Archive for Early Childhood Education

25 Sep 2015

Language matters

2 Comments Early Childhood Education, Inclusion

One of the courses that I’m teaching this fall deals with the topic of “inclusion” in an early childhood education context. I’m really excited to be teaching this course, because I think it provides a lot of opportunities for students to reflect, share and discuss their own ideas and experiences. I have also found that in my preparation for this class, and through facilitating these discussions, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to reflect on my own beliefs and practices.

One of the things that I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on is the language that we use when we talk about inclusion. To be more specific, I found myself really struggling with the language that we use when discussing children with disabilities, diagnoses, or identified needs. In our society, and in the education sector we throw around terms like “children with special needs” or “exceptionalities” or sometimes just “disabilities”. However, none of these terms really connect for me. They seem to fall short, or perhaps try to stretch too far. Don’t all children have “special” or unique needs? Aren’t all children “exceptional” in their own way? And don’t even get me started on “disabilities”.

I’ll be honest, for most of my career I haven’t given these terms too much thought- I never felt like I needed to. While I have worked with children of all abilities, in my day to day practice a need for a collective term never really came up. It wasn’t until I started teaching,and found myself in a position where I was trying to discuss issues of accessibility, accommodation, and inclusion, that I realized that none of the terms that are used seem appropriate.

In early childhood education, we advocate for equity, for inclusion. We talk about the importance of people first language and people first attitudes. We talk about seeing the child (or the person) before the disability (or diagnosis). Yet in some ways, while we’re trying to have this conversation, to engage students in considering the importance of the language we use, and the way that we engage ALL children, we still promote this backwards attitude where we lump all children who are “different” together.

This is why we can’t agree on a term to use- we are trying to fit all of these children with diverse needs under one umbrella, under one label. What do children with physical limitations or extra chromosomes or different communication styles have in common with each other that they don’t have in common with every other child? There is no common characteristic except for the fact that they are “other” than what has been declared “typical”. Okay, maybe they all have “Individualized Program Plans” or “Individualized Education Plans”, but that’s not part of who they are, and in all honesty, we should be planning for the individual needs of ALL of the children in our program.

A child is a child. In my opinion, it’s a simple as that. As educator, I believe it is our responsibility and our pleasure to get to know each and every child in our care. To learn their likes and dislikes, their strengths and the areas where they may need additional support. I think we should treat every child as we would want to be treated, and to build meaningful relationships.

So, what will I call these children? I’ll call them their names, or whatever they would like to be called (even if that means having a few “Spiderman”s running around), and when I teach I will continue to struggle with finding a way to talk about how we include ALL children, and I will continue to have the conversation with my students and with my colleagues.

Join me, won’t you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue and what language you use (or don’t use).

23 Nov 2013

Embracing the Early Years

1 Comment Being Intentional, Canadian ECE, Early Childhood Education, Personal Learning Network

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I’ve been at a conference these past few days. As my sister put it I’ve been “blowing up [her] Twitter feed”. As I’m still processing everything, I’m sure I’ll have more to say in a few days, but I wanted to put out a quick post while I’m still on my conference high.

First of all, I met a lot of amazing people this week. Men and women who are working in the field of Early Childhood Education in a lot of capacities, including home child care, centre based child care, parent and family support, post-secondary education and many more. They came in from all across Ontario to learn together, which is an incredible thing, and always an enriching experience to get to learn and share with each other about our many varied experiences.

All of the Keynote speakers were amazing. Today, Lisa Murphy aka the Ooey Gooey Lady re-energized us on our last day by making us laugh and reminding us all of how much we have in common. One great take-away from that was that we should never ever underestimate the value of what we do or compromise our practice because of what others are doing or wanting us to do. Dr. Paul McGhee reminded us that humour is mental play, and taught us all the art of a good belly laugh. Dr. Stuart Shanker helped us to understand stress in ourselves and in the children that we care for, because we need to understand stress in order to self-regulate.  Dr. Paul Kershaw reminded us of the pressures undergoing Generation Squeeze and encouraged us to rally together for change. Nora Spinks, along a similar line, tried to show us the light when it came to finding work-life balance. Dr. Jean Clinton reminded us of the importance of relationships when it comes to brain development.

The workshops that I went to were equally amazing, which is also what I heard from others with regards to their workshops. What struck me about all of these workshops and keynotes, was this almost hidden thread running through all of them. That thread was about caring for the caregiver. On the surface this may have been a conference called “Embracing the Early Years“, it may have been a conference about working with very young children in their families, but what it came back to time and time again, was how important it was to be self-aware, to be self-reflective, to take care of ourselves so that we are equipped to take care of children and families. That’s my big “take home”, that’s what will really stay with me. I think that’s something every Early Childhood Educator should remember. We are our “best practice”, all of the education and the training and the equipment in the world won’t do us any good if we don’t take care of ourselves so that we can use it.

My deepest thanks go out to all of the committee members and the partners that put on this great conference. I hope there will be more in the future.

Conference Partners (in case you want to check them out).

Affiliated Services for Children and Youth

The Halton Resource Connection

Home Child Care Association of Ontario

Hamilton Best Start

Halton Our Kids Network

Guelph Wellington Quality Child Care Initiative

Early Childhood Professional Resource Centre

Conestoga College

Mohawk College

Sheridan College

06 Aug 2013

Every Day Should be a Camp Day

No Comments Child Care, Early Childhood Education

This July I have had the opportunity to work mornings at a summer camp for Toddlers and Preschoolers. I have been off of the “front lines” of the field for the past year or so and so I have really enjoyed this opportunity to get my hands dirty, to play and to develop meaningful relationships with the children. We have had a number of twos and almost-twos who have been attending camp in order to get them ready for nursery school in the fall, and it’s been amazing to see how much they’ve learned and grown in just one month. Some of our quietest children in our first week are becoming our loudest in the last week and we’re all rejoicing in that. They’ve also learned a lot about regulating their bodies and their emotions and of course about negotiating social situations and developing relationships with their peers. It’s been an exciting summer.

We’ve enjoyed a lot of messy play with painting, playdough, goop and even some paper maché. We have dug in the dirt and ran through the sprinklers. We have ignored or changed the schedule to accommodate more time to run around in the gym or even just more time in our free play explorations. As my co-worked said when we started “we can do anything we want – it’s camp!” That really has me thinking, because I don’t think what we’ve been doing at camp is any different than most early childhood programs. There seems to be this idea that we can throw away the curriculum and just play because it’s camp, however isn’t play the curriculum of early childhood? Shouldn’t the mess and the fun be what early childhood programs are all about? We seem to get stuck on this idea that learning is something that has to be planned for, that has to be accommodated in our schedules, but for young children (and those of us who are young at heart) learning happens ALL THE TIME. We don’t need to schedule learning, we just need to open our eyes and our ears and we will see learning happening all around us. Children are intrinsically motivated to learn and when we give them opportunities to explore in the ways that they want to explore with the things that they want to explore, learning will occur. As Early Childhood Educators, our job is to notice and support this learning, and to facilitate it through the environment, materials and opportunities we provide.

In our early childhood environments, everyday should be like camp. We should be flexible in our schedules, making allowances for extra time to free play or to run off excess energy. Messy play should be a daily occurrence. Our focus should be on learning through play, not academic curriculum. If we’re worried about children learning letters or numbers and shapes, we need to remember that these things are part of our everyday life and children will show interest in them when they need them, like wanting to know how tall their tower is or wanting to write a word on their drawing. As we all start to get our heads around a new school year, I hope that this year our focus will be on play, because that’s where learning happens.

Photo from phlubdr on Flickr.

18 Jun 2013

Wage Enhancement for ECE

No Comments Advocacy, Early Childhood Education

One of the most prevalent struggles in the early childhood education and care field has to do with wages. Many ECEs aren’t paid enough forcing some out of the field and others to take second jobs. Still others simply struggle or rely on their partner’s wages to make ends meet. This has been an ongoing issue for decades now and yet still nothing has been done to rectify this. In fact in Ontario quite the opposite has happened: the most recent changes to provincial child care funding has eliminated the previously dedicated (and very limited) wage enhancement grant which child care providers were only able to use for staff wages. Although these centres will continue to receive operating grants, the concern is that this money will be redirected to other parts of the program because wages are not the only area of need in child care.

When we discuss the low wages in this field, there are a lot of talks about reforming the system, creating a national child care plan or unionizing all child care centres. These are ambitious goals and although I appreciate the big picture thinking, I often wonder why we don’t put more focus on smaller, more attainable steps.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see an affordable, high quality, national child care system and maybe I will in my lifetime, but it doesn’t seem likely any time soon. So, in the meantime, can’t we look at the smaller picture and make things just a little easier for ECEs and child care operators? Let’s bring back the wage enhancement grant, let’s make it available to everyone and let’s top it up so ECEs can stop picking change out of the couch cushions. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

23 Jan 2013

Wordless Wednesday

No Comments Early Childhood Education

20 Jan 2013

Sunday Watching – Language

No Comments Early Childhood Education

It has become clear to me that perhaps I watch too many TEDtalks, however I will share my addiction to them with you all the same.

This one I have probably seen close to a dozen times. I especially love the clip he shares of his son’s mastering of the word “water”, about 4 minutes in.

This one I just came across this week, and I think that the critical period research on language development as it pertains to specific languages is very interesting.

18 Jan 2013

Community and Technology

No Comments Early Childhood Education, Technology

The following is a post that I originally wrote on a private blog as part of an online course I took on Children and Technology.

 

The idea of “community” as it pertains to technology is an interesting one. I think the concern which has always encompassed any new form of technology has been how it will affect communities, and the relationships between individuals in communities. Even from the earliest forms of technologies, such as the written word, there were concerns arising that eliminating the need for passing information in the oral tradition would impact the way that we interact with one another. Socrates himself was opposed to the written word, which we know of course, because his student Plato wrote it down.  I know for myself I have had concerns about the way that technology has changed and will continue to change my relationships with others and the community in which I live. This course has presented an interesting opportunity for me to reflect on these ideas.

Looking at the different types of “community” technologies presented in Chapter 6, it seems there are several different ways in which collaborative technology can be used. Wikis are a wonderful example of collaborative technology, in that they are contributed to by many users and shaped by those users, however although they are collaborative in a cumulative sense, they aren’t interactive. Many can contribute to a wiki and many can view these contributions, but users don’t connect directly to each other. Knowledge Forum seems to be a little more interactive, in that users are building on each other’s ideas and knowledge in a way that sets apart individual users comments, rather than Wikis, in which all users contribute to the same article. I am also intrigued by the language used in the Knowledge Forum, such as scaffolding. Coming from a Reggio background, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the how and why of scaffolding but this is the first time I’ve seen it applied through technology. It’s an interesting thought, as I wonder if online scaffolding would produce the same support as it does in the more traditional use. I also wonder what Vygotsky would think.

I’m most interested in the more “social” community technologies, since I think that humans by nature are relational beings and as such we learn and flourish best in relationships. I find the international opportunities to be of the most interest because this is the one way in which I think technology can really enhance both our learning and our ability to form more relationships, specifically those with individuals of other backgrounds and cultures. I participate in a Reggio listserve which has members worldwide, which has been a great learning experience for myself. Additionally, one preschool room in Hawaii did a project on Wind, and the teacher was communicating to the listserve about this project. What came out of that was collaboration with other preschool rooms around the world, who also began projects on wind and they were able to set up various interactions and communications between these classrooms so the children had opportunities to share what they had been learning. I hope that with our continued advances in technology, there will be more opportunities like this in the future.

All in all, I think there are benefits to all these types of communities and collaborative technologies, but I think that the best methods for learning with or without technology are those which are interactive and relationally based. This is true for young children as well as adults. This is why I’ve appreciated the approach that has been taken with this distance course. The use of the blog and social media has made this much more interactive than other distance courses I’ve taken and I’ve found that helpful to my own learning.

17 Jan 2013

Isn’t being an ECE enough?

1 Comment Child Care, Early Childhood Education

I meet a lot of early childhood education students, both at the college and university level and lately it seems like every student that I meet has an end goal of being a “teacher”. College students want to go on to university, university students want to go to teacher’s college. All the ECE students seem to want to move beyond being “just ECEs”. I understand that in Ontario, the field of early childhood education is changing. With Full Day Kindergarten rolling out and ECEs moving into the school boards, there’s bound to be a shift. However, this is not the end of child care, this is not the end of early childhood education and care as we currently know it, at least not completely. However, I’m starting to wonder if being an early childhood educator has stopped being the goal. I wonder if it’s become a stepping stone for many, an entry level stage they need to move through in order to get where they really want to go.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about teachers, I think that’s a great career to pursue, and I am actually in favor of the full day kindergarten program. However, I’m worried about what happens when we stop holding on to our early childhood education roots, when we move past ECE, when we let it go. I think that the specialized education that an early childhood educators receives that relates to child development, to play and to learning is essential. I think this education can be of great benefit to kindergarten teachers and to primary school teachers. I just fear that it will be lost if it’s just a hurdle to get past to get to the real goal, to get to teacher’s college.

For me, I’ve had a number of different positions in the field of early childhood education and care, and only a couple have been in traditional child care centres. However, I have always tried to hold on to my ECE-ness. I identify as an early childhood educator, even when I’ve worked with adults more than with children. No matter what degrees I earn, no matter what letters I can put beside my name, I will always be an early childhood educator. That’s my career, that’s what I wanted to be, that’s what I still want to be. I hope that this is just a transition period, that we’re all just figuring out what all these changes mean to our field. I know there are many out there who like me, are proud to be early childhood educators. I hope that the next generation will feel the same.

16 Jan 2013

Wordless Wednesday – Cars

No Comments Documentation, Early Childhood Education

15 Jan 2013

My Favorite Children’s Books

1 Comment Early Childhood Education

Without further ado, here are five of my favorite children’s books in no particular order.

 Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault

Now I’m not normally a fan of alphabet books, however what I love about this book is that unlike many alphabet books out there, it’s not pushing an agenda. The letters are simply the characters and one by one (in order) they make their way up the coconut tree, where the inevitable happens and… spoiler alert… they all fall out of the tree. This rhyming book has a great rhythm to it (it’s probably the only children’s book I’ve read that has a section of scat), it’s easy to read and it’s fun. I have read it hundreds of times, in fact, I can read it without even needing the book, but I’ve never gotten tired of it. I even like the board book version, which just ends at the halfway point, catering to the attention spans of the littlest readers. For me, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is a must read.

Llama Llama Mad at Mama

by Anna Dewdney

I have read most of the books in the Llama Llama series and they are all great reads, however, this one is definitely my favorite. When I have worked with parent groups, I would read this on an almost monthly basis because I think it really resonates with parents as well as children. It is the story of little llama going shopping with his mama llama. I think that it’s a very realistic depiction of an outing, where little llama gets pulled away from playing only to fall asleep in the car and getting woken up to go into the store. Inevitably little llama has a bit of a meltdown, but it all works out, as mama llama sees little llama’s needs and they finish the shopping together. This book has a great story, some great rhymes (the llamas shop at the shop-o-rama) and it’s a nice reminder that all parents and caregivers have the same struggles.

 Grumpy Bird

by Jeremy Tankard

Grumpy bird is another great book for toddlers and preschoolers (and their caregivers). Poor bird is in a bit of a mood and he’s out for a walk, but all of his friends keep interrupting that walk to join him. At first this just makes him even grumpier, but eventually he forgets all about his grumpy mood because he starts to have fun. What I like about this book is it’s simple story, as bird walks and the animals join him one by one. Predictable books are great for young children, as they can join in figuring out what comes next. What I also like is that this book is so truthful to children’s occasional grumpy moods, which I think makes it very relatable for caregivers and children.

Those are just three of my many favourite children’s books; what are your favourite books?