Childhood Joy and Preservation

“We Don’t Remember Days, We Remember Moments” – Cesar Pavese

There are moments when I get caught in the wave of paperwork, pedagogy, politics, and the many layers of things that come with working in education.  But, if any of you are true early childhood educators at heart I remind you to get caught in the moment as you begin this year.

Get caught in play, laughter, discovery, and miracles.  If my week was spent on rule making, bulletin boards, assessments, worksheets, and punching out Ellison machine shapes then I might as well give in and sink into the ocean, let the waves of all the other nonsense take me down to the deep bottom.  Because that just isn’t who I am at heart.  I don’t belong in classroom of straight lines in the hall and desks in the room.  And I don’t believe that children do either.

Instead I believe in celebrating and exploring life, soaking in the sun while perched in a branch of a tree, finding joy in the simple things in life, and playing until your heart, body, and mind are full.  These are the ways we create memories.  These are the ways we grow as whole people.  In today’s world we are focusing much on testing and excelling on the academic charts.  But, I ask you:  Do you want our children to score high today and be at the top of academic charts or do you want our children to learn and grow into loving, thoughtful, independent, creative, and innovative human beings for the rest of their days on this beautiful earth.  I know which I want.  And I know that they need many days of a protected playful childhood to get there.

Take the world in through the eyes of a child…

20150909_100211From the branch of a tree soak up the sun and marvel at the rays dancing through the leaves,

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take in the miracles of nature and simple joys of life while watching the story of a monarch unfold from egg to caterpillar, 

(yes!!! we watched the Monarch actually lay the egg!  What an amazing life moment!  Too much in awe to snap the shot!)

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become pals with four legged friends and care for them with gentle hands and open hearts, 

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feast on the gifts of gardens and local crops, discover (or let a friend teach you) the simple tricks of tasting new things (pressing your finger in the center of a clementine to peel it), commune with friends,

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and PLAY!!!!

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Childhood Joy and Preservation

Who is your hero?

Did you rough play as a child?  Cops and robbers?  Cowboys and Indians?  Did you jump from the couch and body slam your playmates like wrestlers on T.V.?  Did you chase someone down with a water gun?  Did you tie a cape around your neck as a superhero cape and run around like Batman, Superman, or Captain America?

I did.  Matter of fact once on a 4th July I remember telling an officer that we did have guns during a check for fireworks.  I am sure I even offered for him to play and somehow arrived to the explanation of having water guns.  But to a child around age 6 or so that was my reality of guns, they sprayed water at people.  My parents never seemed overly concerned; probably were the ones who bought them for us.  I am not trying to down play the reality of guns.  At some point I remember being told they were dangerous (I had heard the sounds of them go off in the distance as a child – whether during the night when living in the city or in the woods during hunting season) and only seeing one once when my father shot a rabid raccoon.  But, somewhere along the lines I began to decipher the difference between gun play and the real deal.  And maybe that is the problem nowadays.  There is no more conversation, no more sorting out of things as a child.  You just get the no, don’t, zero tolerance of it all.  Kids are being sent home and punished for pop tart pistols and others are not realizing the danger and permanence of a shooting and going to school with guns and becoming young offenders, changing their own and others lives before they have even began.  I don’t believe the world was that much less violent 25 or so years ago.  I don’t think I was that much safer than children today.  But, I did have the freedom to play and was given the chance to absorb knowledge on these topics in a child friendly way – and not only did I not turn out to be a violent offender, I turned out to be a teacher, a teacher that will probably never own or shoot a real gun.

Rough play was a part of my everyday childhood.  Maybe it was because I grew up with mostly boys.  For the first 10 years of my life I grew up in a fairly urban setting but most weekends were spent with family members in a rural area and I had the freedom to run about the fields and woods with whatever theme of play came to mind.  I am not sure if any adult ever intervened in the play, told us it was too dangerous, told us we were being violent, or asked us to stop.  At least I don’t recall.  Matter of fact the only time I remember being told to stop is if we were inside the house and too close to knocking over the furniture or if I played the girl card and screamed out “he’s hurting my spleen! (not that I even knew where a spleen was)”.  There was plenty of rough and tumble in my family and not one of us has grown to be a violent human being.

Don’t get me wrong.  It alarms me when the children sniper shoot each other behind the rocks or they don’t read the social cue of someone being sad and continue to growl at them or push each other over.  But, I wonder if we say zero room for rough play, if we don’t let them experience the difference of being the “bad guy” vs.  the hero- then how will they know before it becomes real.  Isn’t that what play is about: exploring the world and testing theories out, sorting the real from fantasy?  When watching the children rough and tumble or entering their play it brings a whole new world to the forefront, an awareness of what their fears are, how media impacts them, and what they believe are their rights and weaknesses.  Rough play may be scary but telling the children to bottle up their feelings and not explore the world seems even scarier to me.  If we ask them to stop they hide it and what if they bottle up all the curiosity, wonder, misunderstanding until they are older – is that not how we give birth to school violence and bullying?  I have to believe that there is value in this type of play.  I have to believe that we are taking something away from children by not allowing them to engage in it at all.  I am not saying to allow them to rough play without boundaries but just to say maybe it is not time to take the chance away from exploring who is the hero?

Maybe it is time to stop saying no and start saying how…

How can we allow rough and tumble in early childhood in a way that feels right for children, teachers, and parents?  What ways do you allow children to explore war play or superhero play?

Every community and every child is unique so each plan for allowing rough and tumble play adapts to each community.

Take the first steps: play with them, examine your own feelings when the children engage in this play, experiment with how you support play (providing capes, pool noodles, plenty of space and extended outdoor time, or playing music to support role play or set a relaxed environment).

Sometimes it is about allowing the role-plays to occur naturally and only intervening when safety seems to be an issue or if another child is alarmed by it.  Phrases like “I can not let you use the stick as a sword because I am afraid someone will get hurt, what can we use that is softer?” or “Are you OK if he pushes you?” are simple conversation openers to helping children problem solve rough play on their own terms.

I believe there are times around a younger audience that setting boundaries for the children may be necessary, “I see that Timothy looks scared so I am going to ask you to play something different right now” or “I noticed Bailey told you to stop shooting her but you didn’t listen to her words, I am going to ask you to not play guns until you are ready to listen to her”.

Other times it is just about letting the children design the rules and reflect upon their play, giving each child a time to have a voice.  Sitting down and discussing or writing the rules together that are child created helps the children set their own guidelines and share what is comfortable or uncomfortable for each person.  It also allows teachers to understand the play more deeply.  Often when examining how the children navigate this play discoveries of their empathy, creativity, fears, and ability to engage in complex play are revealed.

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So tie on your cape and grab your pool noodle!

Today might just be the day to let Superman fly through the classroom.

 

Some great online resources on rough and tumble/superhero play/war play:

http://www.joyfulnoisedaycare.com/December%202010%20newsletter.pdf

http://www.naeyc.org/tyc/files/tyc/file/V5N4/Carlson,%20F.%20Rough%20Play.pdf

http://www.ooeygooey.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/bang-bang-youre-dead.pdf

http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/playground/clips/pretend/120908.html

 

Advocacy, Childhood Joy and Preservation

Getting My Mind Into Studio (Disney Stole My Studio) Part II of Studying Implementing Studio in Preschool

The benefit of studio time for children is that it provides an intimate and open environment for the children to explore and create their own thoughts and ideas. Don’t get me wrong – there have been times where the children floor me with what they discuss and create in studio. But last week- Disney stole my studio! Or more rightly so it stole the children’s studio.

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My studio scribbles while I sat back and let Disney take over.

We are a C-free environment (commercial free). And of course no matter how much we try to keep it at bay it sneaks into the school. A Disney princess shirt, a Star Wars trooper, a Hello kitty blanket. But for the most part our families do fairly well with it. But this month I have seen Disney take over the classroom – anyone else notice all the children role playing Frozen in their classroom? While sometimes I see how some of these influences benefit the children – empowering them to belt out songs at the top of their lungs when they may have never before- I also see the double edge of the sword. It stabs right through the children’s independent identity and creativity. Let me tell you how…
The children have loved the concept of a Giant for over a year now. Last Spring they even threw our so called imaginary “Giant” a birthday party. Well, the past few weeks they were asking for him back. So I staged an area with a provocation and later that week brought a group of interested children into the studio to finish designing and creating a “giant”.

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But the collaboration kept hitting a wall- “that is not how the giant story goes!” some of the children were saying.

What did they mean by this?  Who’s story was telling them how to design their giant?  Why could it not be their own?
“Mickey is scared of him and I don’t want to make a scary Giant.” was one debate
and after 30 minutes of planning we finally started creating a hump for the giant’s back that was the children’s own original idea and not Disney’s.

Prior to creation we sat there discussing Disney characters and stories for the majority of the studio – Mickey, Turbo, Giants, Frozen.  It all came out and the children felt like Disney owned those ideas so they could not create their own.  The Giant had to fit the story they knew from Disney.  I knew what story they were referring to – I had it myself as a little girl. The title does not come to mind but the details of Mickey meeting a giant and tricking him by squeezing water from a stone/slab of cheese are fresh in my mind. Pretty impressionable! It is not that they can connect or recall this story that upsets me. That is a great literacy skill – we love when children do it with books. It upsets me that the children are so enamored by Disney that Disney gets the upper hand. It dominates over their own ideas! They can’t possibly use their own idea because it is not right because it is not how Disney portrayed it! It was stripping the children of their own power during creative activities. That is the heartbreaker!  So even though the children were saying “I don’t want to make that Giant” and I continued to say “you don’t have to” – “your own Giant” – “this is your Giant” – they were trapped in Disney’s box.

When we finally got out of Disney’s box and started creating the children’s ideas Disney still kept sneaking in.  One little boy was drawing a map for where the Giant would travel to after we built him.  “I want him to go fast like a snail” he said.  “Fast like a snail?” I asked, “I thought snails were slow”.  Another little one chimed in “Yeah, they are slow and slimy”.  “No, fast like Turbo” he defended.  So now Disney not only dominates how the children create but how they view and make meaning of the world around them – and apparently thanks to Disney snails are on speed.

Ok, I get it!  This is a little extreme.  I am ranting!  It is a little overboard.  I remember enjoying Disney myself as a child.  I probably will let my future children be semi-exposed to it as well.  But, there is a reason as a preschool we are a commercial free environment and that children should be protected from the mudslide of commercialism and media.  Yet, commercialism still comes into our realm.  The smallest details influence them and it changes them.  They use this information from films, toys, characters, etc., to dictate and script their play, to inform their ideas, to decide how to engage socially, to build their ideas of what image is.  And frankly some of what our children are taught to value is less than supportive and affirmative.

Diane Levin, child advocate/educator and Wheelock College Professor is the founder of The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/).  This advocacy group has inspired a  movement that has helped fight against the negative effects of commercialism on children and educate the population on how commercialism impacts children.  The website provides great resources for exploring how Disney and other commercialized big dogs impact childhood (stifling creativity, gender stereotypes, character development, etc.).  One particular article that connects well with my studio dilemma is “The Commercialization of Toys and Play”  (http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/sites/default/files/toysandplay.pdf).

I am not asking you to quit Disney.  I am asking you to think about it and to quit Disney in the classroom.  I am begging you to reconsider how Disney and any other commercialized toy enters your children’s lives.  Will you limit it?  Will you discuss the challenges and problems it presents with your child?  Will you be commercial-free or commercial aware?

Let’s teach children to value their own ideas!

Food for Thought (Additional Links):

Childhood Joy and Preservation

Getting My Mind Into Studio Work (Part I of Studying Implementing “Studio” in Preschool)

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My absence in blogging often happens when I am in “Seeker” mode.  You know, looking and learning about a particular topic.  Well I am in deep seeker mode… hence the hiatus.  I feel as if I am in this deep learning curve of how to manage, how to grow as and EC educator, and what can I learn from those rich and intense topics such as war play, social dynamics, partnering with families, and studio work.  Then it occurred to me “why am I not writing about this!”.  After all it would help me learn and reflect.  So here it is!  My first series of “seeker” mode blogging.  I don’t have the thumb on these topics.  I might not have the answers.  I am exploring!  I am perfecting my practice and journey.  I am sharing my highs and lows.  This series of “studio” work was inspired by me looking for help with ideas for growing as a “studio” practitioner and realizing nobody has anything out there!  In defense of that, much of the practice of studio comes from Reggio and Reggio honors that children’s work comes from the community of the children, school, environment, culture, and families.  Rock on!  I believe that too!  So I have the same fear!  What if I post a picture and someone says “I want to copy that!”  even if it has no context in their environment?  But, I am letting go of that fear.  Copy away!  But when your studio crashes and burns and the root source of why is because the children were not interested I do not want the blame to fall here – that is on you – do not copy the ideas that come from my community!  – be inspired not blue printed by these posts!  And finally ………………………….. We start:

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Putting My Mind into Studio Work (Part I of studio study)

PREGAME

Selecting a topic and group:

I know that it is time for me to plan a studio with a specific group of children when I find myself wishing I could go deeper with a concept or stage a better provocation for the children when working with them in the classroom or play yard. ALPOE 025

 Example:

While playing with the children and the water sprayers by the river the concept of what “water pressure” is came up.  This is a deep and complicated concept that they were very interested in.  However, they were asking what was making the sprayers hard to pull for filling when it was not that hard to push and spray them.  Some of the children understood that it was the water pulling up into the device that made this tricky.  After gathering many language clips of what they thought it was and why they were curious about this (as well as the children asking what it is called when this happens) I shared that it was called water pressure.  I also realized that this is a concept that needed more hands on exploration.  This marks for me that a studio is needed.

 

Sometimes I may not find that the idea for a studio comes while working with the children but later when I am reflecting upon my notes from the day.  If I find a reoccurring interest in my book from several children that could be expanded upon I know that it is time for a studio.

 

Example:  While looking through my notes I discovered that many children were pretending to make soup in the play yard and at the play kitchen.  They were discussing flavors, helping serve fellow playmates, and debating ingredients.  This prompted me to stage a soup making “Language of Food” studio with these children. 

 

When selecting my “Language of Food” children I also was attentive to who I was mixing into the group; I wanted to allow this to be a chance to build friendships and practice social skills.  Sometimes this will be a secondary purpose to studio and other times this will be my primary reason for staging a studio.  

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When choosing children for studio I am aware of the balance of children.  A studio must be intimate and staged for deep exploration.  I will choose 4 to 6 depending on how many are interested and who is in the mix.  The “who” is important – I need the balance to allow for social growth and problem solving so I may choose children that would benefit from working together more, even if they seem to have conflict in the play yard or classroom.  However, if this is going to hinder studio from having any positive forward movement and my whole time will be spent in management mode then I know I need to choose a different mix.  It is not to say that it is important to bring all children into studio – of course that is a must!  But I can make sure that the opportunity for conflict in a studio will provide growth the children and not unrest.

Sometimes studio happens just to bring the children in and let them try out an area.  If there are a group of children that have been asking to build then maybe they need some time in the construction area.  Sometimes a child is running behind my group and wanting to come in and if I can allow for the set-up of materials to include them then I go for it!  It makes me nervous because it was not in my plan but it leaves room to grow for me and the children – and often surprises me to see what happens. 

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Staging:

When staging my studio I think of every aspect.  Each choice I make is with intention.  Things I consider when staging:

·         What provocation will I use? (a story, a book, a picture, etc).

·         Is the provocation meaningful or real enough?

·         How many materials do I want out?

·         What is the purpose of my studio and do my materials fit this purpose?

·         Are there enough materials for everyone?

·         Do I want my materials to inspire collaborative work or individual work? 

·         If my materials are for individual work what language and open ended prompts will I use to encourage social connections?

·         How many of the materials are REAL objects (e.g. tools, natural, foods, etc.)?

·         How many materials allow for independence and how many will need my assistance? (I want few to need me unless I am teaching them to use a new prop or tool.  I want the ideas and work to be their own).

·         Does my set up look organized, inviting, and aesthetically pleasing?

·         Are there multiple purposes and open ended opportunities?

·         Is the studio set up in a way that the children can lead the experience and not single purposed?

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Before I bring the children over I look at my set up and try to play out the potential scenario in my head.  I think about whether the set up will work for this potential and if there is everything needed in the area (this is when I might catch an oops! – I guess I need some water for soup making).  This play through allows me to consider things that will trip me up when working with the children. 

I take a deep breath before scooping the children up and realize that not every studio will be a success.  The staging may not work for the children, the mix may not work like I thought, and the provocation may not fit the interest as I thought…

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Kick Off

During studio I introduce the provocation and materials.

This is also when I set expectations for safety and what some choices might be.

 

Questions I may ask during studio:

·         What is your idea?

·         What is happening?

·         How do you feel?

 

·         Tell me more about…

·         What do you notice about…

·         What is your favorite… (and tell me why)

·         What do you think about…

·         I wonder…

·         Sometimes I just play off of their wonderings by repeating what they asked or asking a follow up question about one of their observations (e.g. Wow!  Johnny noticed that this tomato was orange, I thought we just said tomatoes were red?). 

 

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I try to keep the conversation open ended and continuous.  I want the children to share as many ideas they have and go deeper with their seeking of answers.

I try not to give the answers to them but put questions back at them with another question:

          I don’t know.  What do you think?

          Corey wants to know how the seeds got in the tomato.  Does anyone have an idea?

 

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Post Game

When documenting a studio I remember that the experience is most important.  I know it is more important how they come to know something than what they know.  The information they can share is important but how did each child come to know something is true is more important.  Process comes before product. September ALPOE 2013 203

I find it best to keep my hands free (so that I can help and engage with the children) with a recorder or live-scribe pen for audio.  I also have a notebook handy for quick notes and my camera.  I know that I will need to revisit these documentations so that I can reflect upon what the children explored, discovered, and want to know next. 

Studio is a process and I invite every educator to join the joyful journey of engaging children in the rich and intimate experience of studio work.  Join me in my blog series of studying preschool studio work.

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Childhood Joy and Preservation, The How To Dos

Documentation – the life line to our work!

Progressive, play-based, and quality early childhood programs often use documentation as a source of sharing information with others and recording what children are learning. Communication and assessment are both critical pieces in the education field but how early childhood teachers and directors approach communication and assessment can be very unique compared to traditional school practices.
Documentation was a new concept to me many years ago while taking undergrad classes for my Education Degree. I was in an amazing infant and toddler course that asked us to create a photo tri-fold documentation of our observations during classroom field work. This was a challenge for me. Many of the teaching methods used at my field placement were breaking my heart and I had to deeply explore how I would document learning. I decided to do a broad spectrum of learning through play. While observing the children during free time and interacting with them during a few lessons I had done on play-dough and shaving cream my eyes were opened to how children were learning every second they engaged with their environment and peers. Suddenly all the child development research, brain research, and EC courses were making sense – I was watching it unfold in front of my eyes. As well as, watching it being challenged in a negative way in front of my eyes. My board showed children playing and learning:boys laughing and bonding over a dance in high-heels, children naming colors and textures with shaving cream, writing letters and drawing shapes with shaving cream and play-dough, engaging in narratives about family while molding play-dough people, peering through holes on the back of the shelf and figuring out covered holes were not visible, drawings of Mama’s and animals (labeled with Spanish and English vocabulary). All very solid indicators of learning and development. But the teachers viewed their state assessment packets in a very literal way. Circles were only counted as successful pieces if a child was sat down in a group and forced to draw one perfectly with a pencil. There were days I was ready to walk away – one particular day when a little boy cried until he threw up because he hated the pressure of the task so much. It is heartbreaking seeing 3 years old with so much anxiety about writing!
Our job as EC teachers is to inspire writing and not kill it. That state assessment could have been satisfied with a picture of him tracing a circle in shaving cream to represent a cow head (bright smile on his face at the time) just as much as the written sample they were trying to force out of him. But often teachers fear the loom of assessments and feel the only way to get a piece of evidence is to sit a child down and have them perform the exact booklet described task. If they need to know a-z then I must have them point at a-z on a flash card and name them. When the reality is how many times in a week do you hear the children identify letters. Everyday my preschoolers are reading their own names, their friend’s names, the signs around the room, the letters in the play materials… and so on and so forth. Documenting (anecdotal notes, photos, work samples) daily happenings of the day can provide evidence for children’s learning.
The reality is that documenting can be done in multiple ways. Choose a way that fits you, your program, and the children. Currently my program does a beautiful and well written newsletter every two weeks – documenting what the children have experienced and pulled from their experiences. Our photos and notes guide what interests we follow for planning curriculum and projects. We also use these gatherings combined with work samples to mark what developmental goals a child has achieved.
Documentation can be used for:
– assessment (Developmental summaries, Portfolios)
– communication (Newsletters, Displays)
– self reflection (the teachers and children can look at the documentations and improve practice or be inspired for what comes next in a project)
– a tool for planning (interests and areas for improvement can be noted for teachers and children so that an new project or play area can emerge or be adapted)

Documentation is about recording what the children do and say. It is important to write what they say verbatim so that what they know and what vocabulary they use is accurately represented. It is best to have a system and dedicated place for collecting documentations (camera, notebook, live-scribe, sound recording device, or some other portfolio for collecting written anecdotal notes). However, great opportunities happen on the fly and if you need to improvise then do! Don’t miss something great because you didn’t have the tools with you. I have used a sharpie, with a sleeve and tape when necessary.

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Study the art of observation. Know what you are looking for. I recommend the book “The Art of Awareness” by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter. Also a mini resource to get you started is an article put out in a NAEYC publication called: “One Teacher, 20 Preschoolers, and a Goldfish Environmental Awareness, Emergent Curriculum, and Documentation” by Ann Lewin Benham – http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200603/LewinBTJ.pdf. Many resources on Reggio Emilia show a beautiful and meaningful way of capturing children’s work. A recent article I found that describes the Reggio perspective nicely can be found at: http://earlychildhood.educ.ubc.ca/community/research-practice-reggio-emilia.

It is important to capture the joys of childhood and the deep learning children are doing. A picture says a thousand words but a note or recording paired with that picture clarifies what really is happening.
Questions I ask myself while documenting:
– Did I record enough samples of child language to accurately represent the ideas they are sharing?
– Did I describe or note key words from the event enough that I will remember what was happening?
– Did I make note of the moment that represents growth, progress, skill, or personality (this is just as important as skill – did the event show us something new about how the child thinks or who she is as a person? We value children and not just academia).
– Did I take photos that show progression of the project and ideas (not just cute photos).
– Did I add my own bias or falsely interpret the happenings or am I sure that I am presenting clear and accurate evidence?

What do you see?

Documentation

I see:
A child that can match letters to letters (one to one correspondence and spatial/graphic relationships). He can sort from a pile of a variety of letters (letter identification and math). He can name each letter as he strings it (alphabetic awareness and fine motor). He can make the decision to put a different letter on his string but will say that he knows that the letter is not is in his name (self-awareness and independence). When asked he says that he did his name but he likes the other letters. He pretends they are shark teeth after completing the work and pretends to attack others hands with it as he laughs(joy, social interaction, imagination, and object representation).

Now tell me a 10 minute worksheet or skill and drill activity can get more than that! Bring learning alive! Let them play! It is your job to stage the environment so that they will show you just how much they know. Your job is putting it down on paper and collecting supporting evidence.

Last year I went to the National NAEYC Expo and one of the sessions I was handed this flyer on documentation (credit to the McCormick Tribune Foundation and Chicago Children’s Museum). I love it and had to share it!
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I encourage you to explore how you record and share what your children do. What do you use for meaningful assessment? Do you use documentation? Can you incorporate it? How can you improve how you track and share what children learn? What is your next step in the process?

Documentation is hard. But, I feel it is the most authentic form of assessment I have found in the early childhood arena. It allows me to say Yes to play. Yes – you can work with real and meaningful materials. You can learn and grow. I will do my job of putting it on paper. I can’t support asking a child to do that job (unless it is a piece of their own written work or drawings). I can’t justify telling a child to abandon real work, tangible materials, and complex projects so that they can fill out a worksheet as a piece of evidence for a parent or the powers to be. I will do that part. I will translate the meaningful experiences they are having into evidence. If it must be on paper let me be the one to fill out that paper. The value of a child’s work must be honored in what they do and not only what they can put on paper with pencil. Learning is so much more than collecting bits of skills and information and regurgitating for others to see.
Let’s let children do what they do best! They will show us what they know if we just give them time, space, and material.

“Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.”

– Lady Bird Johnson, Former First Lady

Childhood Joy and Preservation, The How To Dos, What is progressive?

Not because I said so…

classroom 148Standards, checkpoints, milestones, learning objectives, etc…  Our education system is framed around goals and expectations that children are pushed to meet at certain age/grade levels.  As educators we are told to scaffold development and differentiate instruction to meet children’s needs.  However, there is also a push to ensure a child meets a set of standards by the end of a school year – despite the fact that meeting a learner on his or her level is important.  When asking No Pro followers what is challenging in the teaching arena – the response is clear “fighting the urge to do xyz because kids who are six are supposed to do xyz”.  But, who defines XYZ?  As educators we need to find resources that guide us to accurately define what XYZ should be.  This is difficult because our surrounding teaching peers, traditional teaching arenas, and state/federal recommendations may send the message that a child should be able to perform at a certain level along a certain timeline.  The first step to feeling comfortable about allowing children to grow at their own pace (no matter what XYZ states) is to back yourself up with research.  Research allows educators to feel confident about the decisions they already know are the right ones – and back these decisions up with powerful evidence.  Decisions made based on Developmentally Appropriate Practice and educator based research is more solid than following XYZ because the standards and cookie cutter assessment tools said so.

What research is out there that supports children growing at their own pace?

Developmentally Appropriate Practice

In the 3rd Edition of “Developmentally Appropriate Practice” Carol Copple and Sue Bredekamp define excellent teachers as educators whom recognize that “learning goals are usually identified for groups of children within a given age span.  But, teachers must determine where each child is in relation to a goal and
adjust their teaching accordingly” (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009).  As educators, we know our children best.  We can gauge what experiences a child is ready for, asking for, and interested in.  A manual or checklist of standards can not tell us what capabilities each individual child is ready to achieve or not.  Cookie cutter checklist leave out critical contextual factors such as environment, culture, and emotional development.  Developmentally appropriate practice is having a knowledge of how typical whole child development progresses and combining it with the ability of individualizing it to each child and classroom.

Language of the Wolves

Lisa Murphy the Ooey Gooey Lady provides educators with a document “What to Say When the Wolves Come Knocking” (http://www.ooeygooey.com/handouts/generalwolf.pdf) that empowers teachers with vocabulary that helps defend play practices.  This document will provide a tool box for sharing how play is learning.  Sometimes meeting a child where they are is about taking what they choose to work on – documenting it and translating that documentation into what benefits, developmental stages, and standards are being met during their explorations.

Children Know What they Need

Alfie Kohn shares the importance of considering what children know and want to know:

Taking kids seriously: In traditional schooling, as John Dewey once remarked, “the center of gravity is outside the child”:  he or she is expected to adjust to the school’s rules and curriculum. Progressive educators take their cue from the children — and are particularly attentive to differences among them. (Each student is unique, so a single set of policies, expectations, or assignments would be as counterproductive as it was disrespectful.) The curriculum isn’t just based on interest, but on these children’s interests. Naturally, teachers will have broadly conceived themes and objectives in mind, but they don’t just design a course of study for their students; they design it with them, and they welcome unexpected detours. One fourth-grade teacher’s curriculum, therefore, won’t be the same as that of the teacher next door, nor will her curriculum be the same this year as it was for the children she taught last year. It’s not enough to offer elaborate thematic units prefabricated by the adults. And progressive educators realize that the students must help to formulate not only the course of study but also the outcomes or standards that inform those lessons -(Kohn, 2008).

The following link provides more information from Kohn about how progressive education caters to learning with children and not pushing them to be a part of a system that does not fit them individually: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/progressive.htm.

When the Time is Right

Take a page from Waldorf.  Waldorf education waits until about third grade to introduce academics in a structured format.  It is not to say that the children are not intellectually challenged but their childhood is preserved in their younger years.  Concepts are introduced through rich play, story telling, and artistically expressive experiences.  Whether you adopt the entire Waldorf premise it is important to consider that Waldorf has a large following and history.  If Waldorf’s school of thought supports children being children and allowing children to be introduced to concepts “when the time is right” and these children have grown successfully as a whole child ( including academically) in society then why are public schools removing play from the early years?  Why is the focus of elementary education (and now pushing into early childhood) on XYZ by a certain age?

What are you trading?

Finally consider – If you are pushing your child or student to achieve XYZ what ABC are you sacrificing.  In other words consider that some children are great readers at 4.  A rare find.  But, most fluent readers at this age are lacking something else.  Often they are not internalizing the story and lack comprehension skills.  But, even more prominent in young prodigy readers we see a need for social skills to be more developed (cooperation, empathy, socialization).  So these young readers can translate the text into speech but they fail to be able to work in a reading group.  This is only one example.  But, stop and think if XYZ is pushed before its time what ABC is being sacrificed – what part of childhood are we asking children to give up so that they can be academic superstars.

Childhood Joy and Preservation

Take off that dress!

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Boys – wearing the dresses! in the dollhouse area! carrying a purse!  rocking a baby!  This is not where they belong!

You have heard in once, twice, a million times!  Why is my child (boy) playing in the dress up area?  Sometimes it is a worried Dad.  Sometimes it is a concerned Mama.  This article is an exploration of gender development and why we should not ask a boy who loves the dresses to hide in the closet or discourage him if he loves to play in the areas that are “not traditionally” the boy areas.

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If a girl plays in the block area with cars we seem to feel comfortable with that but as a society boys in areas that are stereotyped as “girl” interests seem to create an alarming reaction.  Parents and sometimes teachers often send the message (or directly tell) boys to take off that dress!  But, why?  Is there some reason why boys should be excluded from certain avenues of play?

Every year of teaching there is at least one boy that is in love with playing in the “girl” areas (whether it be the dolls, dress-up clothes, the housekeeping area, or the doll house).  Which means every year I am looking for fuel to back me up when I am asked about why the boys are wearing dresses or holding baby dolls.  Every year I need to collect more evidence about how the benefits are endless and that the risks are simply unlikely fears.  My most recent fuel finds include:

  • Boys and Girls: Superheros in the Doll Corner by Vivian Paley (I recently stumbled upon this and now plan to read this cover to cover)
  • Why Kids Should Play with Baby Dolls (YES, even BOYS!) (a blog entry from a trio of Mommies and professionals an OT, pediatric speech-language pathologist, and a clinical psychologist.http://mamaot.com/2012/11/25/why-kids-should-play-with-baby-dolls-yes-even-boys/
  • My Princess Boy by C. Kilodavis (a children’s book written by a Mom with a little boy that loves playing princess)

Dressing up, whether in fireman hats or dresses (boys or girls) gives children a chance to explore roles and the attributes associated with these roles.  Yes, sometimes playing a role is testing it out.  But, just because a boy plays Mommy doesn’t mean he desires to become a Mommy (or a girl).  Just as every pretend Hulk does not produce a future green monster, every little police officer does not end up a crime fighter, every “bad guy” does not grow up to be a criminal, or every pretend doctor does not aspire to work in the medical field.  Sometimes a child chooses a role because the others are taken.  Sometimes he chooses it because it is the character who is in charge (so he may end up the Mommy so he can control the play scenario).  Sometimes he just loves that dress because it is green and green is his favorite color.  At preschool age children are defining their personalities and expressing their preferences.  The are exploring all the places and experiences offered to them.  Play allows children to explore the world safely and will full ambition.  Even if a child chooses to dress up because he likes to be pretty – who are we to say he shouldn’t?  Do we want to send the message to our children at a young age that we have already found ways to exclude them or judge them?  I think not.

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A boy playing Daddy (or Mommy) in the housekeeping area provides practice for care taking and kind behaviors.  Any child whom engages in baby doll play, housekeeping roles, and dress up is given the opportunity to expand socially, emotionally, and cognitively.

Would you object to a child learning how to:

  • be gentle
  • care for others
  • be independent
  • complete daily tasks
  • excel in the role of parenthood or family member
  • organize
  • negotiate, cooperate, and communicate with a group
  • plan and direct an activity
  • appreciate the design of materials and environments

I wouldn’t and I am sure that nobody else would either.  These are all skills that happen in the dramatic play area (the place where dresses hang, dolls sleep, houses filled with mini families exist, and where Moms and Dads cook in the pretend kitchen).

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The fact is that in general society sends the message that non-traditional activities should be discouraged.  We feel that if we let a boy dress up in a dress or carry a purse when he is 3 then he will want to do so later.  When really this is not factual evidence.  There will be boys that dress up in dresses at 3 and that never will again.  There will be boys who did not like to dress-up at 3 and may like wearing dresses later in life.  As adults we should be more concerned about what we can do for our child’s present being than worry about how every current play experience will shape their lives 20 years from now.  It is not to say that we should not provide quality experiences that will shape the future of our children.  However, we should consider the possibilities side by side.  As adults we need to realize the benefits out weigh the chances of these behaviors carrying on in adulthood.  We also need to reevaluate why we fear these possibilities.  The love for our children should be priority and not our intolerance.  Is it worth saying that a child should miss out on all of the benefits (including: extended vocabulary, social just behaviors, compassion for others, daily life skills, leadership skills) of dramatic play, dress-up, and doll play because there is a slight chance that he may like pink robes and purple flowers when he is a grown man.  It is more likely that those amazing housekeeping and dress-up skills will lead to impeccable architectural designs, award winning chef creations, creative artistic results, well spoken project leaders, and men with gentle fathering skills.

It is time to focus on letting children explore who they want to be in this moment rather than who they want to be as an adult.  By providing love, support, and quality experiences we are letting children build a healthy foundation for the future.  Boys will be boys – and everything else their heart desires.

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