“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.” – Loris Malaguzzi
My daughter is nearly 14 months old and as I watch her grow and come into herself I am reminded of, The Image of the Child. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of The Image of the Child, it is taken from the Reggio Emilia philosophy of early childhood education which exemplifies how children are seen and held in high regard as being strong, capable, competent, and full of potential. One way this can be demonstrated is by the materials and experiences we offer young children.
When we give children real materials we give them a real experience of what it is like to interact with and make meaning of the world. Not only that but we give them a myriad of opportunity to build real life skills. From a very early age my daughter was given a small ceramic mug to drink from. If you are a Storyoga parent you may be familiar with these mugs. They are the same mugs we take into the forest with the children for Wilderness Wednesday and Forest Friday and drink tea or hot cacao from each week.
Some might think giving a 9 month old baby a small ceramic mug is a questionable choice (what if it breaks?). I can confirm that this mug has dropped from the high chair multiple times and has not broken or shattered into pieces. Questionable or not this little mug has proven to be a symbol of competence, confidence, and capability in our household and in the forest with the Storyoga children. Not only has it allowed our little one to build hand eye co-ordination and fine motor skills but the weight of the mug has allowed her to build the necessary strength to lift it even when filled with water. The spill over we are seeing of this now is her ability to pour and handle other real weighty objects and materials.
Recently we were outside and someone watching was surprised to see how she could lift a metal jug of water and pour it into another container. I hadn’t thought twice about it. Another person commented on her ability to pour one container into another and again I hadn’t given it much acknowledgement or thought. After a conversation with two of my colleagues I was able to bring it back to the ceramic mug. Not only does this object represent an image of the child as being strong, competent, and capable, it set the tone or starting point for her to build real life skills from. We are seeing this in many different realms now as we watch her engage in what some would call risky play.
After introducing a pikler triangle (Montessori inspired climbing frame) and ramp into our household at the end of February, our daughter very quickly built up the strength, confidence, and stamina for climbing. When I first brought the climber and ramp into our house, my husband said, “That’s way too big for her.” I replied, “She’ll grow into it” and didn’t think to put it away. She was quick to explore climbing and pulling herself up until one day she made it all the way to the top where she smiled from ear to ear.
With the recent closure of both Storyoga locations we have had the opportunity for exclusive outdoor play at our Academy location. Daily we are tending to the garden and feeding the chickens. A similar structure adorns the outdoor space which was made by one of our teachers out of pallet boards. The triangle shape is much bigger and chunkier so to speak but is a close replica of the pikler triangle we have at home. Without much hesitation our little one was quick to start climbing toward the top. I wasn’t surprised at all when she made it to the top and was quietly rooting her on as she did so. I have always placed a high level of trust in young children and their capabilities and can now see this so beautifully coming through with my own daughter.
A final example of how the image of the child shines through at Storyoga is in giving children real hammers to use. For some this may ignite a sense of worry or fear around the danger of using a real hammer and often too falls into the category of risky play. At Storyoga this is an activity that celebrates and honours children’s capabilities. At Halloween we bring out hammers with golf pegs for the children to hammer into pumpkins. At the preschool level, what we have observed is an increased level of focus, concentration, and sense of pride as they experience the weight and feedback of using a real child sized hammer. As an extension of hammering golf pegs into pumpkins, we often offer children the opportunity to hammer real nails into tree rounds outside. Using eye-protection while closely supervised the children rise to the occasion of using real hammers and nails. Their level of focus and concentration is heightened and their excitement and sense of confidence and pride emanates.
As a new parent and educator of over 10 years, reflecting on my image of the child has become an ongoing part of my personal and professional practise. The environment we construct paired with the materials and experiences offered all reflect an image of the child. May we strive towards honouring and seeing children for the truly amazing human beings that they are. May we marvel in their sense of wonder and may we create the space for them to grow and flourish into their most authentic selves.