I attended a conference where Christine Chaille, author of Young Child as Scientist and Constructivist Across the Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms: Big Ideas that Inspire spoke of the vital of role of disequilibrium in early childhood educator practice. As I chewed on the ideas presented, I asked myself the question… How does early childhood educator practice improve with uncertainty?
“When we see ourselves as co-learners, as researchers, when we embrace uncertainty, when we engage in this complexity of our practice, we challenge our assumptions and let go of pre-conceptions, we opening spaces for theory-building to happen.”
Young children as theory builders is at the heart of Christine’s work. The act of theory building embraces the belief that young children drive their own learning everyday. If you have ever watched a young child try to fit together a puzzle or engage in activities of cause and effect, we can clearly see that theory is developing. Christine explained that young children, “apply their predictions, use repetition and variation, watch what happens, and based on their hypothesis, build more and more complex interactions.” Children are natural theory builders, it's how they make sense of their world.
What is the early childhood educator’s role in theory building? Adults are natural theory builders, too. We just need to work on our pre-conceptions of what we think is happening in the classroom. As one teacher shared with me, “It’s my 18 years in the classroom. It becomes very hard not to make assumptions about the baby doll play. It takes real effort to not to jump to conclusions. I need to make space in my own thinking to wait to see what emerges.”
As adults, this is where our grow-up selves get in the way. Our experiences and human nature lead us to form theories in the classroom and life, almost without thinking about it. Christine further explained, “that is much harder to give-up a theory about what is happening than it is to build a new one.” It takes effort to suspend belief, so what does that mean for our practice?
As educators, we need to be mindful in our practice. In the classroom, mindfulness can take on several distinct characteristics. This includes the practices of observation and documentation, the importance of being in the moment with young children, and embracing uncertainty and disequilibrium (Chaille, 2015). Giving ourselves permission to watch, wait, and fully be present in the lives of young children, is a gift that gives as much back to ourselves as it does young children. It is then that we can truly see the theories that children are building and come alongside them as co-learners.