, can we find her a tube that will muffle some of the noise, instead of asking her to stop? If we don’t want children running in the rooms (because we know asking them to stop is mostly a waste of breath) can we clear a safe running zone, or move an activity outside? If a child wants to ask questions that we don’t know the answer to, can we bring in someone who does?
This can be extremely challenging to do, especially when as educators we often have limited resources, but it is so beneficial when we try. And we have to be realistic, we can’t indulge every one of these domains at all times, which brings me to my last point – allowing these freedoms should not impede another child’s freedoms.
It can be easy to let freedom run wild, but that can quickly turn to chaos. We would not want to allow a child to run into another child’s tower, let a child paint where someone is eating, or let one child tell another child that their beliefs are wrong. In these cases and in cases like these, it is important that we teach children why we need to put boundaries in place, otherwise, a child may believe that a particular action is bad when really that action is simply inappropriate for the moment. And these limitations should be on a case-by-case basis. I have found myself putting in a blanket restriction over a room when I have found an action to be inappropriate in the moment and end up enforcing that restriction for months only to realize that it was unnecessary later on. How many opportunities could I have missed in that time?
It can be very difficult to find the balance that allows as many freedoms as possible, and it is something you will have to actively work at, but the benefits when those domains are uninhibited can be endless. Not just for children, but in our own lives as well.