Published by CELA on 5 Mar, 2018

I call it a step, but it started life as an over-sized building block and the first children who played with it are probably turning 50 this year.

For 16 years or so it has offered a boost for those who need it to reach the top of their painting paper.

It’s a mess.

Green, pink, red, yellow, blue and grunge-coloured splotches and drips cover its top and sides.

It could welcome an application of steel wool and some elbow grease, or perhaps a new coat of paint in a fashionably Scandinavian shade of white or ecru.

But as long as I’m director, that’s not going to happen.

This old step, St Stephen's Preschool, Normanhurst
This old step, St Stephen’s Preschool, Normanhurst

This step talks

This step does more than raise up children, it raises our philosophy and our pedagogy too.

It says:

Look at the child, not the mess

and

Be in the moment

and

Assist but don’t direct.

This step talks to me, and to my team, and in its very messy (but clean!) existence it tells to us we are on the right track.

This step says we are caring about what matters. We are looking for joy through the children’s eyes, enabling them to focus on the creation in front of them without worrying about the drips below.

A glorious mess

Don’t misunderstand me! We keep things tidy at our preschool and the children are part of any clean up and pack away time.

But this old step, with its dots, spots and splashes, is a reminder that learning comes in all forms. Sometimes it’s tightly planned and neatly executed, and sometimes it’s gloriously mucky and a bit chaotic.

What happens on that old step

In my 16 years at St Stephens, I’ve seen many children step up there – with or without an apron – and face a beautiful blank sheet of paper with all the potential it brings.

There are different tools applied from that step: brushes and sponges, watercolours and acrylics, fine art paper and recycled sheets.

There are different emotions standing on that step: anticipation, excitement, humour, intensity, even anxiety.

There are different styles launching from that step: grand Expressionism, delicate Impressionism, and bold Cubism, capturing family, friends, feelings, flowers, and dinosaurs.

But most importantly, there are different human beings on that step. And if they leave behind them a few spots that dry before they can be wiped, well that’s a record for us as their teachers to remember them by even when their names might have faded.

About the author

Ariane Simon is a CELA Board Director and director of St Stephen’s Preschool, Normanhurst.

Part of her personal philosophy is to reduce waste, and wherever possible she furnishes and stocks the preschool with refurbished and recycled materials.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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