I drove today to a girls secondary school in Tauranga to watch a Babywatching class with 17 and 18 year olds. This was a long-standing appointment for me and really exceeded my expectations.
The girls were in their final year of school and this was an early childhood education class, nz year 13. Typical of BW, a mum (Megan) and her little boy (Te Arahi a Maori name which means to guide) come into class every week for one session. Te Arahi is now 5 months old so is quite accustomed to visiting the class. My host Tanzi (who was also the facilitator) explained how the girls were now more confident during the sessions.
I found it interesting how the course is modified but still focuses on attachment between the mother and baby but also the girls were learning about child development too. This was clearly going to benefit any of the girls going into relevant careers but also these girls might too soon be mums themselves. The girls go into settings as part of their course and they have a much better understanding of attachment, which is so crucial in the child’s emotional health and development. During the session the toys/blankets etc. that children were attached to was discussed and how each child needs a sense of safety. This was a very interesting discussion to me as it was reiterated how if children do not feel safe then they will not learn! In our pressurised pre-schools and schools I think this can sometimes be forgotten or drop to the bottom of the list of priorities. I know of refugees who have arrived at school who are straight into the classroom but the teacher is obligated to teach the pre-planned lesson. There may be support outside the classroom but the teacher is the teacher! That is so sad.
Te Arahi was quite happy to be held by the girls but then lay on the mat to begin the session. He was playing with toys that the girls had made in class. The notion of meeting his needs came up a number of times in the session and how are needs known and met. How does mum know what Te Arahi is thinking/needs? How does he/she feel etc. Secure attachment was also a common point of focus. ‘If he doesn’t feel safe then he doesn’t explore.’
Finance of the course was discussed and I think it is a remarkably low cost and very easily affordable by schools. It is far less than other programmes that I have heard of and sustainable which is very important when embarking on a new project.
I was excited about this class and I know there will be such ‘A level’ or diploma courses at home. I think that BW was ideal here as it has a dual role of developing empathy whilst also general child development which clearly would benefit future practitioners and future mums. It is such a cheap but effective session/course to run and I am motivated to be going on this when back in England but will focus on reception classes first. Anybody interested in the North West then please do get in touch!
The class teacher gave me a graph which records the real progress that the students have made in their knowledge and understanding of attachment. This is always useful for those of us that like firm quantifiable evidence to support discussions. Fantastic to see how the learning is done in such a meaningful, interesting and engaging way.
When we finished the session, we had a good chat and it transpires that Megan had worked in England as a school teacher in Reception classes. She told me how formal she found it and that she had worked with a Samoan teacher who would sing maths songs to the children and the outcomes soared. My kind of teaching I thought.
One of the students joined us for our casual chat and she said of the sessions ‘It’s awesome being in the childhood class, to know what is happening in that moment….You can see where the love is directed to.’ Great grounding an understanding of young babies needs I thought.
Our discussion took us to Steiner schools where children enter formal education at 7. The children will be on the site of the school in separate provision from 5 but it is run more like a kindergarten. I would really like to know more about these schools and will look into it at home. I wonder where the closest to me is in the NW? I shall be searching for some research papers here. Or a study to be done? Again in the discussions it became apparent that schools do have different policies and practices which is something that I do like to see as they are self-determined and democratic which is clearly then responsive to local need.
I was chatting about what I had seen in NZ and the teaching ratios. I was surprised to hear that some pre-schools do abide by the 1:5 ratios for under twos. The children I believe cannot have their basic physical and social needs met with this ratio. Private fee paying settings are prevalent just as at home and it is not uncommon to have big chains that are clearly business. I do believe that a service that is a public good and necessity can struggle with the financial pressures and providing the best environment for children, parents and staff. Those of you who are privately run will have more insight than I have here but it is such a shame that decisions of such great importance are severely affected by financing. I do not know a lot about funding at home and did here once that there is a cap on how much you can charge. It would be great if one of you could enlighten me in you free time!!!!!!
Our discussion led us to Play Centres, which I am hearing more and more about through chatting to staff at the university. I am hoping to visit this setting, which is run by parent volunteers. Sounds a little bit like tots groups but with extensive provision. I am keen to know how they are run and financed.
I have attached some photos. There is a photo on one girl who has simulated suit on so she looks and to some extent feels pregnant. It was very realistic!
For me the big lesson today was the importance of attachment and empathy. My last conversation with Tanzi was about how this is imperative to underpin all learning and without it such things as self-regulation/self-control will not come into being. This is the foundation that we as practitioners are able to facilitate! It’s so important. We can make a difference to these children’s life chances. Let’s do it!
A huge thank you to all and the class teacher who was so generous with her time and information.