By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. and Gill Robertson, ECE. This post is the first of what I hope will be a series of co-authored blogs. This post is a rant and was inspired by words that rankle and undermine the view of ourselves as professionals and children as competent. “Cute” is one of those words. Recently, I saw an Instagram post featuring a children’s craft with the caption “How Cute is This?”. This came from an organization that is supposed to support our profession. However, the use of this word, undermines images. Some words need to be replaced. For example, rather than say, “field” we choose the word “profession”. Language matters and sometimes we don’t pause to think about certain words. For instance, what does the word, “front-line” staff conjure up? Do you see in your mind’s eye early childhood educators uniformed, armed and ready for battle? When this is unpacked, repacked and sent packing, we can say “working directly with children” instead as this reinforces a more appropriate image of the teacher. In conversation with Gill, we ranted on about going beyond “cute” and decided to write this post as an example of a word that matters. Meanwhile, Cindy Green suggested co-authoring a post about mindfulness. It is probably apropos that this post will follow the rant. After getting worked up over words, we will need some time for calm.
The experience of writing together is a way to learn and grow in the understanding of the work that we do in early learning. What words rankle for you? We want to learn from you. It is through others that we develop into ourselves. If you have a rant or idea that could grow into a reflective blog post, add a comment about what it is you are thinking about. Perhaps you have a word that you want to unpack, repack and send packing! Today, we begin with “cute”.
If following a Pinterest search or after opening a craft book, you catch yourself saying, “Oh we should so do this, it’s so cute” chances are you are missing the depth and value of the learning. Sadly, the word “cute” and crafts often seem to be in the same sentence. Comments such as “oh that would be so cute to do with the kids for summer”, could easily come before the production of a pile of identical or near identical crafts. If we stopped thinking about our work as the production of cute crafts, we would move forward in our profession. If you are still looking at the flip flop craft and thinking, “oh that’s so cute they will love it”, let’s pause and unpack. We wonder about what the children actually love. Is it their foot being guided into the paint and onto the paper? Do they love having their teachers cut their footprints out for them and then put on the strips of paper to represent flip flops and summer? Or do they enjoy the one on one time with an adult? Do they enjoy the “good job” they receive from the teacher? Do they enjoy feeling clever as they name a colour of paint? All of this can be learned in a less “cute” way.
This picture isn’t a picture of children making a cute craft, but they are doing something! The children are looking for familiar shapes (letters are shapes), they are making comparisons and finding more of the same. People walked by when Gill was taking this photo and said, “aww how cute”. But cute is so shallow. Cute is often associated with looks. Children should be valued for more than how they look. We need to see more in each child than what is on the surface. We need to do more than compliment them on what they are wearing. Let’s start thinking about what we say and what we value. Back to the flip flops. Let’s take the example of fine motor skills, which incidentally are not an isolated skill. When children are given their own footprint cut out and then directed how to assemble it, we are dishonouring the image of the child as a competent and capable artist. The children may have the freedom to choose what colour gem to place in the middle but that doesn’t require much creative and critical thinking. For about three seconds they employ a pincer grip. If we took photos of the children holding up their flip flop pictures and then display them in a “cute” way that shows the children smiling with pride, what message is this sending to the children? Contrary to teacher-driven crafts, when we provide learning opportunities such as process art, transient art, and loose parts play it’s messy and appears disorganized, but it is full of learning opportunities.
This child here is getting filthy drawing and naming shapes in the dirt. He was not given a worksheet with a “cute” character requiring him to match shapes. The worksheet outcome would be a teacher/parent pleasing product rather than this real authentic hands-on learning.
In this photo the children are singing at the top of their lungs and relating songs to what they see as they walk along. Think about this in contrast to a “cute” performance at the end of the year.
Here the child is engaged in pretend play. We could say, “Aww isn’t he sweet making soup?” but it’s so much more. Experimenting, stirring, lifting, balancing, gauging if the door will fall on his foot indicates what is hidden behind the cuteness. There is also fine motor practice as he is picking up the leaves to stir. Socially, he is sharing and engaging with others while using related words and language. So much more than just focusing on the cute – “isn’t it cute he made me a pretend dinner?”
It’s more than cute to be offered what feels like a millionth cup of pretend coffee. The science of volume and capacity is the deeper meaning. What about the thinking that occurred when he stopped just in time before it overflowed? He was building relationships, memories and language. Does he look cute? Yes, he does but cute is surface level, the learning is life long and deep. That’s our rant! Add yours here for a chance to co-author another post and reach the readers of this blog. We want to learn from you like we will from Cindy in the next co-authored blog post. Stay tuned to learn about mindfulness and being in the moment!