08 Jan 2013

My Image of the Child

No Comments Being Intentional

This semester I’m teaching one of my favorite courses, Infants and Toddlers. I enjoy this course in part because this age group fascinates me, the amount of learning that occurs in the first three years is incredible, and also because of how important the caregiver’s role is with this age group. I think that all too often in the field of early childhood education the focus is on the preschool/kindergarten age group, and although that is certainly important, in my experience it sometimes leaves ECEs feeling unprepared to work with infants and/or toddlers. Although we have a limited amount of time in this course, I hope that over the next few months, I will be able help my students to develop their own rich images of infants and toddlers, with an understanding of how capable and unique they are.

One of the ways that we use to get the students to start thinking about what they already know about infants and toddlers is to literally have them draw an image of an infant or a toddler. At the end of the course, I think that I will have them go back to these images and reflect on how their image of the young child has changed through our discussions. This also has me thinking about my own image of the child, be it infant, toddler or preschooler. As I have tried to consider how I can be more intentional in my practice I have to go back to my image of the child. Am I acting in a way that reflects my image of the child? If I believe that children are capable of problem solving, do I allow them opportunities to do so? I don’t believe in the necessity of adult enforced sharing, however I have intervened in squabbles over toys from time to time. I often struggle with my desire to pick up a crying baby, without first addressing the reason that the infant is communicating. As I strive towards being more intentional in my interactions with young children, I am reminded that I need to keep my image of the child at the forefront of my mind. I need to allow my beliefs about how children learn to dictate my actions, rather than the stress of the moment or trying to “fit in” to my surroundings.

That’s what I love about teaching, how it helps me to keep reflecting and to keep learning.

Photo by mikebaird on Flickr

07 Jan 2013

Documentation and Reflection

2 Comments Documentation, Early Childhood Education, Infants

I have wanted to read The Diary of Laura for a number of years now, even purchasing a copy at conference last year, however I’ve been so caught up in the busyness of life that I tucked it away and promptly forgot about it. Luckily, my year end cleaning turned it up and now I’m trying to work through it in an intentional way, as is my goal for all things this year. The Diary of Laura is, as it sounds, the documentation diary of a infant named Laura during her time in an infant-toddler program in Reggio Emilia, Italy. What I really like about this book is that it has a number of chapters written by different authors sharing their reflections on the diary, and their experiences working with young children. There is also a section with questions to encourage group reading or the use of the book as a professional development tool, so if anyone wants to start a group read of this book, let me know.

One of the first things that struck me is a question posed in the introduction of the book – “Is the form of documentation called “diary” still of interest after twenty years?” I think that as early childhood educators, the practice of documentation is one that we are constantly refining. Programs and individuals have different goals in their use of documentation and especially as technology continues to evolve and change, our methods of documentation also seem to be changing. So, then if we are trying to determine whether the “diary” is still of interest, we need to examine what do we mean by “diary”. Clearly, a diary is a narrative form of documentation, it can include media, such as photos or videos and work samplings. However, I think what sets a diary apart from other documentation is that it requires reflection. A diary is not an exclusively objective presentation of the facts, it allows for wonder, for speculation. You can go back to a previous entry in a diary and continue to add to it, as insights occur. Contextual information is often included. As important as it is for us to be objective observers, the value of our reflections and speculations about why a child might be doing something (especially when the child can’t tell us themselves) are of equal value. I think that in a time where test scores and checklists are becoming our standards for assessment, it’s important to include in our observations opportunities to reflect, to wonder, and even to speculate.

What do you think?

Oh, and one last thing- the diaries in the infant-toddler programs in Reggio and shared between caregivers and families, and both have the opportunity to contribute their thoughts and observations. What a wonderful way to nurture our partnerships with families!

06 Jan 2013

Sunday Watching

No Comments Early Childhood Education

Sunday is typically a day of rest for me. So, instead of me sharing something with you, I thought I would let some others do the talking.

One of my favorite Early Childhood researchers is Alison Gopnik. I read both The Scientist In The Crib and The Philosophical Baby and really enjoyed them. Not only is the information presented interesting and relevant to my work, but they are easy to read and understand, which makes both books appropriate for parents and caregivers as well as early childhood professionals. I was further delighted to discover she’s also a very engaging speaker, so I wanted to share this TED talk with you.

While browsing the TED site, I also came across this fascinating video of Annie Murphy Paul, who takes learning back even further by talking about what babies already know at birth. Learning starts in the womb, something I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to before, but I certainly am now.

Who are some of your favorite speakers/researchers? I’d love to know.

04 Jan 2013

Five Things Every New ECE Should Know

No Comments Child Care, Early Childhood Education

It’s the Friday before the start of a new semester and for many of my students, their final semester before they go out into the field. This has me thinking about what I would like them to know before they graduate, and I’ve come up with these five things.

  1. Your education does not end here; learning is a lifelong journey. Keep reading articles, blogs, journals and books, attend workshops, keep reflecting, keep an open dialogue with former classmates and co-workers and continue to build your Personal Learning Network. Keep building relationships with the children in your care, because they can teach us just as we teach them- learn from the children.
  2. Team work is key. You will have a partner or two, who will have their own beliefs about children, their own educational and experiential background and their own opinions and ideas. It is important that you communicate with each other and work together, sharing your own ideas and keeping an open mind about theirs. It isn’t always easy to work so closely with someone, but if you keep an open mind and engage in ongoing dialogue it will be an enriching experience.
  3. Money isn’t everything. This is a field where money is a hot button issue and all too often I see students planning their future employment based on which centres pay more. Now, I won’t disagree that money is important, but don’t let that rule your career. Sometimes making a little bit less money, but working at a centre where the staff and the centre’s philosophy matches your own, where you enjoy working, is preferable to working somewhere that causes you stress or makes you unhappy.
  4. Find your passion. If you are getting ready to graduate or have recently entered the field and this isn’t something that you love to do, then don’t. You have other options, don’t feel like you are “stuck” in this field forever. It may just mean you need to find another centre or another area of the field to work in, or it may mean a complete career shift. It’s okay to take another path.
  5. And last – Don’t forget to play! It’s easy to get caught up in the paperwork and the tidying and all the other busy work that we get called to do, but never forget that your job is to build relationships and to be a play partner. It’s okay to sit on the floor and play, it’s okay to have fun. It will invigorate you and inspire you, but most importantly it will make you a better Early Childhood Educator.

What advice would you give an ECE who’s just starting out?

Photo by familymwr on Flickr

03 Jan 2013

ECE and Technology

No Comments Early Childhood Education, Personal Learning Network, Social Media, Technology

I will admit that when I first started in the field of early childhood education I was skeptical about bringing technology into my practice. Like many out there I wasn’t sure that technology and early childhood went together. It wasn’t that I was adverse to technology generally, I have always been fairly “tech-savvy” and have spent many more hours on my computer, smart phone, tablet, etc. than I’d care to admit. In fact, since the field of early childhood doesn’t seem to attract those with computer skills, I have often found myself the unofficial IT dept of my workplace, in charge of all things computer, camera and even photocopier related. That being said, I found myself slowly discovering the benefits of technology in this field.

Working with infants and toddlers, I wasn’t putting a lot of technology into the hands of the children themselves. I believed then, as I still do now that under 2s don’t need any “screen time”. That being said, one of the biggest challenges for an infant/toddler caregiver is demonstrating the learning that occurs every day. A digital camera with video capabilities became my most indispensable tool to capture their learning. This was especially important when I worked in a Reggio inspired setting where documentation was a large part of our practice. Technology made the documentation process easier while providing a clearer and more refined picture of the gathered data.

It was around that same time I began to seek out resources that would support my work with infants in a Reggio inspired setting. I discovered an online group of ECEs who were Reggio inspired and searched for articles, activity ideas and other resources online. Over the years, the online ECE communities have grown as blogging and social media have become more popular. There are more resources now, online journals and magazines, and through social media, ECEs and teachers are forming Personal Learning Networks, something that I have found to be of great value, as I’ve mentioned before.

I will admit that I’ve become a convert. I believe that early childhood education and technology need to be linked. I think there is value for the children, but more than that I think that there is great value for the educator in incorporating technology into their practice. As with everything, we just need to be intentional in the way that we use it.

Photo by Table4Five on Flickr

02 Jan 2013

Wordless Wednesday – Clay

No Comments Infants

01 Jan 2013

Be Intentional

4 Comments Being Intentional, Canadian ECE

I’m not usually someone who makes a New Year’s Resolution, although I am someone who tries to examine my life and to set goals on semi-regular basis. As I mentioned in my last post I think that it’s important that each of us make it part of our practice to continually reflect on our own behaviours and to use those reflections to inform the way that we move forward. That being said, this year I have decided to make a resolution of sorts. This year I resolve to be intentional. That’s all, just those two words- be intentional. They will become my mantra for 2013. I want to be more intentional is every aspect of my life, including both my personal and professional life. All too often I have found myself simply going through the motions because I’ve been busy or tired or stressed out and although going through the motions is certainly a means to an end, that’s not the way that I want to live. I want to be present and intentional in my actions. I want to be conscious not only of what I am doing, but also why I am doing it. I want to take back control over my own actions and live more intentionally.

Now, I also know that one of the most important aspects of goal-setting is to identify specific and concrete ways to achieve your goals. I will admit that I’m still working on specific ways I will support my resolution to be intentional, but I will certainly share them as I develop them. The first thing I’m going to tackle is this blog. Up until this point I have posted here when I have been inspired and had the time, or really when the stars have aligned. However, this blog is a way for me to reflect on my beliefs and practices as they relate to child development and early childhood care and education, I want to be more intentional is using it for that. So, having heard that BlogHer is making every month National Blog Posting Month,  which challenges bloggers to post every single day for a month, that’s going to be my first concrete goal. A month long goal is smaller and therefore more attainable, and I hope this will help me to reflect not only on my work, but on my resolution to be more intentional. Wish me luck.

Photo by Baddog_ on Flickr

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

29 Nov 2011

Musings of an Early Childhood Educator

No Comments Canadian ECE, Early Childhood Education

We might not always feel that we’re valued and appreciated on a large scale, but we make a difference to each child…

  I have to admit that sometimes I feel a little disenchanted with the field of early childhood education. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very passionate about the early childhood years, child development and the importance of quality caregiving. However there are days when it just feels like there’s something about this field that’s too hard. As early childhood practitioners, we struggle for validation, we struggle for respect and we struggle to maintain fair wages without raising the cost of care. There’s a great desire to advocate for the field, caregivers want to be heard, but at the same time, we’re tired, we have families to take care of and it’s hard to find the time to get on our soap boxes and tell the world to listen up and hear the importance of the early childhood field. There are days when I hear someone say “babysitting” and I have to grit my teeth. There are times when someone comments on how lucky I am to get to “hold babies and play all day” and although I do feel lucky to do the work that I do, I hate for people to devalue what I do every day like that, because they say it as though it isn’t work, as though it isn’t significant, as though it isn’t important. I find it so frustrating sometimes.

However the thing about feeling this way is that there are days when I think I want to quit, to leave it all behind, but there are also other days, days when instead of quitting, I want to push back, I want to make a change. That’s one of the reasons I became involved in professional development. The first workshop that I presented came out of my own request. I was an infant teacher and was frustrated by the lack of professional development offered for those working with infants and toddlers. There was one workshop, which had been offered two or three times and that was all. So I spoke up, I approached a few people who were involved with a local organization that put on professional development for child care workers and made my request, loudly and more than once. Eventually my name must have gotten put on a list somewhere because a while later they called me and invited me to do a series of workshops for infant care workers. So I did, and being able to share what I had learned in my own research and my own practice and to hear about what others were doing was a great experience for me, and I was hooked.

It’s difficult sometimes, coordinating so many people, and my involvement is a lot of work. However at the same time, I really believe that it’s worth it.

 My involvement in a local advocacy organization, the Association for Early Childhood Educators of Ontario, came about in much the same way. I was always reading up on the changes in the field and talking to those I knew, both in and out of the field about the importance of early education and what was happening in the field. I realized that I wanted to make more of a contribution to support my local Early Childhood Educators and so I joined the board of my local branch. It’s difficult sometimes, coordinating so many people, and my involvement is a lot of work. However at the same time, I really believe that it’s worth it. Even if I don’t get a lot of feedback, even if there’s only a few people who respond to our newsletters and our events, that’s still enough. It’s not just about the many, it’s about the few, and I have to keep believing that every voice, that every contribution is important.

The field of early childhood is important, early childhood practitioners are important. The work that we do with children is really important. We might not always feel that we’re valued and appreciated on a large scale, but we make a difference to each child and to each family and that’s what really counts. Yes, I have days when I feel disenchanted about what I do, but then I think of the children and the families and I remember that what I do matters.

Photo from Flickr by David Woo (Wootang01)