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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

HERESY?

This posting is an extension of this post that featured a simple apparatus with gems, sticks and stones.  Here is the apparatus.

Here are the loose elements offered with the apparatus

I was struck by a couple play scenarios that emerged around this apparatus that question my role as a teacher.  In the first scenario, there is one main player.   He has filled the five-gallon pail with the gems, sticks, and rocks.  He says it is very heavy, so I ask him to show me.  He finishes emptying another cup of rocks and then demonstrates how heavy the bucket is.


At first he hams it up by demonstrating how heavy it with highly exaggerated motions.  He pretends to pull really hard on the handle.  As he pulls, he lets his hand slip off the handle and jumps backward and falls onto the ground.  He does it again.  I then challenge him on his effort by telling him he did not really try to lift the bucket.  He took up the challenge and strained to lift the bucket.  This effort had the same result with his hand coming off the handle and him falling backwards onto the ground.  At the end, his sister comes into the picture and lifts up the handle of the bucket as if to try to lift it.   The boy comes back to get his cup and sees his sister lifting up the handle.  He grabs the handle, too, and gives it a good pull.

Shortly after this, I again record him putting more rocks into the bucket.  As he is pouring the rocks he states: "Nobody can ever lift it up." 


Was that his original intention or did he justify his actions because I challenged him?   I know he was hamming it up when he first demonstrated how heavy the bucket was, so the act of questioning and video taping changed his behavour.  But did my attempt to find reason in his assertion nudge him into an attempt to justify what he was doing?  Did I subtley insert my agenda into his play agenda?  As a teacher, do I always have to ask those questions that focus the child's attention onto learning something or explaining something?  What would happen if I just stepped back to observe and enjoy the children's play and asked no questions.

That is actually what happens in another play scenario that emerged with this set up.  The class began with a child having a separation issue.  Because the child needed my immediate and complete attention, I was no where near the sensory table.  When the child was settled, but still needed comforting, I noticed something was going on at the sensory table across the room.  At that point,  I began to video tape from a distance.  Watch and see if you can figure out what is going on.


What you saw was 7 children ages 3 to 5 huddled around one end of the table.  You can't see what they are doing and neither could I.  What struck me was the focus on a common goal and the cooperation between all the children.  At that point it did not matter what they were doing.  What mattered was how they came to be engaged in this all-engrossing activity.  Some of what it took was having the opportunity to negotiate and decide on a common goal and on roles of the individuals to reach that goal without an adult presence or intervention.

These two scenarios got me thinking: Is it heresy for me to question my role as "teacher" to feel the need to always come up with activities that teach something and to always ask questions that direct children's focus so they are learning something?  Can I actually allow children in the classroom their own space and time for their own agenda?

8 comments:

  1. I believe as a teacher we set up our program with activities to teach in many ways. I love when I see children doing something with the activities I never thought of. That is learning to me and for me.
    They are brainstorming, negotiating, learning how to trust themselves and others. That is what I hope for for each child.

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    1. It is true that I set up the room and the materials in the room. I am finding, though, the more time I spend observing children, the more I value the activities they create themselves despite my intentions when setting up the room. And maybe that is what you are saying, too.

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  2. I think that is the value of creating meaningful and open ended learning experiences.
    We set them up, but the kids through their own personal exploration take it to new directions that we may have never consider.
    However, it all starts with the environment that we set up for them. Getting rid of our expectations as teachers and just observe, is the second (and sometimes hard) step

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    1. Nicely said. Part of my motivation for the post was that I see play and learning as synomous so one does not have to justify the other

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  3. I have pondering this very question lately. Young children learn best through play, setting the environment up to invite them to learn through play, then assessing if they learned a particular goal. That has been my way of thinking, but lately I have been finding myself questioning if I need to be assessing, because like questioning, am I leading them away from what they really need to be learning at that particular moment. I have even see children walk away from the play if I intrude (even to just watch close by) on the work they are involved in or act "silly" or "staged" like your little guy. A right answer... not sure there is one :)

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    1. Nice observation. I sometimes think in our effort to teach we push our agenda and crowd out the children's agenda. It is difficult to let go and trust the children in their own learning.

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  4. I know I'm a little late to the conversation, but I really enjoyed this post! I think I tend toward the opposite: lots of observation of kids and trusting their play, but I'd like to improve my intentionality. I taught preschool for years, and had goals and objectives for my lessons, then moved to infants and toddlers and really immersed myself in observing. Now I'm at home (which is such a different environment than working in a center with other adults), and it's hard to be as intentional as I'd like when I'm the sole caregiver. It's all about balance, isn't it? Loved reading this!
    -Katy Barrett

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    1. Thanks, Katy. The minute we think we have the right answer, the conversation ends. Hopefully, our questions and musings lead to more of the same. The apparatus I write about in the blog are intentionally made by me with some ideas about how I think the children might approach them. What the children actually do with them is not dictated at all by my intentions. Intentionality resurfaces as I look at what I have documented and offer that to others for examination and comment.

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