Sharing The Joy of Risk Taking

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As a progressive and play based educator, I spend much of my time (that is not with the children) documenting. This is important to me for many reasons. One is that it serves as communication with families, two is that it is an authentic and meaningful way of assessing children, and three is that it does something very important – it serves as a tool of advocacy.  As an early childhood teacher and advocate, I know that it might take me more time to explain what I already know in my head, what I know is right for children, what is developmentally appropriate, how children learn through play, etc. I also know that my heart will scream – just honor childhood!  Let them be children for the sake of childhood! And though I sometimes wish that all I would have to say is ‘let childhood happen’, I also know that many people won’t do this unless they understand why. I am not sure I would if I didn’t spend years learning why I do what I do. So if I expect families and the world (the systems, the government, the fund providers) to support play and the joys of childhood, then I have to spend time doing my due diligence advocating for it.  Screaming from the roof tops! Defending play and all that comes with it. It is my responsibility. It may mean more work, more time, more everything. But, I signed up for this. Some weeks I might not have the minutes but I try my best to find them when I can. This weekend while documenting (on an amazing new documentation platform we use called storypark, check it out!!!!) I found myself writing about risk taking. We have many brave risk warriors in our group this year! The things they are learning! The things I am learning! Oh!  I could gush on and on. After publishing it I realized it was worth sharing.  So with out further rambling…

The Joy of Risk Taking: The Beams

The children never cease to amaze me! The multitude of things they learn during their play are invaluable life lessons. The Meadow children are brave and filled with curiosity – often taking risks that make our hearts flutter. Even though our “Mommy (or Daddy) Radars” go off, we know as educators that risk taking is critical to healthy child development. It is important that our environments reflect adventures and materials that provide opportunities that are “not as safe as possible, but safe as necessary”, in the words of Bev Bos. By doing this we make sure that children develop a sense of empowerment, independence, and exercise their gross motor skills adequately. It also provides invitations that children see as approachable, rather than them waiting for watchful eyes to turn the other way and seeking out risks that may be unmanageable. We stay close and observe, providing support or caution when needed. Providing real manageable risks for young children allows them to accomplish great challenges. We have to evaluate the challenge with a risk assessment – If a child does this (e.g. climbs here) with me close by, what could happen? A scrape, a twist, a tumble? All things we can overcome together. All things that happen in childhood. All things that are rare and outweighed by the benefits. Our hearts still flutter BUT when they accomplish the risky challenges the celebration in our hearts and theirs is immeasurable. I wish I could capture the smiles in photo for you (but my hands are often hovering for support and not on the camera icon)! Photo or no photo, the pride that beams from the children sends off a powerful energy – that no words could capture.

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Community Playthings shares, in one of their article excepts, why risk is important :

Real play means taking risks—physical, social, and even cognitive. Children are constantly trying out new things and learning a great deal in the process. They love to move from adventure to adventure. They face the risk of mistakes and even of injuries, but that does not deter children. They embrace life, play, and risk with gusto, and they are prepared for a certain amount of bumps and bruises while growing up.
Although no one wants to see a child injured, creating an environment that is overly safe creates a different kind of danger for them. Growing up in a risk-averse society, such as we currently have, means children are not able to practice risk-assessment which enables them to match their skills with the demands of the environment. As a result, many children have become very timid and are reluctant to take risks. At the opposite extreme, many have difficulty reading the situations they face and take foolhardy risks, repeatedly landing in trouble.
When children are given a chance to engage freely in adventurous play they quickly learn to assess their own skills and match them to the demands of the environment. Such children ask themselves—consciously or unconsciously—“how high can I climb”, or “is this log across the creek strong enough to support me?” They become savvy about themselves and their environment. Children who are confident about taking chances rebound well when things don’t work out at first. They are resilient and will try again and again until they master a situation that challenges them—or wisely avoid it, if that seems best.

This week I saw this happen in true action. Some of the children dragged the balance beams off of the tires to the hay, looking for a more challenging risk of big body play and balance. While this proved challenging for many it sprouted many great things. Some children mastered it with ease. While others asked for a hand to hold or the beam to be lowered. Some even decided to not take on the challenge or to do so in new ways, such as, only on the wide beams, only while sitting and scooting up, or not on the “slippery” one (the stained one was more smooth than the raw wood). Some of the children asked for help from a teacher or playmate. Some tilted the basketball hoop down and made a “portal” or doorway onto the hay that was to be crawled through before taking on the challenge. The most amazing thing happened during this moment because after a child would crawl through they would stop and look down and assess if they wanted to climb down by beam or jump of the stairs of hay. Some would look and say things such as, “no way”, “This is so easy”, “come closer”, “I don’t need you here” (in which I would take a step further back), or “I think I like the stairs better”. Once I even saw a child put a pumpkin on the other side of the beam. When I inquired as to why, they said, “because it is heavy and it will keep it on there, then no one will fall” (what amazing risk calculating and consideration for community members!). All week I spent at least a few minutes at this location or smiling from a distance watching other teachers and children work there.

As I sit here, reflecting on this experience, I light up with joy and awe of the children. I can’t help but think of the quote: “A ship is safe in the harbor but, that is not what ships are made for”. The things children are made for, are greater than many people ever allow. It is such a blessing to see these young ones brave the many waves of life and play.

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If There is One Thing You Will Do Tonight…

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If there is one thing that you will do tonight, do this!  Vote! Click the link below and vote:

http://myla2050play2015.maker.good.is/projects/AdventurePlay4LA

I could write about the many reasons why you should support pop-up play and adventure play (risk taking, independence, self-worth, innovation, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, etc.) but the truth is they (The Wonderful, Talented, and Fabulous Playworkers/Founders, Jeremiah and Erica Dockray) explain it best here:

So before you fall into your pile of pillows and shut your eyes for the evening click these links and vote.  It takes just about as long as it will take you to watch those buzzfeed videos your like, shorter than a TED talk, as long as it will take you to brush your teeth or scroll through Hulu or your Facebook newsfeed, Come on you can do it! Make a difference and click VOTE. There is one more day to get the votes to the top and I for one think it is well worth it.  I hope you do too. 🙂 Thank You, ahead of time, because I know if you took the time to read this – you will take the time to vote!

Literacy Development the Natural Way

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As a progressive educator, I have the privilege of weaving in many philosophies in my teaching practices. One thing that I really love about Waldorf curriculum is the slow awakening to the instruction of literacy.  The philosophy lends itself to inspiring creativity and imagination first, foundational components to literacy development that often are underestimated.

But the truth is that with the more opportunities to listen to and to create their own tales and stories using props and imagination, the more children find joy in literature and stories.  Joy is the most important step in the early years of reading and writing.  It is motivation.  Motivation for knowing and wanting to learn more.  A child is ready to learn the characters of the alphabet and enhance their comprehension skills when they ask for the information.  When the ask for you to scribe their stories, how to write a letter from their name, to read a book… then they are ready.

Many Waldorf practitioners refer to storytelling play as “learning for the heart” and not learning by rote memory or practice.  This is critical in preschool.  Our most important job as a teacher is to create connections and relationships, to create moments for “learning for the heart”. There are many ways to do this.

Providing invitations for children to connect to the world of stories and imaginary places is one way to support their natural journey to literacy based learning opportunities. Waldorf often does this with props for storytelling.  Their characters are made of natural materials such as wood, wool, felt, fabric, and pieces from nature. I have often been enchanted by these little small world props. I have created some of my own in the past – fairy worlds, castle scenes, farm worlds, and forest scenes. But recently the children have been in love with a small autumn fairy and pumpkin village.  It is a decorative one set up in the front of the school entryway.  They check on it often and seem to be so connected to the idea that it is a real living village! So this weekend I spent a little time creating some props for their very own pumpkin gnome/fairy village. I quite like the way it has turned out.  But, I think next time I will stick with keeping the props faceless.  Although it looks eery at times, the intention behind the expressionless faces is to allow the children to imagine their own expressions and feelings of the characters – uninfluenced by the pre-created details of a doll/character. I actually am intrigued by this and would like to try it. I leaves the whole story in the hands of the child.

But, for now I have a little pile of gnome people with wood platforms and a real carved pumpkin house. I will stage the invitation on the light table.  I can only wonder what stories and conversations that will happen here, a place designed for “learning for the heart”.20151025_211745 20151025_211715 20151025_204639

For the First Years

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In the car, the dark classroom at 7pm, the shower; this was me as a first year teacher in public school. The intensity of the newness, fitting into a team of K teachers that had already thrived without someone like me, the task of exposing children to testing, reward/punishment systems, and highly academic rigor at a stage of development that was inappropriate. Teaching is hard, it still is, but I love it now. Sometimes it is not only the first year but finding the design that better fits you. I imagine this happens for children too, but they don’t typically have a choice of shifting realms. NPR should write an article like this from a child’s perspective. I could write one but if someone as reputable as NPR revealed the pressure cooker children live in today, it would be ground breaking!

http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/10/22/450575463/it-s-okay-to-cry-in-your-car-fighting-disillusionment-as-a-first-year-teacher

http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/10/25/451202509/teachers-respond-veteran-teachers-cry-in-their-cars-too

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

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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!!!!

The Toll of Testing …

“To the bigwigs at Pearson, your child is just a number, a statistic.”    (excerpt from link below)  

And since schools spend a huge chunk of the year prepping your child and administering tests from Pearson and companies like Pearson what are we saying schools view children as or as a society as a whole?  

Food for thought… in this next link is a posting from just another blogger.  I can’t verify her experience or even give credit to the truthfulness of her post but it gives a scary perspective to what happens after a student is put through the process of testing.

I can’t say I even agree to submitting students to the stress and rigor of testing in the first place.  I feel the validity of test scores are questionable.  But even if we don’t consider who writes the questions, why these specific questions are even considered good measures of a student’s intelligence, or how appropriate it is to gauge student success by a single assessment each year without considering their whole human development – Even if we don’t… and we still end up to the point where we submit the piles of answers for scoring… what happens then?

How accurate are they graded?

Are they real reflections of a child’s answers?

Are these answers accurately representing what a student knows and has learned?

Are these questions representative of valuable knowledge?

It scares me to think how inaccurate or how lacking in valuable content the questions and data on a test are from the start and then to consider it being skewed afterwards is even scarier.

Visit this link to consider your perspective on the validity of testing and test scores:

http://portlyadolescence.tumblr.com/post/46335920624/test-scoring-at-pearson

Common Core, Testing, and Opting out in NYS:

Will Pearson continue to thrive in states like NY or will activists inspire change?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/19/educators-alarmed-by-some-questions-on-n-y-common-core-tests/

Pearson has been linked to many testing controversies, including brand placement in testing: 

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2013/05/what_do_american_girl_dolls_and_pearson_have_in_common.html

The toll of testing seems to be hitting the forefront of the education field, students, teachers, and families on a daily basis.  There is a lot of buzz and some advocates pushing for opting out.  One can only hope that enough buzz and push back will change education in a way that will end test-driven curriculum and high stakes testing.  

Opt-out in CA: 

http://www.pacificjustice.org/california-common-core-data-opt-out-form.html

Opt-out in NYS: 

http://www.nysape.org/refusing-the-test-resources.html

Take a moment to research and be informed on testing.  Explore the controversies!  Explore your perspectives!  

Learning from One of Progressive Thought …

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I had the most amazing experience of seeing Alfie Kohn himself last Thursday!  It was an amazing and rare experience to listen to someone who is charged with such passion and dedication to the field of education – from a progressive stance.  It is also refreshing to hear someone admit that becoming progressive is a process – once a traditional teacher of English Alfie has evolved into one of the most powerful promoters of alternative education pathways.

Seeing him made me want to share two things.  One, a document that Alfie outlines key factors of progressive education and Two, a piece of writing I have been saving with the debate of using it for blog purposes or publishing or what have you…

Tonight, I have decided that it was worth sharing.  So without further chattering:

One (The article from Alfie Kohn: “Progressive Education – Why It’s Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find”)

A must read!!!  Located at Alfie’s site:

http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/progressive-education/?print=pdf

Do not scroll further until you visit that link and read that article!!!!  You should read his link!  If you get anything out of this blog post, go there!  But, if you have an additional extra minute read this: 

Two (My piece of writing that I was reminded of when seeing Alfie, as I referenced him at the end of it):

The other day, I was reading Their Name is Today:  Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World.

I know, reading leisurely books is maybe not my strong point.  I was recently informed I should read Gone Girl or take another stab at the George R.R. Martin series, Game of Thrones.  But, instead I am reading Their Name is Today (Ok, and Always Looking Up but at a rate of about one chapter a week, so that may not count as a fun non-Early Childhood related book) and I am thinking I will read a book by Janet Lansbury next.  C’est la vie.  I am a little wrapped up in my field.  Anyways while deeply engrossed in a chapter on “taking back childhood” it occurred to me that my dad has given me one of the best gifts of childhood, the lack of expectations.  Don’t get me wrong it is not that he did not have a standard for us to live by but not in the same ways that children are held to expectations today (and when I was a child).  And because of this I feel I was given the freedom as an adult to pursue what I was passionate about and set my own expectations for greatness.  So what do I mean by this?  I was held to the standard of being kind, compassionate, hard working, and respectful but I was never pressured to be the captain of the team, the honor student, the math-lete, the lead role in the musical, or prom queen.  It wasn’t something that was ever encouraged or forced upon me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I played a few school sports.  I muddled my way through a few years of soccer, my best goal being one I accidentally scored on my own team.  I hung out with the brainy people as a quiz bowl team member or envirothon member, somehow having a knack for questions about the Jewish religion and soil.  Don’t ask me why or how, I just did.  I was involved in things… this group and that, etc. etc. etc.  I wasn’t as privileged as some but I did have many blessings that some children may have not.  I participated in life events of the typical public school child.  And it is not to say I wasn’t rewarded for things or encouraged.  Once my dad thought the idea of promoting good math grades could be motivated by a shrimp cocktail (it did work for a moment and it wasn’t the cocktail’s fault, I was really horrendous at math).  And I had family attend my sport games on occasion or the banquets at season’s end.  But, the reality was while I was at home or at school being a normal teenager some of my friends were being forced down paths they did not want or understand:  the next prettiest, funniest, smartest girl ever.  I dealt very little with that pressure and now I can look back and see how that has benefited me, even today.  It is not to say don’t ever enroll your child into a class or sport.  It is to say honor them in not creating every experience into a pressure zone or competition.  I see so many children today being pushed to go above and beyond for reasons that are far from intrinsic.  My greatest accomplishments were ones I desired to achieve on my own.  It turns out that they were things that my family could be proud of too but that wasn’t the main motivation for them.  I did not work hard so that I could obtain praise, trophies, ribbons, awards, etc.  But, I also did not crumble to the point of no return when I failed.  Today we teach children that failure is life ending.  We teach them to feel pressure from the very early years of life.  How many letters can you name?  What accelerated reading level are you at?  What color belt did you earn?  How many goals did you score?  Did you make it to the finals?  Are you scholarship material?  It never ends! The pressure for excellence is intense and it is taking a toll on humanity.  Children are programmed from the very beginning to not be comfortable with failure and live up to expectations at all times.  But, as adults I think we are missing out on how this impacts children emotionally and mentally.  Give children the gift of finding joy in their own accomplishments, step back from creating a child that needs a trophy to feel whole.

 

Fuel for your fire:

  • Alfie Kohn deserves mounds of credit for helping educators stray away from empty extrinsic praise.  Take a moment to explore “5 Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job”: http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/gj.htm

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So all in all – props to the great parents, educators, and great change-makers of the world!