Friday, December 19, 2014

STOP the Adult Brain Instead of Stopping Child-led Play

Just as children get urges, we adults get urges too.  Sometimes those urges are very strong.  The most common urge we get is to interrupt what a child is engaged in for the simple reason that it goes against what our adult brain has "planned" for them to do.

The adult brain sometimes interprets the brain of a child as being frivolous.  Especially the brain of a child engaged in adult-out, child-led play.  Adults have a hard time seeing the purpose or meaning in child-led play and often times cast play aside as something children do to waste time.

We tend to struggle with the urge to STOP THEIR PLAY, when really, we need to STOP OUR BRAINS and take a moment to reflect on the learning that is occurring right in front of us, NOT because of us.

I experienced this very urge this week in my play school program.  I KNOW very well that there is value in child-led play.  I KNOW that play is the best way for a young child to learn.  Even with KNOWING those things are true, my adult-brain still struggles to not lead sometimes.

Here's the order of events that sparked this blog post (yes, pull up a chair..this might get lengthy...or, save this post for THAT trip to the bathroom -- you know the one, where you flush many times so your family thinks you are really "busy" in there, but really, you just want some quiet time and are actually sitting on the floor all cozied up with your "must read" items....if you have never done this, you are welcome for the idea, it works like a charm.)

And so the story begins:
Thanks to itty bitty pieces of torn up wrapping paper and the parachute, my crew led me to the mystery word, "fly" at the end of our time together on Wednesday.  SO...I followed their lead as I prepared the environment for our time together on Thursday.  


The environment in an early learning program should be inspired by where the children have led you.

I "plopped" the following in the environment:
1)  the catapult and bucket with soft items perfect for flying
2)  a small parachute was placed beside the bucket of wrapping paper pieces begging to fly
3)  the pendulum had a bathroom puff tied to the end of it...perfect for flying through the air
4) the mystery word: "fly"


Not sure what I mean when I say "I plopped...."  Then you will enjoy reading this post.
What on earth is a "mystery word"?  Read this post.

I also was prepared with turkey baster bulbs and plastic shot glasses (yes, I deduct plastic shot glasses from my taxes) and plastic spoons and fluffy pom poms.  All of which are fantastic opportunities for making things fly.  I had these ready for when my littles led me to wanting MORE opportunities.


One of the keys to running a successful child-led, play-based program is to be prepared for where you THINK the children may go -- BUT, accept it (which is hard to do) when they DON'T go there.

The children arrived on Thursday morning, and, as expected, dove right in to the catapult......what wasn't expected is they played with it for ten minutes and that's it.  

One child discovered the mini (6 man) parachute and wrapping paper....they played with that for long enough to scatter wrapping paper ALLLL over the floor.

The pendulum was a hit...again, for about ten minutes, then got the occasional attention from the passing-by child.

They found the letters "l" and "y" and figured out that our mystery word was fly.

That was more excitement about flying objects than that.   Sigh.  

No leading me to pulling out the turkey basters and shot glasses.  No flying objects launched from plastic spoons.  

I looked around the room feeling quite deflated.  I really wished they would have dove deeper into the concept of flying as there were so many learning opportunities waiting for them there.  My adult brain was so ready to give them more was suppose to have been a morning so rich with learning.  Instead, it was just a ho-hum kind of a morning.  


The "STOP THEM" argument ALMOST won, but then I had a moment to skim through the pictures I had taken thus far that morning.  And what I saw simply amazed me.  The learning was SO CLEAR in hindsight.

This is what I saw:

A child was learning through cause and effect, and comparing and contrasting as she related how far she pulled the catapult back to how far the stuffed mouse would fly.

A child was learning about weight and numbers as he figured out if the mouse or the green ping pong ball was heavier.

A child was empowered from the opportunity to organize his friends in order to accomplish a task of his choosing.  What was the task?  He wanted to make the wrapping paper fly using the parachute.  He couldn't do this alone.

Children were utilizing teamwork to accomplish a task.  The child in the red snowman jammies is orchestrating this endeavor, and he did a fine job with it.

Children were making connections as they manipulated their bodies in different ways.  Exploring the purpose of different muscles and the effect it has on the task at hand.

Children were having a whole lot of just can't have too much belly-laughing in their day!

Children were multi-tasking.  This child was determined to hold onto the mouse AND move the parachute at the same time.

Children were learning the importance of focusing and being careful.  This child switched his focus from his drilling to where his mouse went for one second and the drill quickly turned off.  He learned that drilling requires two hands, and focus.

 Children were learning that SLOW gets the job done better than fast sometimes.  This child was cutting out the star he had drawn the other day (using the giant dot-to-dot that is on our floor of a star)  I highlighted the lines that needed to be cut out, and he went to work.  He failed at his first attempt because he wanted to go FAST.  Well...guess what happens when you go fast with scissors?   You cut your paper in half!  So these are pictures of his second attempt....his SLOWER attempt.

Children were feeling PROUD of their accomplishments.  Pride builds our self esteem.  A good self esteem gives children the confidence they need to try new things, to think outside the box to solve problems and persevere through struggles.  Arguably, these abilities are very important for all future learning.

Children were motivated by sparkle.  The whole reason this child wanted to make a star?  He wanted to use the glitter!  He is finally enjoying the fruits of his labor.....GLITTER!!

Children were learning there is a process you need to follow, an order of events:  1) draw, 2) cut, 3) glue, 4) sprinkle, 5) CAREFULLY dump and....

Children were AWE-inspired from their own hard work.

Children were learning they can make something happen (see the spinning mice?  The one on the left is gray, the one on the right is white)

Children were discovering problems.  See the balls clogged in the crazy tube?

Children were collaborating ideas in order to solve a problem.  The problem?  Balls were stuck in the tube.

Children were learning the boundaries at play school are in place for a reason.  The boundary (aka: rule) for the crazy tube?  BALLS ONLY.  WHY?  Because all other objects will get caught.  What was causing the clogged tube?  A teensy, tiny mini eraser had been placed in the tube.  It is small then an inch big, and it was causing the blockage.  This child is hitting the tube in order to get the eraser to slowly shimmy on through.  When she was finished she looked at me and said "I won't ever do that again.  That was hard work"

Children were learning that making a mess is far more fun then picking it up.  However, when you add tools to the job (like the "grabbers" in this child's hands) it's a lot more fun!

Children were discovering their own technique for accomplishing tasks and using tools.   This child was having  a hard time being successful.  She changed up her technique several times.

Children were persevering.  This child worked on this very task for well over 5 minutes.  Testing out different techniques and tweaking them ever-so-subtly with the hopes of finding success.

 Children were learning that sometimes things are really hard, and a big deep breath and a break can help.

Children were learning that success feels really good, but can take a lot of work!

 Children learned that in the middle of picking up, it's okay to take a break and PLAY!!  This child is gathering up as much wrapping paper as he can so he can make them fly!

 Children were tracking items in space with their eyes.  A necessary skill for future reading success.

Children had the freedom of technique.  This child is decorating the tree....ALL from a comfortable seated position on the floor.  (notice the saturation of candy canes? :) ) Is this the way our adult brains would do it?  NO.  Is it okay though?  YES.  It's times like this that can be very challenging to hush the adult brain and just let the child own the experience.

Children were recognizing numbers.  During snack time, this child found a number 3 in her pretzels!!

So, the next time you get that STRONG urge to stop child's play in order to make them follow your adult plans....please take a moment to STOP YOUR BRAIN instead of stopping the valuable child-led play that is happening before you.

I highly suggest adding photo documentation to your program.  As you just witnessed:  the pictures tell it the best!

There was no reason for me to stop the child-led learning that was occurring in my program.  The value was right there in front of me, I just needed to stop my brain, and take a moment to really SEE the value.

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?