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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 12, 2016

Baby washing 2016

One of the posts that has gotten the most hits in the five plus years of blogging is the baby washing post.  There is really nothing particularly unusual in an early childhood classroom about washing babies.   Adding a clothesline so children could wash and hang clothes at the same time, though, was out of the ordinary and seemed to spark the interest of other early childhood teachers.
In that first version, I took wood scraps and drilled holes an inch or so from one end which would be the top.  I then taped the wooden rods to the end of the table and then threaded the clothesline through the poles.

This year,  I decided not to use the wooden poles.  Instead I cut PVC pipes for poles.  These poles were sturdier, but just as easy to make.
I decided to make one small change in the configuration of this apparatus.  I strung the two clotheslines at two different levels.  I was thinking of Axiom #3 on the right hand column of this blog: children welcome more levels of play and exploration in an apparatus.  In addition, I added a table (my toddler sensory table with a cover) with towels so the children could bring the babies out of the water to dry them off and dress them as if on a changing table.

It is usually at this point in the blog I write about what kinds of play the apparatus fosters.  This week I will digress.

I work in a family education program called Early Childhood Family Education(ECFE).  The program is part of Community Education in almost every school district in the State of Minnesota.   In my district, the parents and children come once a week for a two hour class.  The class includes a parent and child time together in the early childhood classroom for half hour and a parent education component and early childhood component that run concurrently in separate rooms for the remaining one and a half hours.  Families sign up each semester, but most attend the full school year for a total of 34 to 36 sessions.  My site is one of 11 sites throughout the city.  We have nine separate classes so we serve about 125 families a week.  One of the strengths of this program is that it is an universal access program with tuition based on a sliding fee scale.

Once a semester, the early childhood teacher is asked to go into the parent room to explain what goes on in the early childhood classroom while the parents are in their parent education session.  This past week was the week for me to talk to the parents about what the children are learning in my classroom.

I told the parents that when I come to school each morning I do not know what the children will learn.  That surprised some because they thought I would have concrete learning objectives for all the activities in the room.   That is not to say they will not learn; they are learning machines. Rather, when they come into my room they are able to choose their own activities and direct their own learning.

I like to use concrete examples when I talk to the parents about what the children are learning.  Let me take one from the baby washing setup.  The example really has very little to do with baby washing.  Rather, it is one of those tangential activities in Axiom #7 on the right hand side of this blog.

I approached the clothesline and baby washing table from another area in my room and noticed something unusual.  Why were the pans full of water underneath the changing table?

I stayed around a few minutes and I was able to capture how the pans got there. 

Makeshift oven from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

When I asked the child why was he putting the pans under the table, he told me he was cooking and that was his oven. 

So what is the child learning?  Physically, he is learning to control his large and small muscles so he spills as little as possible while he walks and squats down to place the container on the floor.  Social/emotionally, he is learning to negotiate a joint activity with a friend.  Cognitively, he is learning to create a play scenario and solve all the problems that come with sustaining that play scenario.  The beauty of this scenario is that it was authentic, meaning it was coming from the children in an attempt to make sense of their world. 

When I came in that morning, I had absolutely no inkling that baby washing would turn into a cooking experience with the space underneath the changing table turning into makeshift oven.  Actually, it is not unusual for me to not know what will happen on any given day in any given area of my room.  I am comfortable---and energized---in the ambiguity of not knowing.

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