About Me

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Early childhood education has been my life for over 40 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.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Picture of the year

Every year I designate one of the pictures I have taken as my "picture of the year."  Since I am not in the classroom anymore, I have a very limited set to choose from.  The set for all intents and purposes is comprised of pictures of my grandchildren and their play.

This year I chose a picture that I captured when I took my three-year-old granddaughter to the zoo in late October.  She is the middle child of three and had never had any alone time with grandpa.  I picked a day when her sister was in school and she did not have preschool. Another benefit was that mom could have some rare alone time with the baby.  My granddaughter was excited to go and I was excited to show her the animals.

We did see animals, some real and some not real.  In fact she actually spent more time with the animals that were not real.
Maybe the draw was that she could substantiate her agency by climbing on them and getting up close and personal to them.

There was one other feature of the zoo that captured her attention more than the lions, tigers, polar bears and such.  That feature was the rocks that formed the boundary between the path and the ground.

That got me thinking a lot about boundaries.  What makes up a boundary and how negotiable is that boundary?  The path at the zoo has a boundaries, namely its edges on either side.   When the boundary is not substantial---when the edge of the path is level with the ground---the boundary is easily transgressed simply by not seeing it as a boundary.  Of course, the adult on the scene will make sure the child knows that she has stepped over the boundary.

However, there are times when the boundaries are substantial.  At the zoo, there are fences.  Those are substantial---and nonnegotiable.  Are there substantial boundaries that are negotiable?  For my granddaughter, the rocks that formed the boundary between the path and the ground seemed to be one of those boundaries.  As an adult, I could have pointed out that the rocks were not for climbing and that if she fell on the sharp rocks she might get hurt. 
My granddaughter did not see the rocks as a boundary.  Rather, they presented themselves as  a challenging path to test her balance and navigation skills.

Boundaries are important.  How we perceive those boundaries is even more important.  How children perceive those boundaries is also more important.  Hard and fast boundaries are limiting.  Negotiable boundaries open up a world of possibilities for children to make new meaning in any given context.  Children will always question the boundaries.  That is one of their jobs as part of living in this world.  As adults, maybe we can come to appreciate their penchant for testing boundaries.  And maybe we can even re-examine our own ideas about boundaries.  How do you question your boundaries in the classroom, at home and in the world?  What boundaries are nonnegotiable and why?  What boundaries are negotiable and why?

With that, I give you my picture of the year: my granddaughter using the boundary of the rocks to create her own path, one that is more interesting and has more meaning for her than seeing the exotic animals at the zoo.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Conference thoughts part 2

This post is a continuation of my last post.  Recently, I wrote that when practitioners go to conference sessions, they often look for activities that they can use in their classroom---immediately.  It is perfectly fine to be inspired by others, but early childhood educators need to make the activities their own.  They do that by examining their own values and assumptions around those activities that they choose to recreate in their classroom.

The same is true for strategies.  We were asked in our Teaching with the Body in Mind session at the National Association for the Education of Young Children annual conference last month for strategies for handling loud/boisterous/big-body play. Believe it or not, the four of us each had different strategies that we could name.  Interestingly, we all pretty much agreed on the values and assumptions around this type of play (see last post), but we all approached handling it in a way that fit the context and our own perception/tolerance of this type of play.

Now I cannot speak for the others, but I will tell you how I answered the question around strategies for handling big-body play.  For the most part, I rarely intervened when there was a potential conflict.  For example, in the photo below, two children were crossing the board in opposite directions.  There was a potential for conflict, but I did not intervene.  Instead, I started with the assumption that they could work it out themselves.   I stayed close, waited and kept silent.  However, I was always on the  ready to put my camera down if they needed help.
They actually worked it out themselves with very little verbal negotiation; they negotiated with their bodies in a relational field that was the defined by the board.  Now, if I had intervened too soon, I would have robbed them of the opportunity to practice reading each other's cues and figuring out what to do with those cues.  I supposed I could have asked them to verbalize the cues they noticed from the other or I could have narrated what I saw, but I do think the verbal dialogue/narration, especially from me, can be a distraction from their own body dialogue/narration.

This strategy of wait and see and trust the children to negotiate their differences worked the best for me in my classroom.  In fact, I would say that it worked well over 90% of the time.

However, there were those times when I did step in.  Those times happened when the children seemed stuck; when there was a great power differential between the children; or when I thought someone was going to get hurt physically or emotionally.  Below is a case in point.  Two children were driving across the board from opposite ends.  Their wheels met and neither one was going to budge.  At first, they just pushed their wheels against each other.  But as the confrontation got more serious, they started to use their driving sticks like swords.  One child in particular was getting very upset.  At this point, I put the camera down and intervened.
I cannot tell you exactly how I intervened.  I can tell you that I did not assume that either one had the right to cross the board first.  Rather, this was a conflict that they both were going to work out themselves---with a little help.  To that end, I probably got between the two children and began asking questions individually to each child about what was going on.  I probably restated that child's position to the other child and asked that child the same question and then what they thought about each other's responses.  I imagined we went back and forth many times before they were able reach a solution.

The vexing question that everybody asks is: "What happens if they cannot agree on a solution?" Instead of answering, I beg the question because it always depends on the context.  And the context includes more than what is happening in the moment.  If the children have had plenty of practice in working through potential conflicts---as illustrated by the first example---that vexing question rarely surfaces.

Actual conflicts in an early childhood classroom are inevitable.  They produce moments with great learning potential, especially in the social and emotional domain.   However, potential conflicts are many times more inevitable.  I contend that if we as adults trust the children to handle and negotiate those potential conflicts without adult interference, there will be fewer actual conflicts.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Conference thoughts

Three weeks ago, I was part of a group of four early childhood teachers that presented at the National Association for Early Childhood Education annual conference in Washington DC.  Our presentation was called Teaching with the Body in Mind.  We were basically advocating for the children's need to move to learn.  Because I was in a group of four, I actually got a chance to step back to observe and listen to participants in a way that I could not if I were doing the presentation by myself.  What follows are some thoughts from my observations.

Like any conference, participants came looking for activities.  For our session, they were looking for ways to foster large motor/big body/boisterous play.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that.  However, without examining the values and the assumptions behind those activities, one cannot begin to understand the different ways and layers of learning that children engage in as they physically explore any given set up.  To that end, we offered several value statements and questions for discussion to the participants.

Teaching with the Body in Mind
           NAEYC Annual Conference. Washington D.C., 2018

Value Statements

Children use their bodies as thinking tools to explore and make sense of the world.

There are body-based modes of knowing and reasoning.

Action experience alters reasoning in a range of contexts.

There is a role for movement in cognition.

There are times when children cannot do what you ask.

Biology and the need to move trump social expectations.

Children ask questions and make statements non-verbally with their bodies.

Children need to be able to control their bodies.

There are times I feel like I need to control children’s bodies.
Discussion Questions

What are our assumptions surrounding the place for risk in care and education?

What are the invisible assumptions that we do not talk about?

How do we create an understanding of risk that confirms or questions our assumptions?

Who controls the risk and how?

What are some of the ethical considerations around risk and risk taking in school?

What conditions make risk possible?

What conditions make risk productive?

What conditions make risk dangerous?

How does allowing for risk-taking differ from anything-goes?

How does the language of possibilities compare with the language of regulation?

What are your values around risk taking?

Below is one of the main setups we used for illustration purposes.  A board was set up as a bridge between two sets of steps.   If we valued order and turn-taking in the name of safety,  we would make sure that only one child crossed the board at a time and that everyone crossed in the same direction.

If, on the other hand, we valued the children's ability to use their bodies as thinking tools to make physical and social sense of the world, we began to notice how well children assessed their own risks to stay safe.

That certainly held true even when the play on the bridge became loud and rambunctious.  In the clip below, the children hung upside down and screamed.  Some of them even tumbled off the bridge onto the mat.  Even though there was a very real possibility of a foot hitting a head, no child got bonked in the process.

But wait, were the children really in control of their bodies?  Was this acceptable risk taking or an example of anything goes?   

We are all on a personal journey of becoming a teacher.  It is not enough to simply copy activities.  We must make them our own.  And an important part of that process is to examine our values and assumptions around the activities we chose to copy or use.  We cannot do it without the children so if you need inspiration, step back and watch the children as they make any part of the world their own.