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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, August 16, 2014


This past week I was asked to do a workshop in Indiana for a program that serves school age children before and after school.   I found presenting to a school age staff an interesting request because I have been working exclusively with children birth to five for over 36 years.  It is true that when older children visit my room, one of the main areas they frequent is the sensory table.

The workshop request came from the executive administrator of the program.  She had heard me talk at the national NAEYC conference a couple of years ago.  She knew my view of children and she knew I like to construct with cardboard and duct tape.  She was looking for a way to get the staff interested in promoting the construction of contraptions by the school age children in their program.  

When my contact made the request, she specifically alluded to Caine's Arcade and thought the staff could possibly try their hands at making arcade games much like Caine did in his father's auto parts store in East Los Angeles.  I saw Caine's Arcade over a year ago, so I knew what she was talking about.  To prepare for the workshop, I revisited the short movie.

Once a person gets over the WOW of what this nine-year-old created, there are a few important lessons from the phenomenon.

One lesson is that no one does this alone.  Sure, Caine built all the arcade games himself, but it would never have become a phenomenon without the filmmaker who played Caine's arcade game. Because he saw the genius of Caine, he wanted to tell what he thought was a compelling story. Though we are not privy to the actual making of the film, credits at the end tell the story of collaboration.  In addition, it only becomes a compelling story if it resonates with others, which it did.  (Can you imagine what would have happened to the arcade and Caine if the filmmaker had not come along?)

Another lesson is the power of a child's imagination.  Caine's first game was created using a small basketball hoop he got at a fast food restaurant.  He taped it to a box and made a paper ball for shooting.  If someone won at one of the arcade games, Caine would go inside the box and push out tickets because that is where tickets come from when a person wins at an arcade game. Caine did not create whiz-bang games that were colorful and had lights.  He was recreating the arcade games with cardboard boxes and tape and the whiz-bang was in his head.  Not only do children build and create like Caine, but the power of their imagination fills in all the unpolished edges of the action to make it something special that adults sometimes have a hard time recognizing.

Yet another lesson is that a compelling story is inspirational.  That is clearly seen in Caine's Arcade Chapter 2  which contains a segment that shows children sending Caine videos of their arcade creations and thanking him for the inspiration.

There may even be one final lesson: there is creativity in all of us.  I saw it last Monday in the workshop.  There were six groups and no two constructions were the same.  One was a spaceship with a stirring wheel that turned.  One was a robot. One was a tree. One was a full blown engineering project to move marbles down tubes. One was an arcade game. And one was a town complete with an underground tube.

I want to thank Dr. Sandra Duncan for inviting me to work with her staff.  If you believe that the classroom environment contributes to children's learning and overall wellbeing, I urge you to check out a book she co-authored called Inspiring Spaces for Young Children.

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