Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Six Ways to Cause the Fizz

Hands down, two of our favorite supplies when it comes to messy play that is full of empowering, reaction-causing ownership is none other then baking soda and vinegar.

Baking soda and vinegar is also a GREAT starting place for those of you that may be a bit skittish about messy play (read below for some "embracing messy play" tips I have learned through the years)

Children have a deep rooted desire to cause a reaction, to appease that desire, I have discovered MANY different ways to play with the never-ceasing-to-amaze combination of baking soda and vinegar.  Sit back, and enjoy the variations.

In order to give the full benefits of all the learning to young children, I encourage you to resist the urge to give direction, I encourage you to NOT show, I encourage you to set up whichever variation you are most excited about, then step back, and hand the control and the ownership over to your littles.

1)  The Original:  Rainbow Volcano
  • colored vinegar in cups or bowls (I color mine with Liquid Watercolor from Discount School Supply)
  • pipettes (I get mine from Steve Spangler Science)
  • a container with a mountain of baking soda dumped in it  
The pictures from "The Original:  Rainbow Volcano" are from about 4 years ago, back when I was just first "embracing messy" (yes, that's right, I have not ALWAYS embraced messy). 

Here are a few tips I have discovered through trial and error on my journey to fully embracing messy play (as fully as I am capable of embracing it, anyway!)

Embracing Messy Play Tips from Someone Who Use to Break Out in Hives Around Messy Play
(long title, I know... I tried to make it shorter, I did, honest, but American Idol was starting and this was the final piece I needed to add to this blog post, so I didn't have much time to tinker. )
  1. Be organized.  Organize your stuff so you can quickly find tools that the children may request.  Organize the space so the children can successfully control the play without causing you stress from the mess.
  2. Along with being organized, have a hand washing system directly next to the messy play.  Not only is this for your sanity, but it also opens the door for that sensory-shy child who NEEDS the security of knowing that the absolute SECOND they need the ick off their hands, they can accomplish that on their own, and then hop right back into the play.
  3. Have spoons and scoops available for the children that want to dig in and play, but do not care to get their hands completely covered.
  4. Be smart.  If your early childhood space is also your living space, don’t set up messy play on your carpet….set up for success!
  5. REEEEEEELAX and document all the learning!

When this table of children asked if they could touch the baking soda, the "old" me would have said "no, this isn't for touching"...however, the "new" me was "embracing" messy and the wonderful learning opportunities it is full of, so my answer was a YES!!

Had my answer been a "NO" ... the children would have missed the wonderful sensation of the fizzing on their hands!

This table realized that the other table was getting to dive in with their hands....and so they asked if they too could stick their hands in as well.  Having just discovered this new wonderful world of saying "YES" to messy, I said "YES!  Of course!"  (this was before I saw what theirs looked like!!!  HA!!!)  This was a huge "aha" moment for me, as these boys had a BLAST playing in their "swamp".   I would have SO said "NO" before!!

2)  The Original S-L-O-W-E-D Down
  • The exact same as The Original, but with a bit of Dawn dishsoap added to the colored the reaction SLOW....and GROW!!

3)  Fizzing UP!
  • This is very similar to "The Original", with the only change being the use of clear straws instead of pipettes to gather the vinegar with.  This not only allows your littles to organize their muscles in an entirely different way -- but it holds a big surprise that is SO WORTH WAITING for!!!  
  • VERY important that you NOT show!!  Be patient and let your littles own the discovery of the exciting thing that is possible with these materials!!!  
  • What is so exciting?  If you STICK the straw full of vinegar INTO the mound of baking soda and LEAVE it there -- the reaction will climb right up the straw and out the top!
There isn't a TON of delay of gratification, but there is some as the children watch the reaction climb up the straw.  We live in such an instant, now! now! now!'s VITAL to put some delay of gratification into a young child's environment every single day.
I think this picture speaks for itself!

The cups of colored vinegar must be filled as full as possible for the best results (otherwise the straws cannot collect enough vinegar to spark a reaction)


This is what happens when the play continues, the colored vinegar is gone and ice cream scoops have been requested to replace the straws!

4)  The Shake and Spray
  • Put the baking soda in salt shakers
  • Put the colored vinegar in spray bottles

If you cherish your grass, or do not have a dog to blame the large patch of dead grass in the middle of the yard on (I have NO idea who would ever blame something on the innocent dog.... (guilty)) you will want to set up VERY clear boundaries for this version of baking soda and vinegar play!

Our boundaries are simple: You may shake and spray on the driveway, not on the grass.  The vinegar will kill our grass. (I always find it beneficial to tell my littles the WHY behind the boundaries.  I want them to know I'm not just making boundaries because I want to squash their fun, I make the boundaries for a reason.)

At first this was an individual activity.  With some of my littles shaking AND spraying.

This is a motivating way to work on those all-important squeezer muscles!

THEN, suddenly, this individual activity became a team one, as my crew discovered the fun of mixing the colors!

As always happens when children are in control of their thing leads to another.  Jack was the first to enjoy the feeling of the fizz on his feet!!

Teamwork at it's finest!!

Feet need sensory experiences too!!

5)  Fizzing Trails
  • Fill a container with plain vinegar roughly 1" deep (we aren't launching rockets, so you do NOT need to be precise)
  • Make a watery paint with water, liquid watercolor and baking soda
  • Add paint brushes and observe!
  • NOTE:  this "paint" needs to be mixed often as the baking soda will settle... I usually add roughly 3/4 cup of baking soda 

6)  Growing Fizz
  • Fill a container about 1/2 inch deep with vinegar.  Add coloring and some Dawn dish soap (can use any dish soap I am sure, I just always use Dawn)
  • Put baking soda in salt shakers
  • Add some paintbrushes and step back and observe the exploration!

And there you have it.....baking soda and vinegar, six ways.

Now....go PLAY!!!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Creative Lies: How Children Avoid Power Play Penalties

I struggle with power play.  Specifically with gun play.

For years it was not a struggle what-so-ever.  It was simple. NO GUNS.  You may play guns at home, but when you are at Nita's, we don't play with guns.

There was an ebb and flow as to how easy this simple gun policy was to enforce.  There were periods of time that easily lasted months where I never, ever had to say "We don't play with guns here".  Then, there were times when I said "No guns" more then I said "Did you just eat that booger?!".

In short order, I learned that one of the repercussion of my "NO GUNS" policy was what I like to call "creative lying".  In order to escape certain timeout (recall, this was my program years ago), my crew at the time felt it was necessary to lie.  I never knew flashlights and telescopes and even a comb one time could make shooting sounds.  I had a bunch of James Bond wanna-bes in my presence!

After years of "NO GUNS" I finally, thanks to the people who have positively affected my journey from running a controlled, strictly scheduled program to one that is TRULY child-led AND play-based, I have embraced gun play and other power play for the positive thing that it is. (hmmm...that just MIGHT be the longest sentence ever)  Jeff A. Johnson (who I have had the honor of co-authoring three books with and recording episodes for the "Child Care Bar and Grill" podcast), Lisa Murphy (who I also have the honor of recording "Child Care Bar and Grill" episodes with), Heather Shumaker (who I haven't had the honor of meeting, but whose book "It's Okay Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids" I couldn't agree with more) and Dan Hodgins (who I have yet to meet, but it is on my bucket list... ha!!) are the names that stand out the most when I hand out credit for my program's transition.

So then....what is my struggle now that I have embraced such play?

Keeping the children who do not wish to participate in "power play" safe from the side-effects (aka: unintended injury or other interruption to their "calm" play) of such play that I am now, thoughtfully allowing .  When we are outdoors, this is really a non-issue as there is plenty of room for all kinds of play, but INDOORS  I struggle.

My solution to this struggle?  A designated area for power play, with clear boundaries in order to set up a positive experience for all.  The clearer the boundaries, the more I can hand the control over to my crew and empower them with the right to choose their play in the appropriate places.  Not only does this keep others safe, but it allows my littles the opportunity to practice self control and respect boundaries.

This solution was working grandly, until we rearranged the room this week.  We rearranged and forgot to discuss where the gun play area should be.

(side note:  I include my littles in all decisions that affect THEIR day and THEIR space.  I give them as much ownership as I reasonably can)

Recall my remarks about "creative lying"?  I have learned that the more I discourage something, the more I encourage lying -- no matter how creative it is, it is still lying.  However, what happened recently in my program was one of the most creative lies I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.  I think you will find this as amusing as I did:

We had just re-organized the room, and there was not a designated power-play space.  I turned and saw that three of my boys had built very LARGE weapons (I dare say they were "oozies" (I don't speak "gun", but I think that's what you call them) and were firing away at each other with all of their might....until they noticed me watching.  They quickly repositioned there guns.....(See pic)

Best "creative lie" in my 15 years of child care:  The guns turned into VACUUMS!!!
Several minutes later, this is what I saw:

Moments later I overheard:

"'re dead."
"'re dead!!"
"'re dead!!!"

So....what did Trillian do?  Did he succumb to peer pressure and die?  Nope.  He went to the bathroom instead...knowing full well that when he emerged they will have forgotten that he is suppose to be dead.  Well played, little buddy....well played.

Do you too struggle with power play?  If so, I highly recommend letting professionals in the field of early childhood development like Dan Hodgins, Jeff A. Johnson, Lisa Murphy and Heather Shumaker influence you as well.

Monday, January 6, 2014

He Danced! A Tale About the Impact of an Early Childhood Environment

For those of you that don't know me personally...I am a...oh, how do I explain this...I'm a LOUD person.  I'm full of KAPOW! and PIZZAZ! and have a fairly vibrant personality. (admittedly, people have told me I am full of other things as well...but, this is a PG rated blog, so I won't mention what!)  If I know I am going to be in a potentially gloomy basement from 7:30-5:30, five days a week...I'm going to need some KAPOW! and PIZZAZZ! to keep me going.

This explains why my child care space looked like this for 7 years:


For seven years, my space was vibrant.  I dare say it was VERY vibrant.  It suited me and my crew well for all of those years.

Then....along came Ethan.  Ethan was the sweetest child.  He was kind, he loved to create and build.  He was fantastic in every way except one.  He would not dance.

What's the big deal?  Who cares if this child danced?
Well, I live in South Dakota. The winters can be very long, and we don't always have the opportunity to get outside and stretch our legs and RUN and JUMP and be free.  Dancing, is one of the ways we can do those things indoors.

We danced a LOT.

Everytime we danced a lot, Ethan would cry a lot.

He and I finally reached an agreement that he could leave the room when we danced.  This solved the problem of crying, but Ethan was not getting to RUN and be FREE and get his GROOVE ON ;).  I chatted with his mother about this.  She too was perplexed because Ethan danced at home, all the time. wasn't a complex that his dance moves didn't make the cut..he could dance and he loved to dance.  So then... WHY would he not dance when he was at my home?

Ethan wasn't able to explain why he didn't like to dance at my home, and my brain was exhausted trying to figure it out, when finally, it dawned on me.  I wondered if the ENVIRONMENT was just loud enough for Ethan, that when we added fast paced music and loud, quickly moving friends to the mix, it was too much for Ethan.

My walls were in dire need of a new paint job, was my Birthday and I didn't really need anything else, so I asked my husband to paint the child care space for me.  (My husband cringes when I have a paint brush in my hand.  I am the kind of painter who just wants to see the color on the wall.  I rarely take the time to tape off anything or protect the carpet.  This is a lovely way to be as it gets me out of many painting projects in our home!! :D)

And so......Leroy painted.  He painted over a weekend.

On Monday.....Ethan danced!   

So then, what was the "magical" solution to quiet down my space and give Ethan an opportunity to enjoy the chaos that happens when a group of young children dance?

I chose a soothing grey for the majority of the walls with a creamy yellow in the kitchen and messy-play area, and a calming combination of two shades of aqua in one cozy corner.

This calming shade of grey allows for my children to be all the KAPOW! and PIZZAZZ! that I and my crew can handle in a day!
I have a thing for stripes and found a way to appease my desire for stripes in my life AND keep the environment cozy too
You can see the soft yellow in the background in the space where we eat and do our messy-play.  A dear friend of mine painted a tree that extends out onto the ceiling...that is the brown trunk you see with the friendly frog at the base.  (Side note:  This child has just built a tower on the shop vac hose and is awaiting the results when the vac (on BLOW) is turned on)

Another angle showing the other side of the space. 
Side Note: We are enjoying dancing with bubbles (Bubble Oodles by Gymboree are fabulous for indoor play... I do the blowing, they do everything else.  The blower that comes with the bubbles creates these teensy tiny bubbles that quickly fills a room)
Notice how the walls just fade away and let the play residue take center stage as it should.
How did I get my crew to stand in this perfect line?  It's simple.  I didn't have a thing to do with this other then snap the picture.  They did it on their own.  They are owning this idea, this moment and all of the learning that is occurring.  They are working as a team with a common goal.  Their goal is to fill that big yellow tube with balls (see the jars full of balls that they are holding). This is what happens when children are allowed to lead their learning. Oh..and notice the nice, soothing walls too ;)

So, the next time you have a child that displays either strange behavior, unpleasant behavior, bizarre behavior or you-name-it behavior....perhaps it's NOT the child...perhaps it's your environment.  Stop trying to fix the child, and fix your environment instead.

Friday, January 3, 2014

What's Your Plan?

I encourage young children to ask for what they need.  I encourage independent thinking.

One of the ways that I accomplish that is by asking a simple question when a child asks for what they need:  "What's your plan?"

One of the many times I said it today surrounded this wonderful tale of a child, owning a problem they caused, and independently solving it.  It also involves a child who is very observant and loves to practice what he sees.

The Scene:
 Four children were launching shower puffs with the catapult my co-author so awesomely makes.  (I am trying to find a link to them, but am running into roadblocks...I will post one here as soon as I can!)  Hanging above the launching area are our balloon hammocks (a great storage space for balloons).

The Problem:
Trillian launched a shower puff directly into one of the hammocks.

The Solution:
Get a super long cardboard block and a chair and gently whack it out.


The Tale:
As the title of this blog post implies, when Trillian asked if he could get a chair, I responded with "What's your plan?"

BEEEEEEEEEEEP!  We interrupt this tale for a brief PSA (Public Service Announcement):  Asking children to tell you their plan is an awesome opportunity for them to put into words what their brain is thinking, it causes them to pause, and think.  It is also a great way to increase vocabularies, provide one-on-one time for that child and you, and empowers the child because you care about their plan and it is THERE'S, they OWN it.

And so...the problem solving began.  It looked exactly like this:

See the shower puff innocently trapped waiting to be rescued?  Notice how cautiously Trillian is climbing the chair?   Children NEED opportunities to assess risk, and to use caution. 
It is important to note that Trillian is a wee one.  He is vertically challenged.  I didn't think there was a remote chance that he would be successful, BUT....I wanted him to have an opportunity to FAIL and practice handling failure.  I wanted him to have an opportunity to ASK FOR WHAT HE NEEDS, which I was certain was going to be help.

To my suprise, upon the first "gentle" whack of the harmless block, he made contact with the shower puff and it MOVED!!  Trillian was ELATED!  "I'M DOING IT NITA!" he exclaimed!  He hopped down to regain his balance, and mounted the chair again.

Trillian demonstrated grand balancing skills and had the opportunity to feel both success and failure during his attempt to solve his problem.
The second time he climbed on the chair, he realized the shower puff had moved far enough towards the exit from the hammock, that he could no longer reach it.  He failed.  Without skipping a beat, Trillian hopped down and scooted his chair over, climbed back up, "whack"....and the joy of success was his AGAIN!

This process was continued again and again.  Fail....scoot the chair...success.  Fail....scoot the chair...success.  Until FINALLY.... HE DID IT!

This is the look of a child who just experienced SUCCESS.  He not only experienced it...he OWNED it.  We adults tend to get over protective and step in and "SAVE" children when they are struggling.  It's moments like that when we need to closely observe, offer encouragment...and then BUTT OUT.  Let children struggle.  Let them fail.  Let them OWN their own success!  Had I stepped in and done it for him... I would not have this picture to share, and he would not have felt the joy that accompanies hard-earned success!

Meanwhile all of this was going on, unbeknownst to us, someone was watching...and learning:

Mr. "Monkey-See, Monkey-Do"
About an hour after Trillian solved the problem he created with the bathroom puff, I witnessed the above picture.  Bronx learned how to solve a problem by watching Trillian. He gathered all the same materials that were involved in Trillians experience and climbed on the chair.  The funny part was, he didn't know what to do once he was on there.  He stopped.  Looked at the items in his hand, then carefully climbed back down.  This pic is of the climbing down portion (this is why I should NEVER set my camera down.. I miss stuff. I'm just glad I caught this much!)

The End (insert curtain closing...applause)

Why did I feel the need to share this little tale with you all?  What is my purpose here? 

There are many:

1)  Encourage young children to solve's empowering.
2)  Encourage young children to have a plan and share it with's empowering.
3)  TRUST young children to assess risk and use's empowering.
4)  Encourage young children to's empowering.
5)  Let children's empowering.
6)  Let children's empowering.
7)  Let children ask for what they need, instead of stepping in and helping them without an's empowering.
8)  Let children own's empowering.

So, in nutshell...this post is all about empowering young children!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Play is the "Important Stuff": Dissecting the Role of the Adults and the Children in a Play-Based, Child-led Program

I am often asked exactly what the definition of a play-based, child-led program is.  There are so many ways to answer this question, but I feel the best, most thorough way is to describe the role of the adults, and the role of the children in a play-based, child-led program.

Keep in mind that the following roles are from "The World According to Denita".  These are things that I have learned to be true in my own program as I have transitioned over the last 6 years from a teacher-controlled/led program to one that is play-based and child-led.

The Adults :
1)       Set the structure.
Clear boundaries, clear expectations and clear consequences provide all the structure a young child needs to be able to learn respect, practice self regulation and thrive.  If you are finding that you are still, even after setting up the structure, saying no....then it is time to check in with your expectations, and make adjustments accordingly.  I have learned through the years that when "no" is the only word I can use, and I am using it a lot.  The problem is not the children, the problem is my expectations.  I need to reset the structure.

2)       Provide a rich environment.
Provide an environment rich with open-ended opportunities.  If you are trying to transition from a teacher-led/controlled program to a play-based, child-led one….you CAN still put your theme stuff out!  The key is OPEN ENDED.  This time of the year, you may want to put pumpkins or apples, or leaves in the environment.  In a child-led, play-based program this is fine as long as you truly follow where the children take those objects.

3)       Plop
Plop (noun):   Anything that is placed in a child’s environment with zero adult direction, demonstration or expectation.  The child is given the freedom of time, technique, task and team.  The adult quietly observes and gives opportunities for children to try, fail, succeed, explore and ask for what they need.

The adult in a child-led, play-based program needs to give ownership to the children as much as possible.  SHOWING HOW takes away ownership.  Unless there are safety concerns, it is incredibly valuable for the adult to be able to quietly observe as children figure out how to use the bright new shiny objects that may be in their environment.  Give ownership of discovery to children.

The plop was these simple floor tiles.  The children were given freedom of task, technique, team and time.  Over the course of a week, this awesome "Candy Land" game emerged from the minds of my littles.  It is SO important to understand that I had NOTHING to do with this.  My role in this bit of  brilliance was plopper, observer, stage hand (I got out the giant dice upon request) and documenter.

4)       Trust
The adult must trust the children to lead their own learning.  When a child feels they are trusted, they are empowered.  Empowered children confidently share their thoughts and ideas, try new things express their wonders.  The adult must also trust the children to assess risk.  Without risk in early childhood programs, how will a child learn how to manage it?  I'm not talking about handing 12 children Ginsu knives.  I'm talking about climbing up slides, roasting marshmallows, using real tools like hammers and screwdrivers, walking with scissors (gasp!) and standing on a chair to solve a problem.  My littles are well aware of the word "cautious" and "careful".  They know how to be both.  They are very empowered when I let them do something that involves a bit of risk.

Here we see Trillian solving a problem.  He had a plan.  He observed again, and again, the older children solving this very problem:  turning on the fort light.  He took what he learned, and is trying it himself.  He is learning to be careful, I am closely observing.  The children in my program know they may stand on a chair to solve a problem, but they must be ready to tell me their plan.

5)       Control the environment, NOT the children.
When thought is put into the environment, and expectations meet the capabilities of the environment, children can then be in control of their learning.  Got messy?  How are the children going to clean themselves?  Control the environment so children can be successful.  Clean up should be near the messy space when at all possible.  Think through the activity and set up the environment with success in mind.  With that said...make sure you don't get rid of all the conflict when controlling the environment.  I made that mistake for years.  I was in the "preventative management" mode.  I have learned that children NEED conflict in their days in order to learn how to handle it.  We are doing young children no favors by controlling the environment in a way that gets rid of all conflict. 
Notice how the handwashing bucket (the purple one) is placed in a handy position between the two bucket of clay play?  The environment is controlled.  The structure is also there.  My littles know that they may not, under any circumstances go into the street.  They know they may drive their cars to both of my neighbors homes and back.  Those are the CLEAR boundaries that provide the structure a child needs.  All of this works cohesively to now be able to let the children be in control of the play.

6)       Let children struggle.
Resist the urge to come to the rescue of a child who is struggling to solve a problem or accomplish a task.  Respect the child and give them the opportunity to ask for what they need (perhaps different materials, a tool or help).  The adult must bite their tongue and recognize the valuable learning found in working through a problem for oneself.  Ownership of failing is filled with valuable opportunities to learn about persistence, determination and success.

Parker's feet are stuck in a pile of goop.  Ty is trying to lift him out.  It is clearly not working.  Instead of stepping in, I respected Ty, and waited patiently for him to try other techniques, or to eventually ask for help. 
This is what happened  that sparked Ty wanting to return the favor to Parker!!  Ty got stuck in the goop, when Parker tried to rescue him....the entire container lifted too!!  It was HILARIOUS!! 

7)       Value life-long skills.
The often overlooked skills of solving problems, managing conflict, self regulation, self-help skills, cooperation, collaboration, consideration, patience, taking turns, asking for what we need, imagining, expressing oneself with words, persistence and determination are truly the most important skills for young children to have the opportunity to practice and polish.
A child in my program made the unfortunate choice to tear apart this Nerf ball.  (side note: this ball is at least 8 years old and has outlived it's life expectancy for a ball that is played with by 10-12 children daily and endures the weather extremes of South Dakota by five years..BUT, that is not the point.  The point is this is my property, and it is ruined.  The other point is there was bits of nerf ball scattered about my yard) 
I got this child a bag and told her she had a problem that she needed to solve.  She caused a mess in my yard that needed to be picked up, and she ruined one of our balls.  Once the pieces were picked up, inside she went to put the ball back together.  I asked her if there were any tools she felt she might need.  "I am going to need some glue."  I then left her to accomplish the task at hand.  She worked tirelessly for FORTY-FIVE minutes to repair the ball with zero success.  At last, she announced (in her best, "sorry, the patient didn't make it" style):  "Tenita, I can't fix it.  I tried, but it is really hard.  I am sorry."  There were tears as she announced to the rest of the crew that she was unable to repair the ball (everyone kicked in with perfect dramatics at the loss of this 8year old, seen it's better days, ball...they did GREAT!).  The point of this long story?  Look at the life-long skills that this child learned from the experience:  problem solving, ownership of bad choices, failing, responsibility, cause and effect, trial and error, expressing with words, owning our actions, respect and independent thinking. 

8)       Educate themselves of how skills build on each other.
The adult in a play-based, child-led program must be able to see how skills build upon each other.  They need to be able to dissect play to reveal what is truly going on.  A young child buildling a block tower is not only working on small motor skills that are necessary for handwriting, they are also polishing their perseverance and determination, they are learning about trial and error and cause and effect.  Connections are being made that will help the child make sense of this world.   Thinking through problems and finding a solution as well as measurement are also found in tower building.  As the child progresses, imagination, counting, comparing and contrasting and vocabulary will soon be added to the tower building process. 
Pulling = Prewriting. 
Whether pulling oneself UP the slide, pulling a wagon, or a bag full of pumpkins, using the large muscles of the upper back and arms are preparing us for writing.  The body developes from the inside out.  LARGE muscles need to be strong and coordinated before we can control the small motor muscles of the hand.  Handwriting does not begin by placing a crayon in a child's hand.  It begins with crawling and using the BIG muscles.

9)    Be prepared for “I wonder if…” moments.
In an environment that is rich with open-ended opportunities, children WILL wonder.  They will ask for more materials, they will want to try new things.  Adults must be prepared and be willing to get the additional supplies needed in order for the child to own the discovery their “wonder if..” will lead to. 
Gavin wondered if the dragon will float down the raingutter just like the water snake he made does.   Trial upon trial, failure after failure told him that no, the dragon does not float.

10)    Observe and document the learning going on around you, not because of you.
Observation and documentation is the best way to truly see the value of a play-based, child-led program.  Document with words, pictures and videos.  Write down every single "aha" moment that occurs.  I know some early childhood educators that were able to get an "Unexpected Learning" column added to the lesson plan form that is a requirement in their programs.  Whatever works for you, DOCUMENT.  It will not take long for you to realize the truly authentic and meaningful learning takes place during those "adult-out" child-led moments.

This is a great example of the learning that can occur AROUND the adult in a play-based, child-led program.  Yes, I set out the bubbles, yes, I set out the squirt bottles (see "Provide a Rich Environment")  I did NOT have any intentions of these two items merging.  Not only are these boys empowered by THEIR awesome idea...but there is also valuable visual tracking, visual planning, eye-hand coordination, small motor strengthening and imaginative story lines being invented and shared!

11)    Educate others.
Whether in person or through technology, take every opportunity to educate others of the value and importance of play. 
Visual tracking is a skill that holds great importance when it comes to reading and math.  It's value needs to be expressed to parents and they need to be encouraged to stop letting their children play with their smartphones and ipads.  Eyes need to track objects in  a LARGE plane (like across the room, in the air outdoors).... a smart phone screen and ipad screen is NOT a large plane.

The Child:
1)       Leads
Children in a play-based, child-led program should have confidence in their right to lead their own learning.  They should be aware that the adults trust them and therefore feel free to explore their world freely, making and owning discoveries.

2)       Is in control.

Children are in control of very few things in their life.  While in the open-ended envrionment of a play- based, child-led program a child should feel a sense of control.  If the adult has faithfully done all that is listed above for the “Roles of an Adult”, a child should be empowered with the gift of control.  Children can feel in-control through ownership of their “I wonder…”s, discoveries, failures and successes OR…they can feel a sense of control through negative behaviors like knocking down a friend’s creation, taking toys away or pushing down a friend.  Either way, a child craves control.  Which way would you rather they cure that craving?

3)       Solves problems.
Children who are empowered through the gift of control can solve problems because they are confident.  Empowered children aren’t afraid to use their imaginations, to try, to fail, to be determined or to ask for what they need.  All of which are components of solving problems.  Since the adult is aware of the value of struggling, a child's right to solve problems for themselves and to determine at what point they may need help is honored.

4)       Has freedom of time.
The freedom a flexible schedule allows gives children the opportunity to accomplish deep, thoughtful play.   Time gives children the chance to think through solving a problem, it allows them time to try different ways and figure out which one is the best.  Time gives children the opportunity to role play and practice what they know, all through play.  Time gives children the chance to test different theories, try new ideas and merge several story lines into one.  Time gives children the ability to work through social conflicts like taking turns, collaborating ideas and teamwork.  Time gives children opportunities for authentic, meaningful learning.
This photo is from "The Box Experiment of 2010".  I removed almost all of the toys (with the exception of dress up clothes, the play kitchen, cars, balls and books) and filled the environment with the ultimate in open-ended wonder:  cardboard boxes.  This was half way into my transition from teacher-led/controlled to child-led/play-based and I didn't not realize the benefit of time then.  Looking back at this picture I realize how many techniques were developed because the children had TIME to freely explore, build, try and fail with the boxes.

5)       Has freedom of task.
Giving children the freedom of what they are going to do helps them feel in control.  A child who has the sense of control is empowered (read #2 for the list of benefits!)

6)       Has freedom of technique.
If the adults in a child-led, play-based program can successfully bite their tongue (arguably, the hardest part of all of this!) the child can then have freedom of technique.  Children will go about things differently then adults.  There are many ways to accomplish a task or solve a problem.  Let children fail, let them succeed, let them try – give them the freedom of technique.  There is so much more learning involved in failing then there is in an adult stopping a child and telling them what they are doing will not work.
While my adult mind was wondering why on earth you would use this technique to poor water from one container to another, my ability to bite my tongue and give children the freedom of technique won out.  I did not say anything, and this grand technique has been used for over a year in all sorts of situations.  The child I allowed to own this discovery and this technique is EMPOWERED.

6)        Has freedom of team.
Let children choose their team.  That team may be no one at all.  That is fine.  Respect a child’s choice to play by themselves, or to play with a friend that always ends in fight.  The learning in that situation is priceless.  On a related topic, a child should not have to share just because another child would like to play with them.  Respect a child’s right to play alone and trust that they will take turns with the other child when they are finished. 

As I am re-reading what I wrote and editing (I have SEVERE editing issues) to make it all pretty and snazzy for you all (ha), I am realizing these lists could both be larger.  Please take what I have learned through my experiences and compare it to your own list and add to it! 

I truly believe that having the roles of the adult and child clearly defined is the best way to express, in words, what "Play-based" means.

If you get nothing else from this post, I hope that it cements even further the fact that play IS the "important stuff"!