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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.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

COLORADO EVENT

I want thank Janiece Kneppe Walter and Kathleen DeVries, the EC faculty at Red Rocks Community College in Denver, for doing such a wonderful job yesterday of hosting the event Celebrating Men in the Lives of Young Children.  I know they were a little disappointed with the turnout, but that allowed for a less formal presentation and a more intimate conversation among the participants.  The dialogue before, during, and after was very thought provoking.  One point that was made by one of the participants that really hit home was: Don't give me kudos for being a man in EC, but give me kudos for being a good teacher.  Interestingly enough, this was the first time Janiece and Kathleen were outnumbered by men at an EC event.

In preparing for this event, I changed the emphasis of my usual talk just a bit.  I started to think about what makes early childhood spaces inviting to the children.

Inviting spaces offer:
                   1)  Open-ended materials and activities

                   2)  Challenges in all areas of development
                                 * Social/Emotional
                                 * Cognitive
                                 * Physical

                   3)  Time and space for the children's agenda

The most important one for me at the moment is #3.  Early in my career, I remember planning all this stuff for the children to do.  In essence, it was my agenda.  Now I put more emphasis in setting up the spaces with #1 and #2 above, so the children can make meaningful decisions every day as to what to pursue depending on their needs and interests.  The end result is a room full of self-regulated children totally engaged in the life of the room.

Did you notice that there was nothing about cute or pretty in my list?  Cute and pretty from an adult's perspective may not be cute and pretty from a child's perspective.  I don't even use the word attractive, probably for the same reason.  Maybe I am just trying to excuse myself because many of the things I make with duct tape and cardboard are not pretty.  They sometimes look real messy to me, like I have just raided the garbage bin---which may not be too far from the truth.  I mean, what's attractive about old planter trays and cardboard boxes covered in duct tape?
From an aesthetic point of view, I do not think this is very attractive.  From a functional point of view, from lean-about-how-the-physical-world-works point of view, though, it is highly inviting.

Attractive or inviting?  Are those two separate questions?

One final note about the event.  I got to hear the other speaker, Doug Gertner, talk about how to make an early childhood setting more inviting for dads.  It is an important topic and he did it well. You can find him at www.thegratefuldad.org



6 comments:

  1. Hi Tom
    It's wonderful to be open minded and willing to change as we, ourselves, live and experience more. My philosophy has changed greatly since I first started in this field. I love how I've taken away most of the stress on myself to plan every part of the day and now allow the families to lead. It's very rewarding for all.
    And I like to use the word 'inviting' because like you said attractive can mean different things to different people. If I can make the areas in my room inviting for the children and their grown ups to want to explore then I've helped them along the way to learning more about what interests them.

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    1. Well said Maureen. You will find those that say that they won't do anything or they are not learning "what they need to." All they do is play. I guess I trust the children and their own abilities too much.

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    2. Just to stir things up a little - but doesn't the word "inviting" mean different things for different people. What is inviting to one person may not be for another...

      I think if we are coming from our observations of children and their interests then whether or not we choose to use the word inviting or attractive makes little difference - its the fact that they are attractive (as attracting attention/interest rather than beautiful) or inviting in the eyes of the children, rather than the teachers/adults that is the ESSENTIAL part. Is it BEAUTIFUL in the eyes of the children... it matters not what words we use, they are all subjective in the end (tomorrow I will be having a discussion about exactly this with my colleagues - about finding a common language - as even amongst teachers we interpret words differently - what is a child, what is play, what is respect etc etc?).

      I agree that we should be aiming to entice from the perspective of the child rather than the adult - to capture their imagination and to trigger further exploration ...

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    3. Suzanne, I thought we all spoke the same language and we all know what each other means. All kidding aside, part of the reason I wrote this little piece was because the word cute is used so much in our work, that I refuse to use it. If fact, I challenge anyone I work with to tell me what that means. Most of them have quit using the word---at least around me.

      From my study of the Hungarian preschool system back in the 70s and my current reading of Reggio publications, I know aesthetics or beauty are very important from both of their perspectives. I am trying to come to terms with the beauty they talk about and the stuff I build for the sensory table, which from an aesthetic point of view, has much to be desired.

      Your points are well taken and I really appreciate the dialogue. Any time you want to stir things up, feel free. I would be interested to know how your discussion goes.

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    4. Interesting points about attractiveness in a play space. I think what makes your sand and water tables so attractive, Tom, (other than sparking a desire for play and exploration) is the fact that if a child were able to construct one of your apparatuses, it would probably look similar to what you make. And I mean that as a compliment. Most children would tape things together, and if it serves their purpose, then it's a success. I think that adds to the appeal.

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    5. Thanks Bebe. I will take it as a compliment because I think children are so creative. I have never thought of it that way, though. I have tried to think about how to bring them into the process of constructing. Your comment gives me another prod.

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