Stealing time from children – The discussion

Definition: Before we get started, there is a difference between a routine and a ritual. Routines are repeated predictable events, often repeated without review or thought, and are often imposed. Rituals are personal, they are actions that help us navigate time and transitions, and are often held close and are held to be ‘personal’ or ‘owned’.

Our challenge for today: Take one ‘room routine’ chart and … shred it.

Routines are often used as anchor points during the day. Breakfast, morning tea, lunch, and nap times, they provide an ordered and predictable day that is comforting to many and meets the needs of almost all.

Routines take time, and the use of time requires regular close and active scrutiny.

A recent exercise in a large early childhood Centre focused on a room routine. A new staff member was expected to start in the following week. In a conversation with the room leader, we examined knowledge priorities for the new staff member.

‘She will have to know our routine’.

‘Is it documented?’

‘Yes’. [Offered a copy]

We worked through the routine but came unstuck at the morning tea time.

‘The prep for morning tea takes one team member 30 minutes?’

‘The chef delivers it to the area. The children should wash their hands and grab their drink and snack and find a place to sit.’

‘No. We have to stop playing, clean the area, put away what is on the tables, wipe the tables, and … ‘

We didn’t get any further.

‘Why are we stopping play?’

‘If we don’t, the area is a mess and there is nowhere to sit to eat. And if the playthings are out, the children are distracted and won’t sit and eat. And if it isn’t tidy, the staff have to catch up and then are late for their morning tea.’

It took some time, but we agreed that the staff voice was important so we videoed the morning tea routine twice over the next few days and then sat with the room team to watch. At the first, no one commented, they accepted what was happening on screen. In the second, the viewers were instructed to watch the children’s faces and body language when the call for morning tea time went up. We replayed the images several times until we had a list of each child’s names and reactions.

They went like this [……] Sad, distracted, tried to hang onto the toy, slow to eat …

We then listed all of the ‘tasks’ from morning tea prep and removed them by putting the morning tea and drink bottles on a side table. One Educator sat near and supervised hand washing as the children approached in their own time. She also noted who wasn’t eating or drinking and followed them up 1 hour later. Food was taken back to play to eat during the games.

The new system was videoed and played back to staff the following week. Further analysis showed that children ate more and drank more and the play didn’t stop. The play was observed to be more in-depth and the body language showed deep engagement. No staff was late to their own morning tea.

Total time taken from the ‘routine’ and returned to the children – 45 minutes.

In those new 45 minutes, the play ‘got deeper’ requiring added resources and support from Educators. This was taken as a positive and staff documented later that they saw signs of concentration, and shared and sustained imaginative play, that they hadn’t noted before.

The Educator’s voice: “We steal time from children unknowingly. We inherit the ways that we work from current staff and through our room orientations. We want to please our team members with who we spent 8 hours a day in the room with, and so we find it hard to question and even harder to challenge. Looking at this as stealing time from children has given me some new ideas and new courage.”