teaching to learn, means learning to teach

Posts tagged ‘personal goals’

Him, Her and Friend

As I dropped my youngest child off at Kindy today, I had the most wonderful moment. It was wonderful because I saw the connections he was making, I saw another child light up at his words and I got a massive boost to my work-esteem by seeing what I’ve taught get carried somewhere else.

For years I’ve watched children struggle with the concepts of boy/girl and him/her. Just as we’ve finally gotten them to acknowledge that they ‘are’ a name, a word that would have no meaning otherwise, we try to extend on their identity by introducing the boy/girl concept. Once they are happy to claim themselves and their sex (and not all of them are, my daughter was incredibly disappointed to realise that she wouldn’t grow a penis when she was ‘bigger’!) We try to encourage the sexual identity of others. What makes a boy a boy or a girl a girl? Hairstyles, names and colours of clothes are no longer the clear separation that many of us are used to. Our multicultural society introduces us to a plethora of names that trip our tongues and set our hearts racing as we try to get them ‘right’.

In fact, even though it’s a developmental milestone I am ‘meant’ to assess, I simply refuse to encourage a child to learn their last name if I have any doubt that I am saying it wrong. If it was my child, and someone was trying to teach them our family name but butchered it repeatedly, I’d ask them to leave it alone! I see it as a mark of respect for the family that I don’t go there, and am willing to stand up for myself if any accreditator questions me. But I diverge.

I introduce the boy/girl identity through play and group times, in discussions and transitions. It is something that needs explaining and I’m pretty open about that too. Him and Her, I will identify during conversations, using the correct terms as required and letting it sink in. If they seem to be struggling with it, I go into more detail, but it’s a concept that comes at its own pace and I’m happy with that.

‘Friend’ is a word I love. I love to ask someone to deliver an item or pass a message on to ‘their friend, Junior’ or complimenting a group of children with personal statements like ‘Sakshi, I can see you good friends with Akriti, because you are helping her with the puzzle’.  In the past I have used puppets to put on shows for the kids, had them explain what makes you feel good, what it means to be a ‘friend’, how to ask for help or how you can help out yourself. After all, it’s just a word until you give it meaning.

Quinn has being going to Kindy for 2 terms now. We talk about going to see his friends and where he can play and what they can do. We talk about wanting space and how to ask for it. We talk a lot 🙂 So today, when he ran into class and some girls came up to say ‘Hi’ to him, he smiled, looked at me and confidently declared ‘This is my friend!’ The girls smiled and stayed around to chat. As Quinn settled his things in, he showed me the things that were important to him. He showed me the toys and told me what they were for, he pointed out others and called them ‘My friend’, each time eliciting a small smile from the intended person.

When he moved into his favourite space to say goodbye – the ‘Quiet Room’ with books we might read or toy, puzzles and doll houses we can choose and use – he stopped in front of a boy who was rolling cars down a ramp and into a mountain. The boy looked up at us with eyes that assessed the situation to see if Quinn was going to break his play. Once again Quinn announced ‘This is my friend’ and the boy relaxed somewhat. Now he was eyeing me off to see if I was going to overpower this play. I slid in, asked if a piece might connect together, the boys locked them in and now had two ramps with multiple cars and a ‘crash zone’ in the middle. I’m sure it wasn’t designed that way, but that’s how they built it 🙂 As Quinn grabbed a car he said ‘This is my Best Friend!’ Suddenly, the boys demeanour changed. He relaxed and smiled and played with Quinn with a new openness. I can only attribute this change in character to Quinn’s words putting value on the boy. For him to feel accepted and wanted, to be a part of this relationship and not just a participant.

And that is the power of words. Once you have been introduced to a concept, you need to understand it. Even as kids try to understand what being a friend is all about, they know it’s a connecting word. A powerful word. A word that bonds them to another or identifies a place as a buffet of social relationships. Understanding what role you play and how to play it is as important as knowing what you expect from others – and for some of us, this takes decades to figure out! So I reckon anything I can do to help them start the process now, is a good thing 😉



Creativity and a stream of conciousness

People tell me I’m a pretty creative person. Is that because they see me with the kids telling stories or making up games? More often it’s because they see the products of my creativity. Whether that be an art activity with paints or felt pens, a construction of planks and A frames for an obstacle course or things grabbed from around the way to enable complex role-playing. As with most things in life, I’m pretty sure it’s the process of creating that opens gateways to learning. It’s being able to explore the attributes of items and assess their usefulness, their liabilities and their qualities for whatever we would like to see them become.

I love the internet because it opens so many minds to me – it’s like having the best arrangement of teachers in one room – with me there to absorb and retell their tales! But not everything in Childcare is about doing new things. Children learn so much from repeated activities, from being able to try techniques they learnt last time and can now extend upon or  to gaining satisfaction when they are able to complete activities with more precision and control. Practice makes perfect isn’t just a cliché!

Painting is an opportunity to master pre-writing control and connect our artistic and logical parts of the brain – among many other things!

As an art medium it is easy to apply and offers instant gratification.

As a learning tool, it has endless possibilities for application.

As a toy, it’s heaps of fun 🙂

There is a certain pride in being face painted. It might have something to do with all the sensory feedback that makes us relax or giggle, sit rock solid or twitch like a bunnies nose. Becoming a character or embodying the essence of a superhero/animal/fairy/magical creature/robot is a powerful feeling, having others recognise your play is also a great communication and self-esteem booster!

As much as we introduce animal names and sounds, letters, numbers and math concepts. We can’t forget that today’s children are raised in a world of multi media. Where at the touch of a button they can become immersed in a different world or click away at computer games as they chase dreams and fantasy. Although there are many personal debates over how much we should be including ‘marketed’ toys or games in childcare, I see how the connections some children make between a favourite TV show or movie Character can really bring their language to life and support friendships. So, I’m thinking it’s not all bad. This doesn’t mean I’m going to sit the kids down to a day of Yo Gabba Gabba or Sesame Street, but I’ll certainly celebrating their learning and investigation brought on by their personal involvement in their favourite shows!

As with all creative process’ there is an element of danger. Our words can hurt someone’s feelings, our painting can become messy and slippery, out what we need to learn is that with every element of danger, there is an equal and opposite role of responsibility. To wear protective gear, to behave in a way that won’t hurt anyone, to accept that it is often our own actions that lead us into getting hurt. From poor preparation to misreading our  aim or judgement. But without the opportunities to practice these skills, we can’t improve our techniques!

We will also have a hard time learning to manage our own pain.

Cause and effect or natural consequences, it’s often not the end of the world.

And you know what. Kids can deal with that, so why shouldn’t we let them? 🙂

when you thought I wasn’t looking

There is a lovely poem out there, with many adaptations all over the Internet, called “When you thought I wasn’t looking” by author unknown.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator,
and I wanted to paint another one.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw you feed a stray cat,
and I thought it was good to be kind to animals.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw you make my favourite cake for me,
and I knew that little things are special things.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I heard you say a prayer,
and I believed that there was a God to talk to.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I felt you kiss me goodnight,
and I felt loved.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw tears come from your eyes,
and I learned that sometimes things hurt,
but it’s alright to cry.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw that you cared,
and I wanted to be everything that I could be.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I looked….
and I wanted to say thanks for all the things
I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.

It popped into my head today because I was able to catch some fantastic moments of pure joy, experimentation and learning 🙂

I love seeing children continue on with something after I’ve left. This young man was trying to use the baseball bat on small balls and hitting more ground than ball. So I quickly grabbed a planter pot and a larger ball to create a larger area to aim for and a more ergonomic height. He picked up what steps he needed to do to return the ball and off he went 🙂 It’s wonderful to see children continuing on with something they love.

I soon noticed our climbing frame the happy home of our small balls, with no one in sight.

The mystery was resolved when a few boys trotted over from the tossing game with the last of the balls in their scoops. These scoops came out of a board game that had lost many of its pieces and had to be tossed. I couldn’t bear to throw them out and wasn’t really sure where they belonged, so put them into our home corner. Turns out the kids know how to connect the different areas together quite successfully without me 😉

The music pole has being seeing visits from a variety of kids who tend to treat it fairly well. Today this young man took it upon himself to extend his interest in the xylophone keys into creating a drum beat on a pile of plastic stepping-stones.

The next time I looked he’d set up a whole drum kit and was gaining interest from some peers. ‘Twas music for my ears and eyes.

I just realised this post has all boys in it! Considering the class is at least two-thirds girls, I better keep an  eye on how my little ladies are going about things!

Instant coffee has a lot to answer for!

Look, here’s the thing that’s been bugging me a bit lately. I’m seeing kids (my own included) looking for quick fixes and getting frustrated at their inability to do something, finish something or get something. We can instantly create fantastic cakes from packets, change channels quicker than we can make up our minds, we can buy clothes and electronic goods for cheaper prices than fixing things or making them ourselves. SOciety throws away so much packaging, wasted produce and perfectly good stuff, without even thinking about how quickly we’ve become accustomed to short-term gains. Heck, if I don’t want to make dinner I can go down the shops and buy it, or buy ready-made dinners from the supermarkets so tat I don’t have to do all the ‘hard work’.  But I’m not here to rage against the machine, I just want to level out the playing field with experiences that really count, for the kids that I care for.

But sometimes I have trouble with waiting too….

I purposely introduced my 8-year-old daughter to layby, so that she can feel the build up and wait for something she *thinks* she really wants. As we all know, Christmas gifts can sometimes be wished for so eagerly and when they get them, be superseded by something entirely different.

*my daughter the mermaid*

The work that’s been going into redeveloping play concepts in my yard and room have had me enthused and patting myself on the back. However, in creating play areas that I want to see being used for real learning through play, I’ve forgotten that it often takes time for the children to adapt to that. That sometimes new toys are used in old ways, before old toys can be used in new ways.

*these last two photos are of my kids and not at all school related 🙂

but they are kinda related to this post!*

So today, I was fabulously surprise to extend on an observation of one of my co-workers. She’d noticed one boy throwing a ball at our ‘limbo rungs’ and then knocking it down with a baseball bat. SHe had been watching this relatively harmless play incase it led to more destructive play or wilder, more dangerous swings and come to the conclusion that he was playing cricket! He was role-playing at knocking the wickets down. I was pretty darn impressed, knowing that if she hadn’t been watching his role play may have been misconstrued as destructive play.

Still the play was drawing attention and getting a little bit wild. So I quickly grabbed a basket so that he would have something to aim the balls into and my fabulous co-worker figured out how to balance the basket using the limbo rungs for support 🙂

We adjusted the height a few times to get it at a slightly challenging level for throwing, but still low enough that the whole thing wouldn’t tip over when they went to retrieve their balls.

We added rings to create a boundary that made the throws larger, and not just dropping them into the basket. WE found some little plastic nets in home corner that acted like lacrosse sticks. Overall, the games were well-played and visitors were welcomed in.

Now I know I have to get working on more  ‘project’ based activities; seeing the plants grow, developing  artworks by layers, working together to create stories and the like. I know that the long-term rewards for teaching children patience and that it’s worth putting the extra effort in to reap what you sow. But sometimes, a little instant gratification can be a nice reward!

in the eye of the storm

It’s funny to think about how well the children work when you’re not watching!

Sometimes the focus is so much on those who are running around or being noisy or who you need to spend some extra time with, that you don’t see what’s happening in all the quiet spaces in the room!

A long time ago I realised that there was always one or two children in my class who I didn’t truly interact with. I’d tell them stories as part of a group. I’d ask them questions during transition times. I’d even pat them to sleep sometimes. But I really didn’t get to know them for who they are because they were so happy to go off and do their own thing, they didn’t cause a fuss or a stir and very rarely asked for help.

This doesn’t mean I couldn’t teach them anything, that they didn’t need me or that they were advanced beyond the developmental range in the room. It just meant that I’d missed them. It was a horrid thought to have and even more horrible to realise the truth behind it.

Since then, I’ve made a real effort to spend time in all areas of the room, to try to get in on they play rather than direct all the play.  It’s these moments that have taught me more about who the kids are.  More about what my class needs, strengths and interests are. And more about who they need me to be.

I’ll always be me, but I might need to be louder or quieter, more focused or step back. Each child has their own story to tell and I want to help them turn the pages 🙂