Don't Call Me Cute: Affirming Learners and Learning in the Early Years

Don't Call Me Cute: Affirming Learners and Learning in the Early Years

by Esther Butland and Chanelle Cox, ELC Lead Teachers

“They’re so cute!” is often one of the first things people say about our students when they visit the ELC. And we can understand that. They can be very cute. But, much more importantly, our students are competent, capable, autonomous human beings. Prioritising this view of our early learners creates a respectful learning environment, honours the rich experiences of our students, and empowers the adults in their lives to support the deep learning they engage in.

At YIS, one of the most important ways we respect and validate the competency of our early learners is through the use of powerful, learning-focused language. The language our students are exposed to will shape their perception of themselves and their world. Tell a child they are pretty and they will begin to understand that physical characteristics are a priority. Compliment a child on repeatedly rebuilding a block tower that has fallen down multiple times, and they will begin to perceive that determination and persistence are of value in their world. When talking to, or about, our early learners, we choose words that reflect the values we hold as a school and that are important to our community: responsible, mindful, thoughtful, creative, curious, respectful. Choosing to use powerful words and learning-focused language with young children affirms the knowledge and skills they already possess.

The words we choose to use with children also become the vocabulary they use to think about themselves and their learning. Using learning-focused language creates an environment of growth and development where these meaningful and actionable words become powerful tools in the hands of our young learners. If the student understands that putting their own shoes on is being independent, they learn they are capable of doing things by themselves. If the student realises that observing and noticing the small details of a taiko drum helped them create an accurate drawing, they learn to look closely at things to understand and represent them. When students have the language to talk about their growth and learning, they can own it and take control of it. 

Our students are constantly demonstrating a multitude of skills, knowledge and understandings through their play, their words, their actions and their interactions. As the adults in their lives, we have the opportunity to recognise the learning, acknowledge it, name it, and reflect it back to our young learners in a way that is useful, empowering and affirming.