Being present: what does that mean exactly?

You are probably aware of advice to be ‘really present’ in work with young children. Certainly, we nod and say, ‘of course’, but honestly, do we have any idea what we’re talking about?

Sometimes with a problematic idea, it’s useful to define what it isn’t, perhaps to define the opposite idea, to help us clarify the focus of our consideration. So, in this case, what might it mean if we are NOT ‘being present’ with children? Well, it might mean that we are slaves to the timetable, to making sure that each routine is enacted ‘on time’, so that our attention is more attuned to our watch or the clock on the wall, rather than to sitting down besides a child or small group of children and thinking about what they might be trying to explore, understand, or share with us.

It might mean that we are more caught up with meeting curriculum outcomes than finding out what children already know, can do, and understand (EYLF!). If the focus is on ‘ticking off’ skills and small pieces of information, we are less likely to be curious about what knowledge children already have or what concerns or questions they are bringing with them into the spaces we share. It reminds me of that inspirational saying by Albert Cullum- “The geranium on the windowsill just died and teacher, you went right on…”

Let’s be more ‘in the zone’ than that! Let’s notice when something unexpected is happening during the day. Let’s try to leave some of our personal anxieties on the bus or in the carpark when we come in the door- and if that’s not possible- maybe it’s not a good day to be  sharing time with children. The United Nations reminds us of the Rights of Children. Being heard and being included in decisions that concern them figures in the list of children’s rights. For that to happen, we need to ‘be present’ in the spaces we share with children, to tune into the messages we are being given- perhaps through gesture or silence or song. What are we hearing? What are we seeing? Perhaps we need to slow down a little and tune in a little more- step off the treadmill and share the day.

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