Advocacy

A Culture With No Mistakes

Education today is heading in a direction where play is being undervalued and testing is being overvalued. There are many challenges as a play advocate and it becomes discouraging to find just the right evidence that will convince others to support PLAY as a learning vehicle for children versus rote instruction, worksheets, and testing. Past and much of current education is designed on the model of following instructions and not on being leaders and thinkers. Yet, we want our children to become inventors, problem solvers, and successful active members of society. Part of being successful is failure … making mistakes. We grade children and ridicule them for such things … we teach them to feel shame for failing and not to learn from it. We create children that are afraid to fail and take risks. But, play does allow this. It is a free space to try and try again, to fail, to test out ideas, to take risks. Play builds confidence, self-worth, and a space for mistakes.

 

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Last week I attended a Playworker Camp-ference (yes camp not conf-) hosted by SCV Adventure Play and I started to think about just this … I started collecting and reaffirming the WHYS of PLAY. One of the playworkers there that most resonated with me was Fraser Brown … I found myself too deep in thought and listening to take notes or comment when he spoke. But, the one note I wrote down was on a scrap of paper … unconditional positive regard. It stuck with me … something all children deserve …   Carl Rogers a humanistic psychologist outlines it with a definition that states “Unconditional positive regard is where parents, significant others (and other close people to the subject) accepts and loves the person for what he or she is.  Positive regard is not withdrawn if the person does something wrong or makes a mistake” (Saul McLeod, 2014).

Rogers believed that people who were raised within this genuine and positive environment would be able to reach goals, achieve desires and wishes, and grow – basically raising children in a culture of being able to be accepted and receive empathy while learning from mistakes. And that is a HUGE reason of why I believe in PLAY and respecting children. Are you willing to support a culture that allows for NO mistakes or are you willing to support PLAY, risk taking and learning for children?

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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!!!

 

 

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

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!

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

Learning Through Play?

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Came across this amazing cartoon this morning while browsing through a group I am in on Facebook.  Yes, sometimes I am a social media junkie.  But, most of my social media junkie moments are still focused in the EC world.  Yes, I still need a life.

But, back to the important part – this cartoon!  What I love about this is that we can probably all relate to this.  Many parents are wondering just how is play learning?  And we are struggling on how to communicate it!  This cartoon breaks down just a few ways that learning and growth is happening during play.  Now the fiery passionate advocate in me could continue to be flustered over this or I could step back and realize that knowing play is learning is not something that comes naturally to everyone – and really not to us either.  If you are teaching through play, chances are that you have spent time studying play while obtaining a certificate or degree, reading books, attending conferences, and the many ways early childhood advocates refine their knowledge.  So, why do we get baffled when a parent wants evidence?  Many of us, I am sure, just want all of humanity to honor childhood for the joy and window of wonder it is.  The push down of American education has greatly taken its toll on childhood and the preservation of play.  The obsession with results has hindered the ability to nurture children with love and support as they grow into whole beings and not just brains filled with splinter skills.  So as educators how do we battle the inevitable.  The fact that society is pushing traditional skill driven education is not going to change over night.  What can we do today to sell PLAY?

I think the first step is to find tidbits like these cartoons to share with parents and community members.  Small steps sometimes take us on far journeys.  Each day as early childhood educators we fight for children and their right to play but sometimes we forget to create allies with small steps.

Take a small step… share this cartoon or simple supportive bits of evidence of how play is learning.  Maybe it is a photo with a caption, a brief article, a documentation sample… Take a moment to share the little pieces that sold you on PLAY, these little pieces might just be what changes the world for children, education, and you as an educator.