Thursday, 28 August 2014

Do we age discriminate in Preschool?

I have been reflecting upon how we view children... and how the way we group children influences our expectations of them...

I have now been working at Filosofiska preschool for just over one and half years and I started with the group of the oldest children at the preschool... these children had access to a room where there were smaller parts and more challenging play which the rest of the children did not as they were all primarily one year olds that were turning two that year.

We now have three groups...
Himlen - 1-2 year olds
Molnet - 2-3 year olds
Vinden 3-5 year olds

The interesting thing is that the oldest child in our youngest group is actually older than the youngest child in my oldest group when I first started.
Of course back then the oldest children did not need push-chairs to get to the park, they were allowed to be around small parts, there was, in general a different expectation of what they could manage.

 So do we limit ourselves as teachers in how we think about children's competency by putting them in these groupings... and by limit I mean not just making children smaller than what they are, but also more capable of what they are...
 did that just turned 2 year old in the oldest group feel out of his/her depth, or did the child feel empowered by our expectations? Does a the same age child in the youngest group feel our expectations are too small?

I have no answers... I am merely reflecting on what I see at my work, and also at previous preschools - and also in families where the expectation on older siblings is often different from younger siblings.... even if we try to respond to children in a similar way...

How do we value age?
Do our values of age influence how the children view themselves and also how they view children who are younger or older than themselves? Does being older in a preschool have higher status?

I know that over the years in all of the prechools I have ever worked at the older children refer to the 1-2 year olds as babies... I keep reminding them that there are no babies in preschool, babies stay at home with their parents and they start as toddlers at preschool (we have generous parental leave here in Sweden, which means no preschool accepts a child under the age of 12 months, unless there are very special reasons). I try to communicate that these toddlers are children, just like themselves...

Do older children in preschool get more privileges? Are children being discriminated because of their age...?

I think this can be seen not just within the preschool but within society as a whole... Are things that children enjoy being given less status because there is age discrimination? Is play of less value in society because it is not a part of the adult world?
Of course this age discrimination works in many ways... how are the elderly viewed? With the same status as all adults?

How is the balance of power/status in your setting?
Why are schools given more attention than nursery/preschool settings? Why is it OK to have non-educated staff with the very youngest children in society but not with the older children in society? Why is it OK that teachers in schools get payed more than teachers in preschools... when they have had the same number of years training?

If we want the respect that we as ECE teachers deserve in society then we also need to really inspect how we view the age discrimination within the preschool... why is it that over the years you nearly always hear a slight moan when a teacher finds out that they will be working with the very youngest children... some teachers specify that they will/can not work with the 1-2 year olds. I know I have said this ... when my own children were in preschool I did not want to work with the very youngest because the risk of spreading childhood infections between my work children and my own children (and vice-versa) I felt was too great, and I made the decision that my chances of being at work was greater if I was working with an age range that had a developed immune system. Now my own children are in school, have developed immune systems of their own I can thoroughly enjoy the challenge of working with the very youngest... the children who learn soemthing with just about every look they take (how cool is that?).

So take a close look at your setting... how do the children view each other and their competencies... is age given status... by the children or the staff...?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting reflective questions. I run a multi age classroom with ages 2-5. My youngest is 21 months, my oldest will be 5 in January. I enjoy watching the interactions between younger & older students. When working in small groups, I don't group by age but rather by ability. I have some very mature 2 year olds & much less mature 4 year olds. Materials provided are also dependent on ability rather than age. Thank you for sharing these thought provoking questions.