A Hallelujah Kind of Childhood

After hearing of Bev Bos’s passing in February, I spent a couple of days reviewing and reflecting on her writing. A 1995 article called JOY in Early Childhood Programs particularly spoke to me, as it has so often in the last 20 years. Bev wrote that sadly, joy is not often a consideration for people who are talking about and planning programs and experiences for young children. She reminded us that “because learning always involves feelings, we must protect the right of all children to have a hallelujah kind of childhood.” 

I’ll say it again, because the words thrill me to my very soul: WE MUST PROTECT THE RIGHT OF ALL CHILDREN TO HAVE A HALLELUJAH KIND OF CHILDHOOD.

That means we must be active, intentional, self aware and reflective. Protecting children’s rights does not happen accidentally.

That means we do this for the child whose mom drives you crazy, the child who hits and kicks when you are trying to get him to settled down for rest time, the child whose nose is constantly oozing and who slobbers on her chin. All children means ALL children.

That means that we can’t settle for children being “fine” in our programs. It can’t be enough that they are still in the building with us and still breathing when dad comes to pick up. We must protect the right of all children to have a hallelujah kind of childhood.

Hallelujah childhoods don’t come from structure, rules or cute Pinterest crafts. They come from relationships. Protecting the right to a hallelujah kind of childhood demands that we go further than the “liking kids” that got our foot in the door. We have to know, trust and accept every single child in our care. And they need to know it.

What can you learn about the child whose mother drives you crazy that will help you connect with him? What makes the child who hits and kicks at you laugh? What story will bring the little girl with the oozing nose to your lap? How can you create a connection that feels like a hallelujah?

Bev said it best, “because the heart has a long memory for pain, we must take care, when we are making plans for programs…that the element of joy exists…we must protect the right of all children to have a hallelujah kind of childhood.”

Using Our Words….in Ways That Help

I’ve been thinking a lot about communication lately, primarily about the kind of “teacher shorthand,” as Carol Garhart Mooney calls it, that I hear being used so often in child care settings. 

Things like saying, “cross cross applesauce” instead of “please sit with your legs crossed like mine” (Why do we need to even sit that way? That’s another blog….)  or “inside voices now” instead of saying, “we’re inside now, and your voice is too loud.”

I think we use these terms to sound “teachery” and because they are culturally learned and absorbed. But I also think they can be very unclear for children. We assume they know what we are talking about, because it seems perfectly clear to us. We forget that children process language and ideas very differently than we do. 

Have you seen the video that made the rounds on Facebook a few weeks ago, showing a baby in a high chair, cracking up laughing each time his mom sliced a banana? That was a good example for me as I thought about this teacher shorthand. It makes no sense to me, as an adult, that a simple action like slicing a piece of banana would be that funny. It made perfect sense to the baby, because we think very differently. 

I think it’s the same when we think our “teacherese” is making a concept or instruction clearer than simply saying what we want to see happen. 

“But, Heather,” said a classmate of mine, “it sounds ‘teachery’ because we ARE teachers. It’s our job to sound teachery.” No. It’s our job to teach. And if our shorthand is not working for the child, we need to let it go.

I thought about all of this again today as I told a 4 year old he needed to get control of his body before leaving the bathroom to go to his cot. I thought it sounded nice and teachery and gentle and helpful. In reality, it was unfair. I sent him off with vague instructions….and a wish to do right and please me. 

I can do better. We can do better. And then our children will do better.