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Benign Neglect
September 15, 2022
The greatest sign of success for a teacher…is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.”
-Maria Montessori, Italian physician and educator, 1870-1952

In a delightful interview with Siren Films UK, David Wright shares a scene he and his wife encountered on holiday in Italy:
“We found an outside table at a café from which we observed the town’s children and their carers whilst we enjoyed our coffee. For us two Early Years practitioners, the scene in front of us revealed a very interesting dynamic. The adults formed a protective ring (proximity maintenance in attachment terms) surrounding the main square. They were engaged in passionate conversation with one another, gesticulating with their hands as only Italians do and ostensibly ignoring the children who occupied the centre of the square. We observed that this mixed-age group of boys and girls had no resources, equipment, planning, adult supervision or instruction and yet we witnessed deep engagement, social interaction, negotiation, clear rules, language, maths, physical activity, imagination, creativity and an overwhelming sense of well-being and fun. Occasionally a child would briefly interrupt an adult carer with a request but for the main part they were very happy to play on their own whilst their parents practised what I term benign neglect.”

Wright ponders, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic if individuals’ later memories of the best times in their childhood featured us, their adult Early Years teachers, because we enabled them to feel emotionally secure, we trusted them with autonomy, choice and independence, we gave them opportunities and encouraged them to challenge themselves and we supported them in their planning and reflection? I find it really helpful to reflect on how far I do each of these.”

David Wright is the World Forum Foundation National Representative for the UK and a member of the World Forum Working Group on Men in Early Care and Education. He and his UK colleagues will be hosting participants in the 2022 World Forum Virtual World Tour this fall.


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