Are we obsessed with children's interests?

The Early Year Learning Framework (COAG, 2009) asks the early childhood community in Australia to reflect upon the interests of children as one of the drivers for curriculum development. However, what is actually happening is that 'children's interests' have reached epic proportions in the minds of many educators in this country.


Unfortunately, what we now see in practice is an absolute obsession with what children are 'interested' in - from fairies to trucks to caterpillars to volcanoes - some lists of observed interests count in to the twenties on any given week. What many have failed to recognise is that these 'interests' are only the conduit or context for children to examine, theorise and understand the world that is opening up to them - as learners and thinkers - as they participate in play experiences in early childhood settings.


A quick comparative scan using the EYLF document finds that interests is mentioned 11 times but ideas is mentioned 53 times. This gives some indiction that the intention of the EYLF is to invite educators to engage with children's thinking rather than just focus on their interests, which may last a few moments or may last years.


Interests seems to evoke in educators a perceived permission to dig in to their tool kits of activities - like a meer cat - with a view to supporting children's interests, which in many cases, falls flat. A recent example was an educator who noticed a small group of children playing 'restaurants' in the sand play area - on one occasion - and interpreted this to be children's interest at play. The very next day she had set up a dramatic play area in the shape of a restaurant and was ready with activities for menu making, cooking and a party for the mum's that Friday. However, when the children arrived, they completely ignored the restaurant and went off on another 'interest' based play activity for the day. 


As educators, we should be seeking to understand what draws children to particular languages of play (see Malaguzzi's work on children's expressive languages) and how they use these opportunities to pose questions, seek to hypothesise new ways of doing and explore the potentials and possibilities that these languages offer. We should seek those experiences that children return to time after time - and listen deeply to what children are telling us about the attraction of these experiences and how they might help us better understand our work with these children - rather than popping in and out of our meer cat holes looking for the puzzle, book, game or activity that we can give to children as our input in to this serious endeavour of searching for new meanings.


Nobody has suffered greatly from not knowing how chickens hatch or the machinations of the life cycle of a butterfly or how to make a volcano in the sandpit, but many fail to be successful learners through the inability to problem solve, persevere, resolve conflicts and be resilient when things go for thought!


Listening deeply to young children

Listening to young children is an important aspect of early childhood pedagogy. But who is being listened to and, who is doing the listening? Are we listening to the voice of the child and what is it telling us, particulalry when the child is an infant or has little spoken language? How can we listen to the experiences of children, when we are only the observers? Carla Rinaldi from Reggio Emilia speaks to us about listening with both the heart and the mind. I see this as an educator who is listening to young chldren with interest, intelligence and intent. Luigina Mortari from the University of Verona asks us to engage with children with delicacy and tenderness, in a spirit of generosity.