Advocacy

There is a Time to Write and a Time to Share …

This is a time to share … with education likely coming up against some pretty big walls in the near future I was happy to see the NY Times driving some positive vibes on the EC front. Did you see the article that is basically saying that preschool is about PLAY and Relationships!!!!???? I mean if you summed up their portrait of the school you should be shopping for I essentially interpret it as that. So read on my fellow EC people, Preschool Shoppers, and the like!!! This is what preschool should look like and I feel lucky to say that my typical day is not too far off from this!!!

 

 

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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:

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(* 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.

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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.

Advocacy

For the First Years

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

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!!!!

Advocacy

100 Languages of Children: The Beauty of Reggio

The Hundred Languages

The child is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred.

Always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

Reggio by far has been one of my favorite progressive genres.  I love that it serves as a model for reflecting the children and community into its methods.  Respectful relationships, beautiful environments, and child centered practices are just a couple things that sell me on this genre of education.  The above poem sums up a lot of what is crucial for every child on a daily basis.  Children deserve to be heard and it is all to often that their needs and desires are neglected for an adult agenda.  When is the last time you let a child share one of their hundred languages?

For more Reggio resources check out:

http://www.reggiochildren.it/identita/reggio-emilia-approach/?lang=en

http://reggioalliance.org/

http://www.amazon.com/Spirit-Studio-Learning-Childhood-Education/dp/080774591X/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1411279979&sr=8-10&keywords=reggio

http://www.branchesatelier.com/

Advocacy

Ode to the Super Mom

 So here is me on most days … Ready to conquer the world and play!

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Yep.  Play!  Because that is crucial to human development and early childhood.  So when I look at my $60000+ in student loans some days I am like “yikes!” But most days I am like “yeah!  I got this!”.  So you can imagine I feel quite invested in my work with the children – and not just because of the dollar signs but because I love what I do, I feel it is important, and I see how children benefit from it everyday!

People ask me “why don’t you just teach public school and get all the benefits and security and money…. Waa. Wa wa wa wa”.  photo 2photo 3

They are shocked and appalled that I would invest so much of my time, money, and self in “baby sitting” and silly affairs such as “Play”.  Well I do not sit on babies and PLAY is serious stuff (but that is another topic in need of a  blog posting).

AND… “Been there done that, and it is not for me” is the short story…

 When you are an advocate for play and early childhood and you are put in the PS (public school) box.  PS becomes a bunch of BS (excuse my blunt language)… I just can’t do it.  When I am in that arena I have one million things going through my head about what the children are missing (play, recess, social development, autonomy, identity, time, joy, etc.) that I can’t seem to open that scripted book and shove all that material and testing in their little heads.   It just goes against everything I have worked towards for children.  Don’t get me wrong there are some great crusaders out there that can do it in a fairly appropriate way and they will change the world for some young children  – but my battle is not fought inside out from the PS but outside in.

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Sure I want everyone to hear Vivian Paley’s message of “who will save the kindergarten?”  (http://www.naeyc.org/content/who-will-save-kindergarten) because it is important.  (It was a great keynote to see).  Someone has to do it (save the kindergarten) and I want to help too but just not from the PS platform.

 So I am here in sunny CA  living the dream of an advocate and early childhood educator as I PLAY and promote PLAY and protect PLAY each day in a progressive nature preschool.  And I love it!  The children love it!  And I get to see them learn and grow each day in amazing ways.

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So now you are wondering what does this have to do with becoming a Super Mom…

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Well here it is… Truth is I am not a Mom yet and even though I want to be someday soon – I am not!  And it puts me at a super disadvantage.  Because some days I am stuck in my young naive and triumphant ways – busy trying to conquer the EC world. That I forget just how hard it is to be a Mom… So I will be teaching, blogging, book club-ing, volunteering, reading an EC book,  going to trainings, working on school projects, and when it comes to others being a part of those things or taking on similar projects – I think wouldn’t it be great if everyone put in their all and dedicated their whole self to this cause!  It would change the world for sure!

AND… out of my ignorant mouth or head pops up “I don’t understand why people just can’t … Blah blah blah”.   And later I realize … “Oh yeah… They are a Mom”.  One of the most important jobs in the world!

They are the people who brought the little people into this world… First people to love them, to teach them, and first people to make children their priority.  Super important work!

So while I am busy in the EC world wondering what everyone else is doing – 80% of the time I could really step back and see all the amazing people doing what they can and trying to be a Super Mom at the same time.  And if we really think about it all those small things and big things mixed together add up – they count!  So I want to say Thank You to all those Moms!

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Because truth is I have no idea how I am going to do it!  How am I going to be this loving, nurturing, holistic, present Mom and still change the EC world?  Because while most days I look like this.

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Some days I look like this.

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So if I already have those days how will I ever be on top of my game on both being a teacher and a Mom?

I don’t have the answers yet.

But what really came out of all this wondering is that I know a lot of SUPER MOMS!  And not because they have perfected the process but because they do their little parts in the world around them – whether it is career, community, or what have you and they have also been loving, caring, compassionate, and, loving Moms – all at the same time.  They haven’t perfected balancing the world and Mommy-hood but they have done a darn good job at managing everything while still loving, nurturing, and providing for their little one.  I see them make consciousnesses choices everyday about the well being and happiness for their children.  And most likely if I know them then that means they are letting their child PLAY – which is one giant step towards making the right decisions for your little person (in my biased but educated opinion).

So here is to the Moms!

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 Ignore all the young overachieving judging comments from people – because chances are they never sat down to think about just how hard it might be.  That saying – ” ignorance is bliss”…. might be true but “understanding is the first step to acceptance”.  Truth be told the world could use a whole lot more understanding and acceptance.  We could use more praise for Moms and less judgment – isn’t that what we want to teach our children anyways?
So I know today I won’t figure out how to balance it all yet – because I am not in that world yet.  But I can extend my apologies and gratitude to all those Super Moms in the world and challenge others to do the same.

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