When we say that we trust children, we mean that we believe unequivocally in the phenomenal potential of every child. We want a lot for these remarkable individuals — joy and challenge, friendship and independence, strength and kindness, creativity and contribution. And because we understand children to be people who are powerful, capable and intelligent, we also believe that they have a right to working conditions that do not unnecessarily limit their undertakings. To create supportive working conditions for capable children, we must:
- Allow plenty of time — time to work without interruption; time to lose yourself in play; time to sit back and observe; time to think, wonder, and daydream; time to remember and reflect. Our daily schedule allows a generous block of time for work and play — three hours without transitions.
- Allow privacy in the context of safe supervision and community living. We set up our spaces to allow unobtrusive oversight and a sense of seclusion, and give kids access to loose parts they can use to build their own private spaces. Our teachers position themselves so that they are available, not intrusive, offering support and safety rather than surveillance.
- Provide plenty of materials, especially loose parts that kids transform through action and imagination — sand, water, blocks, fabric, clay — all organized so that children can see what’s available and help themselves.
- Assure children they can spread out and claim the space and resources they need to be to get the job done.
- Let children work hard without rescuing them from struggle. When kids get stuck, we express our appreciation for their determination and our faith in their abilities and then we get busy being still, resisting the temptation to do things for them.
- Cultivate a why-not attitude. Why not use a wagon to haul a heavy pumpkin up the steps? Why not transform yourself into a pirate using creation station tape? Who are we to say how many kids can fit on one bike? And just because it never occurred to us to climb a tree that way, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. We try to celebrate daring, surprise and originality.
- Meet puzzling and even troubling behavior with curiosity rather than condemnation, expressing our confidence that there is a good reason for what the children are doing and helping them figure out how to realize their intent in a safe and socially acceptable way. We love the question “What’s your plan?” and the phrase “still learning.”
- Take care in how we talk to kids about their creative work. We’re conservative with praise, because we’ve learned that praise distracts kids from their own intent, and turns their focus to pleasing us. Children who seek praise are more likely to conform than to create. So we’re generous with our genuine interest and pleasure in what kids are doing. For example, Elisabeth has been writing and drawing, and she wants Donna to see what she’s done. Donna is listening, and when Elisabeth stops talking, Donna might say, “Tell me more about that part” or “I’m curious about this part” or “I notice how carefully you placed your letters on this page” or “When I look at this drawing, it makes me think about…” or “Thanks for sharing your work with me, Elisabeth. You are writing and I am reading! We’re really communicating!” Donna focuses on something specific that Elisabeth has done; she attempts to extend Elisabeth’s thinking about her work; or she simply shares her honest appreciation for this moment of connection with the inner world of her young friend.