TEY speaks to Jane Comeau MBE about modelling kindness and what ‘school-ready’ really means…
When we think of kindness in early years, we often think of supporting children to be kind to each other.
A big part of my role is helping children to socialise together and handle conflict – whether they’re feeling upset or one child has annoyed another – if I can help children through that, I’m giving them tools to cope with it in the future.
So many people say how well the children play together, and it doesn’t happen by accident; it happens because I support them to build relationships, navigate those conflicts and show kindness to each other.
I also love that I have such a range of ages here with younger children mixing with the after-school children. There’s a 3-year-old girl who’s often keen to play with one of the older boys after school. It sometimes surprises me just how happy he is to engage in play and how well they get on together.
The older children at my setting – and my own children when they were growing up – have learned to interact with younger ones and be really natural and patient with them.
As early years professionals, we’re nurturing, caring people – we’re so outward looking, that sometimes we forget to stop for a moment and be kind to ourselves.
We might pay lip service to the idea by having a long bath, relaxing in the evening, or treating ourselves to a day out. That’s all important, but it’s peripheral. How kind are we to ourselves every day?
People say, “Treat others as you wish to be treated,” but sometimes we need to spin that on its head and treat ourselves as we would treat other people… because we can be a lot kinder to others than we are to ourselves!
It’s so easy to pull ourselves up on the things we haven’t done rather than recognising the things we have achieved.
I try to think of the kindness we instinctively show the children, then picture myself at their age. We need to be kind to our inner child and think about how we would look after that child. How would we support them?
When we’re kind to ourselves, we’re modelling that to the children. They often see adults interacting and being kind to each other, but are they also seeing us treat ourselves in the same way?
We know to focus on effort rather than outcome when we praise children, but do we do the same for ourselves? I think we lose that as we get older.
When we do something well – even small wins – or try our best at something, we should allow ourselves to take some pleasure and pride in it, and show the children that we’re proud of ourselves.
We should also feel proud of the care and education we provide. It can be easy to compare Ofsted reports, or scroll through social media and see an airbrushed version of how others are doing, but we’re all doing the best for the children in our care.
Sometimes we can feel pressure from parents to do something differently. For example, when parents compare whether their children can write before they start school, it can lead to parents wanting children to be schooled from the age of 3.
But if a child’s not interested in learning to write yet, don’t pressure them.
If we look at what’s really good for children as they start school, it’s building confidence to interact with a group of children or adults that they don’t know. It’s being able to blow their nose if they need to, or do the zip on their coat – doing things that support them to feel good about themselves.
Just having the muscles in their hand to hold the pencil for a long time can actually be quite painful for young children, particularly for boys as their fine motor skills develop a bit later.
One boy at my setting had no interest in writing, but really loved to draw. That’s still mark-making and exploring shapes.
He had so much fun drawing and painting – he’s still holding a colouring pencil or a paintbrush – and allowing him to draw rather than write supported his fine motor skills and mark-making while also following his interests, and without putting pressure on him to do something he’s not ready to do.
I explain to parents that we concentrate on large muscle groups and then it gets smaller. Only when those larger muscle groups are strong can children begin to focus on those small muscle groups. It always comes back to the individual child and what suits them.
It’s having the confidence to tell parents that it will work through but, for the moment, if a child isn’t ready or doesn’t enjoy writing, trying to write is going to put pressure on them and that isn’t going to help them to enjoy starting school.
Outdoor play is really important at my setting. I often take the children on day trips or to explore the local area, so they gain social experiences as well as opportunities to practise anything they want to do in an environment that suits them.
Today, I took the children to a park and recreation ground where there are so many natural learning opportunities. As we followed the path from the car park, we observed different plants, objects and shapes.
Then we talked about how we were walking forward, turning left, turning right, and I asked the children, “Where are we going to turn now?” One of my 3-year-olds said, “That way’s left and that way’s right “. I asked, “Which way shall we go now?” and he said, “We’re going right.”
On the way back, the children spotted the arrow on my satnav that represents my car and the little house that represents my house. They were keenly watching the map and we talked about which way we were going to turn as we got closer to the house.
They had so much fun with this! I always bring as much as I can to any situation or activity, and try to spot natural learning opportunities.
I’d encourage other practitioners to be kind to yourselves – be confident in your approach, look at what you’re doing well, and know that you’re doing what’s best for the children. ...What will you do to be kind to yourself today?
Jane Comeau MBE is a registered childminder, Early Years Professional and former Chair of PACEY.