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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, February 14, 2015

CONFERENCE REFLECTIONS

I never really know what to expect when I run a session that is billed as a building workshop. There are always plenty of raw materials like cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes and duct tape; there are simple tools like utility knives and saws.  And I introduce the building framework that I use when I build (see the righthand column of this blog). Since it is an open-ended process, though, there is no way to know what the participants will build.  All the materials, the tools and the ideas I present have no meaning until participants turn the inert into inertia by going through the building process themselves.

In a recent conference building session, I came away with the following reflections.

BABY STEPS
Start with a simple construction.  If you are relatively knew to the building process, do not begin with your masterpiece.  Some of the most dynamic apparatus I have built are also the simplest.  How about a tube through a box?
This is very simple, but still poses some decisions and challenges.  The decisions begin with the orientation of the tube: will it be on an incline, vertical or horizontal?  Challenges include how to make the holes so the tube actually goes through and how do you tape around the circular tube to make it stay put inside the box.

BE WILLING TO MAKE CHANGES AS YOU GO ALONG
In this particular workshop, one group wanted to cut the cardboard tube lengthwise to create two half tubes.  
This is doable, but hard given allotted time and the tools that were on hand.  This group was not afraid to change the plan midway through the process.  They cut the tube, but only four inches in and created a notch in the tube.  (The notch is valuable because it allows better pouring access for the children.)

THERE IS EXCITEMENT IN BUILDING IN A ROOM OF BUILDERS
The hum and the buzz is electrifying.  To be sure, it is not a competition, but a place and a time to experiment and to share insights.

NEGOTIATE AND ACCOMMODATE
I overheard one person tell another building partner: "Oh, is that what you meant?  I thought you meant…"
Sounds to me like they were practicing a skill that we ask children to engage in all the time.  

WHAT WILL THE CHILDREN DO WITH IT?
When asked about how the children will use the apparatus, some flat out said they did not know. Eureka!  We may have some idea how the children might use the apparatus, but ceding control to the children once the apparatus is done is what it is all about. 
The next step is to observe how the children use the apparatus.  When I observe, I learn about how the children make meaning out of the contraption and, in the process, get other ideas for extending learning invitations for the children.

CREATIVITY
We all want it.  We all got it.  Creativity is an interesting phenomenon.  It is not inert and can only be realized in action.  So why don't we see it in ourselves?  Everything that participants built in this session was created, thus creative.

So what stops us from creating?  Are we afraid that we are not creative enough?  Jeanne, from Museum Notes, alludes to one quality that is needed when she talks about an 'experimental mindset.'  One of the features includes not knowing the outcome, but willing to engage in the process.  Another feature of the mindset is to be open in that process so you can be "... alert to fortuitous accidents and unintended consequences–and make good use of both."  

As adults, our experimental mindset is not as fluid nor as flexible as that of a child so we need to work at it a little harder.   The effort to enter into that mindset is well worth it, though, because it is the portal into the child's mind.




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