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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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

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!!!!

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

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/

The How To Dos

What does a progressive school teacher do at the start of the school year?

This is going to come off harsh but it is from the heart.  What does a progressive school teacher do at the start of the school year?  Well, I could go on and on about what there is to do.  The fact is that the list would never end.  Just like your list it is endless and always in need of some TLC. But, I can tell you what I do not do.  I do not waste my time with “cute” curriculum and displays.  I could continue about why I don’t create bulletin boards that say “we are a ‘grape’ bunch” or “Reach for the Stars” reader reward display boards.  I am not saying you are wrong for doing them.  I get the reasoning behind it: welcoming children, displaying their name to make them feel honored or a part of the community, visually rewarding them with a hypothetical pat on back, etc.  I hear your voice defending your practice.  But, I think that when we start our year we have to think about how we value children.  Is my three hours spent on a “cute” bulletin board really showing I value the children?  Is it worth the investment?

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For me – I say no.  I need those three hours – I need them to learn the names of the children and families that are new.  I need to make sure the returning families feel welcome when they return.  I need to worry about the relationships that are going to be built the first week including the trust required, the risk of leaving home, and the challenge of diving into a new place and new learning experiences.  These pieces demand more than a welcome board or a cute display.  I need to know how I am going to interact, play, and bond with the children.  I need the environment to show the children that I value who they are and what they will do this year – I need those three hours more than I need just another welcome board.  The environment should scream – you are important!  You are not just another academic tea pot spilling over.  This is your home!  Think about how many hours they (and you for that matter) will spend in the classroom.  Do you think the owl on the wall under “hoot’s here?” is going to really show the children how you value them?

I need to make sure that there are clean pillows and a new look to the reading area so that it says COME SIT HERE and READ, that I have inspiring places for displays and creation work, that the play-dough is fresh, and my apron is stocked with all the right materials for documentation (because the children’s words are more important than a catchy welcome slogan). I do make sure their name and picture is around the room – on a journal that is all their own – not just on the wall.  But, I need open and inviting wall space (not cluttered and used up) that I can say “this is your space”, “make some art to put here”, “write a story to hang”, “engage in a deep exploration” so I can document and post it up, etc.  I need the room to feel cozy and home like.  If I plaster the walls with another paper cut out then it takes away from that.

I need to make sure they find themselves in each area.  Do they have a book to draw and write in that is just for them?  Do they have a name plate in the pile at the writing table?  Do they have a cubby space?  Do they have their favorite book in the library?  Are there trains, fish, dollies, and any other favorites that fit their interest?  Will they be inspired to learn?  I don’t want a child to feel just like another grape in the bunch.  I want them to explore and explode with passion when they find their place.  There is only so much passion handed out on a paper cut out display full of slogans and names.  It calls them to be a part of the crowd and instead I want them to be a part of a community (while still being an individual).

So simply out of love and not judgement… I challenge you.  What will your three hours be spent on?  Another bulletin board?

I will be helping my fellow teachers re-stage the reading area: less books, more soft fabric, and changing the feel to a cozy cocoon like feel – a private place for books and reading.  I will be designing a blank garden display board – waiting for the children to choose what project and documentation should go up there.  I will be printing new picture labels for portfolios that are stored empty and ready to be filled and set accessible at child reach.  I will be meeting with my fellow teachers to study new rosters, plan for the first week, and set goals for the year.

We will be putting their pictures on new journals.  We will use their names and pictures for creating keyword cards that help with name writing and signing in but not for a “cute” cookie cutter display board.  If I want the children to feel their presence I will display photos taken from classroom experiences or brought from home.  We have “about me” books with home pictures and stories available for the children to browse.  But, I have also seen in other classrooms a beautiful set up of empty picture frames that get filled with pictures of the children and their families the first week.  I have done family collages on the wall at eye level for toddlers in the past.  Yes, it is important to welcome and include the children.  But, how we do that is a value based statement.  We value the whole child and each child’s individuality. We are a community or better yet a family so at school we create the environment to be as comforting, personal, and as natural as possible.  If we value each child personally for who they are as a member of the community then there has to be more than just a cut out on the wall with a name and there has to be space they can call their own.  Aiming for aesthetically pleasing attributes, authentic inclusion (real photos or personal materials), and inviting blank spaces (that they can fill) are key when the year begins.

For more on staging beautiful environments – visit a past post: https://noproprogressiveed.com/2013/02/12/aesthetically-pleasing-enviroments/

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