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Liberty of Expression

Article 13 (freedom of expression) Every child must be free to express their thoughts and opinions and to access all kinds of information, as long as it is within the law.

Although it is one thing to generally accept freedom of expression as a basic human right, it’s quite another to actively respect another person’s freedom of expression, especially when 

  • doing so may be counter to our own practical, emotional or psychological comfort, and when
  • the person in question is vulnerable and therefore easier to dominate.

First off, let’s look at the word freedom. Broken into two parts, we have “free” and “domination”, or the freedom to dominate. How pervasive this is across our mainstream Western culture – to equate ones liberty with the dominion over the liberty of others. 

Such an idea is intrinsically divisive, presenting the notion that community equilibrium is an awkward dance of clashing boundaries, in which the weaker give way to the stronger. The greater the span of our freedom, the smaller that of those who would oppose us.

Should we  choose instead to use the word liberty, we allow ourselves to envision a state of community equilibrium in which the rights of each person are valued equally, respected actively and sought after and expressed mutually. This perspective treats opposition as something to be assimilated, not conquered, as we adapt our own style to accommodate the styles of others. Compromise, communication and interdependence are central themes to liberty within a community, and these are certainly values worth instilling in our young.

Of course, as an adult ECCE practitioner, it would be very inappropriate for us to think that a child in our care posed a meaningful threat to our emotional or psychological state. As custodians of children, we must be as rivers – pour a cup of salt into a cup of water, and the water becomes salty and undrinkable. Pour a cup of salt into a river, and all traces of salt are quickly washed away by its moving current.

It is, however, a lot less hard to imagine perceiving a child who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus as a threat to the practical comfort of organising a group activity in December. 

During my work placement in December, I witnessed my mentor instruct a little boy who did not believe in Santa Claus to “keep it to himself,” so as not to “upset the other children.” The boy was visibly distressed across the remainder of the activity, which involved colouring in a picture of Santa Claus. He kept looking like he wanted to speak up, but the thought of upsetting his classmates stopped him. Eventually he burst into tears and went to cry in the quiet corner, where he was consoled by another practitioner and told he could remain quietly until the end of the activity.

In this instance, my mentor perceived the child’s liberty of expression as a potential threat to the setting dynamic. No doubt her mind was plagued by visions of angry parents – “X here says he learned Santa wasn’t real during creche!” Etc. 

However, stifling the emergence of a controversial voice within a learning setting is counter to the intellectual and emotional development of the entire group. Doing so is counter to their intellectual development because it deprives them from a thought experiment in which they compare opposing beliefs. It is counter to their emotional development because doing so deprives them of a lesson in which they learn that they can accept and be friends with people who do not share their same beliefs. 

And what could be a gentler introduction to these two important themes of life than the questioning of Santa Claus? It’s very likely that when these themes surface in their future, the stakes will be higher.

Speaking of themes, it is in accordance with Aistear’s outlining of best practice that we facilitate the well-being of the children in our care, specifically through furnishing them with positive outlooks on learning and life, as well as encouraging them to embrace diversity. Respect, value and inclusion are all core tenets of Aistear’s approach to nurturing the social, psychological and creative well being of children.

Furthermore, if we return to the original legislation in question, we note that the child’s access to all kinds of information (provided it is within the law) is mandated. It further follows that to keep the other children in the setting from at the very least questioning the existence of Santa Claus is counter to the actual legislation put in place to promote and preserve their intellectual integrity.

If our aim is indeed to facilitate childrens’ development into confident and competent learners, as outlined within Aistear’s current guidelines, then what place does lying to them have in that? If, in accordance with Aistear’s fourth theme, we intend to further children’s development of increasingly complex ways of exploring, thinking, understanding and problem solving, what place does tricking them have in that?

Of course, Aistear recognises the parents or primary caregivers as the primary educators of children, and the link between home and ECCE setting is vital to promote a bond of cooperative attachment between the child, the setting and their home. And nobody wants X’s mum shouting at them at nine in the morning.

So, based on both the regulations for the rights of the child by the UN convention with unicef as well as on Aistear’s best practice guidelines, I conclude that ECCE practitioners reject any perceived obligation to favour one child’s family traditions over another, cultivating instead a learning environment which encourages healthy and respectful discussion around any topics which may arise.

For example, my mentor could have said to the non believer, “You don’t believe in Santa, but so-and-so’s family does.” She could have then prompted him to volunteer something he did believe in, or a custom his family did practice. 

It might have been a good moment to sit back and observe what response his revelation elicited from the rest of the children, and allow them to discuss the issue freely amongst themselves. After all, at no point does an ECCE practitioner sign a document proclaiming to preserve the illusion of one fantastical childhood character or another. We are not bound to Santa, the tooth faerie or the easter bunny. These are fun ideas that families may or may not choose to partake in to varying degrees, and while we as individuals may have our own opinions on the rationale behind these choices, the establishment does not empower us to directly challenge them, nor are we obliged to uphold them.

Our duty lies in the preservation of children’s well being, the cultivation of their sense of identity and belonging and their development of communication, exploring and thinking skills. Unmediated conversations between a child and their peers is a crucial part of all that. In such a discussion, the role of an ECCE practitioner may simply be to influence the conversation towards the direction of mutual appreciation and respect for each other’s differences, as well as positively reinforcing the children’s inclination to be inquisitive and open minded in the face of diversity. 

When a controversial voice makes itself heard, as curators of a community environment, we often feel the call to silence it for the sake of tranquility. And when the voice belongs to a child, underestimating its value is easy, and silencing it is even easier. It doesn’t take much to justify our actions to ourselves or to others, nor to trivialise any objection the child may have.

However, tranquility founded on the oppressive illusion of sameness is unstable and toxic. We must pursue a state of tranquility founded in mutual respect and acceptance of diversity.

It is crucial, then, that we recall to ourselves Aistear’s best practice guidelines – that our primary objective is not to keep everybody quiet and happy, but to raise a generation of well-adjusted, healthy and empathetic free thinkers.


The Importance of Affection and Acceptance to a Child’s Health, Emotional Well-Being and Behavioural Orientation.

In this project I will detail how holding an accepting space for a child across their development is of vital importance to their feeling secure enough in themselves to develop the psychological robustness required to grow emotionally and cognitively.

When I was in the setting an incident occured. A child got out the play-do and dipped it in the water from the water table. The senior supervising practitioner immediately took the play-do off the child and told them that now they had to play with something else – informing me that the child in question already knew that play-do and water were not to be mixed in this setting. 

Boundaries in any setting are important, as they serve as a social framework for children to experiment within, guiding them towards cooperative and socially functional behaviour. This enables smoother interaction within the setting – allowing everyone to come together with a higher degree of harmony.

When the child, dejected but not objecting, came over to me for a cuddle, the supervising practitioner instructed me not to cuddle them to further their punishment. “He’s trying to go to you because I told him off,” she informed me. “You mustn’t cuddle him. It’ll only encourage him.”

Often it may seem suitable to us, as caregivers, partners or friends, to deny a person affection in an effort to condition their behaviour. The idea behind this is that any positive attention reinforces the negative behaviour displayed by the person in question and runs the risk of encouraging this bad behaviour to develop into a pattern. 

A lesser-acknowledged truth of this withholding of affection is that we, in our resentment, are often trying to punish the person who has misbehaved for their defiance, perceived as a personal slight. In our resentment, we do not feel like being affectionate. We worry that being affectionate would make us vulnerable to further slights. We put up a boundary – not to guide the person’s behaviour towards being cooperative and socially functional, but to protect ourselves by keeping them out.

Keeping them out undermines our bond. It says, “I accept you only when you behave in a way which does not challenge my authority.” Sending this message is likely to have negative repercussions, not only for our bond of attachment with the child, but for their developing behaviour. It is our duty to care for children in such a way as to nourish their confidence both in exploring their surroundings and in forming bonds with their future and present peers. A child who has been denied affection in response to undesired behaviour is more likely to fear rejection and to form behavioural patterns around this fear of rejection.

A child whose caregiver has demonstrated the ability to accept the child without accepting the behaviour by prioritising the preservation of their bond of attachment over the conditioning of their behaviour, is less likely to fear rejection and they are consequently more likely to make their behavioural choices from a place of loving connection to the situations they find themselves in.

When a child is demonstrating uncooperative behaviour, we may firmly enforce the boundary – “We don’t wet the play-do in creche.” If this is a reoccuring issue, it may well be that the child must now lose out on playing with the play-do to enforce the strength of this boundary. Defined, consistent boundaries are often a source of reassurance to a child, who is then empowered to use them to scaffold their developing personhood. 

After having been reminded of the boundary and having a privilege temporarily removed to demonstrate the boundary, the lesson has been taught! When they seek our reassurance via a cuddle or some other gesture of affection, they are searching for confirmation that they are still accepted even though their behaviour is not. They may as well be asking, “But you still love me, right?”

When we reject this opportunity to connect with the children in our care, at the precise time when an event has caused them to question the depth of our care for them, we are undermining our bond with them. This makes future tests of our patience increasingly likely, for two reasons;

  1. The child is not satisfied that our acceptance of them as a person is unconditional. They will continue to test the limits of our patient care for the remainder of the time they are in our care (something that is likely to happen anyway, but perhaps less so if each experiment is met with consistent boundaries and a solid reaffirmation of our acceptance of them).
  2. The weaker our bond with the child becomes, the less likely they are to be agentic to us and our will. They will be more likely to model their behaviour on that of their peers, and, should we continue to meet these moments of doubt with our failure to reinforce our shared bond, this will likely spiral into a negative feedback loop of immature behaviour. This is characterised by peers, now modeling their behaviour more on each other than on their caregivers, reinforcing through mutual acceptances the behaviours which we as caregivers seek to discourage.

Although this has obvious ramifications for the immediate learning environment, the more long-lasting consequences of this peer-orientation are perhaps more disturbing. A child can not be a comprehensive role model in the ways of moral and social or even practical behaviour. Peer-oriented children will develop their personhood along the lines of what ‘works’ within their peer group, as opposed to what is functional from a more mature and experienced perspective. Just as Jesus is quoted to say, “Man can not have two masters,” a young person lacks the emotional and intellectual dexterity to have two strong, oppositional bonds of attachment. Over time, as one strengthens, the other will inevitably weaken, until one – in the case of our continued failure, ours – will become largely irrelevant to the development of the child.

At this point, culture is being transmitted laterally, instead of vertically, as it would be among youths who were securely attached to their adult caregivers.

Furthermore, a child is in no way capable of meeting the emotional needs of another child. Imagine a child who seeks unconditional acceptance from another child, only to be told, “you’re not my friend,” or some equally childishly innocent display of a lack of care. Of course, the second child is unlikely to be saying this out of malice, but the impact of being rejected when we ourselves are so vulnerable is a huge one for any person, and this is especially true the younger we are. The more this happens, the lesson that vulnerability leads to hurt becomes increasingly reinforced. As mutual vulnerability between us and our loved ones is one of the cornerstones of a healthy, progressive relationship, this is an incredibly damaging lesson to instill in our children.

Techniques which we as caregivers can use to retain our composure in the face of perceived slight or other challenges include general mindfulness as well as a familiarity with stoicism. Stoicism is the practice of accepting that which we can not control in the pursuit of better allocating our energy towards managing that which we can control. This state of inner acceptance is key when cultivating an accepting space for others. The current legislation requires ECCE practitioners to take a certain amount hours a day to reflect and complete paperwork. Together with this I recommend ten minutes of meditation.

Having a five to ten minutes meditation period within the setting with the children is also likely to engender a calmer and more peaceful atmosphere. When I volunteered at a creche in Italy, I guided a meditation session with a group of five year olds. They all responded very positively, each appearing refreshed and energised after only five minutes. The teacher present also demonstrated and remarked upon feeling refreshed and energised.

It is of paramount importance that we remain compassionately connected to the children entrusted into our care, especially in times in which we are having to correct their behaviour. Viewing ourselves as the scaffolding for our children’s development, as theorised by Lev Vygotsky, allows for us to perceive their behaviour as something not centered around us, and this state of selflessness is what is required to meet their transgressions with the level of firm, cool-headed, warm-hearted and reaffirming compassion they in turn require and deserve.

Observational Techniques and the Value of Nonviolence in Childcare

I will explain the value of observations, both inner and outer, and how they can be used in practice to benefit stakeholders. We observe the children in our care to better understand them, recording these observations in an effort to allow that understanding to inform how we may best protect and nurture them, and so doing facilitate their individual needs.

There are five primary observational techniques which are most commonly used within an ECCE setting, and each of them is valuable for different reasons. 

Logging ones observations by way of a checklist is particularly useful when recording physical development because, although there is a minimum of ten items per checklist, this method of observation can be conducted over a long period of time.

The narrative technique is usually conducted over a ten-twenty minute period during which observations are recorded in the present tense – code words,to be finessed at a later date, are often used. Part of what makes this such a valuable tool in our observational toolkit is that nothing other than what we observe may be recorded – no extra evaluation, no filling in the blanks. This makes the narrative technique an extremely accurate way of recording what happens, and is therefore optimum when recording a significant event.

This is not the same as an event sample, which is when we identify an issue and record its context and development to identify the pattern. Although there is no set timescale, when we are sampling an event we record what happens before, during and after – ascertaining whether the behaviour was provoked and/or how was it triggered, documenting how the target child reacted, and finally what methods of aftercare were used.

This observational technique itself is similar yet not the same as a time sample; a technique which is used for a fixed time or interval over a set number of days, for example for one minute after lunch every day for a week. This technique is typically used for general overview – especially for monitoring social or language development. A time sample wouldn’t fit into an event sample as not a particular event, and when we observe in this way, our focus is less directed towards what happens before, around or after the sampled behaviour, but rather on the mannerisms and behaviour displayed by the target child.

The pre-coded technique of observation mimicks a script, as we document only and exactly what the child and those around the child are saying. Establishing a key at the beginning (eg. TC = Target Child), this technique is particularly useful when tracking language development.

Finally the period of time documented while using the learning story technique can be over the course of a few days or months. The learning story technique is essentially a narrative describing the development of a learning activity – frequently featuring photos, quotes, colorful, illustrations etc. Children are involved in the process of making the story, like cutting out pictures and gluing them on, making this an exceptionally involving and potentially bonding and fun method of observation. Working on a learning story with the group of children entrusted to ones care provides the children with the opportunity to reflect on their own development, while presenting this process as a fun and engaging activity. This in and of itself is a positive introduction to introspection for the child.

Even when utilising the learning story observational technique, it is of utmost importance that we don’t jump to conclusions, as doing so undermines our ability to critically appreciate the aspects of the child’s development we are seeking to understand. This in turn undermines our ability to facilitate their individual needs.

It stands to reason that in order to be truly competent caregivers, we ought to dedicate a complimentary portion of energy towards reflecting on our own behaviour as we do towards the observation development of the children in our care. Doing so enables us to engage in a process of continuous learning, paying critical attention to the practical values, theories, and various biopsychosocial motivators which inform our behaviour. 

When I was working in the “Wobbler Room” – wherein the average age of children is two years old – I noticed a little boy attempting to balance on the rim of a toy bucket which was propped up against the window. The toy bucket was large, and naturally the child was very small. However, as he began to attempt to eat the window ledge, it was clear to me that this was not a safe situation for the child to be in. I removed him from the bucket, enticing his interest towards a pile of puzzles which were on the floor. “Look,” I exclaimed, deftly lifting him back onto the rug. “Puzzles! Wow!”

The child initially shared my enthusiasm but, unfortunately, by the fourth return to his perch, had become wise to my tricks. When I lifted him down for the fourth time, he flapped his hands in agitation. “Aaaaaa,” he declared, and, with eyes full of realisation, slapped me across the face.

I am a devotee of nonviolence, and I recognise that as an adult and ECCE practitioner (in training), my primary objective must always be to ensure the healthy, safe and optimum development of the children in my care. Practicing dedication to nonviolence over the last decade, it is now very much counter to my learned behaviour to retaliate acts of aggression. My initial response to being slapped by this two year old, therefore, was not – “How can I avenge my face?” or “How can I protect myself from future slaps?”, but rather, “How can I correct this behaviour without compromising the opportunity to reassure this child while he is distressed?”

This is a thought process which indubitably would have developed differently had I not trained myself, through rigorous periods of inner reflection, to recognise and reject resentment and to control my responses to triggers which may invoke anger. 

As well as being an important part of forming long-term approaches to practicing ECCE care, the reflexive practice is also key towards developing a personal trajectory towards nonviolence through learned self-regulation. Without this, our disciplinary/scaffolding approach is subject to a greater degree of inconsistency, which in turn is destabilizing towards our bond with the children in our care.

I put my hand to my face, gasped gently, and said, “No, no, nice Anna,” while stroking my own face. I then put my hand to his face and repeated the caressing action, saying, “Nice Henry*”

Instantly diffused, the child returned to his perch on the toy bucket. Undeterred (in fact, emboldened by my success at negating any feelings of anger), I scooped him up, plopped him on the carpet in front of me and said, gently but firmly, “No, we don’t climb on the bucket.” He gazed at me for a moment, before waddling off to play with the puzzles alongside his peers.

*Name has been changed.


My own notes taken from our third webinar of the session.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.