“You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose!”
If you spend any length of time in an early childhood group, you would know that there is a rule for almost everything, and that they are spoken of often. We use our walking feet, we use our inside voices, we even use our gentle hands. Such rules are obviously designed for a reason –primarily to keep children safe, to set boundaries on what is ‘socially’ acceptable, and sometimes subtly, to assist educators in controlling the behaviours of individuals and groups of children.
We are in danger though of the ‘speaking’ of these rules becoming
when they are repeated ad-nauseam and without context to the request
or any thought about a teachable moment?
Let’s stop and consider – when the speaking of rules become mantra’s, what are they really telling children (“what is my “walking feet?” I hear 2year old Ross ask himself). What do they say about our practice and the craft of teaching when they are they borne out of habit rather than well thought out reflection upon practice? Do they reduce our role to that of merely directing traffic, resolving conflict and engaging in ‘drive-by’ interactions?
“Joey, use your walking feet.”
“Tell me about your drawing Phoebe. Is that your family? I can see there are 4 of you. Ross, get down, feet aren’t for climbing.”
“Rachel, use your words and your inside voice”.
“Tell me about your building Chandler. A house? Monica – gentle hands please.”
The sacredness of a mantra is strengthened by the intent, or mindfulness, behind it. A mantra without meaning is no more than a group of words strung together in a row – much like the words one would use to get a teenager to keep their room tidy! No amount of chanting is going to get those dirty dishes returned to the kitchen – the trick (or the teaching) is that they have to understand the reason to return them and develop the internal motivation to return them.
Relying on (meaningless) mantra’s to teach children is both lazy, and to a degree, negligent to the craft of teaching. Really, if you want Joey to stop running, then tell him EXACTLY what you want him to do. “Joey, stop running”. Simple. Easy. And, a one step, easy request for Joey to follow. (You can of course, continue and tell why Joey should stop running. And, maybe offer a positive alternative. That would be real teaching). Hint: “Joey, you need to stop running. There are lots of children in here and it’s not safe to run. You can go outside if you feel like running”.
Perhaps it’s time to take a step back, use our own inside voices (the one’s inside our head) and consider the intent of information and requests we are giving and making of children. And consider the many, many meaningful moments of teaching we are missing out on.
Feet are not only for walking (but for running, jumping, skipping, twirling, dancing…). Voices are not only for talking (and singing “Let it go…” at the top of your voice) and hands are certainly much more versatile than for being gentle with.
Instead of meaningless mantra’s, create some meaningful moments instead.