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.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

An apparatus from 30 years ago

Looking through an old filebox of pictures that I took before I had a digital camera, I found a couple pictures of an apparatus I built over 30 years ago.   The apparatus was made from half-gallon milk containers that were taped together with duct tape in a kind of C shape.  The apparatus sat directly on the floor and was filled with sand.

When I cut openings on the top side of each carton, I left a strip on each end.  Those strips allowed me to tape the cartons together while also giving the structure a little more stability.

That strips also had an effect on how the children interacted with the apparatus.  In the picture below, both children were operating in the same hole so the child on the left had to reach under the strip to scoop sand into her little cup. 

In other words, she was faced with a unique proprioceptive challenge to navigate her hand and wrist and arm through the hole and under the strip and back out again. 

Because I was using a film camera, I only have two pictures of children exploring this apparatus.  Would I have taken more pictures with a digital program?  Probably.  When I was taking pictures back then, I was taking pictures solely to have a record of the things I built for the sensory area.  After I got a digital camera, I continued to record the things I built.    

Now it is only in hindsight that I can look at my documentation as a window into what is important for children in their play and explorations.  Even from just two pictures, I can still highlight at least three different aspects about how children played at this apparatus.  1) Children were attracted to the holes. 2) They were comfortable playing on the floor.  3) They willingly engaged in physical challenges.  Looking at two pictures from 30 years ago offer only small---albeit concrete---traces of our attempt to make sense of this apparatus.  I do remember that I really delighted in the novelty of this apparatus and appreciated the level of engagement it supported.  I also remember why I did not build it again: it was way too messy!

Can I examine these pictures from the standpoint of my own thinking?  Where did the idea come from for this apparatus?  Why did I configure it in a C shape?  How did I expect the children to explore the apparatus?  What surprised me about how the children explored the apparatus?   My answer is simply "no."   My sole purpose was to have a record of what I built.  It was not to use the documentation to ask questions to advance my thinking and to advance children's thinking around sensory play.  I will not bemoan the lost opportunities, but be glad for the traces I do have.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The art of noticing

I am reading the book The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing.  The book is a Posthuman feminist anthropological study of the many worlds that encompass the matsutake mushroom: the most valuable mushroom in the world.  Chapter 1 of the book is entitled "The Arts of Noticing."  In the chapter, the author makes several points that resonate with me.  Here are a couple that I take liberties in paraphrasing: 

                # We tend to see things through our adult/fettered imagination.

                # Pay attention to the unruly edges.

When I think about children, I see them as masters of the art of noticing.  First of all, their imagination is not fettered and secondly, they are always exploring the unruly edges of their environment.              

By way of example, I can look at the children's actions around an apparatus I call the sand cascade. The apparatus consists of a large box rising vertically from the table.  Embedded at an angle through the large box is a long narrow box with a hole at the top.  When children pour sand in the hole, it exists at the bottom into the tub at the end of the table.  The children cannot see the sand traveling through this box because it is a closed chute.

A second, narrow box is taped on top of the long embedded box.  Because this chute is open, the children can follow the sand flowing down and out from this box.

In the picture below, two three-year-olds pour sand down the open chute and watch it fall into the bucket in the tub next to the table.

If you click on the following link, you can see the video of these two pouring sand down the chute: https://vimeo.com/485607849

Of course, with my adult/fettered imagination that is exactly what I expect.  I can imagine the children pouring faster or slower; I can imagine them using larger or smaller containers from which to pour; I can even imagine children down at the bottom catching the sand.  

I could also imagine children discovering the top hole of the embedded box for their operations.

In hindsight, I could not have imagined a child noticing the leakage of sand from underneath the top chute.  

Nor could I have imagined a child finding the leakage from the bottom corner of the large box rising vertically from the table.  

In both instances, the noticing leads to the children's actions of catching the sand from the unexpected streams of sand coming from two different features of the apparatus.  In turn, their actions cultivate their ability to focus their observations about some properties of the sand and some fairly inconspicuous features (the leakages) of the apparatus.  Thus, the noticing leads to actions which lead to focused observations.  What is significant in these two cases is that the noticing happens on the unruly edges of the apparatus.  

To better understand children and their worlds, we need to look at their worlds through their eyes.  So often we try to encourage children to focus on what we think is important.  Instead, we might try to open our fettered imagination to see what else is going on.  In the book The Art of Scientific Investigation, W. I. B. Beveridge validates this idea when he asserts the following: "We need to train our powers of observation to cultivate that attitude of mind of being constantly on the look-out for the unexpected and make a habit of examining every clue that chance presents." (p. 32).  In other words, we need to pay attention to the "unruly edges" of children's actions to respect their acute art of noticing.