About Me

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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, June 11, 2016

Party

I have been thinking about retiring for over a year.  One of my big concerns was: What kind of party do I want because I knew the families in our program would want to throw a party.  That was especially true because my colleague and mentor, Lani Shapiro, whom I have worked with for the past eight years, was retiring with me.  Lani was the parent educator in the program and had worked very hard with the families to build a community, a community that looks inward at its values and outward to use those values to build a bigger, more inclusive community.  To be true to our values, we wanted a celebration that included past and present families.  We wanted a celebration that would bring them all together, not to talk about us, but to talk with us and with each other.  We also had an obligation---yes, an obligation---to have the children be an integral part of the celebration.

In early winter, I had a meeting with an group of educators I meet with on a monthly basis to talk about large muscle play in the classroom.  As we were leaving the meeting, one of the members off-evenhandedly asked another member about their adventure play event at his school.  That question was all that was needed for the light to go on.  I had read blogs over the past couple of years that talked about adventure play events.  The one I have seen the most is Pop-up Adventure Play.   It just so happens that the member asking the question is involved in Twin City Adventure Play.  In January, I asked to meet with the group to talk about the possibility of doing our retirement party.  I liked what I heard and asked them to give me a proposal I could send along to our advisory council.  When the advisory council saw the proposal, they were on board immediately.

Fast forward to last Saturday.  Parents had been gathering cardboard boxes of all sizes, cardboard tubes, fabric, sticks, rods, tape and you-name-it for two weeks.   It was time to party.  All the materials were laid out on the lawn.
It might look like a recycling nightmare, but this was the invitation for the children to play.

The coordinator gathered the volunteers for a brief training, a training that encompassed their role in the event.
Essentially they were to act as play workers to step back and monitor the play from the background and to only intervene when play looked dangerous.  They were also encouraged to help other adults step back to let the children play.

Of course, as the children arrived, they knew immediately what to do. No instructions were necessary; no dividing up into groups; no dividing into age groups.  This was their play space to create their own narratives.



As the afternoon progressed, more and more people came and everyone kept busy.  The adults got to visit and the children played.  Old acquaintances were renewed and new friends were made.
There were short bursts of rain throughout the afternoon, but that did not dampen play.  In fact, when it would rain, the adults retreated under the eaves of the school and the children kept right on creating, usually fabricating little shelters from the rain.

At the end, there was a little talking to the group about us and we got to thank the families for all they had given us over the years. 

As I drove home from the event, I could not stop smiling.  I was ecstatic; I was floating on air.  Ostensibly the families had come to celebrate our retirement.  In actuality they came to celebrate a community; a community of families they had helped build over the years that respects children and their rights, that respects others and are not so quick to judge; a community that knows how to build community and will carry on. 

We had well over 400 people who came and went throughout the afternoon.  Sadly, I did not even get to talk to everyone who came.  So let me now say to all of you: thank you for a splendid party.  It was a superb sendoff.

P. S. I need to send a special thank you to Seniz and Damian from Twin City Adventure Play
for creating the framework for our community to pull off this event.  I hope others come to see the value in your work and guidance.

I also need to give a special thank you to the planning committee who spent many hours planning the event not really knowing what would happen but having the faith and conviction to make it happen.  Thank you Nora, Vanessa, Anne, Brianna, Becca, Ella, and Dawn.  You throw a great party!

12 comments:

  1. Tom - This is a wonderful retirement party and so much more fun than many. I note with interest that you still have plenty of cardboard tubes featuring in the loose parts play!

    You have inspired my work for years. Just 2 weeks ago I was giving a presentation explaining how your elements and axioms apply to early years educators looking at the use of their outdoor space.

    I hope you enjoy your retirement. But I also hope that this is "so long but not goodbye" and that you do continue to blog every now and then. And even find time to return to the UK.

    Best wishes - Juliet

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    1. Juliet, I may have inspired you but you have inspired me, too. Many, many thanks. I remember so well your container that was so organized with loose parts. I need help organizing!

      To tell you the truth I am a little nervous with this transition. Big transitions are unsettling. I would very much like to return to the UK, maybe next year. I will be in touch.

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  2. What a spectacular idea!!! Congratulations to both of you and best wishes for further and future adventures.

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    1. It was a no-brainer. It may have been about me and Lani, but it was really about the children.

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  3. Congratulations on your retirement Tom, looks like an extra special party. What's on the agenda now?

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    1. Thanks Tess. I have been toying with the idea of doing a few more workshops and conferences. I actually have four between now and October. I do have a dream of visiting Australia :-)

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  4. What a lovely thing, Tom. Best of luck in all you do and thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Lesley. I will be presenting at the WAEYC in October so I will be in your neck of the woods. If time allows, I may ask to drop by for a visit. Your work is pretty special, too.

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  5. I will certainly miss your unique and fascinating constructions. As a special ed. teacher and creator of materials, I got so many good ideas from your work! I have recommended your blog to many, many educators with whom I have worked. I hope the next phase of your life is filled with joy, good health and creativity.
    Best to you Tom,
    Eileen

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    1. Thanks for the well wishes Eileen. I have always been surprised at the number of special ed people who follow my blog. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised because for the past twenty years, I have always had a child or two with special needs and they often gravitated to the sensory table. One of our jobs as early childhood educators is to shepherd children transitions. But who will shepherd us? All the best. Tom

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  6. Congratulations on your retirement and what sounds like the perfect send-off for a man who dedicated his life to encouraging children's discoveries! I hope our paths cross again at some point in the next phase of your life and career, whatever that might be. In the meantime, all the best to you!

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    1. Thanks Holly. With rain and shine the event went even better than I imagined with children of all ages, who may or may not have known each other, building and playing. And the adults had time to visit without worrying about what their children were doing. Keep in touch and hopefully our paths will cross again. Tom

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