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.

22 May 2012

From the mouths of babes

No Comments Cognitive, ELECT, Preschool/Kindergarten
Preschool Kindergarten (2.5 to 6 years)
Cognitive
4.7 Reflecting and Reaching Conclusions
  • describing similarities and cause and effect in recurring events
  • identifying patterns of events
  • describing connections between different objects, events and experiences
  • making generalizations about different objects, events and experiences
Ask a child: “How do you know what comes next?”
Or: “How did you figure that out?”

This will invite the child to reveal his thinking and tell how he came to his conclusion.

 

A few months ago, I spent a day at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). While I was there, I overheard a young boy of about four say something that has continued to stick with me. He pointed to one of the “stuffed” animals in the exhibit and shouted out “Look, a fossil yak”. The reason that this has stayed with me is because that simple statement seemed to be such a wonderful indication of how he was learning and processing information. It was as though I could see the cogs turning in his head, I could see how he might have come to call this animal a “fossil yak”. This young boy and his family had been going through the ROM in much the same direction we had, and I had seen him in the previous exhibit we’d been in, which was the dinosaur exhibit. So, I could imagine how this young child could have learned that the dinosaurs that he was seeing were not alive, and he learned that these dinosaurs were instead fossil dinosaurs. Then, moving into another room and seeing animals that were not alive, he could have taken the information that he’d already learned, which is that something that isn’t alive is a fossil, and then apply that principle to a new situation. This could certainly lead to his declaration that the animal before him was a “fossil yak”.

All too often, children’s comments are remembered or repeated because they are “cute” and we often joke about what kids say. I wonder, though, how often we really think about some of the comments that children make about the world around them? I wonder if we think about what these comments can tell us about children, about their learning and development, about their observations of the world and how they process information. Children learn and grow so rapidly, especially in their early years; their brains are constantly changing as they take in and process new information and have new experiences. I think that we don’t spend enough time appreciating that process. Children are not empty vessels needing to be filled with knowledge so that they become more intelligent, more mature. They aren’t just cute. They are explorers and scientists and they spend a lot more time contemplating the world around them and trying to understand it than we do. So, next time a child says something “cute”, take a moment to really think about what they’re saying. It might be more revealing than you originally thought.