Less is more. I think that’s one of the hardest things for an Early Childhood Educator to learn. We know that our role is to build relationships, to set up a supportive environment and to provide learning opportunities to promote children’s development. So, we “plan activities”, which is where the challenge lies.
For my students going out into the field to do their practicum they know that one of the expectations is a certain amount of “planned activities”. What is challenging for these students, and for other ECEs as well is that once you’ve planned the activity and you’re implementing it, you have to let go of the plan. As ECEs our role is to facilitate learning, to provide an environment where children are free to make choices in their explorations. We can support their learning, and we can scaffold their learning, but I think that learning happens best when the adults let go of their own agendas and follow the child’s lead. This is hard for ECE students, who want to plan “successful” activities, and who often base the success of their plan on whether the children did as they anticipated. Allowing children to change the plan or to use materials in new ways, is something that can still be difficult for veteran ECEs. We make plans based on the children’s interests, sometimes based on our own interests or experiences, and based on our knowledge of child development. Sometimes a patterning activity turns into pretend play, sometimes an art activity becomes a sensory explorations, and that’s okay.
Therefore, I think that simple can be better. Our plans should require less planning. We can bring together materials and speculate on two or more ways the children might use them, anticipating the different learning that can occur, then when we actually give them the materials, we carefully observe. Maybe some of the children will do as we anticipated and we’ll feel prepared to support them in that, but even if they don’t, we can still use our skills as observers and our relationship as play partners to join them in their explorations, and to support the learning that is still happening.
The more planning that an adult puts in to an activity, the more closed-ended the materials, the less the children can do with it. The more open-ended the materials, the less the adult puts into it (in the planning stage), the more the child puts into the activity, the more opportunities they have to make choices, to experiment, to problem solve and to learn what they need to learn. It’s that simple; but then again, keeping things simple is a hard thing to learn.
Photo by woodleywonderworks on Flickr.