“What we teach is ourselves” Magda Gerber’s reminder to slow down, gentle our hands and tone of voice, to wait for children to respond rather than rush in. All elements of respectful care that underpin practice and describe our ways of being but not necessarily our state of mind. Lately I’ve been reflecting well-being from the adult perspective for ‘we are not robots...’ in Enid Elliot’s words.
In doing so I wonder about the nuances. The messages that we give children, the examples we set, albeit indirectly. The one’s that tell children that in teaching respect we need to respect ourselves too. Not in a selfish way but rather to show its reciprocal nature and in ways that remind children of what it is to be authentic, to know that clear and consistent boundaries will be set . To quietly and confidently say I won’t read with you right now... I won’t let you hit me... How do I teach respect if I don’t respect myself? If I allow myself to become exhausted, don’t take breaks or allow myself time to regroup, how can I possibly be physically and emotionally be present for children?
I’ve come to view Magda’s pearls of wisdom as gifts. The value we place on caregiving as language rich moments which fill up a child’s emotional tank. The only goal to bring pleasure to the moment - for both of us. To see these moments as our ‘time with’ children. To linger longer so that children left with the lingering feeling of being loved. Their play - ‘time away’ during which I am free to spend time with another child or to sit back , sensitively observe, learn and enjoy. These are some of the things that I find liberating and I hold onto them dearly.
The RIE® principles, serving as my inner guidelines. They free us of guilt and remove the pressures to teach, direct or intervene. They serve as a reminder to step in and out of moments with children gracefully. When necessary or if invited rather than to encroach. To offer just enough support and always ready to step back thus giving competency back to the children.
Creating an environment that is physically safe, cognitively challenging and emotionally nurturing - conditions for learning I suppose. The child who feels nurtured, will feel more secure in their sense of well-being and belonging and therefore more likely to explore . It is these things that enrich the child’s experience and foster relationships while making our own jobs more enjoyable. My intellect is teased, my thoughts tantalised by my observations. I am encouraged to reflect and layer my own knowledge in ways that unleash the full potential of the children within my care. My notions of children as competent are challenged by my own comfort zones. Reminders to slow down and observe more but most of all to work on myself. To learn to hold back on impulses to direct, distract or intervene. Relationships with parents and colleagues strengthened by a common desire to know the child. The reward - that children come to view themselves as self learners who are competent and have agency. The notion of children as self- learners and the value we place on uninterrupted play fundamental key to letting go.
The irony, is that in ‘letting go’ of the notions I had, I found I created more time - for me. I use this time wisely to organise what might happen next for children, to linger longer with a vulnerable child - the one who is settling, tired, on the periphery or simply just having a hard day. Once attended to, my time to sit back and sensitively observe with my arms open and mind engaged.
Our vulnerabilities are tested at times for sure. There are natural tensions;. That come from needing to step in as a responsible adult even we are feeling discomfort or emotionally vulnerable. Moments when distracting or re-directing behaviour would knowingly alleviate this tension. But I wonder what we take away from children? Instead we are encouraged to acknowledge a child’s feelings, giving them time to work on their strategies until they become ingrained.
It is true, while we cannot always leave our ‘baggage’ behind, we need to find ways to set our troubles aside and enter the ‘third space’. Not yours or mine but ours. I take seriously my mentor’s advice to ‘shake my hands’ before entering into moments with children. This as a way to unbusy my mind and a start to understanding what it is to be physically and emotionally present with and for children. These are the nuances I refer to. The notion that we ‘teach’ not only skills but also the values. Honesty, compassion, kindness, forgiveness and generosity. We do so by example and never with force. Instead, we trust that with time, children will come to respond authentically, empathy and integrity. Relationships, therefore the heart of the Approach. Based on mutual trust, honesty and steeped in respect . Relationships that are forged over time rather than fleeting and are empowering for adults and children alike.
Elena Marouchos is a RIE® Associate and an NZITC Board Member.