Women in Early Childhood Education: My Interview With Forest School Owner & Teacher Barbara Sheridan by Mike Prochaska
Barbara Sheridan is the founder and lead teacher at Barrie Forest Kindergarten and Nature School in Ontario, Canada. I was excited to have the chance to talk to her because I think Forest Schools are awesome!
Q. How did you get into this field?
"I originally started working with children and children with special needs who did not do well in traditional environments by consulting with teachers and parents to create programs for them. These seemed to be the children who had a lot to say and nobody to listen to them and I wanted to focus on listening and learning from them. Everything that I know I learned from the children.
"I now run a Forest School as well as continuing my consulting and doing workshops and seminars for teachers and parents. I keep my focus of listening to the children in the school. Showing parents and professionals how to listen to children, how to assist kids in observing the learning and understanding that naturally happens and be able to translate it so that professionals can document it in a way that is understandable and in line with play and learning theories is my goal."
Q. What do you see as the advantages of having a male teacher?
"Working in the early childhood outdoor education field many of the children that come to my program are boys. I find a man to be important for them as they can see someone who is thoughtful and caring on a daily basis. They learn that connecting with people is not just a woman’s job. They can see firsthand and make that a part of themselves and who they are. The girls I find also benefit in seeing a man who is caring and thoughtful as they also see that men can provide support and guidance in a nurturing way.
"I also find that the men at our school tend to interact differently with the kids and having men at the school means they get a full range of different ways in which they can be challenged, cared for and have interactions with that would not be present with an all-female presence."
Q. What age group do you work with?
"I work with children from walking all the way up. I also work with parents and teachers doing consulting and workshops."
Q. What’s your favorite memory working with kids?
"I had one particular child that came on a field trip with her kindergarten class a couple years ago. The class was split into three different groups of seven to eight children so I could do training with the teachers. The teacher was with the back group while I went to check on how the volunteers and students were doing at the front group. One girl was just beaming as she organized the kids in making a shelter. She was in her element, figuring out how to build, helping kids who were struggling with how to solve problems and watching to make sure that everyone had a task.
"I went to the back group and mentioned her to the teacher and the teacher interrupted me before I could relay anything, ‘Oh no, what did she do now?’ I told her she was doing great, she was an excellent leader and great in the way she was able to organize and implement the task the kids had decided to do. The teacher was very surprised and described a very different child that she saw at school.
"At the end of the day just before they were getting on the bus she was beaming with pride and I said to her, ‘I think that you found your thing.’ She gave me a knowing smile and got on the bus.
"I often think of her and children like her who don’t do well in conventional classrooms and it reminds me that sometimes one person or one experience can change the course of a child’s life. How we interact with children whether we see them every day or only once is so important. It is important that they can walk away feeling better about themselves."
Q. Anything else you want to tell us about working with young children?
"I would ask the kids to tell me what it’s like working with me!"
Q. Did you hear about the man who got fired for just being male? How do you feel about that?
"I think it is a reflection on the person who is making the decision, or on this case the community. People should feel comfortable and at ease in where they are leaving their child and if they don’t the reason for it should be discussed. Are they nervous because it is the child’s first time away from parents? Are they behaving differently at home? Are they having problems with the transition to or from home?
"I think there is a general lack of communication that can happen. Easy or normal problems can be worked through, solved or reassured with communication. Blaming the male teacher in the classroom is not the answer.
"Solving problems in an ECE environment is hard and because you have to be open and honest and often it is scary because this is the first time, or first time with this child. The parents have to undertake the process. I think if both parents and professionals work together in the journey everyone comes out a winner instead of the child, or the male teacher, losing out."
Q. What's your favorite book to read to your classroom?
"Hands down ‘The Gruffalo!’"
Q. Why is play important for children?
"Play is children figuring out how to be in the world with no real consequence to face. They learn who they are, who they are in relation to others. They learn how to absorb information, how to think about information all with having the freedom to know that if they are wrong it doesn’t matter, if they are right it doesn’t matter and they can try out something new and different with no real consequence.
"When learning is paired with real-world consequences (such as grades, approval or disapproval from adults or rejection from peers) it stops being play and learning and becomes stressful instead of a curious, joyful experience. It adds to their sense of self instead of their sense of worthier worthlessness."
Q. Anything inspiring to tell anyone thinking of going into this field?
"Don’t focus on what you can teach the kids, focus on what the kids can teach you."
Q. Do you have a Facebook page or blog you would like to share?
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