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PLAY IT BY EAR: The rhythm and the beat at the heart of Chatham Street.

Firmly fashioned along the footpath of a funky cafe laden street in urban Broadmeadow, The Rumpus Room Chatham St team carefully craft a heartbeat that allows children to immerse themselves in the richest of experiences both care and education focused. Rebecca Thompson has worked with the team to critically reflect on rituals in their space and spoke to visionary Director Ella de la Motte about what makes this successful. Rebecca and Ella share their conversation here with you.

Ella de la Motte, Nominated Supervisor The Rumpus Room Chatham St
Routines are important in early childhood however often get a 'bad wrap'.

How have you reconceptualised the meaning of routine at your service?

Yes! We used to be in the crowd of routines being a 'nasty' word. When the centre started I had already thrown this word out and then attended the Stone & Sprocket Routines, Rhythms and Rituals in Early Childhood session in Nelson Bay. This had us all talking and we concluded ... "of course there are routines!". They're just not the ones that are on a piece of paper - where the team guesses what everyone should be doing between 10.30am and 11.15am.

What I love about your environments is that they make me feel safe yet curious. Tell us a bit more about what routine means at The Rumpus Room...

We believe routines don't need formal transitions, we don't often move as a group. At any given point in the day, you will see the flow of children's routines crossing paths like a maze and sometimes flowing in the same direction. One child's routine might be to; arrive, play, eat, paint, rest, listen to a story and then go home. Another child's routine might be to; arrive eat, play, eat, go home, however their day might be the same amount of hours in duration. When we notice that a child's routine looks different to what it usually looks like, that's when we find beautiful connections with families to talk about their lives, what is happening in their world and what might be happening in their child's world. We have discussed at length, that for children in the birth to 2 years room, we would always follow their cues and routine, however we were expecting 2 year olds to then fit into a prescribed routine that suited the group they were entering into? What a huge expectation on anyone!

"When we notice that a child's routine looks different to what it usually looks like, that's when we find beautiful connections with families to talk about their lives, what is happening in their world and what might be happening in their child's world".

The concept that struck me the most about Ella's response here was the human element to decision making about routines. Children are human beings and the care we provide is part of their education. Janet Gonzalez-Mena and Dianne Widmeyer Eyer (1990) speak about routines as a form of deepening relationships with children which is part of our obligations to the National Quality Framework . It is not only a child's right to be cared for in a service but an educational obligation of teachers to make that care less about 'herding' and cleaning and feeding and more about connecting, nurturing and understanding. When children feel 'cared for' they are ready to learn.

Rhythms are about being responsive to what is in front of us.
Place-based education asks us to respond, not react.

What are the recurring traditions you have noticed come up at your service each year/season and how do you respond thoughtfully?

When the rain comes, we have learned to love it! We don't keep everyone tucked inside while the water pools in our playground that has issues with drainage.

Child exploring in the naturally occurring puddles at The Rumpus Room

Through engaging connection with children, they know that the puddles will stay for a long time and that they are to be enjoyed. It is what our space and nature have combined to provide us. Gone are the days of me securing the space so children could not enter. Gosh that was time consuming and stressful!

"We spend more time watching and being with children now than trying to keep them out of it."

We have also noticed that new children that come into our space, deserve to know the whole space.

  • What is behind that door?

  • Who is that person in that office?

  • What is that whirring noise with the bedsheets and face washers in it?

We have decided to actively offer this 'tour' for children to become familiar with the spaces. We have the big back doors open, children wander in and out, sometimes to just bang on the barrel that has a vase on it to see what happens!

Curiosity is a concept that often adults 'thwart' in the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson. The wonders of the world can often be 'stomped on' by teachers due to many reasons including; fear of litigation, prioritising adult driven agenda, valuing product based activities over process driven content, lack of exposure to natural phenomena and the educational value it holds. being curious allows us to slow down enough to be ritualistic and value our environments as the third teacher (Malaguzzi) rather than adults dictating.

Such a respectful and attuned way of creating a sense of belonging and supporting children to feel secure. I feel its so important to do this before we can expect to move in to any intricate educational concepts. What about connections with home Ella?

Our children know if they have flowers that have dried at home that they don't need anymore, they can bring in for our floral installation. It is hanging from the art space roof, so we bring it down with the chains it hangs from, the children thread their flowers through to the chicken wire and then we pull it back up to its place. This started with one of our parents who is a florist and has continued on with many families bringing in their flowers.

Floral installation at The Rumpus Room

When one of our families have a new baby, we create a gift bag for the older sibling to take home with them to give the baby from us at the Rumpus Room. Each gift bag includes a hand knitted jumper/cardigan that one of our grandma's gifts us. She is retired and keeps her busy and is also a unique piece that we can pass on to the family welcoming their new baby.

Rituals can bring about redefinition and revitalisation, that sense of community and connection. Do you have rituals you implement at your service in the everyday?

Food means so much to the culture of our setting, so many of our rituals surround the preparation of food for our community. We, as educators, don't disappear to the kitchen and then all of a sudden food arrives. We prepare many of our morning and afternoon tea meals in the outdoor deck space where children can be part of the process. the children's involvement in the preparation is their choice.

When we started introducing the sewing needles, hessian and then eventually the sewing machine for children, we didn't know where that was headed. You would often think of a sewing machine being something that would be too far in advance of young children's abilities, therefore could have been a source of frustration for them. As we always meet children where they are at, instead of introducing them into the adult world of using a sewing machine, we made sure the machine was just a tool to create things that we wanted to last a little longer. Instead of using existing paper patterns, the children drew their own patterns, cut them out, pinned them to the fabric, cut around them and then sewed. It wasn't like they felt they were using a tool that was too much for them, it was merely the next step in their creations. Sewing helps us to slow things down. It requires focus and creativity and often, careful planning.

Sewing is an every day part of The Rumpus Room.

Sewing project in progress at The Rumpus Room
~ As we always meet children where they are at, instead of introducing them into the adult world of using a sewing machine, we made sure the machine was just a tool to create things that we wanted to last a little longer ~ Ella de la Motte

Meaningful rituals reduce the need for novelty. I have many educators and teachers say to me that 'we can't do that here the children do not respect our materials and we have too many challenging behaviours'. I do understand the challenges that come with having hand tools, handcrafts, sticks, fire, crockery etc... but if we do not expose children to real world opportunities and that we trust them with it, how will they ever learn about focus and slowliness? I believe it takes small bursts of exposure to build the responsibilities around experiences you want to introduce. What I admire about Ella and the team is that they are willing to try things 20 times before they say 'we can't do that here'. Backing yourself and each other is the key to successful rituals in my opinion, the care taken to observe teacher techniques such as use of voice, body positioning and careful attention paid to the time taken. Loader and Christie (2017) state that similarly, “When we do this, the architecture of our learning programmes set a cultural expectation which protects the emotional, spiritual, and physical development of the child”.

Tell us more about how you embed the lives of families in to your rituals at the service Ella...

Whenever a family has a celebration or sad event that happens to them, we take a group of children down to the local florist to buy flowers for that family. We include the child of that family if they would like to join us, but only if they want to come. It's so interesting, the children don't really even ask why they are doing this? Or why did one child get to have flowers to take home for their family? In some unsaid way, they know their time will come and in the meantime they are happy for their peers. Because it's a ritual, they know this isn't a 'one off' occurrence, it's something that we do!

One of our most recent traditions has come from wanting true and authentic connections with the schools where our children will go to, so Clare, one of our ECT/Primary trained teachers, contacts each of the schools, usually the teacher that will be on kindergarten or head of infants to make the connection with a discussion about what we have been in the lead up to school years and what a day at our setting may look like.

Children at The Rumpus Room raising the flag

Pack away times can be a challenging element to the routine in early childhood, your play spaces look so inviting and the core focus areas are so clear yet flexible...are there times where you pack everything away?

We reset spaces for our peers, and those children who utilise the spaces on other days. It is a sense of community and caring that leads us to having children and educators together preparing spaces for the next group of children.

Ella shares one last ritual that I believe is really important in signifying the place-based education philosophy in early childhood. Noticing what is on offer on the piece of Country you inhabit and stewarding this Through the lens of opportunity rather than threat.

When we go out into the carpark space, we collect sticks that have fallen off the 2 big gumtrees. We move them out of the way of where the cars need to park. We know sticks are a great resource for many experiences, including socio-dramatic play! Helping our community by keeping the carpark clear while collecting huge sticks, what a bonus.

Routines exist. We can't throw the baby out with the bath water. It is ok to have routines in early childhood, use this word or another but I think the focus really needs to be on knowing what routine means at your place and begin to understand the value in the security, consistency and predictability it provides for children. Without having to sportscast, control, time limit and herd children, The Rumpus Room team still reach the same goal of being able to offer times of regulation, times of elation and excitement, times of reflection and times of immersion. I truly believe that the toxic stress that some environments create have no place in early childhood. We simply must bring attention to caring for our spaces, caring for Country, caring for children and creating a heartbeat that platforms learning and education not insists on it.

Written and collated by Rebecca Thompson Director Stone & Sprocket © 2022


We would like to thank Ella de la Motte and The Rumpus Room Chatham St families and teachers for allowing us to share a little slice of their beautiful service.


Loader & Christie (2017) Rituals: making the everyday extraordinary in early childhood

ACECQA National Quality Framework

Gonzalez-Mena & Widmeyer Eyer (1990) Routines Infant and Toddler Caregiving

Fraser S (2011) Authentic Childhood: Experiencing Reggio Emilia in the Classroom

This is a Stone & Sprocket 2022 © publication and all rights are reserved.


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