I noticed Maria (3.5 years old) sitting on the edge of the sandpit crying. I went to investigate and asked Maria “Why are you crying?”. Maria was rather caught up in her emotion and struggled to tell me what had happened. Instead she pointed to Emily (5 years old) and Amy (4 years old) who were watching, cautiously from a distance. I asked Emily, “Do you know why Maria is crying?” and with slight guilt in her eyes, she claimed she did not know. Amy then told me “Maria is crying because Emily wants to play with me”. Maria confirmed this was the case by nodding her head when I looked over at her. I suggested to Maria that she could talk to Emily and Amy about this and tell them how she feels. Maria was reluctant to do this but I decided to step back and allow her to come to her own solution. Meanwhile, Peyton (3.5 years old) who had been listening on, became concerned for Maria who was still crying. She approached Maria, gave her a little cuddle and took her by the hand. “Come on Maria, lets go talk to Emily and Amy” Peyton suggested and Maria followed on. I watched for a while as Peyton facilitated a conversation amongst the children, encouraging them all to listen to one another and come to a solution. I heard her point out the tears in Maria's eyes to the other two girls and she asked them "How do you think Maria feels?". Peyton and Emily then invited Maria back in to their play. Peyton, Maria, Emily and Amy then played happily together in the sandpit for the afternoon.
Looking at life, it is pretty clear that as humans we have to work together and whilst we don't always agree on things, none of us are good at everything and we do need each other! So when conflict arises amongst children, as hard as it is sometimes, I try to bite my tongue and encourage them to sort it out amongst themselves (obviously within reason!). After all they are definitely going to require these social skills in life! Janet Lansbury points out that our interruptions ‘put the brakes on valuable social exchanges’ and leave children with the message that they are incapable of interacting with their peers. I try to see conflict as an opportunity for children to learn much needed skills, after all society could do with more citizens who can effectively work together!
I have been challenged lately about the purpose of Early Childhood Education. Is our job solely to prepare these young children for academic learning? I like to think its so much more. Its so inspiring to think that Reggio Emilia's approach was born out of the belief that childhood (particularly the early years) is a time where children's' identity is developed and that this was the time where they could support children in becoming good, valuable citizens of the world.The children we teach are citizens and I believe the purpose of early childhood education is not merely to ready children for school and academic learning but to instill in them morals and skills that will enable and empower them to be valuable contributors in to the world both in the present and into their future.
The idea that children are contributors to their world is powerful, that they too have something to bring and to teach. If children are given the opportunity to have a voice, they really do have a lot to bring, like Peyton who was able to facilitate a meeting with three other children where views were shared, voices heard and problems solved. I think we can all learn a lot from Peyton who is clearly capable of making a valuable contribution to our world.