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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, September 5, 2015

EXTRAORDINARY IN THE ORDINARY

For the past year or so, I have been fascinated by the ordinary life of the classroom.   I would step back to assay the flow in the room. Who played with whom?  Who led?  Who followed? Who watched? What spaces did they occupy? How did they inhabit those spaces?  How did they move throughout the room? How did they intersected with others in their play? What objects did they chose to play with?  How did they use those objects?

Why had I become so interested in the ordinary?  I found a rationale in a book I read this summer called  Dancing with Reggio Emilia: metaphors of quality, by Stefania Gamminuti, an Australian educator who turned her dissertation into a book about how she came to understand the life of the children, teachers and parents in the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  As someone who has never visited Reggio Emilia, this book gave me the clearest picture of what it means to be Reggio-inspired.  By using metaphors, all of which are anchored by pedagogical documentation, Stefania lays out her understanding of the underlying values that inform the practice of teaching and learning in the schools of Reggio Emilia.  Here is an example:

"Pedagogical documentation speaks of gestures of hope,
 possibility, and imaginations, enabling a shared sense of belonging
to a community of learners/dreamers and building a new
culture of childhood.  As such, documentation can be viewed 
metaphorically as a narrative of possibility." (p. 312)

Chapter Four, which is entitled "The Value of Rich Normality: The Extraordinary in the Ordinary," offered me justification for my interest in the ordinary.  I understand it this way.  The ordinary is the context for the extraordinary. You do not plan for the extraordinary.  It emerges out of the "everyday encounters with materials, situations and tools which are not extraordinary in themselves…" (p. 84).

The video below taken more than five years ago is an example of the extraordinary arising from the ordinary.  The child, who had been putting sand down a long incline chute, discovered that he could roll objects down the chute.  Each time he rolled something new down the chute, he squealed with glee as he watched what he set in motion.

Joy from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The incline was a cardboard packing corner from a refrigerator box.  The objects he found in the table to roll down the incline were comprised of a metal measuring cup, a yellow plastic bowl and red plastic container bottom.  Those were pretty normal materials.  From those simple materials, though, this child created his own physics experiment.  

Another example of the extraordinary emerging from the ordinary can be seen in my post from last January called Classroom Photo of the Year.  I called the photo The Wondrous in the Everyday.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, a child experimented with making balancing structures from the some of the most ordinary materials in the classroom.  As the picture shows, his focus was complete as he tried to balance an old plastic measuring cup on a cardboard tube that was placed inside a plastic coffee can.  

Everyday in the classroom, even the mundane is transformed into something marvelous in the child's eyes.

As the school year begins anew, my goal is to embrace the ordinary life and flow in the classroom so I can "…wonder alongside children at the precious in the small, the meaningful in the invisible, the rich in the everyday and normal."(p. 100)

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