Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reading about Vygotsky

I am becoming a committed fan of Teacher Tom's blog, and his thoughtful and helpful posts.

Today on Tom's post he commented on an article which discusses play and it's importance.
This article cited several researchers in the field, most of whom support the vital importance of play in child development.(if you would like to read the full article please go to Teacher Tom 's post for today, and click on the link. (I tried to access it to make it available here but couldn't do it - I'm not all that knowledgable about downloading).

I haven't really read about Vygotsky in depth - but now plan to read more. (I have probably benefitted from his writings secondhand, in that I suspect many of the things I've learned about children's play were developed from his theories)

I like the idea of guided pretend play, and there are several references in this article as to how adult interactions, and guidance facilitates more enriched and imaginative language and play in young children - I think this is meant as scaffolding, and also allows for stepping back on the adult's part.

The author of this article refers to the strengthening of a child's "executive functions" - cognition, self control, working memory - through pretend play. He describes the child who may be pretending that a broom is a galloping horse for example, as using abstract thought.

I really love the quote from Vygotsy that pretend play allows a child to stand a "head taller than himself".

So thanks Teacher Tom for sharing this article, which helped me today feel positive again about my work.

We had a difficult afternoon today. The weather was stormy and we stayed in, and we were at our fullest group size with a  group of children who couldn't seem to really find a common ground, with resultant tears, squabbles, and some unhappiness. This in spite of me trying what I know usually works to get us through the same kind of afternoon in the past.  So today was an imperfect day, one of those days I remember I'm not perfect, and neither are my children.

Tomorrow will be better. I plan on it!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bouncer Fun Day and Rice Fun

Our daycare center has a bouncer. This is an inflatable structure which the children love to BOUNCE in. I'm abit divided about the bouncer, as I am aware that it can be a good way to exercise in the winter months when we can't always be outside, but sometimes I wish we didn't have it in the center. Our director has requested that each room (group) use the bouncer at least weekly, so it is something I feel I have to do, and that in itself takes away from it for me. But as well it takes up the whole room for about 1 hour, with only 2 children allowed in it at the same time and it leaves the others who are waiting sometimes at loose ends, with not much room to be at loose ends in. As well it is fairly noisy, and I am personally sensitive to noise, it distracts me and makes me feel abit at loose ends too. So I think if I as an adult  am bothered by the noise, so might a sensitive child, and that can lead to behavior problems sometimes (from overstimulation?). My children are just 2 1/2 and so don't always take to waiting or giving turns that well, and with the noise, and possibly the stimulation from the artificial bouncing sensations, I sometimes get meltdowns. I have 2 children I know will experience emotional meltdown when they need to give a turn to someone else, but no matter how much I predict it is difficult for these kids. So really sometimes having the bouncer can feel abit like an ordeal.

I think the bouncer would be fun at a children's birthday party, and at an indoor playground, and also maybe outside where the noise might diffuse abit. I tend to feel the bouncer doesn't have a place in an early childhood environment, it doesn't help create a warm, nurturing environment - and I as an educator know lots of ways to help my kids get gross motor development through sensori-motor fun activities, and I always have provided these especially in the winter. (Another required piece of equipment our director has introduced is some foam climbing modules, and 4 large tumbling mats, which we are required to rotate weekly from room to room, and this is proving challenging to staff to incorporate them in a harmonious way - but I think I'd like to write about this in another post.)

As I don't really have a choice in the matter; it is required I've attempted to be as positive as possible, I have put it on my calender as "Bouncer Fun Day" -  I have my kids watch everything I do, and they love watching the pump fill the structure with air, etc. (Note to self maybe get books on pumps and balloons and study this with the group). I try to explain what I'm doing, we put on music (usually one child asks for his favourite Baby Einstein classical CD), and I do set up art, and some block building around the periphery.
And they do LOVE it, and I only need to do it once a week.

So Friday this week was Bouncer Fun Day, and we brought the bouncer in for the morning. It was abit icy for walking outside, so this is what we did for our exercise. Soon we won't worry about the Bouncer, as we'll be outside every day, and get our moving, and climbing outdoors in the fresh air.

On to the afternoon, and  we had one of our busy, fabulous, quirky times together. Afternoons we mix groups as staff leave at the end of shifts, and as I  get different children joining each day it can make for interesting group dynamics.I love observing the children at this time. I personally love being busy, which is why I really love working with the 2 1/2 year olds, they move quite frequently from place to place, and often need hands on help. But when older children move into our group, I stand back a little and observe more. I find some of my older children really like to help the younger children, and both ages enjoy these interactions.

We had just the regular play available, kitchen play, playdo, art, rice sensory play in a box - the basics such as blocks, and other toys. Today the rice had a way of getting on the floor, quite a distance from the table, and of course on the table  the box sat on, as the children poured and measured.. 

 Several children were busy helping me sweep up rice on an ongoing basis, with short handled brooms, and dustpans, and we really became quite efficient at this, which was really part of the fun.

One lovely moment - Guido (names changed), had spread the rice in a layer on the table, and then with the bottom of a yogourt container made concentric spirals, quietly, and repeatedly. What if I'd interfered and asked him to sweep the "mess" up? Well he'd have lost his moment, and so would have I. This was the best moment of my day, and the one that made me glad to be an early childhood educator. It wasn't dramatic but it took my breath away.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kids and stress: Q & A Dr. Stanley Kutcher - Health - CBC News

Kids and stress: Q & A Dr. Stanley Kutcher - Health - CBC News

I enjoyed this interview on the CBC news website, so thought I would share it here. (As well I am experimenting here with if I can actually do this, so not sure if it will be available for viewing here.)

Dr. Kutcher believes that sometimes we may overcompensate as parents and other concerned adults, and worry too much about stress in the lives of kids. He makes a wonderful statement : Whatever happened to play? Whatever happened to children working out things for themselves?

And while adults can provide help for children to deal with stress, such as meditation, etc. he says children may just need to play, or hang out with friends, or listen to music, etc. I think there is a lot of common sense really in what he says in this interview, and could be quite stress relieving for parents to realize - hey the children may be able to deal with their stress in the ways children have always done for years.

This isn't to discount trauma some children experience such as abuse, or trauma such as experiencing terrible disasters such as the children in Japan for instance are experiencing - and in severe stress of course adults are responsible for helping children in special ways, to cope, and overcome these kind of stresses.

I found myself thinking of Teacher Tom's post 2 days ago about allowing children to experience consequences, and deal with them, which I think is in the same spirit of what Dr. Kutcher says in his interview.

I hope you might enjoy this.

More reflections on the crisis in Japan

I think the civility and altruistic customs of the Japanese culture is fairly well known. I have been following news on CBC, our public broadcating radio in Canada, and last night learned of the altruistic and noble behavior of the individuals working to try and mitigage the disaster in the nuclear reactor sites affected by the eartquakes. The workers are definitely aware of the fact that they will be harmed from their work, by several kinds of cancers in their bodies, but continue to voluntarily work, and there is a pool of technologists sharing the work .Individuals putting their lives at risk for the benefit of their fellow citizens.

A Japanese Canadian student association at York University have begun an origami campaign, they have a simple table where they create origami cranes (this is a very profound, traditonal way to help - It has I think  roots from Hiroshima), $1.00 per crane, to raise money to help. The idea has now been taken up by McMaster University students as well.

I am thinking of getting some children's books on this. Rosemary Wells has a couple of lovely illustrated books about a little "girl/cat" of Japanese descent living in the States, and her relationship with her grandparents in Japan, and their origami art. I'll see what my children might like to try with some paper folding, and see where it might lead us.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday - An Ordinary Day

Monday mornings are always busy, and also fun, as we all return from the weekend. We hug and smile abit more than usual. And then get going with the business of  being together.

Today, the kids played while I made up the nap cots ( parents take laundry home every Friday), and we make up cots on Monday for the week.My children are always interested in this process, enjoying to help, and taking notice of their own cot.

Then we prepared dough for sugar cookies, adding green food colour as they will be part of our party food Thurs. for St. Pat's Day. I later put our cookie dough in the fridge to chill, and we'll roll the dough, and cut with shamrock cookie cutters, and bake next day.

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch of perogies, ham, and green string beans. Mmmm.

Down for nap.

Up for snack, and then some play, and routines, and then the best part of this day - outside and it was plus 3 outside. The snow is melty and sticky, there are small slush puddles on the sidewalks!!!!

A great way for us to end our day, and we even built a "baby" snowman!

I've been enjoying looking at the small gifts, and collections on several blogs. Collections are always fascinating I think, Just recently I was remembering collections I had as a child. Mom smoked, and used matches in book form, so for a long time I used to collect match book covers, and the kind she purchased seemed to feature flowers, so I just loved this, and would sort them, and also I think classify them a bit. These were a treasure for me.
Also in the summer I have vivid recollections of quite involved collections of stones, and my friends and I also enjoyed using a hammer to crush them, and collected the powders of the stones.(We didn't use safety goggles and it's probable our adults didn't know about this).

I know I've been aware of the little sortings, of my children but  I'm going to watch for awhile to see what my children may be interested in collecting and sorting.

Just a note, I've started a new blog for my creative writing self, called MullenAvenueWorkshop, but I'm having trouble separating the blogs, so when I leave a comment on your blog, it show up as MullenAvenueWorkshop. Time for me to ask my son for some assistance -  he's so good to me!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Remembering those in Japan and Christ Church, NZ

It is sometimes easy to forget the disasters befalling our fellow human beings. In what might be a form of compassion fatigue I find myself trying to tune out what I learn in the news. Our news tells us of wars, starvation, disease, and environmental tragedy around the world daily/ hourly - and possibly in an effort to keep going  I for one try to focus on my own small part of the world, perhaps hoping by staying positive I can somehow make a difference to the people in my life at least.And working with children, there is always the pull to the present, to life, and small joys.

But this evening I know I would like to take time to reflect on the experience of the people in Japan.In respect for their tragedy I want to hold them in my thoughts, not letting anything else intrude.  

The Right Way?

For many years now, I have hidden the fact that I just don't know the right way to do certain things, such as the right time and way to potty train a child;  the right way to teach a child to hold scissors; and even the right way to handle children's aggressive behaviors toward one another like hitting, biting, and refusing to share.

In my early years, I kept this pretty well to myself, reading the literature on a subject, observing what other coworkers did with their children and then deciding what fit for me, and then doing what felt right for me and my children. Sometimes this caused me a problem with my supervisors, such as when I would allow my children to use materials and toys for other uses. My wonderful friend and the assistant director where I worked for 16 years, had a strong Montessori background and would often set out learning activities with very specific expectations, and would then be appalled to find I let the children use the tiny counting cubes in their block play.We would discuss this and I would explain my view that the children learned in their own way, and they were finding creative ways to use the material, which I was comfortable with, that I made sure nothing was lost, and also that we also used them for counting. Who was right? Neither of us, I think.And we always resolved the "conflict" of expectations peacefully.

We are still friends after all these years, and although Mamta (name changed), is retired we keep in contact. Furthermore I credit Mamta with much of my learning on the job, as she was an incredible teacher of young children, who knew how to draw the interest of her children just by sitting on the floor and being with them (she still did this in her late 60's).Having learned to be a teacher of young children in India, she had wonderful ideas about reusing materials, knew countless wonderful stories and songs which had been unknown by most of us trained in Canada; and knew how to be a good steward of materials, doing arts and crafts that cost little in money, because we recycled and reused most of the time.One quality which really shines in Mamta is her openness, and ability to be flexible to change, and to admit differing ways at looking at something .She is usually the first to admit there is no one right way of doing something.

I'm so enjoying reading Teacher Tom's blog, as he reflects on the same issues, is there a right way to hold scissors, or pencils; is there one right way to teach young children - true enough there isn't.

Early childhood education is not about turning out children to be all the same, like cookie cutter people. Child care educators are not all cut of the same cloth and philosophies differ according to the culture, locale, and life experiences of the people involved.

I think the Reggio educators in Reggio Emilia recognize this as well .I've been fortunate to attend several workshops on Reggio education, and am working my way through the amazing book The Hundred Languages of Children , and my sense is that these individuals describe what they do, but are not hoping that people all over the world  will unreservedly copy everything they do, with no understanding how to implement it, or reflection on  the underpinning of their work.My understanding is that they offer us one way of teaching young children, which truly does celebrate and empower children, but that they would like others to use what fits, and find their own true way.

Lately I've been feeling inspired to go back the The Hundred Languages, and read and reflect again, so I am really looking forward to being renewed by this. Another book I plan to get, and read, Is Sue Fraser's Authentic Childhood. I was able to hear an address by Sue at a CAYC conference, and she is passionate about Reggio education, within the Canadian context . What works in the wonderful town of Reggio Emilia, Italy might not work in a small reserve school in Saskatchewan, Canada, although the spirit can be transposed. This is the spirit of child centeredness; enquiry; open endedness; authenic communication; peacefulness; and as well I would hope the emphasis of beauty, and nature in the child's environment.

So I plan this weekend to immerse myself in the wonderful writing of The Hundred Languages of Children, and reflect...and then signs of spring are also around the corner here in Regina, Saskatchewan. What could be better?!

I've now been enjoying being a member of the "bloggy" world of those interested in the education of young children,  for about 6 weeks, and am grateful for the chance there is to learn, be inspired, receive encouraging comments, and give feedback,... to really find that one isn't alone. There is a whole world of wonderful, creative people grappling with similar issues and concerns, and presenting wonderful solutions.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Busy, Happy Friday Afternoon

At our center, in the afternoons, we combine and reconfigure groupings as child care staff finish their shifts, and go home.So the groups are mixed age groups more often. There are special challenges with this as children are feeling some stresses from the long day, and missing their families, which can make transitions harder, and it can be hard for the children moving to groups -  as well as the children who are adjusting to changes happening to their group dynamics, as new children move in.

I like to have the children outside for the end of the day as the outdoors are more relaxing for the children, and playing outside in the fresh air is a great way to end the day.

However the temperature has been too cold for the last three weeks for outside play, so we've worked at finding creative, fun ways to play indoors.

The last two days provided respite from the cold, and we were so happy to get outside and play, and then today was stormy so back inside

I made sure today I had lots of paint for the easel, and some pretty tissue for collage, and  a sensory box filled with rice for scooping -  and the children happily painted, scooped, glued, drew - played in the housekeeping, and dressup, as well as blocks, etc. - all the tried and true standbys.And so our afternoon breezed by - Timothy, the oldest (names changed), who is often quiet and reserved,built a tower using all the Wedgits, and called excitedly "Brenda, I made a tower!", with pride apparent in his whole body; and Meredith, who sometimes gets teary at the end of the day as she wants her Mom, lay contentedly on the rug, with her head on a pillow, daydreaming and talking to herself.And Jenna, who has been showing so much caring for her friends, found a new way to console a friend, by getting the child's family photo and giving it to her to hold.(Each child has a family photo in a frame in our room).

And so I am just so grateful for every little thing I have learned and picked up over the years and in my training -  that in early childhood education we have simple, tried and true ways to engage children, and soothe children, helping teachers and kids turn an afternoon into a meaningful, happy  time that may one day be a happy memory.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Try not to put the cart before the horse

Dialoguing with my children, and really sitting at their level helps me to gain rapport with my children. So I keep up friendly conversations with my kids throughout the day. It makes my job so much easier because the kids view me as a person of interest, who is interested in them.

For example, I might share the daily antics of my two cats Herbert and Arthur; I might talk about  my weekend grocery shopping and what I like to buy at the grocery store; I might reminisce about the time as a small child I was stuck in the mud wearing my new cowboy rainboots, and Mom had to pull me out but one boot got lost for abit - and then I find I am rewarded with wonderful stories from my children throughout the day about their weekend, or their pets, or any special thing they might feel like telling me.I have found my children to have very good memeories, and to ask me questions related to an incident I might have brought up the month past.

I think this is a good way to engage children as it is an informal way to enhance cognitive and language development, and creates a relationship of trust.

Then I feel I am more likely to have the children listen and follow requests I make of them, (not always),  and I believe that if we are enjoying mutual conversations at say lunch time there is less possibility of undesirable behaviors. My children  feel respected by me when I dialogue with them, and so sit and eat in a respectful manner. Not always, sometimes people wriggle, or sit on their knees, but I think being reminded helps the child sit more safely.

I feel if I haven't worked at this with my children; if I haven't done the groundwork of establishing comfort and rapport, and then I expect them to behave in respectful ways themselves - well then I am putting the cart before the horse.

That's all for now!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reading about Capes

I've just been reading through some of Teacher Tom's wonderful posts, and feel like I just want to start over, I agree with him, Why not allow capes?

There was a good comment re: capes from the two wonderful bloggers from Irresistable Ideas for Playbased Learning, re: that children want costumes and particularly capes for good reason. Why have I been such a stickler for enforcing a no cape, no super hero rule? I suppose because I have a fear of things getting out of hand and someone getting hurt, but perhaps I'm also afraid of losing my adult authority.

I'm having one of those days where I'm feeling that I'm a too serious, over conscientious person. but this is also sometimes a good time to make changes.I am a stickler for almost all rules, which causes my co-workers to sometimes roll their eyes, and for me to get pretty bored with myself; and is probably a way for me to feel control, but at some point when I can't stand myself any longer, I can ease up, and that's when I learn to relax and get back to having fun, because teaching small children is really about having fun with the kids.

This week reading the creative, energetic and enthused writing about early childhood education, I've seen so much I'd like to try.

I want to try the Little Worlds play boxes from Let the Children Play and Teacher Tom; the Cat and the Hat snack from Child Care Station with strawberries and banana, as well as the fishing snack using pretzl sticks, cream cheese, and fish crackers (such a great ideas); I want to sew some capes for my kids like the ones from Teacher Tom's school; do some fun science activities , and more creative art    (the eyedropper art from Flights of Whimsey using black pen was very nice).

I did do some indoor snow painting using koolaid paint which my children loved, and I was able to find some spray bottles, and they enjoyed using them alot. 

I really, really loved reading Child in Harmony - so many positives and beautiful pictures.

I'm enjoying reading Take a Happy Break, Thanks Geraldine!!!

We're having some of the coldest days in 100 to 130 years here in Saskatchewan, and I think the staying indoors is starting to be abit too tiresome for everyone I know.

But soon spring will be here, as Child in Harmony reminds us in a very wonderful way.

I just want to express gratitude to the people who share their creativity on their blogs, and allow me to follow along, and as well to those who have checked in with me, and written comments.I've come to look forward to checking in with you every evening, and reading about your day.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Little Worlds

What a fine idea! I'm so glad I read a posting on Let the Children Play about this today. My kids are interested in ballet, and all things princess right now. Yesterday we put together a box castle, making use of much masking tape of course to hold our construction together, and painted it. The kids plan to play with Little Ponies in the castle. Now I plan to provide sand trays, and small materials and see what they come up with here.I had been wanting to make sand trays since hearing about their use in play therapy, and am glad to see them used. I see I don't need a "fancy tray", a box will work!

We are also listening to classical music to which the children twirl and swirl as ballet dancers. For props I provided swimsuits (they pull them on over their clothes), and real ballet slippers.One favourite is The Nutcracker Suite,in which they prefer the "scary" part. Jeremy will often ask "Put on the scary music".

We are still having extremely cold temperatures here in southern Saskatchewan, and I'm so glad we're finding lots of fun inside things to keep us happy!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Positive Communication and Prediction

 Last evening our center hosted 2 child therapists from SCEP who came to teach us some of their ways of communicating with young children. SCEP is a play based center working with children who may have some language delays. It's full name is the Society for Children with Communication and Emotional Problems, and was founded by Dr. Elizabeth Brandt, who was a speech and language pathologist.

I love their work, and have attended several of their workshops over the years. Much of their work with children and parents is based on the work of Dr. Haim Ginott.

Everything they do at SCEP is based on respect for the child and seeing things from the child's perspective.

I came away with some new plans for my work. I plan to use more visual ways of predicting transitions for my children, such as "prediction boards". So I'll take photos of my kids in various activities, and create some visual cues. Some simple one's I plan on are: Preparing for lunch, showing each step, such as cleaning up, washing, etc. ; Nap time routine; Dressing for outside play. I think these will be useful, as I have very young children (2 1/2 to 3)

Another new idea I have just learned are "Social Stories", so I'm excited about learning more, and making some of these for my kids

Following is one of my favourite quotes from Dr. Ginott:
 "I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my personal approach that creates the climate. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized."