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Safe Spaces in the Mind

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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To older people, time seems to fly by, when to young children time seems infinite. Young children obtain and process images more quickly than elders. They experience less of their reality, because it is a longer road between synapses. I can, unfortunately, relate.

From the psychological perspective (disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, I am an Early Childhood Educator), I believe there is more to this. I remember when time seemed endless, when the sensory experience of the clear, shining the sun, the taste of a ripe peach, the smell of fresh-cut grass, even the feeling of a rough towel drying my small body, were all vivid and fresh in the moment. I also recall the sudden end to this bliss. It was the middle of the summer before second grade when I realized, very soon, that my summer idyll would be abruptly ended, and I would be taking quizzes, memorizing poems, and adding stacks of numbers on those hated worksheets. Following directions, negotiating relationships, and getting in trouble for writing messy papers (I got that often) were my daily bread in grade school. Mental freedom was a thing of the past.

Today, “school” starts at three years! I didn’t learn to read until I was six. My 3½-year-old grandson laments that he can’t read yet! Do children in most standard child care programs know the freedom of mind I experienced in early childhood? Or are their schedules awash in activities influenced by peers or parents, with little time to breathe? This a recipe for hurry-sickness.  

To cultivate in the minds of early childhood college students the concept that children need safe spaces to create and collaborate, I assign them to view interviews of several children’s authors who discuss their early childhood arts experiences, and how these experiences inspired their future profession. Lois Ehlert, the esteemed children’s author/illustrator, tells the story of how, as a child, she was frustrated by not being able to finish an art project because she would need to clean up after a session with her materials. Cleaning up was a guarentee that she would lose track of her process and have to start over. Her parents, responding to her need for a dedicated space for her art, gave her a table (I always imagine a card table), saying she could leave her art table in any condition she wanted! Imagine such creative freedom! A safe space, both physically and mentally, gave her the impetus she needed to become herself. Similarly, good centers and schools give children a space for “work in progress,” with the understanding that they would could discern for themselves when they were finished. Finding such a space is possible, if you are committed. In every center I worked, we found somewhere for children to keep their "work in progress." 

Do you wonder why mindfulness, meditation, conscious breathing, and yoga are all over the internet these days? Look for the reason in what has been lost in the process of growing up. Our brains have been sculpted by many voices urging us to hurry up! A safe space for the mind is essential. We should accept our inheritance, returning to that special mind that is open, boundless and free. If not for you, do it for the children.

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Gail teaches Early Childhood Education as an Adjunct Associate Professor for Northern Virginia Community College, one of the largest community college systems in the country. She is a popular trainer in the DC area, leading workshops on such topics as Engaging, Arts-Based and Outdoor Learning, and Guiding Behavior. She is a member of the Virginia Community College Peer Group which collaborates with the Virginia Department of Social Services to train and license childcare professionals throughout the state. Her blog on BAM's EdWords is referenced in several arts websites, and is used in Early Childhood courses throughout Virginia. She is also a member of NAREA, the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. You can contact her for more information about Professional Development opportunities. 


Gail lives and works in Northern Virginia. Her special interests include arts-integration, play, Reggio Emilia, music and yoga. 

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Guest Wednesday, 26 June 2019