What are children capable of?

We are presented with many images of children – in the media, from our families, in parenting books, movies, advertising, you name it – portraying young children, toddlers and babies as ‘cute’ and selling the idea that they are helpless and not capable of much. As parents, you have all experienced the different personalities and temperaments of your baby right from utero. Certainly, a human baby is dependent on adults to take care of them from birth for quite a long time. However, we shouldn’t confuse their physical dependence with their lack of capability.

I’m sure many of you remember the Anne Geddes photo images of babies in cute poses dressed up or in flowers. While the photography is stunning, it perpetuates the image of ‘cuteness’ and outward signs rather than looking at what children can do. When we focus on the cuteness factor we sell our children short. What was cute or endearing at 18 months no longer has the same appeal as they become kindergarten or school children, yet if that is what they have been applauded for, they can be confused when it no longer seems to work. I have had children tell me that they are cute, and when I ask them what it means, they are not really sure. We sell them short.

In valuing the thinking of both Reggio Emilia and Dr Carol Dweck, we are drawn more to think about and value the capabilities of the child from very early on. Valuing the effort, persistence and skill that children employ from a very young age, such as the baby rolling over, learning to walk and self-feed, self-settle for sleep; and the toddler and pre-schooler developing self-regulation of their emotions, negotiating with others and developing a growing understanding of the cultural norms of their family and society.

Our belief in the ELC is that we see children as strong and capable and competent, appropriate to their age and stage of development, giving them real tools to use like scissors, staplers, hammers and secateurs for the gardens. Offering the Staff Childcare children the opportunity to service themselves from the breakfast bar, using tongs and spoons to select and serve, enabling them to make the decision how hungry they are and their choice of fruit all allows them to make choices, build their confidence and see that they are very capable indeed. These are reasonable choices that aren’t too difficult or with too many options – like blue cup or red cup, for example. Clarity of reasonable choices for children is not undermining their capability, but helping them to make decisions that are reasonable for them and dealing with the consequence of their choice.

So what is your image of children in general? How do you see your child? What three words would you use to describe them? What is your child competent at or capable of that has surprised you?

Wendy Seidler
Director of ELC Kew