teaching to learn, means learning to teach

Posts tagged ‘reflective practice’

One step at a time

Right now, I’m on holidays. 2500kms from home ๐Ÿ™‚ What is hard is that I am so used to being busy and on the go, that I have no idea how to shut down! I have, sort of, settled into a routine where I think about what I could do each day and then try to achieve or complete just one task each day. It’s got me thinking about how much thought and effort I put in to my role as an educator. I have, on average, 20 odd kids a day. I try to ensure that each of those children gets some time with me as well as engages in at least one activity a day. I’m not looking for them to produce works of art or build amazing cityscapes, I just want them to be able to feel a sense of achievement and joy in our environment. After all, if they get that sense they are able to complete things, then they are more likely to strep up to try new challenges ๐Ÿ™‚

One thing that I have noticed though, is that parents and families like to ‘see the product of their child’s learning’. Some things require photos, like relationships and social skills. Others require stories, like conversations or ideas. But the one most families look for, is artwork on your walls. Most parents comment on the love their child has for painting, yet they don’t do it much – if at all- at home, because it’s ‘too messy’. Which leaves most child educators with the task of teaching appropriate use, and various ways to explore one of the most enjoyable activities of our daysย  ๐Ÿ™‚

I love watching how kids interact with art activities. The personality traits they show as they first take on the textures and temperature of paint is so telling of their overall character. I love seeing the tentative curiousity running alongside another’s gung-ho nature. To discover who is ‘clean’ child and who will be putting every toy in their mouth to get a true sense of their world.

Mixing up paint colours. Using cars, balls, sticks or fingers instead of brushes. Exploring wood, canvas, rocks or paper for a base. Vertical or horizontal surfaces, easels or walls. The combinations are endless and even if you are to repeat the mediums used, the children’s ideas and evolution of learning are evident as their interest and skills grow, keeping it fresh ๐Ÿ™‚

Hot days and water spray bottles led to our latest art activity. Powder paint sprinkled on the shed wall, children armed with water in their bottles and voilร ! Art, science, math, language, connections, discovery and art! Not as messy as acrylics outside, easy to set up and achievements unlocked! Nothing to take home for their families, except for huge smiles, stories, and a willingness to come back and play again!

PS if you are looking for large paper to use on fences or to cover tables, check out your local architects office. They are usually willing to give away rolls and rolls of super-large paper. Printed on one side, perfect for large motor paintings, creating wrapping paper, or cutting and folding into art folders….fantastically useful stuff!

Elephants. What’s not to love?

It never ceases to amaze me that children are so eager to learn! In every interaction, every experience, every routine task and every moment of chilled calm or frenzied playing, there is so much going on that you can’t help but hope that the kids we share our time with won’t ever forget the joy of learning and searching.

I spent a few weeks in the Babies Room recently. This meant I was privy to some of the most joyous leaps of development, as well as an integral part of following up on their interests. I found that the sensory seekers – you know the ones who love to climb over their friends or push at them – could be redirected easier into appropriate play after a quick ‘toss in the air’ game. Setting all those needs for physical connections and movement into adult interactions has been fun! I’d generally follow this up with games of ‘Row, Row, Row your Boat’ or Peek-a-boo if there were a few rowdy ones ๐Ÿ™‚

The quiet ones were seeking their connections through the toy phones, or sharing eye contact before offering a hand to play with. Building trust in the bond we’d share, getting their permission to move in before laying on my tummy in their space and sharing their toys. As with any age group, the boisterous ones would try to join in with my play, effectively locking out the more gentle of play. It takes talent to hold a gentle conversation whilst throwing balls or building towers out of our zone, so that the interactions can remain and be encouraged.

I found that all the babies we have are loving sitting in laps or mini group times to look at books. This pleases me greatly! I hope they continue to find joy in the written word, that their imaginations can be allowed to run wild and that their connections to their life and all that it encompasses will be better understood, because of a love of books.

I found a rather large book with bright illustrations that the babies loved, so of course I read it repeatedly ๐Ÿ™‚ The whole thing could be sung jauntily to hold their interest longer too, so we added the song to our music grouptimes!

“One elephant went out to play,

Upon a spider’s web one day.

He thought it was such tremendous fun,

That he invited another elephant to come!”

You can see where this is going yeah? ๐Ÿ™‚ย  So lots of re-reading, lots of singing, lots of elephant noises and lots of fun! What better way to extend on this interest, than by putting up a display of elephantsย  on to a woolen spiders web and sharing the words on the wall, so that the parents could see what we’ve been doing, feeding their need to know that their children are safe, cared for and that positive thought is being put into their child’s development.

And you know what? Educators Connecting, Children’s Learning and Parental Confidence aside….it was Fun! ๐Ÿ™‚

Cooking with the Babies

Live and Learn right ๐Ÿ™‚ We all make mistakes, plan an activity and then go ‘Uh Oh, I should have expected that!’ From not having enough towels or washing water after an exuberant finger painting activity, to not allowing the space for drying or displaying the fantastic large collage or art pieces!
I had a new one this week.

The Babies are making salt dough hand prints for end of year gifts. I was covering a shift in their room and asked to whip up a batch of the dough and see if I could get any hand prints done.ย 

No probs, thinks I! I can even get the babies involved with this!

A bit of pouring and mixing, they will probably try to taste it, but it’s all plain ingredients and Ok ๐Ÿ™‚

I was truly impressed with the way the babies handled it, taking turns and eager to try for more!

What I didn’t plan on or think about wasย  Pavlov’s effect. Sitting the children at their regular eating table, offering ingredients to play with and then not prepping any food for afterwards! Oops. One hungry little batch of babies waiting for the immediate love of whatever they had just mixed! Big Oops!

A very quick snack of biscuits to tide us over as we sat among our floury mess and a big *headdesk* moment for me!

Of course babies appetites would be stimulated by the smells of cooking, of course their table means eating, how could I have missed this?

At least the activity went well, the presents were made, the babies were fed and smiles were all round!

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’.ย  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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

Assessing your Environment

Recently, I have had the great pleasure to work with a lady from the Quality Inclusion Support Program. If you have multiple children with additional needs, look them up ๐Ÿ™‚

At the end of her time with us, she held an amazing seminar that inspired me so much that I have been unable to write about it, for fear of not doing it justice! So today I will give you an example of how she helped clarify our thinking. She got us all to break up into our ‘room groups’ and draw up a plan of our room. We added the play areas, routine areas, shelving/dividers and anything else that was part of our rooms. Once done, we were asked to add identifiers for which part of the room encouraged the following goals.

I) Identity – family, life, culture

H) Home – parents can feel relaxed and respected

R) Relationships – sharing enjoyment between adults/children

SD) Sensory Discoveries – textures, colours, smells and sounds

LM) Large Muscle – crawling, pushing, pulling, sliding, bouncing, hiding, throwing, going up/down, up/over, in/out etc

SM) Small Muscle – developing grasping, banging, poking, stacking, shaking, squeezing, patting, pouring, fitting together, taking apart etc

C) Cozy – area where children can get away and relax or watch

P) Powerful – children can feel independent, important and competent

A) Adults – can relax, enjoy, share their lives with children

S) Systems – communication and record keeping among adults

At first we tentatively marked the ‘obvious’ areas, as we gained confidence we began to see how so many of the areas crossed over. The art hanging on our walls elicits a powerful response from the kids, but also acts as a form of communication between adults and encourages visual sensory opportunities.

By the end of it, we had a large paper filled with little letters. Areas that didn’t gather a collection of identifying letters, were looked at again so we could either see the values we had missed or assess the areas to work better for the children, the families and us! Immediately after doing this exercise, I recognised that our book area was far from the relaxed spot we’d planned on – instead it was often used for rough and tumble play. So we moved it. We opened it up to more activity so that those who wanted to read could, whilst those who wanted to be active could use the puzzles, the zipper boards and the tactile activities.

Since then we’ve expanded further and turned our room around to accommodate our growing class numbers and changing needs. And you know what? It feels more like a kindy, there are more engaged learners and definitely less conflicts between kids! This is an exercise I recommend everyone does, I know for sure I will be doing it a few times a year to make sure I keep a fresh view of my room!

Now I want to share a resource with you that also has helped me for years! I can’t link you directly to it, because it is a downloadable document (which I suggest you save, print and keep!) if you google

Pre-K Spaces: Design for a Quality Classroom

you should go there ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s totally worth the trip!

A Treasure Trove of Connections!

As many people working in Long Day Care Centres will tell you, we love our sandpits. Unfortunately that also comes with the job of keeping the sand IN the sandpit. Not travelling around in buckets to be dumped down drains or poured on to the cement or carted around in trolleys or trucks, leaving little trails to be swept up by staff.

So when I saw an enormous pile of sand that had obviously been distributed there and then forgotten, it was off to fetch the dustpan and brush before it became a spread too large to clean up quickly. However, as often happens, I was waylaid by more important matters with children and parents. No drama really, that’s what I’m here for after all ๐Ÿ™‚

By the time I returned to the sand puddle, it no longer looked likeย  a discarded mess to be cleaned, but an important piece of art and communication.

So I stopped what I was going to do. And instead asked the children nearest to it, what had they been drawing.

“A treasure map!”

“You start here but have to go to the bridge and fight monsters”

“And use a boat!”

“You need a sword! *schwiiing*(sword being pulled out noise)”

“This is where you walk over the mountains”

“This is the treasure!”

“But more monsters and then you get the jewels”

 

My lovely Boy was eloquent and explanatory about their map. My beautiful girl was able to relate the whole thing back to “Playing Link on the computer with my brother”

What an important connection between home, care and friends had just happened here! And to think, if i was quicker at sweeping it all up, I would have missed such a fantastic opportunity to expand on this Treasure Map Role Play! So, Brooms away and off I went to collect paper, crayons and coffee tinted water.


As I came back with my arms full of art supplies, a decent sized group trailed after me like I was the Pied Piper ๐Ÿ™‚ Luckily, I’d figured this would happen, so had bought out lots to share!

We all sat around the sand map and let S and A explain the story again. Each child took a page and a crayon and began drawing their own treasure maps.

Knowing that coffee water could stain paper, but hoping not to make a bigger mess, we moved to the sandpit to finger paint on our maps. The first few to try were upset that some sand had gotten on to their art, but I excitedly explained that now their treasure maps looked like they had been buried for a long time! Soon, everyone was finger painting and then pouring sandย  on their pictures, followed by a shake and a display!


So I didn’t clean up the sand that day. But what I did do was far more important. So next time I see a random sand pile in the yard,I plan to stop, look and think ‘How was this important to someone today?’

What’s it like at your place?

My internet connection is having all sorts of dramas at the moment and I am incredibly frustrated by the inability to post up photo stories! So you’ll just have to believe me when I say that I was incredibly proud of the connection I was able to make with this child and so happy that his Mum was able to see that! As a family new to child care, she has many worries of her own, by following up on a conversation with this activity, I hope that alleviated just one of her concerns!

It all started after Mum left and we were having a cuddle whilst discussing what activities we had available in the yard.

My young man and I talked about what he would like to do and he replied ‘I want to make a machine that turns water into food’.

And there it was. My own kids movie watching had paid off. I knew this was a movie reference and was able to ask questions that could confirm this and extend our discussion.

“what sort of food?”

“Cheeeeez Buurger”

“what does it look like?”

“It has a circle on the top and one on the bottom. A place for water to go in and a bzzzzzzz for the cheeeeezbuuurger”

“What do we need to make it?”

“First we need Yellow Paper!”

(sooo lucky that I happened to have yellow paper amongst the colours I’d put out that day!”

I quickly took notes on what was needed then drew a basic picture of the machine as he’d described it.

By now other children were becoming interested in this conversation and we went together to collect collage items so that we could all invent something.

Masking tape, scissors and glue, paper for planning and we had a class of inventors!

My man and I worked on how to connect things together as we created ‘a machine that can turn water into food!’ Facing challenges of height, balance, fit and shapes we managed pretty well to identify everything’s needs and abilities!

I even made him a ‘cheeseburger’ out of cardboard and carpet off-cuts – which he declared ‘Yum’ ๐Ÿ™‚

So as I reflect on this connection between home, family and child I feel positive and validated. Watching movies can create positive interactions with those around us, develop thinking skills, help clarify concepts and create opportunities for creative play!


After all, it’s not every day that you can say it’s “cloudy with a chance of meatballs!”