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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, October 14, 2017

Connections II

Last week, I wrote about a recent visit to a Canadian kindergarten class in Guelph, Ontario.  In that post, I said I was struck by how easy it was to make connections with children.  That visit reminded me of another visit I made to a preschool in the UK in June 2014.  After doing a building workshop, I was invited to visit the school the next morning.  I had visited a couple of preschools earlier in my trip, but this visit was different because instead of taking a tour of the preschool, I was able and encouraged to interact with the children for the entire morning.   When I went back to look at what I wrote about that visit, I found I wrote about making connections back then, too.  What follows are two play episodes about connections from that morning visit.

Bean Play at Adventure Preschool, UK
 23rd of June 2014

There is one child who is just standing around with a vacant look on her face.  She  is not engaged in any activity or with anyone else in the classroom. She has been out of school for several days because she was sick with the chicken pox.  The teacher invites her over to the bean table where there is an apparatus that has a small cardboard tube embedded on an incline through a box.  She sits down on the floor next to the sensory tray close to the end of the tube.  I pour some beans down the tube. She is not looking when I pour the dry mixture down the tube.  The teacher calls her attention to the beans coming out the bottom of the tube.  I pour some more of the dry mixture down the tube.  This time she notices and tracks back up the tube to see where the beans are coming from.  She makes eye contact with me.  I pour again and she begins to smile ever so slightly.  I pour again.  By now she has picked up a scoop to catch the dry mixture I am sending down the tube.  Now she is really smiling.  The game continues; I pour and she catches.  Without words, I initiate an exchange of scoops.  She willingly accepts the overture.  I ask out loud to no one in particular: "Where can I find more beans?"  The answer I get is two children bringing me beans from a different area of the apparatus.  I offer to switch places with the child.  I will set and catch while she pours down the tube.  She accepts the overture and play continues.  Another child comes along and starts to catch the dry mixture at the bottom of the tube.  I draw back.  After the first child does a few more pours, she stops pouring and sits in my lap.  Before long, I say I want to go outside to see the water setup.  She follows me outside but is more interested in the big plastic tube she can slide down.  This is not the end of our interaction but we are each doing our own thing the rest of the morning.  Every time our paths cross, we acknowledge each other.

A few things struck me about this play episode.  First, an initial connection was formed through a barrier.  I poured down a tube and she started to catch what I poured.  Does a barrier make it safer to connect?  I was surprised at how willingly she traded scoops and then traded places with me.  I was also surprised at how willing she was to sit in my lap after our brief play exchange.  I know part of it is that I sit on the ground at a child’s height.  Is that enough of an invitation?  And/or what role does the quality of a short interaction play to help break down barriers so quickly?  In any case, what a joy it was to exchange glances the rest of the morning knowing it was based on this play episode.

Weaving Screen Play at Adventure Preschool, UK
 23rd of June 2014

From the water play area outside, I move back inside to the weaving area.  There is a screen with large square holes and ribbons for weaving.  There is a child in the area whose first language is not English.  He is hanging around the area but not playing with anyone or engaged in any concrete activity.  I poke my fingers through a hole in the screen in a feigned attempt to reach him.  He instinctively pulls back.  I promptly pull my fingers out.  He approaches the screen and puts his fingers through at a different hole in the screen.  I put my fingers through at yet another hole.  He does not retreat this time, but reciprocates.  I take a ribbon and start to thread it through the screen.  He tugs on the ribbon and we engage in a little tug-of-war.  He comes over to my side and we start to weave ribbons together.  A third boy enters the play.  I have recently had a brief encounter with this third child on my way in from outside.  He had a long, strong lace---probably from the weaving area---and I grabbed one end of it and had a little tug-of-war game with him.  The boy is on the opposite side of the screen from the first boy and myself.  The boy tosses one end of his lace over the screen.   I grab it and start the tug-of-war game all over again. The child on my side also grabs the lace.  Both of us pull so hard that the other boy is pulled up against the screen and doing all he can to hold on.  I let go so only the two boys are engaged in the tug-of-war.  At first the second boy protests.  My thought is that his original overture to play was to me not this other child.  I am called away for a phone call and as I leave, I look back and see both are smiling and laughing with their new game.

Again, there is a barrier that seems to foster play with a child.  Why is that?  And in this case, the barrier also allows two children who have not been playing together to play together.  It is true, I played a transition role, but play continued through the barrier when I left. I was also stuck by how little language was required for this play to happen.  In fact, there was very little language in all the episodes; most of the play happened in the physical realm with each of us reading each other's actions.

I remember coming away from the morning visit thinking about the role physical barriers play in 
fostering connections.  In one instance, it was the space between the top and the bottom of the tube 
and in the other instance, it was the weaving screen itself that formed the barrier.  Do the barriers 
create spaces in which children feel a sense of safety from which to operate?  Does that feeling of 
safety lead to a sense of confidence that allows the children to actually open up to connecting with 

Though children are hardwired to make connections, the conditions for making connections are many and complex.  For the most part, making connections is a reciprocal dance in which the players are constantly negotiating and making up the steps.  In the play episodes I have related both last week and this week, I am struck by how little language played a part in fostering connections.  Rather, the predominant mode of connecting was through physical interactions with materials and others.  And within those physical interactions, children were constantly required to read the non-verbal cues of others to keep play going.   Maybe the physical interactions necessarily have to come before language.  What do you think?

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