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).

08 Sep 2015

Another (school) year begins…

2 Comments Being Intentional

Today marks the beginning of yet another school year for many of us here in Canada. For me, this particular year is unique in that it’s the first year in a long time, when I am not heading back to school as a student. I have just recently completed and defended my Master’s research, and so, for now, my journey as a student has come to an end. That being said, my journey as a learner and an educator continues on.

I am continuing on in my position at the college where I work, and am looking forward to meeting my students (new and returning) in our first classes this week. I enjoy my role as a “teacher of teachers” and with my own studies at rest for now, I am excited to be able to devote even more of my energy to being an engaged educator. As I have spoken about before, I want to commit to being intentional in my practice. To be present with my students, to reflect on what happens in my classes and in my interactions, and to continue to learn and grow in ways which will support my students and my own journey as a life long learner.

I hope to share some of my thoughts and reflections on this blog, and to become re-engaged with the online learning communities which have nurtured me in the past. As such, I am going to try to blog on a more regular basis, and to engage more through social media. Perhaps I’ll be successful, perhaps not. Only time will tell.

For those of you “returning” to school, as students or educators, what are your goals for this upcoming year?

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

21 Jan 2013

How to Raise Compassionate Children

1 Comment Being Intentional, Parenting, Social, Socio-Emotional Development

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes. – Fred  Rogers

As responsive caregivers we are setting the foundation for empathy right from the very beginning of a child’s life. By responding appropriately to them we are showing them that we are aware of their needs and feelings. Through our actions they learn that their caregivers provide what they need, whether it’s food, a change or simply love and comfort. When infants get older and become mobile we begin to see them display empathy. I’ve seen many older infants and young toddlers bring a crying child a toy or other comfort object. They are beginning to respond to others in an empathetic way. Clearly we are born with a need for caring relationships, a need to engage others and even to empathize with them and to help. We are born with the capacity for compassion.

So what then do we do to nurture this ability in children? How do empathetic children become compassionate adults? How do we help children to learn to help others? How old do we have to be to learn compassion?

I think that the best way that we can help children to have compassion and to help others is through our own actions. Many of us donate our money and our time to help those less fortunate than ourselves, however, how much of this do our children see? If we’re simply writing cheques, how will our children become aware of our contributions? For those who keep busy schedules, sometimes the only way to contribute is financially, and that’s fine. I would encourage you, however to try to do this in a way that your children are aware of your contributions. Use the labels and cards that charities often send to accompany a donation. Tell the children where these items came from and what the money you gave went towards. If they are old enough, have conversations with them about what charities you support and ask what charities they would like to support by asking who they would like to help or how.

Some others ways to demonstrate compassion would be to make it a regular occurrance to go through your home and gather clothes that don’t fit, toys or household items that are no longer used. Pack these items up and take them to the donation centre together. When children are old enough they can start to make their own choices about what toys to keep and which to donate. If you volunteer and it’s appropriate, take your child with you. They might be too young to make a significant contribution, however, simply being present to see the work that you are doing will impact them. If we model these actions and behaviours right from the start, children will grow up with this type of work as a normal part of their lives and I think that’s the goal. As they grow and develop, so will their involvement and I think that children can certainly surprise us with their capacity to care and desire to help others.

My hope is that the next generation will be more caring, more empathetic and more compassionate than ever before.

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.

19 Jan 2013

Saturday Reading – January 19th 2013

1 Comment Blogroll

Although it’s been an extremely busy week, I’ve still managed to sneak in a little bit of reading and here are some of the interesting articles I’ve come across this week.

First, something fun – Make a Photocopy Storybook from Play Create Explore.

This idea makes me feel really nostalgic because as a small child I loved playing with the photocopier. When I was really young my grandfather owner an office machine store, which of course had photocopiers, typewriters and I imagine all sorts of other gadgets. What I remember most is the smell of the typewriter ink, the light and warmth of the photocopier and that his administrator had “white out” (aka liquid paper) in all sorts of colours.

Another great post I came across is How I got my baby to sleep from Mama Eve. I think that this is a great piece for parents and caregivers alike. Suchada makes a good point that sleep isn’t a competition and that sleeping (like eating and toileting) isn’t something that can be forced. I also like how she shares what she has done with her youngest child.

Finally, for those Canadians who are reading (and for those who are simply interested) I wanted to share this recent blog post by Martha Friendly – Why high-quality universal child care is part of a more equal Canada for all of us. It’s a nice overview of some of the issues that affect child care in Canada.

What have you been reading this week?