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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.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Lesson plans---or not

For the past couple of years, I have been questioning my role as a teacher in an early childhood classroom.  What did I really teach?  There was a time when I would look for and try to think up new and better ways to do art, literacy and numeracy.  There was a time when I would write lesson plans---although I was never very good at it, especially when it came to goals.  And to make matters worse, I always had this recurring dream that I was given a class to teach and inevitably I would loose total control because I did not have a lesson plan.  Yikes!

During the period of questioning my role as a teacher, I have gone without a lesson plan.  In place of lesson plans, I would work on provisioning the room, especially the sensory table and the large muscle area.  When the children arrived, it was their room to explore and investigate.  As a consequence, I have found myself stepping back more and watching the children interact with the materials, each other and the adults in the room.  I found myself continually astonished with those interactions.  What I saw, changed what I thought was important in the classroom.

For example, something as simple as a toddler putting a bowl on his head for a hat became significant.
Why would he try a bowl on for size?  What is he thinking and how will he keep it balanced on his head?
Children blowing bubbles in new ways had to be appreciated.   Children love to blow bubbles, but it became even more eventful when the child discovered for himself that he could blow bubbles through a rubber tube that he found on the shelf. 

Blowing bubbles from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

His expression tells it all.  His success did come at a price of swallowing a little soapy water and hence the big smile.

As the children delighted in the silly, so did I.  One child decided it would be fun to to step into the bucket of feed corn to bury his feet.  And if one child could do it, so could another---and maybe even dig her feet in a little deeper into the corn.

My admiration for their work included the self-proclaimed hard work by the children themselves.  The child in the video below was scooping corn into a pot with his hands.  Near the end of the video, the child looked up at me and said: "I've never worked so hard in my life."

Hard work from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Notice that as the teacher, I was not the task master.  He was the task master of the job he created for himself.  My role was to recognize and admire it.

Sometimes I am totally blown away by what transpires.  Below is a video of a child who was hit with a scoop but was not fazed in the least.  He was kneeling next to a tub playing with a tree cookie in the muddy water.  On his right, a red scoop appeared.  As the child with the scoop tried to lift some mud out of the tub, she lost control of the scoop and hit the boy kneeling at the tub.  It happens in the blink of an eye, so watch carefully.

Getting hit with a scoop from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What amazed me what that he rolled with the punch, and, without a word, went about his business.  How many children---or adults---do you know who would take umbrage with such a slight.

I even valued the children taking risks on their own like standing on the lip of the table---in play high heels. 
How could I not appreciate how they were willing to take on the physical challenge of climbing and balancing to gain a new perspective on their operations?

I even marveled at the sublime.  In the video below, three children have a lovely exchange while they each work on their own operation.  The exchange included an offer, an acceptance, a question and an answer.  The first child offered: "Want me to give you some of my sponges?"  The second child accepted by saying: "Ya, I need a lot of sponges."  The third child asked the second child: "To make cookies?"  The second child answered: "Ya, chocolate chip cookies."

Making cookies from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I am in awe with the natural flow of the interchange between the three children.  It flows in a way that can only happen between the children.  There is nothing didactic here; there is no lesson plan for this kind of stuff. 

Is there learning going on?  Yes, but it is not in the teacher-directed life in the classroom.  Rather, it is a byproduct of a vital and appreciated life that is lived in the classroom by the children.

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