Children's Images of Children

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How do we define capable? While we have moved a long way from the concept about children as a ‘tabula rasa’ or blank slate, societally we still have work to do in embracing young children’s capabilities.  Scientist Alison Gopnik called very young children the research and development department of the human species.  In my own work at a university, I am struck by the work of our child development center in exploring the complex thinking of young children.

During the recent professional development days, early childhood educators at the university told a story of “The Child’s Image of the Child.”  In this presentation, the educators shared their stories of mixed age experiences between two classrooms, one of toddlers and one of preschoolers.  What resonates with me is the journey that the preschoolers take to clearly see the toddlers as capable.  This transformation takes place in many ways from the preschool children shifting naming conventions from calling the toddlers “babies” to acknowledging and naming each child to the experiences co-constructed together. Early on in the collaboration, the preschoolers are working with two toddlers, trying to direct their play in a studio space.  The preschooler actively attempts to guide the toddler, who increasing becomes impatient with the process---leading to vocalization of displeasure. As the year progresses, preschool interactions with toddlers shift from providing direction to scaffolding experiences, and in some instances straight observation of capabilities. The preschoolers’ experiences reflect early childhood educators’ roles as co-learners and observers of children learning.

In my journal I write, “Where does the child’s image of the child start --- is it linear, circular, or like a teeter-totter? How has the power of defining the child’s image of the child lead to growth in how we all come to understand children as capable?”  It makes me think about naming conventions. When we label young children as babies---as the preschoolers did---do we perpetuate a less than capable stance in the child’s image of the child?

What lessons can be learned from thinking deeply on children’s images of children? I must think on my own role as an early childhood educator in fostering children images of children across ages. In our field, there is always work for us in thinking about our practices.

How are you thinking about the “child’s image of the child” today?