Advocacy

Capturing the Moment

There are two ways to capture a moment in the early childhood world: experience and documentation.

Experience is as simple as it states, just taking a moment to experience the world with a child/children. No strings tied, no assessing, all joy. Taking that moment and making a memory. Sometimes the most important thing we can give children is to be fully present. To turn off our teacher brains and just be human with them: no checklists, cameras, or analysis involved.

The education world these days is filled with many outcomes and standards. Children are very aware of when we have them on our radar. Often shifts in behavior happen when a child feels they are being observed for assessment – authentically or not. Once while recording a set of children during a conflict (that they were beautifully resolving), the child leaned into the direction of my recorder and said, “Right, Anna? We should  just be friends”. While I am sure he was sincere in his response, I am also sure that his response was shaped by the fact that he was highly aware that he was being “documented”. So while, I thrive on taking note of what the children are doing – collecting authentic evidence, I also know that they deserve moments where I set the task of documenting aside. Moments where they can trust being their authentic self without judgement or the teacher paparazzi in their face.

However, documentation (from my experience) is the most authentic, meaningful, and developmentally appropriate method of capturing a moment and collecting evidence. One of my favorite sayings is “it is not what they know, but how they have come to know it” – meaning that the process of how a child learns is the most valuable part of the journey and not the collections of facts and rote skills they can ramble off or demonstrate on cue. A collected story or documentation shows that they have internalized a skill so deeply that they are able to use it in their life, play, and the real world. Which is much more relevant and important than being able to “test” correctly on a piece of information within one moment (e.g. find their friends name to put a letter in in by knowing it has an A first vs. one day in December pointing to an A on a pull out assessment, such as a DIBELS or Get it Got it Go).

Last year, I had a conversation with a parent about how her child was highly aware of having enough muffins in the package while grocery shopping for himself, his mom, his dad, and still enough for him to have one tomorrow. In his mind’s eye he calculated that he needed at least 4 muffins and that there were more than that (6). She wondered what was more valuable, that he could do that or was he behind on his skills because his fellow playmate could count to 100 and he could not. I hands down feel it is the muffin quantity. He was able to apply his knowledge to a real life context. He utilized his knowledge just as I had seen him do in the past when fixing a Tonka truck, he was looking for one round circle to replace a missing tire on a set of four. Navigating through daily challenges using problem solving and real world knowledge is most valuable.

The challenge for a teacher is that this type of knowledge is difficult to assess and monitor. It has to be captured. Documentation is truly the only way to understand, record, and collect evidence of learning during these moments because it is the map to how the child shows they know what they know. I could mark on a checklist that Jonathan knows how to identify the number 8 but if I snap a photo of him playing office with a keyboard and scribe a story or anecdotal note about how he noticed his glasses when turned make the shape of a number 8 just like on the keyboard – that shows context to the information gathered. It also is likely that this information will stay with the child for a lifetime. Brain research shows that we store memories by meaningful moments. Which would be more meaningful to you – reviewing a set of flashcards or learning how to write Mom on you picture of a rainbow for her?

Have you ever crammed for a test, remembering all of the vocabulary words for the next day, ace-ing it and then not remembering it when it came to finals time? Did you use the information in between that time? So why do we assume that children are vessels to carry facts? Why do we assume they should be assessed as so? or learn by collecting data and not memories?

Each year my methods for documentation varies – but it remains my life line to showing evidence of learning and communicating with families and the community. I tweak and learn things that improve my methods. There are a few things that stay the same: note taking, photos, and collecting samples of language and work. These are always elements I include. The devices I use, the methods I use to share the documentations, and my style of writing  documentations might change. This year there are two new elements to my documentation process: the use of a private education app Storypark and the style of sharing the information. I know tend to use a phone/tablet without access to personal information, work only when with the children (to take photos, videos, and notes). This makes my accessibility to a device easier, it fits in my apron pocket. My time is also saved by being able to link the stored photo or data to the app that is on the phone/tablet without using a lengthy download process by transferring them from a camera to another location or device for documenting.  As for the style shift, a new style that I have been fascinated by is called Learning Stories. It is a way of writing a letter directly to a child – noting the observations and possibilities of a particular experience. I find it to be very open, detailed oriented, and child honoring. A link to a detailed explanation and example can be seen here:

https://tecribresearch.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/documentation-and-assessment-the-power-of-a-learning-story-10/

 

Also, here is one of my own examples of a Learning Story:

story_image_v2_o_1a44kh47618i557snqq1o6v1ujq1h_640_wide

story_image_v2_o_1a44kg7q51qlqe07fcl12etilj_640_wide

(* Name and Photos edited and limited for privacy)

 

Edmon,
I marvel at the way you play family. You can often be spotted mixing something tasty in the kitchen or being the caregiver of a baby doll. Often when walking by the dramatic play area or playhouse I hear you negotiating your role in the family such as Brother, Daddy, or even pet dog. You are ready to take on your character with eager commitment. It is evident that as you play this nurturing role, you pour yourself into it- with lots of love and attention. An extra pinch or salt, a few more stirs, a tender hug – as you are practicing these roles, you are building your skills to be a kind and compassionate friend,  a collaborative playmate, and a tender father (much later in you future, of course).
Here is your story of ‘You and Your Baby Crumb’ :
Edmon:
“There’s a baby in my tummy.
I’m having a baby.
She is going to be born in one day.
She will be 6.
Her name is Crumb, like a cracker.
Here she comes. (Pulls her out and gently and snuggles her).”
Your smile as you look down at Crumb says it all.

Learning Tags: Social Emotional, Joy and Wonder, Dramatic Play

 

As an early childhood educator I feel taking the time to capture the moment deepens our relationships with the children and our abilities to be mindful and reflective educators. So with no further rambling I invite you to capture a moment: create a memory through experience or collect one by documenting the moment. Join the world of authentic assessment, document learning.

Advocacy

Sharing The Joy of Risk Taking

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.

20151030_093710 - Edited

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.

Advocacy

If There is One Thing You Will Do Tonight…

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!

The Environment

Literacy Development the Natural Way

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