Thursday, June 13, 2013

It "Distappeared!!!!" : The Value of Unexpected Learning

Jack made something "distappear".  To him, it was the greatest discovery Eh-VER!

Making something disappear was a side effect of the joys of unexpected learning.  Lucky enough for the children in my program, I have learned through the years that unexpected moments trump my plans any day.  I came to the realization that my plans are tainted with adult, fenced-in ideas, and should have limited appearances in my early childhood program.  Children should be trusted to lead their own learning and I should follow them and make their unexpected ideas "our plan".  I have, through observation, acquired the knowledge LOUD AND CLEAR, that it is in the best interest of the children (aka:  BEST PRACTICE) for me to step back, and release control (AAACK!  Do the words "release control" give you the heebie jeebies?  click HERE). 

It is in the best interest of my littles for me to appreciate the learning and value in the unexpected moments.

Think about it:

The possibilities are endless in the mind of a young child.  They are not yet spoiled by the "correct" answer.  Will it float?  Will it sink?  What will happen if...?  What if we try this...?  What about that....?  Can we mix this and that together...?  What happens if I drop this, or throw that?  What happens if I use this, to do that?

We adults already know most of the answers to those questions...BUT, a young child does not, and there is so much learning in the predicting and the gathering of evidence and proof.  Priceless learning in trying and in the finding out.  Valuable learning is found in being allowed to wonder and then discover the answer to that wonder. 

We adults must be careful.  We have the power to destroy the ownership of discovery, and all the learning that accompanies it with a few simple words.  "It won't work" or "Yes, it does" or "It's not suppose to be used like that" can ruin the opportunity for discovery in a second.   Our adult expectations and knowledge can get in the way of the BEST of wonders!!

Here's what happened recently in my program.  This incident sparked this entire post....enjoy!

I plopped (what the heck is a plop? CLICK HERE) a bucket of water and paint brushes outside.  On one table I had the buggy flubber, on another table, soap dough (recipe at the end of this post).  We also had the plastic raingutter at the end of the sump pump hose, waiting for that surprising squirt of water to rush various objects down the "slide" (as my crew had accurately named it). 

It took about 30 minutes before I heard the first "I wonder"

Side Note:  Children's play needs TIME to evolve.  If the children in your program are allowed just 30 minutes of free play time, they are not getting the full benefit out of play.  I hear time and time again from people, I try to plop, but it doesn't work for me.  The kids walk away after five minutes.  They don't do anything with it.  CHILDREN NEED TIME.  Children also need to be bored.  GRAND things come out of a little boredom and TIME!

Curious Child:  "Nita!  I wonder what would happen if we put the flubber in the rain gutter?  Do you think it will float?"

Thoughts that swirled in my  head:    Of course not.  Its so dense it will sink to the bottom every time.  No way will it float.  Oh, but I need to let them figure that out.  Don't spoil the moment, Denita!!
Thoughts that thankfully came out of my mouth:   "I have no idea.  Why don't you try it and tell me what happens?"

Guess what?  It slid down the slide, lickety split.  It made no difference if it sank or if it floated.  It was now SLIPPERY and AWESOME! 

One thing led to another and the bucket of water with the paint brushes in it quickly became a playground for flubber, and man was it exciting!  "Flubber sinks!  Flubber sinks!" was overheard, quickly followed by a "Lets make a boat with it..I bet it will float then!!"  LOTS of trying, lots of failing and lots of learning and owning of discoveries.

Soon.  Another wonder.  This time, regarding the soap dough (Soap dough consists of dish soap and corn starch...gee....what is going to happen to that if it goes in the water?  My adult mind knows...but, again, luckily my mouth chose not to disclose that information)

Curious Child:  "Hey Nita!  I wonder what will happen if I put this stuff in the water?"
Thoughts that swirled around my head and tickled my tongue:  It's made out of soap for goodness sakes, it's going to just be mush when you get it wet.  Won't be any fun at all
Thoughts that won the internal battle and came out of my mouth:    "I don't know!  Why don't you try it and tell me what happens?"

Click here to view this 29 second video of what happened (trust me...this video SAYS IT ALL):  "DISTAPEARRED VIDEO"

To think that a few simple words would have taken that innocent amazement and ownership of discovery away from that child!!

The moral of this post? 
Adults need to make their adult-ideas "distappear" :). 

1)  We need to carefully, and purposely sort out those swirling thoughts and make sure the motivating ones come out of our mouths.  Instead of telling our littles everything we know,  we need to excite their curiosity in a way that tells them their idea is:   "an awesome wonder,  I don't know what will happen, but I trust you to find out". 

2)  We need to accept the fact that a lot of times, our adult plans can stifle the potential of unexpected learning.  Adult plans should be available for a limited time only in early childhood programs. 

3)  We need to RELAX, and follow children.  Making their amazing wonders "the plan" is not only loaded with learning potential, it is also very empowering too!

"Distappearing Dough" (aka:  soap dough)

2  35 oz containers of cornstarch (Sams Club or Costco)
1 56 bottle of Dawn dishsoap

Mix and mix and mix and mix and knead and knead and knead.  This will be a very messy process.  Once a dough has formed, wash and dry hands well, and dough will no longer be so sticky.  This dough can be formed and scooped like ice cream.  It is super soft to the touch.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Empower the "out of control" Child with the Gift of Control

Young children have an innate desire to be in control.  Some, more then others. 

The children who "ruin everything I have planned" are simply seeking control.  They are feeling "out of control" because, well...they are.  You may have even found yourself saying "Whew...these children are out of control".  Your natural reaction is to tighten the reigns on those children by making your program more scheduled and led by you in order to "help them gain control".  When, what they are in need of , is the gift of control.

A child whose behavior is "out of control" may simply be lacking control.  Their bodies are screaming for control.  Here is the worse case scenario for the "out of control" child:  The schedule consists of children arriving and having 30 minutes of "free play" before it is STOPPED (removing the control from the child) to hold a meeting controlled by the teacher (aka:  Circle Time).  The rest of the day is highly structured with large motor time (teacher-led), station time (setting a timer and forcing children to rotate from station to station. Remember, this is the WORSE CASE SCENARIO), story time, small motor time (teacher-led), writing time (teacher-led), blah blah blah....  AAAAACK!!!!  This spells disaster for children who have an intense desire to have some control!  You are creating an environment conducive to children seeking control in socially unacceptable ways.  There is a huge amount of control in knocking down a friend's tower, interrupting the teacher while she is reading a story, or plopping one's legs all over their neighbor during Circle Time.  All of these situations will ease that screaming desire for control.  They will also feed that monster inside and create an even larger urge for MORE control, because, being in control feels good.  It is empowering.

SO THEN...what do you do?  We want young children to be empowered, right?  We know that empowered young children have the confidence needed to do things for themselves, ask for what they need, try new things, fail and pick themselves up and persevere.  All are valuable life-long skills.  We also know that being in control is empowering. 

Ask yourself the following questions: 
1)  Do we want a child to be empowered by being "out of control", by controlling those around her, and controlling YOU?
2)  Do we want a child to be empowered by being in control, by giving them the freedom to control their play and lead their learning?

Guess what?  When you step back, ease up on your structured agenda and give young children control of their task (what they are doing), technique (how they are doing it), time (when they are doing it) and team (who they are doing it with)  their desire for control will be fed, and in MOST situations, the behavior problems simply disappear.  (note:  I said MOST.  These are children after all -- there is no one-size fits all -- but there IS one-size fits MOST)

Does this happen overnight?  No.  Remember, the children are use to you being in control and telling them what to do.  They are not use to having ownership of the control.  It will take them a while to truly believe that you are indeed trusting them to make choices for themselves and gifting them with control.  The children in your program may go through a phase of "boredom" ( my opinion, children need to be bored, but that's an entirely different topic).  This is a natural "consequence" (if you will) of an adult always being in control.  Children don't know how to think for themselves when they are use to an adult telling them the plan all the time.  When that control suddenly switches, children won't necessarily know how to react right away.  GIVE IT TIME.

It may also take you a while to adjust.  If you are use to planning out a very structured day for the littles in your program, it will take a while, and, admittedly (I've been there), the process may be painful, for you to step back and follow children.  Giving the gift of control is not always easy.  But, from my experience, it is truly the best for young children.  Isn't "best practice" our goal?

Also, don't misinterpret "Children in control" as a "free-for-all".  There needs to be boundaries.  Clear and consistent boundaries.  My favorite rule (Heather Shumaker, author of It's Okay Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids says it the best):  "It's okay as long as you aren't hurting people or property" (my version is wordier, I have editing issues...ha!!).   I'm not suggesting the adult turns around and lets children do whatever they the end, the adult IS in control, just not in a controlling way. 

Do you have some "out of control" children in your program?  The first thing to do is to evaluate your program.  Look at your schedule.  How much of the day do the children feel in control?  Do they follow you the majority of the time....or do you follow them?  Is the problem the child?  OR... Is the problem you, and your fear of sharing control?

I want to leave you with this final thought:
When your car is out of gas, what do you do?  You give it more gas, you don't take gas away.  You fill the tank.

Children are the same.  When their behavior is "out of control" we need to give them more control, not take control away.  We need to fill their tank.  We need to empower children by giving them the gift of control.

(thank you Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive for the "Four T's":  Task, Technique, Time and Team.)