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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.

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.

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