Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Place for Joy

We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion. - Max de Pree

15 years ago I was deep in a search for a preschool for my son James. I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for, but trusted that I'd know when I stumbled across it. .

One morning we visited a small preschool tucked away on the edge of our nearby bush land.  It was love at first sight for me, and for James.  The space and the touch of wildness to the outdoors had me at "hello", and James was besotted with the old rickety bridge.

The old rickety bridge - much loved.

As I walked and chatted with the director through an outdoor area full of natural nooks and crannies, we came across three children engrossed in mixing water into dirt that was already wet from recent rain.  

"Watch this!" said one child delightedly, flinging a muddy glob to the ground.  "We are making art" she said

The director turned to me smiling, and asked: "Can you see their joy?"

Boom.  I knew then that I wanted a place where James had the time, the space and the permission to experience the joy and freedom of play.  I knew then that I wanted teachers who understood that this was important.  

Fast forward 15 years, and the time and space that children have for free play is being eroded.  

We feel the need to pick apart play to match to objectives, and plan follow up experiences.  Intentional teaching seems to have become another word for "activity".  We create spaces for play that lend themselves more to adult sensibilities, rather spaces that beckon to children, spark their curiosity and encourage them to wonder, dream and imagine.

Don't children have the right to play without undue focus on adult desired goals for planned activities?  Is there a place for free play in our preschools today?

The very idea of "being" in our Early Years Learning Framework recognises the significance of children being present in the moment and engaging with life's joy and challenges.  

Living Practice with the EYLF tells us:

Being is about children having the chance to just be themselves. It is about allowing children the time to grow at their own pace rather than feeling that we should always be rushing them onto the next stage in their lives. Childhood does not have to be hurried. Sometimes the best preparation for being five (or four, or three, or two…) is to be four (or three, or two, or one) for a whole year. Time for “being” allows children to

experience the joy and wonder of childhood; 
• learn about themselves and who they are; 
• develop deep and satisfying relationships; and 
• become fully involved with new ideas and interests.

If we over manage and over schedule children's play, if we give children less time to simply "be", do we take away an essential freedom that leads to creativity, imagination, discovery, experimentation, exploration - and joy?

This preschool nurtured the joy and wonder of childhood for my children.  It gave me some very special gifts as well.  In fact, it changed me as a teacher.

This preschool ignited the joy in teaching.    It taught me a different way of seeing and being with children.  It taught me to trust, and let go my tightly held teaching reins, and to delight in magic that happened when I did.  

This preschool taught me the benefits of slowing down.  There is so much to be in awe of when we stop and look at the children in front of us.  Slowing down gives us the space to "be" and to find the beauty and magic in the everyday.

There is a place for joy for joy's sake in early childhood programs.  If we value the joy and wonder of childhood, let's slow down and make time for it to flourish.

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge  - Albert Einstein


  1. I didn't think I would find a place of joy when I moved to the US. I was so lucky to find this place
    Hooray for those who preserve joy in childhood.

  2. Great post Jenny. I couldn't agree more. x

  3. Can I ask what suburb this place of joy is located? (crossing my fingers and toes that it's somewhere near me in Melbourne...)

    1. Sydney I'm afraid. It was a progressive preschool, and I do believe there are some wonderful ones in Melbourne.

  4. This information is great and i think it would be very great for the kids. "All work no play makes jill a dull boy"
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  5. This information is great.. Sounds fantastic.. Thanks for sharing.