Friday, May 27, 2016

"Bang! Bang!"

Book Study Week 6: Chapter 8, 9 & 29
Commentary by Teacher Tom

I grew up trying to keep Barbie safe from my brothers G. I. Joe toys. They would kidnap her, cut her hair and give her tattoos. Neither of my brothers grew up to victimize women or become hair stylists or tattoo artists.  It was imaginary play.  We didn't watch tv, but we read lots of books and some of those stories were violent and scary.   Our brains figured out what was imaginary and what was real.  Why is today different?

Is it the reality and violence that is constantly on tv and radios without context or explanation?  Is it the zero tolerance policies, not allowing for this kind of play, in environments where learning and teaching appropriate vs inappropriate play can actually happen?

The comments about adult anxieties being foisted upon our children was really interesting to me.  

I am not sure if I think there is a no gun play policy in our learning environments, or do I just think there is because of my own fears and views?  I will do some research and ask questions.  

I was shopping for spring toys for my classroom and I though bubble guns would be so much fun, but I opted for wands.  I also decided against buying squirt guns and opted for spray bottles.  

I am a toddler teacher so I am unsure of the level of gun play that is appropriate for this age group, as it has never really been perceived as ~allowed~ where I have worked for fifteen years.  

I have noticed that we can remove the blocks shaped like guns, we can remove Legos built like guns no we can remove actual gun toys, but children as young as two, still find a way to engage in imaginary gun play, using tubes, dishes, books, etc.   

These chapters have conjured more questions than answers for me.  

I think in the future, I will allow the gun play, with the toys remaining available to them, and watch and offer comments and really use it as a teachable moment.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

All Work and No Play

Book Study Week 5: Chapter 13
Commentary by Walter F. Drew

Free play is critical to learning.  Kids who are told what to do, when to do it and how, never learn to problem solve or think for themselves. One thing you'll hear me say all the time in my toddler classroom is, "Please try and solve your problem, but let me know if you need my help". I have introverts and extroverts that are learning to play in the same space and I help by removing "hazards" and every month I create new toys and experiences that fit my theme. We have a daily schedule, because toddlers need to know what comes next with some predictability, to be secure enough to play. By my favorite mornings are those spent with individual and small groups of toddlers ~playing~.  I let the play go on as long as possible. Usually until my most active children get wound up and need to switch gears.

When I communicate with parents, I let them know the value of the play we engaged in that day.  Informing them that toddlers playing, whether cooperatively, solitary or engaged in parallel play,  are learning valuable skills.  Self regulation, sharing, language, social integration, problem solving...just to name a few.

The comment, made by Rachel on Dawn's blog,  when she hears people comment on her vocation" I wish I could just play with kids all day" made me think about the comments I get about babysitting or doing daycare I sometimes hear when I say I am "toddler teacher" . 

In this fast paced, academic achievement-valued early childhood field, it turns out we need to teach parents the value of play...and make sure the children have time to do it.   

Saturday, May 14, 2016

It's about who I am, not how I look!

Book Study Week 4: Chapter 6
Commentary by Diane Levin

Have you seen behavior like what Rae and I describe? 
  • Please describe some of the more dramatic examples.
  • Do you have concerns about this behavior? If so, what worries you the most?
In reading this chapter, my thoughts go immediately to a child in my care. She is a strikingly beautiful child and her appearance is commented on by other parents every day.  I will tend to agree and then change the subject, but, after this lesson, it seems I need to do more,  as a teacher and advocate for all children,

Toddlers hear ~everything~ and I think many times adults forget that.  Parents and sometimes other caregivers talk ~about~ children, in front of them. I try to turn the conversation to include the child, assuming they are contributing to the conversation, simply by their presence.

Although this chapter focuses on girls and appearance, Diane Levin comments on the use of gender biased language for boys too.  In my experience, dads often have more gender biased play comments regarding their boys than mothers do. Many times, at drop off & pick up times, I hear some fathers say "That's my boy" as he is wrestling or engaged in rough play. Or worse, "that's girl stuff" as they are pushing a baby in a stroller, or in dress up clothes.  Sometimes its difficult to find the right words in that moment to help the child feel better without contradicting the parent.

All of my toddlers are beautiful children.  If comments are being made about one child "Amy's" appearance, and I am unable to steer the conversation away, I just start commenting on Billy's "beautiful eyelashes", and Carl's "big brown eyes".  Sometimes parents look at me funny and the comments stop, or they simply agree with me and we move on.  Keeping in mind that Billy and Carl and Amy were all complemented!

Educating parents is more important than some early childhood educators understand.  We have opportunities to give parents the language to use with and around their kids, to encourage all kids and to teach them who they are is more important than how they look, or how they play.

  • What aspects of popular culture [TV shows, movies, video games, toys] seem to enter most into the gender specific play and behavior you see?
The children's television show, Princess Sofia, is all purple, pink and sparkly.  I see some shows ~trying~ to even the playing field. I asked a parent about this new Paw Patrol show, and a mother of two boys gushed over how wonderful it is, with no violence, and equally appealing to girls and boys.  I watched the show, and have seen some books, but it appears, the main "human" character is a boy (with some girl sidekicks) and there is only one (out of six) female Paw Patrol member.

Check out the birthday party aisles in your local party supply store.  There is no question about the separation of girls and boys by color, activities and toys & games, all in one convenient location.

  • Have you tried any of the strategies recommended by Rae Pica or me for dealing with the gender divisions among girls and boys and particular stereotyped behavior of the girls or boys?
We have had parents come and talk with the kids and share careers. We had moms who are doctor, dentist and national guard member and a dad who is a nurse and both moms & dads who are engineers.  All parents were welcomed and engaged with all the children.

I try to steer conversations away from how kids look, and if I make appearance comments, I try to keep it to the shirts they are wearing and discuss colors, shapes, and patterns in general terms.  I will be more aware of what I say, and ask my co-teachers to work as a team and really listen to each other and help curb gender biased appearance/behavior talk for both boys and girls.

I would like adults to remember that kids are listening and always watching. What we ~do~ can tell them as much, if not more, than what we say.  Have conversations "about" them out of earshot, if they are needed.

Encourage all kinds of play for all kinds of kids. In my experience boys and girls tend to play differently.  They have distinct play styles and preferred toys.  I try to create classrooms that are very neutral, and encourage all kids to play with everything.  When boys are being gentle with baby dolls, or girls are running trucks around the room, I comment, ask and expand learning without gender bias.

  • Do you have other strategies to suggest to readers?
We have an online "Daily Connect" tool for parents, and we upload pictures daily.  When captioning non traditional gender activity photos, I am always careful to use words like "Susie is a skilled engineer! as she is constructing big Lego structures" or "Tommy is making a meal for all the kids" as he's in the kitchen playing wearing an apron, in an effort to make sure the parents are reassured that their child is engaging in absolutely appropriate play.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Bubble Wrap!

Book Study Week 3: Chapter 4
Commentary by Mike Huber 

The first thing that comes to mind is the "Bubble Wrap" song, by Kit & Kaboodle, my daughters favorite band back in the early 2000's.  It's all about the fun in popping! 

When I read the chapter, I could not help but think about what my daughter experienced as she was growing up.  She never ventured too far from home, and I wonder if it was because I didn't let her, or she didn't want to.  Maybe a combination.  She is nineteen and is a fully functioning independent college student who takes risks and has adventures, I must have done something right.  My advice has always been " Be smart, and if you can't be smart, be safe."  

Chapter four of the book comments on the college students who are unable to function on their own.  My daughter told me she has taught about ten kids in her dorm how to do laundry.  (She has been doing her own laundry since she was eight).  She also teaches cooking and baking lessons in the dorm kitchenette.  Many of them have never been "allowed" to use the oven at home.  

Thinking about the questions posed by Mike Huber, I have to go back many. many years.  

  • What are the most joyful moments of your childhood?  Playing in the giant lilac bushes that lined our house with my brothers creating roads with our Tonka trucks and making mud pies with my kitchen dishes. 
  • Was there risk involved?  We ate berries that we picked off trees, make soup out of dandelions and got sick to our stomachs more times than I can remember.  We got cuts and bruises, and we had to ask our mom (who was a nurse) if we had an abrasion or a contusion.  Contusions did not warrant a bandaid. 
  • Can you remember taking a risk that didn’t work out for you?  I was a dawdler and usually made it to school on time, but one day I was sliding up and down my friends stair railing on the way to school and I abraded a hole in my pants.  I was super late for school and remember getting in trouble and I couldn't drive the mail truck that day. (In kindergarden)
  • Do you think you benefited from this failure in the long run? Most likely it taught me to there were consequences for being late to school. But I'm not sure how many more times being late it took to sink in.  
  • Has a child ever surprised you with their abilities?  All the time.  I try to encourage my charges to "solve your problem" and "keep trying".  I have taught hundreds of children, some amaze me with coordination, some with language and others with the ability to show empathy. 
  • Was your first impulse to stop them from trying?  No, I don't think so.
  • Think of a time you watched a child take a risk. Yesterday, a small toddler went down the big slide, she leaned forward and planted her feet, and tumbled head over heals down the rest of the way.  What was your first impulse? To try and catch her. What did they gain from the experience?  She gained a healthy fear of the slide and did not try again that day. What did you gain?  The knowledge that I need to help her try again to the next day she is back in school. 
The distinction that Mike Huber makes about removing "hazard" but not "risk", is an important one. I remove hazards all day for my toddlers as I pick up toys in their wake, to make a smoother path for push toys and dancing, wipe up water and paint spills so they can move safely throughout the classroom, and employ "walking feet" rules in the classroom.  They are developing large muscle control and I encourage trying new things in new ways, but I also keep safety in mind all day.  

As the toddlers explore outside on our playground, I am ever present to assist in learning new skills.  I also allow kids to learn from how ~not~ to do it.  I tell new teachers that a toddler has to master the ability to climb to the top of the slide, before they can slide down.  That's the reward!   I feel that placing them on the top of the slide, without learning the skills to get there will make sliding a "hazard" and not just taking a risk. 

Growing up, my wise dad always said "make new mistakes". This gave us permission to screw up.  Try something, fail, try again in a different way (hopefully) and learn something.  He also told us there is no such thing as vicarious learning.  It never failed, one of kids would make a big mistake, and we'd sit the other siblings down and lecture them about how not to do what we did.  But invariably, the other siblings would make the same mistake and ~only then~ did they learn.  By actually trying it themselves.  My dad always hoped we'd learn through failing, but without life altering consequences, but gave us the freedom and space to figure it out. That's life and learning.    

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Joy & Hugs

Book Study Week 2: Chapters 3 & 5
Commentary by Gwen Simmons

I am lucky, I teach two year olds.

Two year olds are joyful most of the time!  Unless they are tired or hungry, two year olds are constantly learning new things and so excited about it!  They are also thrilled by the silliest things. Stories, songs and games like Peekaboo just getter better and funnier as they are repeated over and over again.

I am lucky, I laugh all day! As my charges learn to communicate, they say and sign the funniest things.  They dance, wiggle, make messes and find joy in it all.  They engage me in play and keep me joy filled.

There are definitely days and children more challenging than others, but in my 15 years teaching toddlers, I am lucky, they bring me joy!

I hug toddlers all day.  I have never stopped myself from hugging a child thinking it might be inappropriate in any way.  But the reading made me think about older children and what kind of affection some of them might be lacking and it breaks my heart to think that teachers (who do it because they love children) need to be cautious. Boundaries are good and needed, but let's not legislate hugs out of our schools.

The comments about containerized children really rang true with me.  I see parents with infants, carrying their children into our center in their "car seat environment".  My first thought is that the car seat weighs more than than the baby, and isn't that heavy?  When did people stop carrying babies?  You are leaving your baby with us for the next 8-10 hours...wouldn't you rather be holding them close?  It saddens me.  I know the infant teachers in our center do an amazing job giving those babies love and attention, but from the description of "twelve hugs a day" to grow, I worry about the closeness they are missing at the start and end of their days.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Learning Through Play

Book Study Week 1: Chapters 1,2,7
Commentary by Angele Sancho Passé and video.

The video talks about the transition in cognitive functioning with longer attention spans occurs between 5-7 and executive function skills are critical to being successful during the early school years. Unless the framework for learning and executive skills are working, no amount of teaching will result in success.

As a toddler teacher, I can help children be successful when they get to preschool by helping them develop the ~basic~ physical, social, emotional, literacy and self help skills needed to build on (the bottom of that scaffold) for that later success.

In the video, one educator talks about the social emotional component as the "hidden curriculum".  Maybe it shouldn't be "hidden". Parents and administrators that set the goals for early childhood need to know that unless all kids are taught social-emotional skills, it is hard to learn any academic skills.  Kids who are under stress due to food insecurity, unstable homes, not enough sleep do not feel safe and cannot use executive function skills.  I have jokingly said, as I watch my charges sleeping, that "naps are wasted on children".  I know that sleep is critical to development and learning at all ages and this book empowers us to educate other adults that sleep is not baby stuff.

Angele Sancho Passé discusses the importance of play as learning.  Play is critical.  Playing with other children requires the abilities to communicate, compromise, wait, share, help, physically move using large and small motor skills.  In my experience, play, while critical, needs to be structured by teachers to keep it from being a free for all.

In my toddler classroom I change the theme monthly, create games and dramatic play opportunities that enhance the theme.  When my classroom is running smoothly, there is a balance of free play, creative time, "group time" which consists of stories, active songs and interactive weather games, and movement. We follow a daily schedule so the kids know what comes next, but with flexibility.  There are days when the kids are all just "playing" really well, whether parallel or cooperatively, that I suspend the next activity until the good play stops. I ask questions, offer suggestions, add elements to the play.   I try not to let play devolve into craziness, so I find myself only engaged in behavior management. I know when to switch gears and move into another activity.

In Chapter 2: "The Earlier the Better?" I was reassured in our role in educating parents.  Again, until kids have the physical and cognitive abilities to learn certain things, no amount of teaching will produce a result.  Even at a toddler level.  I have some parents expecting a "product".  What did my child ~DO~ today."   It is important to share with parents our thoughts behind activities and curriculum.  We are learning "gentle touch" by reading a "fuzzy" book, and have toy pets to practice petting.  There is no product here.  This is just the start of teaching empathy, caring and being gentle.  Sometimes this activity can take much of our morning, without much to show for it.  The evidence could show up later in the child's behavior towards a pet at home or sibling, but not until the child is physically and cognitively able.