My first reaction was disbelief. Then it turned into amazement. That was when I first saw a 4-year old child holding a hammer, a real child-size hammer, as she carefully drove the nail down into the wood. I thought, “Wait a minute! You could get hurt.” Of course, I hid my panic in front of the other teacher. Later, I was proven wrong because the nail was hammered down into the wood, I must say, quite neatly. The learning? Never underestimate a child.
What followed were years of my love affair with the New Zealand early childhood curriculum where one focus is the learning of dispositions, for example, the child’s ability to take risks, to resolve conflict peacefully, to help themselves, to persist and not to give up easily, to ask for help when needed, among many others. All these learned, while they play.
I have been asked time and again, “Is that all they would do in the New Zealand early childhood setting? To play?”. I always reply with the most open mind because I know they ask, bringing their own cultural beliefs with them. Don’t get me wrong, but other “skills set” like writing, counting, drawing – all get learned in the play process. I might go in further detail how, in my succeeding articles.
Lately, I have been yearning to include Christian values in my teaching. Where I work now, is a nonsectarian organisation but we embrace ALL people, regardless of cultural or religious backgrounds with so much respect. A child, is never to be taken in isolation from his/her background. There goes my initial challenge – how do I teach Christian values to young children? Years back, I had an experience with another teacher who firmly opposed to the use of Amene in our Karakia (prayer) before eating because it is a Christian way of doing. I am very fortunate that where I work now, there is so much respect for who I am as a Catholic just as we have respect to each others’ beliefs and religion.
Having celebrated recently Christmas party with our kindergarten’s whanau (family) and tamariki (children), I have realised that our ways at kindergarten is very Christian, all this time. The tight hugs from parents while saying “Thank you for what you are doing to my child”; the conversation exchanges during the party showed immense interest in who I was and where I come from beyond kindy (kindergarten) and the massive attendance of people in the party as if saying, “We want to be part of this community.” – are all visible marks of being a Christian; being one with others, showing gratefulness and caring and loving others. Looking further back, the way we encourage children to use kind words and hands with each other, to help others when they fall from a bike, to give a teacher a glass of water or simply to listen to other people while they are talking; are all living evidences that I am including Christian values in my teaching.
There goes the answer, to my own question. I have been practicing Christian teaching all along. Now I see clearly no conflict at all in what I do as a teacher in what people likes to call a non-sectarian organisation, to what I believe in, as a Catholic.