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).

19 Dec 2012

Practicing Reflection

1 Comment Child Care, Early Childhood Education, Parenting

One of the most important skills that an educator or caregiver should practice is reflection. If it is our goal to support children in their growth and development and to be lifelong learners ourselves then it is essential that we are regularly reflecting on our own experiences and practices. We all do it to some extent, but too often I think we reflect on the challenging or “unsuccessful” experiences more than the rest. However, understanding why a planned experience, group time or interaction went well is just as important as understanding why one didn’t. Over the past year, as I’ve been working with College students pursuing their diploma in Early Childhood Education, I have been trying to encourage them to get into this practice.

Reflection serves many purposes. Firstly it ensures that we remain in the moment and make observations about the children’s play experiences and interactions. If we didn’t take the time to really see what’s happening, then we can’t reflect, and these observations are essential as we plan each day’s experiences. When we plan, we usually have an idea with regards to how we think they might use the materials, however, children are great at thinking outside the box and coming up with new ways to use the materials. Therefore when we take the time to observe and to reflect on what the children actually did, rather than what we assumed they would do, we develop an insight into their skills and their interests, which supports the planning process. I often hear that ECEs and ECE students feel stressed about planning experiences that the children will enjoy, however, when we take the time to observe and reflect, we can often come away with new ideas. Additionally, reflecting helps us to be intentional in our practice. For example, when new materials are being added to the learning environment, do you always take the time to ask yourself why you’re adding that material, thinking about what it will add to the children’s play. Finally, reflection supports our relationships with the children in our care, their parents and with the staff. Since reflection requires that we be observant and intentional in our interactions, our planned experiences and even in how we set up our environment, it supports us to be the kind of educators and caregivers that we want to be, because we are thinking about it and altering our plans and behaviours according to the way that we want to be.

One of the ways that we encourage our students to be reflective is included in their activity planning. They are asked to plan and implement an activity, and then when it’s finished, both they and their supervising ECE are asked to reflect on the planned activity. What did the children do? How did the ECE student respond to the children? What would they do differently? I encourage my students to spend time on this and use it to inform their practice and to plan further activities. I also typically have them do some form of a reflection each week in our field seminar class, asking them to reflect on an experience they had at placement that week.

I don’t limit my reflection to being something I ask my students to do, however, I try and make sure I am reflective in my own practices as well. As difficult as it sometimes is, I always read the feedback my students give me in their evaluations and sometimes do an extra evaluation at midterm, asking students for their feedback on what they find helpful or not helpful. More often than not they request “no more tests”, however there is other feedback which I try to take into account. I always want to keep learning, I don’t ever want to be finished, and so I keep reflecting. I hope that this will inspire you to keep reflecting too.

Photo by radical_vamsi on Flickr