15 Mar 2016

Reflections on a spinning play dough roller

No Comments Play, Reflections, Toddlers

Today I watched a toddler spin things.

For many Early Childhood Educators (and parents as well) this is just another Tuesday. However, watching this toddler spin things was a much needed reminder for me today. It was a reminder of why I became an Early Childhood Educator, because while I only spent five minutes or so watching this toddler spin a few objects on a tiled floor, I could have watched him for much longer. Technically, I wasn’t there to be watching the toddler at all, I was visiting this particular program to observe my ECE student as she interacted with the toddlers. Yet, I found myself fascinated by this toddler’s interest in spinning.

First he spun a bright plastic gear on the floor, looking up at me and smiling. He did this a few more times, clapping once he set the gear spinning. He brought over a textured wooden roller, which he spun next to the plastic gear. The roller stopped spinning around the same time as he got the gear to spin and he seemed to contemplate this for a moment, looking back and forth between the two. He then set both objects spinning again, this time one right after the other and smiled as he looked back and forth between the two, watching them spin together. A few minutes later these objects were set aside, and the toddler brought a much larger black plastic “wagon” wheel which he spun on the tile. It wobbled quite differently than the other objects. He moved it to several different spots on the tile, from the middle of a tile, and then over the spaces between the tiles.

The educator shared with me that this child had always shown an interest in spinning objects, ever since he had been in the infant program. Based on the way that he explored this idea of “spinning” over the short time I had been observed him, I was not in the least bit surprised. His fascination was infectious, and I was completely drawn in. I felt like I could almost see his thought process as he explored the different ways the materials spun, between their sizes and shapes, which spun longer, which wobbled more. I found that I was asking myself questions, just as he was exploring his own questions- how would the wheel spin different in the spaces between the tiles?

As he continued to explore, I left to meet with my student, and to head on to other appointments in the day, but I found myself strangely uplifted. Watching that toddler spin objects on the floor had reminded me of the reason why I got into this profession. I love learning. I am fascinated by play and exploration. I love those moments when I get to watch a child making connections through their free explorations. For me, this is what it’s all about.

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

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.

13 Jan 2013

Sunday Watching and Reading

1 Comment Early Childhood Education

I came across the inspiring story of children’s author/illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka this week.

He shares the story of how he became a children’s author/illustrator, starting from his childhood. What I really appreciated about his story are all the individuals who had such a profound impact on him, because it went beyond families to many supportive teachers and even to a simple comment from a visiting author.

I came across this video via the TEDBlog, and so accompanying it was an equally interesting read in Krosoczka’s 10 picks for children’s books that will become classics. You can read it here. Some I recognize, and some I will definitely be checking out in the future.

Tomorrow on the blog I will list some of my favorite children’s books, so be sure to check that out as well.

12 Jan 2013

Saturday Reading – January 12 2013

1 Comment Blogroll, Early Childhood Education

Here’s a few blog posts that caught my eye this week.

C is for Chicks from Preschool Daze – One of the most vivid memories that I have from my early years are a pair of chicks that we hosted in my third grade class. I remember being fascinated by them, and I remember the sounds they made (and that smell). I had the opportunity to take them home for a few days, probably a long weekend, and that’s when we named them Orville and Wilbur after the Wright brothers, because they seemed determined to fly. I think that animals of all kinds are a wonderful experience for young children.

Best Art and Creativity Quotes for Children & Adults from the Artful Parent - I always hold onto quotes and there are a number in this post that I will definitely be writing down. A couple of my favorites are “Art takes nature as its model.” – Aristotle and “The art of mothering is to teach the art of living to children.” -Elaine Heffner.

Painting the Snow from Happy Hooligans – This activity combines two of my favorite things, snow and bringing art experiences outdoors.

What have you been reading this week?

11 Jan 2013

Documenting History

No Comments Child Care, Documentation, Early Childhood Education

I visited a child care centre where I used to work this afternoon and it was an interesting experience. Certainly a lot has changed in the years since I’ve worked there, but what was interesting to see were the things that hadn’t changed. Documentation panels that I’d assembled at the end of long term projects were still on the walls and a classroom display that had come out of a project on farm animals was still up on the cupboards. The furniture was different, the toys and learning materials were changed, but there were still these base elements, part of this centre’s history that remained. These project boards and displays were once the first things put up on bare walls, the first few pages of a new centre’s history. Now they are joined by more recent documentation and displays of current projects. The walls are full of history, and the centre seems lived in, rather than institutional as it had before.

I remember when I started at that centre, it was just opening in a brand new building. We shared a building with another institution, and so although the centre was beautiful, the starkness of the bare walls and the general design of the building seemed more like a hospital than a home. We wanted to fill the walls with documentation and other displays, as we were Reggio inspired and wanted to create a similar look and feel, however we were reminded that creating a history takes time. I was certainly reminded of that today. I think that we are often eager to move forward to get to the next stage in our practice, in our journey; we want the end result and lose sight of the process. Being in that centre today reminded me of the importance of the journey, that each step is necessary and important. History doesn’t happen overnight.

Photo by JaniceCullivan on Flickr

10 Jan 2013

Simple Planning

No Comments Child Care, Early Childhood Education

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.

09 Jan 2013

Wordless Wednesday – First Friends

No Comments Early Childhood Education