The curious Alice of Wonderland’s cry begs for us to get to know her first before anything else. At this time of year we too are focused on finding out about our new children and their ways of being in the world yet I am reminded of our use of language that describes what can be a challenging time for young children and families as a time of ‘settling in’. In the UK, these first few weeks of the new academic year are often referred to as a time to settle and in other contexts, this is sometimes known more as a time of welcoming.
So often, the words we use to describe objects and actions (such as ‘settling in’) can betray the complexity of the situation. To settle to me often sounds one-sided, it demands that the child fits in to what has been organised for them by us, the need for settling is dictated by our requirements and values and by those set above us. There are vast differences to the ways and methods that schools and settings approach these times, from an ‘all in’ approach that implies the sooner they are in the better (for whom?) to those that offer a more gradual increment of children. However we do it, the complexity being is that it is much more than a time of children becoming accustomed to the routines and spaces we have created and much more than establishing a feeling of being comfortable with everything we do and provide for them. Instead, maybe it should be more of a dynamic dialogue where we consider what makes our children and their families feel like they belong here, are part of here, can see themselves here and can participate here. We may not be in control of how this period is always managed time wise but we can all consider the notion of how we welcome and get to know our children and families in all our different contexts and the ways and contexts that support them to construct and share knowledge (their learning processes). This is far more complex than identifying their starting point, their base line or their stage of development.
I know that this year I am going to be more alert and conscious of my actions and behaviours during this time of welcoming and getting to know each other. I can begin by examining the ways in which the children (and their families) build up their relationships with the environment, looking for the hints, the evolutions and traces of their daily encounters and analyse these. I know that I have been surprised sometimes by the ‘magnetic’ spaces that they inhabit, often in unexpected spaces, the spaces in which children and families are automatically drawn to and those that seem to do the opposite. My aim therefore will be to become more intentional to the idea of welcome, participation and exchange so that children, families and educators together can embark more collaboratively on the Wonderland of Learning.