Creating a culture of consent is more than limiting children’s behavior, or helping children speak up when they want someone to stop. Those are important, but they are not enough. Consent needs to be embedded in the very structure of the classroom. The teachers need to make sure there is a place for each child and there are guidelines for everyone to follow. The two guidelines in my classroom were:
- We Take Care of Each Other
- We Solve Problems Together
The first statement may seem simple. What does it look like when children take care of each other?
Leah was a four-year old who liked to build with blocks most days. She assumed that the other children would be careful if they walked through the block area, so they didn’t knock over her building. She also assumed that children like Evan and Sarah who liked to play rough would find a different place to roughhouse when they saw her building. But Evan and Sarah also had to know that they have a place to roughhouse.
Usually I had a mat set aside for more boisterous play including roughhousing. I did this the same way I made sure there were books for children who wanted to read, paint and markers for those who wanted to create, small cozy spots for children to be alone, etc. Creating a culture of was not simply a matter of me preventing children from certain behaviors. It also involved finding a way for everyone to meet their needs. If I simply told children not to play rough inside, those children would try to find ways to meet their need to play physically. We would end up in a cycle of them starting to play and me telling them to wait until they got outside. For consent to work, everyone’s needs have to be met.
We often talk about self-regulation in the Early Childhood Education field, but too often I think teachers will decide that a child has trouble with self-regulation when the root of problem isn’t internal, but rather a lack of opportunity for the child to meet their needs. Fostering a child’s self-regulation is important for that child’s future success in general and specifically their ability to practice consent. But we cannot forget our role as a teacher to first ensure that each child has a place in the classroom community. Only then can we help them meet the expectations of that community.