Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Early Childhood Environment Speaks Loudly: What Does Yours Say?

Our job as early childhood educators is to set up the environment with thoughtfulness and intention.

The environment should say
"This place is just for you...go now, explore and make discoveries, own problems and solutions, work through struggles, own your mistakes and learn from them, you are trusted, lead the way.

Once the environment is set, it is then our job to step out of the way and follow young children.  It is our job to closely observe and adjust the environment as needed, either adding to or taking away.  There are times when we have too much available, and times when we don't have enough.  Successfully preparing the environment is a fine art, it is a skill.  It takes careful observation and positive relationships with the littles in our programs.  The better we know our crew, the better we can prepare for them.  The more we know the needs of each child, the better we can set up the environment to meet those unique needs.

Today, I nailed the environment, which resulted in a morning rich with meaningful learning.  Take a look:

A few varieties of tubes awaited the arrival of my littles.

A couple of containers of soapy water held surprises beneath the suds, and tongs were thoughtfully placed nearby.

The catapult that was explored yesterday now had a ball of yarn tied to it, adding an entirely new experience to be explored.

In addition to these "plops" (as I call them), there was the usual in the room as well...the "black dress" if you will.  The items that the children can count on being there every time they come to school.

Absent from the environment every day are flashcards, worksheets and worries about how to make letters and what sounds they make.  Missing is a forced circle time that everyone must attend and a rigid schedule that must be followed.  Gone is pressure to meet expectations.

Present is respect for meaningful learning that children are capable of leading.

Present is the knowledge that when children are allowed ample time and freedom to build a solid foundation, all future academics will build seamlessly upon it.

Present is confidence in play, and the fact that play is a child's work.

The learning that evolved from this thoughtfully set up environment was astounding.  There truly is no other word for it.

There were children focused on tasks, demonstrating attention spans that some adults I know don't have (myself included!!).


Exploring the magic of magnets.

Totally focused on wondering.

Making eyes for his monster...completely focused on the task at hand.

Solving a problem with the grabbers...completely focused for well over four minutes.  This child did not give up, that is a face of determination.

There were children working through problems, working so hard that I could feel the gears turning as they struggled through and persevered.
This child put the smaller clear tube inside this large tube. 

His initial thought process was completely logical.  Pick up the tube and the other tube will slide right on out.....

...or will it?  The look of sheer bamboozlement on his face was priceless!  I know children who would give up at this moment, but not this child.  He kept working at it.

Finally!  A sign that the technique he is using is working!  Onward!!

It's important to note that this tube is not light - this was very hard work, not only mentally, but physically as well!

SUCCESS!  He learned that hard work pays off.  Perseverance is a vital, life-long skill!  I dare say a four year old that can work through struggles is more prepared for future academics then a four year old that can identify all of the letters, but can't handle struggling.

There were children working through social conflicts, determining when turns would occur and organizing themselves.
These two children devised a plan for using the catapult.  Children need opportunities to handle conflict and work through social struggles.  Giving them the freedom to organize themselves and own the solution is empowering.

There were children exploring freely, knowing their thoughts and ideas are respected here and every wonder can be tested.
HEY!  I can fit inside of this tube...and so can my friend!

WHOA!  I can roll inside of this thing!!

I wonder what will happen if I put a metal ball inside of this tube with the chips?

If I wiggle the magnet back and forth really
fast, the chips move out of the way,
and then I can move the ball!

This thing in my hands makes
the things in the tube move.....

This tube makes a cozy hideaway.

There were children exploring the purpose of letters through words attached to experiences.
The "mystery word" concept involves hiding letters that form a word that is directly connected to what the children are currently doing, or what is in their environment.  This child was tired of searching for the elusive letter "t", so he decided to build one himself...problem SOLVED!

There were children strengthening muscles needed for handwriting, and coordinating muscles that aren't working together yet.

Children are empowered during their time at Kaleidoscope Play School.  The environment immediately sends a message that this place is special, and it is just for them.  They are welcome to explore, to discover, to fail, to persevere, to struggle, to solve, to cooperate, to practice, to learn and to own their experiences here.

What message does your environment send to children?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Bamboozled Adult Brain

Ever been bamboozled by the ideas of children?

Have you noticed how our adult brains are tainted?   I dare say, to some extent, our adult brains are ruined.

They aren't ruined by drugs, alcohol or too much TV.  They are ruined by too much wisdom ( read that correctly).

Knowledge can sometimes damper the imagination.

Ever noticed how freely a young child's brain can imagine?  Ever notice how easy it is for them to WONDER IF?  Their brains have not yet been ruined with knowledge.

For a young child, ANYTHING is possible.  Leprechauns can really make shoes for fairies and hide gold at the end of the rainbow.  Santa can actually fly around the world delivering toys to all the boys and girls in ONE NIGHT.  Bubbles can be the shape of the blower, NOT just circles.

Nothing ruins a young child's brain faster then an adult who can't keep their "ruined brain" from stealing the innocent wonders and imaginations of a child.

What am I suggesting?

Am I suggesting we adults should invest in some duct tape and use it when necessary?  Well... sort of.  I am suggesting we keep our mouths shut, and sometimes, that is easier to do with a little help from 3M. (side note:  I am joking.  No need to email me nasty emails)

Here's a tale of my "ruined brain" being completely and totally bamboozled today:

My story begins with the drilling of holes into an innocent pumpkin.  Why?  So we can fill it with baking soda and squirt colored vinegar into it.  The resulting fizz will pour out the holes of the pumpkin. or, perhaps my brain will be bamboozled.....

After the holes were drilled, I added the baking soda, and plopped it on the table with cups of colored vinegar.  I then waited for the first child to make the discovery and start to investigate.

I did not have to wait long.

Realizing that the reaction was not really coming out of the holes, and they were having a hard time seeing inside the pumpkin, we moved the action to the floor.

Then we moved it back to the table.  Don't ask why...I am really not sure.  But I am glad we did!  This mess was far easier to clean off of a table then it would have to clean off the floor!

Notice that scoops and bowls have been added to the fun.  Scooping out the mushy, vinegar-soaked baking soda was so fun, and it was beautifully colored as well!

 I emptied the bottle of vinegar, which this child was quick to request.  He had big plans for that big jug!  As he was scooping and pouring I realized that the reaction was all used up.  SO, being the nice teacher that I am...I took it upon myself to grab more baking soda so they could do more squirting and fizzing.  (I know....I know..... WAIT FOR THEM TO ASK FOR WHAT THEY NEED!!!  I broke my own rule...sigh.  That adult brain is SO hard to re-wire, and regression happens!!)

 To my adult brain's SHOCK,  instead of gathering colored vinegar and watching more fizz, they scooped up the baking soda with their fingers and used it as cheese for the pizzas they had apparently made!

The internal struggle that proceeded between my brain and my mouth was quite interesting.  My mouth and hands wanted to so badly cause more fizz -- but my brain wasn't allowing it.  My brain was saying "STOP!  Do not ruin this child-led imaginative moment!!"

I am so glad my brain won this one!!

The baking soda turned into so many different things, and there was SO much learning and imagining going on!!  It was a most amazing moment!  It took my bamboozled brain a second to grasp what was going on.....but once it did, it was like "How clever are they?!!! Do not ruin the moment!!"

So, there you have it.

Whether you agree with me or not on the "ruins" of the adult brain.....the adult brain CAN shut down some pretty amazing little imaginations if it doesn't keep itself quiet!

The next time you are observing children doing something that completely bamboozles your brain....keep quiet, observe and enjoy the cleverness and fenceless imagination they possess and do not take it away!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Delayed Gratification.....Goop Style

We live in a rush, rush, now, now world.

Need supper NOW?  Throw it in the microwave, it will be ready in seconds.

Need the answer to a question?....Google it.

Need to find out what time your husband will be home? him at work.  He doesn't answer?  Call his cell phone.  Still no answer?   Text him.

Children are shoved into our world and are observing with sponge-like brains and memories that trump ours so badly (not sure about you, but I get SCHOOLED every time I play Memory with a young child....and I am not a believer in "let them win"!!!).   They quickly learn that adults don't wait for much, this in turn makes them not want to wait for much.

Children need opportunities to experience delayed gratification.
They need opportunities to be patient.

This is a tale of how one thing always leads to another, and each "another" is usually filled with pure genius-ness when children are leading the way.  It is a tale that ends with a beautiful moment of delayed gratification.  It is one of those moments that I did not see coming, and was enthralled by it!

I will forward through the "boring stuff" as to not delay your gratification any longer (I kind of me.  If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know I CAN be long-winded :D )

Here's the order of events that led to said "delayed gratification":

1)  Smack painting  (giant paper, fly swatters, paint)
2)  Color changing ramps  (colored water in squeeze bottles with a plastic rain gutter ramp system with rubber duckies for good measure)
3)  White goop (aka:  ooblick  aka:  cornstarch and water)
4)  Colored water from the color changing ramps meets the goop -- the results create more independent thinking.....
5)  Paint from the smack painting meets the goop -- the results are awe-inspiring
6)  The resulting chocolate-milk-colored goop meets the plastic raingutters and ducks
7)  The moment of delayed gratification....

Smack painting

Color Changing Ramps (as the water runs down the ramp, it mixes with the other colors and "magically" changes!!)

This clever 4 year old decided to catch the colored water in the ice cream scoop.....hmmmmm....what is his plan?  Scroll to the next pic...

He decided the white goop was a bit boring, and it needed some color!

And more color.....

And more color....

And more color....

And now here is when the: 
"whoa, I didn't see that coming" moment occurred...

the results were FILLED with value!!!

This child was SO anxious for the duck to go over the edge.  The ducks had moved fairly swiftly when the colored water was being used.  The goop provided a completely different transport speed for the ducky.  If you look closely you can see this child's finger moving towards the duck to help him along..he just couldn't stand to wait!!

Luckily, his brother convinced him to be patient, and they added more goop behind the duck to see if that would speed things along.  Their problem solving skills were successful!!  Over the ducky went.  E-v-e-r s-o S----L----O----W----L----Y.

At this point one of the children exclaimed "HEY!  It's like an elevator!!!  Before it was like a water fall, and now it's like an elevator!!"  (this picture was not taken with a fast shutter speed -- this ducky moved SO SLOWLY!!!)

And there you have it.  Delayed gratification....goop style.

Delayed gratification can be that simple.  It happens all the time, all around us.
Snag those moments and see them for the valuable learning opportunity that they are.
 Play is filled with valuable moments like this.  We just need to open our eyes and look a little more closely at what is really going on!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Learning Lives in the Process (This is not a tale about an art project)

Just as the journey is not about the destination, the learning is not about the end product.

The important part is not the fact that 2+2=4 ... the important part is how you figured out how to figure that out.

Here is a simple tale about a light and it's hard-to-reach light switch.  It is a tale about the fact that the learning is in the process, not the end product. 

The important part is not the fact that the light was successfully turned on....the important part is how a young child was allowed the time to struggle, solve problems and finally succeed.

Sit back, and enjoy (I might suggest you pop a little popcorn and grab yourself a beverage...)you are about to entertained by a lovely thing called:  "The Process":

 I could have easily done this for him.  But why?
It would have taken me a second to reach with my bare hand and turn on the light in our fort space.  But I did not.  I am so glad that I chose to step back, document and give this child ownership of the process.
Young children need to own the process.

The learning lives in the process.

The learning doesn't live in a teacher's plans.  The learning doesn't live in the end product.  The learning lives in the process.

You could spend hours coming up with the best laid plans for your littles.  BUT...if you do not let them own the process, there is little to no MEANINGFUL learning, in your plans.

You could spend hours helping your littles create the most amazing art product, dictating how much paint, directing where to put the paint, telling them they are making a fish.  BUT...if you do not let them own the process, there is little to no MEANINGFUL learning in the end product.

The learning truly lives in the process.  Good early childhood programs recognize this fact, and give their littles ample time to own the process.  Programs with tight schedules and strict lesson plan guidelines tend to (note I said tend to...that does not mean always... if you are afraid you may fall under this second category of programs, then do something about it...make a change) stifle the process and focus more on the product.

Take a look at the learning I would have stolen from this little 2 year old sweetheart had I just simply done it for him:

Recognizing that he had a problem to solve, Trillian got a chair from the art area, and carefully dragged and carried it across the floor. 
Let's dissect this part of the process.  Dissecting play and processes is the most valuable skill an early childhood professional can have.

1)  Look at the muscles he is using.  We are not born with muscles that know how to work together to solve problems.  We need to learn how to use them by manipulating our world.
2)  He is empowered because that chair is not light, and he is doing it by himself!!!
3)  He is needing to patiently wait for the other child to get out of his way.
4)  Let's not overlook the fact that he first realized he had a problem, and learning through observation, knew how to solve it.  He had witnessed several children, using different techniques, turn on the fort light.  He stored that information away for the moment he would need it.  That moment finally arrived, and he was ready for it!
5)  Finally, there is a lot of risk assessment and management involved in standing on a chair in order to solve a problem.  Children NEED risk.  I will say that again:  children NEED risk.

Here's more of the learning I would have swiped away had I just turned the light on for him (again:  it is not about the product..the light ON is not where the learning is)

Having watched the older, taller children time and time again use the car tracks to turn on the fort light, he thought that technique would work for him as well.
Let's dissect this part of the process.  Dissecting is the best tool for "selling" play:

1)  This child is about to fail.  He is not going to succeed.  There is a tremendous amount of learning in failing.  I dare say there is more learning in failing, then there is in success.
2)  Failing gives children an opportunity to persevere and practice determination.
3)  He is learning a bit about math.  More specifically, measurement.
4)  Here is a chance to practice some vocabulary words.  "This one is too short.  I need to make a longer one."

And yes....there is more:

Did you notice the blond haired child in the previous picture?  That is "Mama Avery".  Mama Avery takes the job of being Denita very seriously.  Whenever I am not stepping in, she has me covered!  The Mama Avery's of the world need to be dealt with carefully.  They are so proud to help, but must know when to help, and when not.  I decided to let her help this time.
Dissecting away:

1)  Failing, as Trillian did in the previous picture gives a young child the opportunity to ask for what they need.  In this case, Trillian decided he needed help, and "Mama Avery" was all too happy to oblige.
2)  The learning for Mama Avery is a sense of pride and importance.  SHE IS HELPING SOMEONE, and that feels good.
3)  Look at how carefully Trillian is studying Mama Avery's technique of hooking the track pieces together.
4)  Trillian is feeling special because an older child is helping him.

Oh yes.....there is more:

Uh boy!  That is a large load to carry while climbing up a chair.  Children need a little risk in their lives, they need to have opportunities to be careful.

Let's take a closer look at even more learning I would have stripped away had I just turned on the light for him.  Again, this is called dissecting play and it is the KEY to educating parents and administrators of the power and value and necessity of PLAY.

1)  Muscle coordination (I mentioned this earlier)
2)  Confidence
3)  Risk assessment and an opportunity to be careful.  Too often we tell children to be careful, but then we take away the very thing they need to be careful with, thusly removing the opportunity to practice caution!!  Say "be careful" and then LET THEM BE CAREFUL!
4)  Math...specifically measurement
5)  Physics.  This longer track is going to be far more difficult to hold up then the shorter one was.

Yup.  Another picture, another learning moment in the process:

Ta-da!!!  SUCCESS!!!
Without further adieu:

1)  The sweet taste of success.  Not the sweet taste of someone else doing it for you.  There is a huge difference.
2)  Muscle coordination.
3)  An "I did it" moment that will get tucked away in the brain and retrieved whenever another challenge arises.  Trillian will recall this moment and remember how good it felt to not give up.  He will remember he can do things for himself.

Again I tell you, it's all about the process.  This phrase does not just relate to artwork.  It relates to EVERYTHING. 
Step back.
Allow time for the process to occur.
Do not stifle or under-value the process.
Give ownership of the process to young children.

The learning lives in the process.