“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” by John Warren

20th December 2016

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john-warren-website John has worked in all areas of childcare for over 30 years, in the late 80’s and early 90’s he worked in a family centre in Deptford with children and families in need. Once a week he ran special hours for children. A whole hour where children had a one to one with an adult fully focused on them. 25 or so years on  John is revisiting that powerful tool of listening to children and what a magical effect or change it can have on the individual and environment.

This question was designed to be a philosophical question about observation and reality and has been debated for hundreds of years. It is one that was playing on my mind as I walked my dogs through the local woods this morning.  A common oak lives for approximately 350 years and grows to over 100 feet, now surely upon its departure someone should be there to listen? This massive beast will come crashing through all of the smaller trees around it and there will be little to stop it as its life comes to an end and gravity starts to pull it to the ground. I know if I was an oak coming to the end of my days I would be going out kicking and screaming making as much noise as possible.

Well here is another question what if there is someone there to hear it but cannot be bothered to listen will it make a sound then? If no one did listen what would be the impact apart from a dent in the woodland floor?  Well of course if someone was there but did not listen it could in theory injure them, destroy their property or even worse. To make the situation worse, what if 36 trees were all falling at the same time or one after the other. Which one would you listen too; would you get bored after the first few or only listen to the mighty oaks that make the loudest noise.

listening-to-children-john-warren-blog Now can I ask you to ponder what happens if we take this question to the nursery floor, “if a child falls in the classroom and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound” thankfully in our nurseries children should not be left unattended so there would be always someone to hear them.

Most children make a noise when they fall as cry of pain or for help, although in my time as a nursery nurse and a father I have seen many variations. I witnessed one of my boys suffer a minor tackle at football and the roll over and over screaming as if shot by a gun and the complete opposite when training at a local school, a four-year-old girl fell down a flight of a dozen stairs and got up dusted herself off and smiled when asked if she was okay. She was a very long way from being okay as she had broken her arm.

However, what about the other times our children need help? Anyone who has ever come into contact with a child will know that they do not only call for help when they are in pain. How many times have you witnessed a child pulling on a practitioner’s arm for attention but to no avail. This is not a criticism of any practitioner, I can remember working in the rooms with the children and feeling my jumper being pulled and hearing “John,John,John” I have then turned to ask them to wait a moment to find no little person there. Now that little person made a noise and there was no one there to hear her, so will she make a noise again?

We underestimate the power of listening in our lives and the dramatic effect and impact it can have for the listener. Before my childcare days, I was a middle distance runner, I was dedicated and trained hard 14 times a week, 3 to 4 hours a day. It was interesting that even during time trials in training I never ever ran as fast as I did on race day. I remember one specific race in Basildon in Essex. My cousin had driven a long way to see me and was very vocal on the side of the track. He listened to me and knew the way I ran exceptionally well. I was running a good race but coming down the final back straight and into the last 200 meters I started to lose touch with the leaders, then a booming voice came from the side of the track (I can’t repeat what he said but it had the desired effect) I responded to this voice as it gave me energy, it was good to hear amongst all the other voices, this was a  voice that knew me well and was fully on my side. By the time, I reached the final straight I was on the leaders shoulder and squeezed past him on the line to win.

The power of listening made me feel I could achieve what I thought was impossible, however these were not just the words from a random person but someone who had listened to me, he knew that I often doubted myself close to the end of a race, he knew that if I raced new people that I needed greater encouragement. He listened to me and turned my words of doubt and help into a positive and transformed me from a potential loser into a winner.

What can our children achieve if we TRULY listen to them? Can they be the best at their chosen interest instead of 5th or 6th?

Is listening to what they have to say about their needs the only key we require to unlocking their full potential.

John will be hosting his seminar ‘Listening to Children’ on Saturday 4th March at Childcare Expo London. You can find out more here.

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