Shakespeare, the forefather of literary imagination, once told us “All that glitters is not gold”. With that in mind, the possibilities to buy anything and everything on Children’s Day are endless with whole floors of upscale shopping centres devoted to children’s consumables. Although Peppa Pig and other characters have their place, it is worthwhile on this special day to pause and think about the values and opportunities that particular toys, technology or programmes signify.
Such toys can have an impact on children’s sense of self. Working for Wellington, I am reminded constantly about how the identity and values are central to everything we do. We integrate them into planning and they are evident in the way we speak, practice, and support children and families. Our aim is not for children to learn Wellington values through song or verse, nor through reciting definitions. Our aim is instead for children to experience from a very young age- as young as two years- what it means to feel inspired, intellectual, independent, individual, inclusive, and what it feels like to be courageous, respectful, integral, kind and responsible.
Predetermined and prepackaged programmes can have a lasting impact on language development. I have been privileged enough to meet so many lovely parents here in Hangzhou. A top concern raised by several families is how to support children to speak Chinese and English in a meaningful way. It is no wonder this is a top concern for families, as there are so many products out there, from a plethora of cartoons to predetermined plastic talking toys and programmes in all in shapes and sizes offering ways to enhance English. If though, we are really committed to bilingual education, then should we not allow children to acquire English rather than learn it through edutainment? Early childhood teachers are renowned for their ability to sing or play an instrument, but doing so cannot compete with a child who has been accustomed to a diet of overly charged programmes, where learning English has taken on a performative nature.
Learning English is more than ABC, more than a few nursery rhymes or naming primary colours and counting from 1-10. It is a language with values attached. Our native English-speaking teachers do not have buttons, cannot dance on cue or be turned off with a click. Instead, our teachers build thoughtful relationships with children by listening and talking to them in sustained ways. They focus on targeting the intrinsic drive in children so they feel comfortable in using English and Chinese along with all the ‘cultural capital’ both languages bestow.
We should also be aware that media based television characters can have a negative impact on children’s behavior. At Wellington, we know young children are impressionable, which is why we carefully create environments full of authentic materials. In the same way, at home, parents should also shape the environment, including the television programmes they provide.
Firstly, very young children do not always separate reality from fantasy. Unlike adults, children can grow to see media based characters as genuine role models. For instance, the popular television show Tom and Jerry might seem harmless enough, but it is actually underpinned by violent themes. This becomes concerning when children start to normalise the character’s actions, leading to lasting consequences on their behavior. Secondly, programmes can encourage children to be passive receivers: to point rather than speak, to wait for the answer rather than think, to receive praise without accomplishing… the list in endless. We need to make sure children are not passive receivers of popular culture, but instead learn to be critical viewers by having adults around that can use such imagery as learning opportunities.
I find these ideas are articulated best by Dahlberg, Moss and Pence when they wrote that “the young child is in the world as it is today, embodies that world, is acted upon by that world— but also acts on it and makes meaning of it”.
Technology, when critically examined, can lead to incredible learning opportunities for young children. Unlike people of my generation, who tend to be digital immigrants, young children today are digital natives. That is why our classrooms are fitted out with interactive whiteboards, computers and iPads to take advantage of their natural digital skills. Technology for children in our classrooms is a graphic language: a way to construct knowledge as well as a collaborative tool to bridge communities. It is a medium for them to organise their ideas and extend their intellectual and creative abilities in ways and possibilities not yet imagined…!
Children’s day is such an important time, yet is also reminds us about values, about development- and most of all- about how we can support young children best as they navigate an ever changing world.