Thank goodness we have educators like Kristin Eno and Richard Lewis. They both prioritize joy, wonder, poetry, art and music when they work with children and they don’t forget about how important parents are in this equation.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, December 9, 2020 I had the delightful opportunity of taking part in a conversation with Richard and Kristin. The discussion became so exciting that we decided on making plans for a part two. But that is still in the works. For today, here is part one of Living by Wonder: The Imaginative Life of Childhood. After listening to our talk, you can view one of Kristin’s studio lessons for the preschoolers that she works with at Beginnings Nursery School at the bottom of this post.
I met Lella Gandini in 1996 when my husband and I were visiting Rome and staying at the American Academy . At the time, her husband, Lester Little, was the director of the Academy. On the plane trip I was reading The Hundred Languages of Children and I was so surprised when we reached the main desk of the Academy to check in and I saw Lella’s photo on a bulletin board above the receptionist’s desk. We have remained correspondents since that visit.
Amazingly, I had a second surprise visit connected with Lella. This one included Cathy. When my daughter was having a concert in Worchester, Massachusetts, I was introduced to the publisher, Wyatt Wade. He invited me, along with my daughter and son-in-law, to visit his newly restored office. When we arrived, Lella and Cathy were there waiting for me! After a tour of the office, we all went to Wyatt’s home for dinner. It was a visit that I’ll always remember.
When I came up with the idea for this new series of conversations, I immediately thought of these two inspiring women. I crossed my fingers when I invited them to participate and to my utter delight, they immediately accepted the invitation.
Lella serves as Reggio Emilia Liason in the United States for Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach. The Principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach include:
a deep respect for the ideas of children and teachers.
a belief that knowledge is constructed through social interchange.
the value of using materials and media to express and communicate feelings, thoughts and understandings.
the desire to document children’s and teacher’s processes to preserve memories and sustain in-depth work.
the joy and growth that comes from collaborating with other teachers and with children in the search for knowledge and understanding of relationships.
Cathy Topal and Lella Gandini took some time the morning of November 17, 2020 to talk about Beautiful Stuff and the Gift of Discovery.
Here is a very apropros and entertaining video of how the artist Hanoch Piven uses beautiful stuff in his art. You might want to share this with your children. They will love it! https://youtu.be/f7bZWbzuW_I
When I began teaching in the late sixties and early seventies, I heard about the new public school in Harlem, Central Park East, and its foundation of progressive education. At the same time, I was reading Charles Silberman’s magisterial anthology, The Open Classroom Reader. These possibilities for creating schools and classrooms that honored children’s innate intelligence, desire and need for play and exploration filled me with an excitement for teaching.
Then, as the years went on, the educational landscape changed. Testing and rigid standards that didn’t take into account all that we know about children, how they develop and what they need to become creative thinkers and future adult citizens, took over what was happening in classrooms across the country.
Some, however, stayed strong and true to their ideals. Deborah Meier and Anna Allanbrook are two of the shining examples of progressive leaders in education who did not give up and who keep fighting for what they know education should stand for.
I’m honored to have had a conversation with these two noted educators and inspired thinkers. I hope you enjoy this important dialogue.
During this frightening and sad time in our history something personally disturbing happened to me. While I stayed practically locked up in my house with my husband, I saw so many people busy at their important work. We live near a hospital and in addition to the painful sound of ambulance alarms, day and night, I was so aware of all the brave people who were working in the hospital, always facing personal danger of catching the virus themselves.
Teachers were quickly learning the technology that would allow them to reach out to their students, hoping that they could soothe, assure and instruct them at the same time. Parents were working from home while simultaneously becoming home-schoolers, teaching their children how to manage often-confusing technology and helping them to stay focused on this new mode of instruction.
In my own family, my husband, whose time had been taken up with some exhibitions of his work, was now back in his studio, totally immersed in an exciting new painting. My daughter saw her entire year of piano concerts get cancelled one by one. After a few months, she pulled herself out of an understandably depressed state and began recording CDs, teaching students, via Zoom, as far away as Asia, and performing concerts that are being streamed on the internet. My son-in-law took on a huge project, with the help of my grandson, and built a magical, screened-in summer room in their garden. Now he’s back at work, teaching 4th grade students at P.S. 321. My grandson, who has been studying acting in London, auditioned and was given an important role in a new Netflix film about a group of teenagers who attempt to start a heavy metal band. He’s now in Portland, Oregon filming Metal Lords!
That leaves me. I seemed to be faced with a personal, existential crisis. Where is my place during this unusual time? As an early childhood consultant, focusing on exploration, play, Choice Time and inquiry, my work disappeared for now and possibly in the future. I seemed to have no constructive purpose and I felt, to put it mildly, useless.
My daughter wondered why I wasn’t writing on my blog. How could I? I don’t have an authentic voice. I’m not working with teachers or children now. I’m not parenting a young child. Why would anyone have an interest in what I would have to say?
Simone, forever wise, suggested that I interview interesting people and post the interviews on my blog. I thought about her suggestion and came up with a twist to her idea. Instead of interviews, I am going to record conversations between people who have very interesting and provocative contributions that should inspire refreshing thinking about the education of young children.
Perhaps these ideas might guide us in taking hold of education and assuring that something positive will grow out of this challenging, distressing time.
Here is the list of the upcoming blog post conversations:
“Tell me about when you were a little girl.” “Tell me about how you and daddy met.” “Tell me about your grandma and grandpa.” Simone, my daughter, was always asking for more “Tell me about…” stories. She loved to hear stories that our friend Teresa, in Rome, would tell her about what it was like in Italy when she was a little girl. My stories of growing up in Brooklyn (in the olden days!) intrigued her. She ate these stories up. She wanted the same story told over and over. She never seemed to tire of the same story just as she never tired of hearing Goodnight Moon before going to sleep each night. . Now, years later, my 18 year old grandson is hungry for stories about my father, almost as though my memories might provide a magic key to unlocking some mystery that might be hidden.
Children just love to hear stories about what seems to uncover the secret lives of their parents. Now while families are all sheltered together at home, why not have a special time a few days or evenings for story sharing. Adults can begin the storytelling, remembering special moments from their childhood. After a few days of story sharing, children can be encouraged to share their own stories about memories from their lives.
When I was teaching kindergarten, the children in my class were fascinated to learn about how the Egyptians wrote messages in hieroglyphs, using pictures to stand for words and sounds. We had a flurry of hieroglyph writing for a while!
Of course, oral storytelling has a rich, international tradition. The Cherokee Native Americans gathered together as different versions of the creation story were (and still are) shared as are more moralistic stories that tell why a certain animal looks a particular way, or acts with unique behaviors.
Anansi, the spider who is a cunning trickster, is the subject of the very rich oral storytelling tradition that was brought to this country from West Africa and the Caribbean. Anansi was such a trickster that he was considered able to turn the tables on the slave owners, allowing the slaves to gain the upper hand. He was considered an inspiration of resistance. Telling the Anansi stories allowed the Africans who were enslaved in the United States to maintain a connection to their homelands.
Some years ago, when I visited the early childhood schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, I was surprised to see how few books they had their classrooms as compared to the classrooms back in NYC. I asked one of the teachers about this and she told me that the Italian families would sit around the dinner table and listen to stories told by the elders in the household. Dinner would last until late in the evening and this rich tradition of family story telling took the place of our bedtime stories.
Story telling can become a fun, comforting and inspiring tradition in your home during this pandemic. If you have spent, say, a week sharing stories, why not come up with the exciting idea of putting all the stories into books? You could staple or click a few blank pages together and begin the process as collaboration. Draw pictures together to recreate one of the stories.
If your child is young and not doing traditional writing, you might wonder if you should be transcribing the story onto the pages. This is a tricky question. Sometimes, in my class, a child would ask me a question about some aspect of religion. That’s when I would say, “That’s a good question to ask a grown-up in your family.”
I have my own ideas on whether adults should be writing on children’s stories but I would say that this is something to ask your child’s teacher. What are the protocols for writing in children’s books? Some teachers transcribe the child’s words and some ask the child to write “as best as you can”. My personal instinct is to leave the writing up to the child. What looks like random marks on a paper to an adult can have very personal meaning to the child who is writing a story. If you want to read more about this way of thinking, I would suggest the Heinemann book, Already Ready, Nurturing Writers in Preschool and Kindergarten by Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover. However, bottom line is that you might want to be consistent with the instruction your child will be getting when school returns and so it probably makes sense to consult the classroom teacher on this.
Here’s another possible fun follow-up to story telling. If you shared the history of cavemen’s wall paintings with your child, find a big piece of paper if you can, tape it to the bedroom wall, give your child some crayons and talk with him about what family story he’s going to draw as he imagines that he’s in a cave, drawing with a stick on a muddy wall!
You also can cut out strips of paper, find images of hieroglyphs on the Internet, and challenge your child to write one of the stories with hieroglyphs! Remember that it will be the process of thinking about what to write, not whether or not the final product is correct, that counts here.
If you have family photo albums, sharing them together can spark the telling and retelling of family stories.
The next time your child says, “Tell me a story” why not begin a meaningful storytelling tradition in your home?
Everyone understands that this is a stressful time for parents and for children. Parents are thrown into a new role. Now they are responsible for taking care of their families such as cooking, cleaning and caring for children, suddenly being a home-teacher and in many instances also working a day job from home. It’s exhausting just to think about it.
I’m going to concentrate on how families can support the learning that kindergarten children are doing now that they are confined to home. Here is the truly important idea about the education of young children that parents can hold onto. Children learn through their play! If they’re pretending to have a restaurant they might be making menus, using important literacy skills. If they’re building a tower with blocks or a fort with couch pillows, they’re learning about balance and also, most important, they’re learning to problem solve.
Let’s create a situation where you can find some cardboard boxes , you’ve had deliveries in boxes or you get some when you go out for groceries., Rather than throwing them in the recycle bin, you hold onto them. ( If you don’t have any, you might ask neighbors if they can leave one or two outside your door.) You have a true treasure to give to your child. Empty boxes can get the wheels of the child’s mind spinning. If you have a big box, that opens up so many possibilities. All you need to do is “gift” the box to the child and say, almost to the room, “I wonder what this box will become.” Then leave the child alone with it. It’s helpful if crayons or markers, paper, glue, maybe even cardboard strips and empty paper towel dowels are nearby. Now the fun begins. Just to warn you, it doesn’t begin quickly. Children need, what I call, mess around time. They need time to think and to consider. Maybe it’s necessary to step away from the box, but just leave it in place because he/she will, I’m sure, come back to it. Perhaps at dinner it could be the topic of a family discussion. You, or grandpa, your partner or an older child might think aloud about what you might be doing with the box. “I always wanted to go to outer space. Wouldn’t that be a great rocket ship?”, you might say. Then another adult might disagree. “I would make a big fire truck that I could ride in.” If your child doesn’t say anything, then just drop the subject and go on to something else. Be assured that he/she is starting to think about what will happen.
Perhaps the next day you might casually give your child a big piece of paper and say, “I found this paper, just in case you want to make a plan for your box.” You don’t have to say anything else. You’ve planted seeds.
There’s a nice YouTube video of the author reading her book “It’s Not a Box” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMCKXaFsmCA&t=45s0 ) and you might want to look at it together as a family. It’s a lovely story.
I want to assure you that an activity like this, which is very open-ended and leaves so much to the child’s imagination, is important play. It’s actually so much more powerful in terms of a young child’s learning than practicing with worksheets. When a child is playing he is learning to make a plan and follow through (such as if a child decides to draw a picture of his family and has to plan who is to be included in the drawing); he learns through trial and error and uses his imagination, such as building a tower or a fort with pillows. (Oops, it fell. Now I have to figure out a new way to build it so it won’t fall.); makes scientific and mathematical observations when cooking or making play dough with a parent and seeing how the addition of each ingredient creates changes and how important it is to measure just the right amount of flour, salt and water. uses reason and analytical thinking if she’s doing a puzzle and has to figure out where the pieces go; derives feeling of satisfaction when a puzzle or a rocket ship is completed; and thinks creatively such as when she is figuring out how to mix paint or crayon colors to make a new color.
Think of these learning categories and how they are important skills for success in life– creating a plan, following through, trial and error, imagination, making mathematical and scientific observations, using analytical reasoning, and thinking creatively.
One way that you can help support children with their play is to step back and give the child time and space, as I mentioned before. But you also can ask meaningful questions and make important observations to provoke children’s thinking. As strange as it may seem, these are questions that have no right or wrong answer. For example, if you’re looking at your child’s drawing, instead of asking, “What is this color called?” you might say, “You’ve made such an interesting choice of colors here.” and then wait a moment to see if your child wants to talk about the colors. Sometimes though, the child is deep into the creative process and that might be a time for the parent to just step back and give some space.
Here are some examples of questions that you might ask your child during and after play: • Can you tell me how this works? • Could you tell me what you were thinking…? (When you decided to do this? When you added this part to the drawing? Etc.) • What might happen if ___________? • Why did that happen? • What is the problem you’re trying to solve? • That is very interesting. That time you _______ instead of _______. • I see ________. What’s happening here? • Hmm, how does that work? • I wonder____________(wondering is always good to do) • What are other ideas you have about ____________.
“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” – Diane Ackerman (famous poet, naturalist, essayist)
It was August, 1976. My husband, Simon, my daughter, Simone, my dog, Lucky, and I were just about to leave our apartment in Brooklyn to spend a year at the American Academy in Rome. At the time we didn’t realize that the year would be extended to almost three years. Just before we left, my friend Connie stopped by with a gift for Simone. In addition to a lovely picture book, she also gave her a portable transistor radio. For my almost four year old daughter, this radio was an exciting new possession and she couldn’t wait until we arrived in Rome so that she could play it all by herself.
After what seemed like an incredibly long trip to Rome (our dog had to be sedated and she nervously chomped on my finger when I gave her a piece of hot dog with a pill inside of it, my husband got a major toothache while we were on the plane and calmed the pain with many glasses of Scotch, Simone realized she could get as much soda as she wanted from the lovely stewardess and I was so exhausted that I didn’t put a stop to her increasing sugar high) we finally arrived in Rome! When we got to our apartment in Monteverde Vecchio, Simon and I were eager to take a nap and Simone was eager to turn on her new radio. We left her in her charming bedroom, went into our bedroom and immediately fell asleep until…
There was a wail of horror coming from Simone and we rushed in to see what the problem was. “My radio! Somethings wrong! It’s an American radio and it’s talking Italian!” Her world was crumbling. She was in a new country, a new apartment, a new bedroom without all of her toys from home and now to make everything unbearable, her radio didn’t know how to talk right! Her almost four year old world seemed to be falling apart.
This memory returned to me while I was thinking about the children who were confined to their apartments or, if they were lucky, their yards, not able to play with their friends, wisked away quickly from their teachers and classmates, living in a world where people’s faces were covered with masks and where they had to keep a social distance whenever they did get the opportunity to go outside.
One thing that I’m certain of. This is not the time to worry about children falling behind. I’ll write more about this idea of children falling behind in another blog post. It is a time for everyone in the house to respect and comfort each other. Children need respect and comfort and parents need the same!
In an upcoming post, I’ll write about how giving children time to be bored can lead to some wonderful discoveries and creations. I’ll also write about how parents can support children’ in developing higher-order thinking by chosing questions and observations carefully. I’ll also write about the difference between play and playful. These are important distinctions to recognize.
I encourage parents to have confidence that their children are always developing and learning. Watch them as they use their powers of investigation and imagination to figure out what they can do with that plain empty box that you were going to toss into the recycle bin. Is it play? Is it learning?
From 2011 to 2015 I had the pleasure of working as a consultant in Katie Rust’s first grade classroom. Katie’s wonderful co-teacher was Andy Mastin. We focused on how to move their instruction from a more traditional teaching approach to one which emphasizes inquiry, play and exploration. We had a blast! Katie and Andy just grabbed any suggestions that I shared, made it their own and ran with it. Now Katie is a second/third grade teacher and she’s writing her own wonderful blog. I’m really eager and pleased to share her latest blog entry with you.
**************************************************************************** Experts Everywhere Posted on July 30, 2020 by Katie Rust Brown
Students learn from experts on pizza, commuting and pet care.
As word of the coronavirus’ spread from one nation to another began to circulate in the news, our 2019-2020 school year was in its glory days. Many teachers, myself included, often note that it can take months for a classroom to fully develop into the type of community that we envision for our students. Routines take time to learn and, by the time the holiday break arrives, the classroom resembles the ‘well oiled machine’ often cited as the ideal.
In February, as we began to anticipate school closures, our class was chugging along in the middle of a study on trains (pun intended). We learned about the communities of New York state, focusing particularly on how different types of communities rely on one another and connect to one another. Rural, suburban and urban communities may differ, but they all need one another to work as an interdependent system. We used the train system as our main topic to weave in these bigger concepts of connectivity and interdependence. Then, as we’d been fearing, our school closed. The train, metaphorically, stopped.
The school I work in, Compass Charter School, understood the urgency of caring for children’s basic needs first. We were offered flexibility in our curriculum, and our grade shifted our study to a focus on resilient communities, which allowed us to utilize some of our previous work plans, but also engage students in learning about current events in real-time. During the following months, our class focused on strengthening and maintaining emotional bonds with families and students, while continuing to encourage curiosity about the world around us.
The question, of course, is how to interact with the world when the world has shut down.
This post focuses on experts. For our purposes, an expert is anyone who knows a lot about a topic. Sometimes experts know about a topic because it’s something they’ve studied in school. More often, though, an expert knows a lot about a topic because it’s part of their everyday life, either at home or at work. A mechanic is an expert at cars. A chef is an expert at food. But experts have grander banks of knowledge than you may even realize. Birders know a lot about birds, but they also may know about local parks, how to keep bugs away while birding, what boots to wear while hiking and how to pack snacks on the go! Experts may gain knowledge of their topic through their own personal research and education, but most knowledge that our students want to learn is likely to be information that’s been learned through experience.
During our quarantine here in New York, from March through June, our school community utilized the knowledge of experts on multiple occasions, on the small scale level of students calling an expert for information, to larger, full-school interviews with experts. Both for in-school learning as well as remote learning, utilizing an expert is a way to maintain social interaction with others, practice listening and speaking skills, and to encourage learners to explore a topic of personal interest with someone with common interests.
Why experts? The unique value of experiences with experts lies in their personal connection to the material that they share. Experts who share about their daily jobs, their family life or their own cultures have particular investment in the information that they’re sharing. This investment often leads to an emotionally engaging lesson built on the passion of the expert for their topic. Although reading books and watching videos can provide new information to students, experts offer their own unique perspective on a topic and can provide detailed facts in response to student questions. Utilizing expert knowledge also provides validation and appreciation of experts in fields that are often overlooked. Gas station attendants, pet store workers, train conductors and protestors are important parts of our society that deserve to feel recognized for their contributions.
How do I find an expert? The wonderful thing about experts is that they’re everywhere. They’re everyone. Everyone is an expert at something. The challenge is finding an expert at the specific topic that you are researching. As an example, if your class is learning about ponds, you can ask yourself who you may know that has any experience with ponds. Think broadly. Do you know anyone whose job involves ponds? Do any family members have stories they’ve told about ponds (real or tall tales)? Do you know any friends who have visited ponds? Have you yourself ever been to or seen a pond? Are there ponds close by (and if there are, can you call the local ranger’s office or find someone who frequents the pond to answer questions for your students?) Are there pet stores nearby that may have experts on pond animals? It’s likely that whatever topic you’re studying, you know someone who has expert knowledge on that topic and can broaden your student’s knowledge.
If you can’t find a personal connection to a topic that you’re researching, I highly suggest contacting any known expert on the topic. Why not try? I’ve personally throw out flyers to friends, “looking for someone to talk about organizing protests,” I’ve emailed professional chefs, I’ve walked to the local junk yard and Target… all of which ended with offers from experts to meet with students. You would be warmed by the willingness of people to share their knowledge for the benefit of teaching children.
Preparing for an expert experience: Before meeting with or interviewing and expert, you may sometimes want to expose students to the topic at hand or the expert themselves. You can do this by writing or finding short articles about the expert’s topic. Depending on whether this experience is launching or extending student learning on a topic, you may also want to brainstorm a list of questions for your expert. These questions can either be shared ahead of time, answered in written format, or can be asked during a live experience together.
Expert experiences, in person and while learning remotely
Live Expert Interviews and Visits: When teaching in a classroom, experts may be asked to visit in person. You may also want to plan a trip to the expert’s place of work to experience their knowledge even deeper. But, a live interview with an expert is also possible remotely via any video platform. This can be done as a whole class, in small groups, or privately between a student and the expert. A “visit” to an expert, when the expert brings you into their world, is another option for a live experience. Experts may show you what they do at work, they may demonstrate a talent or hobby from home, or can take you on a tour of a location that may not be accessible for the class as a whole. These live experiences have the benefit of allowing questions on the fly that students brainstorm, but may also be more difficult to plan due to time restrictions of students, experts and teachers. These live experiences are not limited only to students. During remote work times, teachers and staff may also learn from experts via video call PD and interviews. This past spring, my staff and I attended professional development sessions with Paula Rogovin, author of The Research Workshop, and were able to learn from her expertise and ask questions about moving forward with the work in our school. Staff members learn about research and inquiry from Paula Rogovin via an online video call during remote learning
Pre-Recorded Expert Interviews/Videos: If interviewing an expert live is not an option, or you would like to utilize experts with whom you don’t have personal contact or connections, you can utilize pre-recorded interviews or videos to encourage students to learn from those with knowledge of a particular topic. While learning remotely in April, our students were studying resilient communities and were learning about and analyzing the job of essential workers. We wanted students to broaden their view of the word ‘essential,’ and we reached out to a class parent, Heather, who was a veterinarian in our area. While it was difficult to find the right time to interview Heather live, she was gracious enough to film parts of her work day at her veterinarian office to share with our students. In this way, our class was able to learn from Heather and her work in a time that best suited both our expert and our students. You can view Heather’s video an example of this type of pre-reorded expert experience HERE. Additionally, utilizing interview videos or day-in-the-life videos of experts in a variety of fields, found on youtube or other video websites, can supplement student learning.
A class family assists in creating pre=recorded videos for student research
Experts as study resource When researching a topic of interest, students may be encouraged to contact an expert as a source of knowledge. You can list a brief summary of the expert’s experience, list their contact information and the preferred ways of communication (email, phone call) It is advisable to contact with experts first to let them know that students may be reaching out. I also suggest limiting the time that students may be contacting this individual, which helps students schedule their learning during work/school hours and offers the expert the flexibility of answering student questions in times that are helpful for them. Our school has a foundational belief in sustainable living. During our study on resilient communities, it became clear that many systems in New York City (and globally) were becoming strained as a result of the excess of people working from home. As an option, students were able to contact a friend of mine to ask about his job in engineering and how his job had been affected by the quarantine in NYC.
Experts can be found everywhere. They’re your family members, your friends, your teachers, your grocers, your firefighters and your nail technicians. Utilizing an expert promises a personalized and engaging lesson for children and validates the work of our everyday heroes who keep our society moving.
For so many of us, all around the world, this Coronavirus pandemic has tilted life to an unfamiliar and uncomfortable angle. Life isn’t as it should be. It’s a confusing time, a frightening time and a complicated time. Days take on different meanings depending on what is and is not happening in our lives. Many teachers are struggling to connect with their students as they juggle their personal responsibilites as parents who are home schooling their own children. It’s overwhelming!
As an early childhood consultant I have been trying to imagine how to productively use my time and how I can virtually connect with teachers. Those first weeks of sheltering at home caused my days to stretch on and on. I was feeling like a person without a purpose.
I wondered if there were a few teachers or parents who would like to explore Choice Time with me. I posted a proposal of my Facebook page and waited to see if anyone might be interested. This is what I wrote:
I’m planning to begin an online, Zoom, presentation/conversation with teachers about Choice Time and Inquiry Projects. My idea is to present a Powerpoint and classroom videos. There would be opportunities for discussion. Using Zoom is quite new to me but I’m pretty excited at the prospect of communicating with teachers! It would be appropriate for teachers of Prekindergarten through Second Grade. PM me if you’re interested.
The response was overwhelming. Teachers from all parts of the world responded. How impressive it was for people who were working so hard to continue teaching on line to even consider spending some of their “spare” time joining a Choice Time discussion group.
The conversations the first week focused primarily on play and Choice Time. We explored what free play looks like and how it might be transferred into the classroom. You can watch the first session here:https://vimeo.com/406286992
The second week was devoted to looking at and discussing two different whole class inquiry projects. One study took place in a prekindergarten classroom and the second one took place in a kindergarten class. Both classes were in New York City public schools. You can view the second week’s session here: https://vimeo.com/411393368
The third week was opened up for teachers to share how they were providing Choice Time opportunities for children as part of their virtual teaching.
How can we avoid giving children “tasks” to do? Can we tweak what was originally a task and encourage children to use the same materials in a more explorative and creative way? For example, instead of giving children specific activities to do with 10 stones or buttons, might we challenge them to see if they can create an interesting design or pattern with the stones. Perhaps we could ask them,”What were you thinking about when you created your design? Can you think of ways to move them around to create something new? Would you like to add something to your collection and see what you can make? What kinds of ideas do you have?” This gives the children opportunities to play, explore and use creative, higher-order thinking.
In a recent zoom workshop for prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers, I was asked if I could include ideas for virtual choice time. Not having taught virtually myself, I was reluctant to do this. I wondered if my ideas might not be helpful. I did give it a try and the feedback was positive, so I’ll share some of what I came up with.
Keep a consistent daily schedule
Maintain routines that children will become familiar with
Include songs and chants
Have a regularly scheduled storytime. Perhaps invite family members and other people in the school who the children know to record a reading of a storybook.
Perhaps include a question of the day. When this becomes routine, children can come up with a question or wondering for everyone to consider.
•Remember that this is a stressful time for all, teachers, children and parents. Keep the emotional needs of all a priority.
•Parents, during virtual teaching and learning, are our partners. Is it possible to have separate group meetings with parents to answer their questions and to tell them what your aims are? This will help them bond as partners in teaching and learning
A Looking Out of My Window book
•Take some blank papers and fold them together to make a little book.
• Every day draw a picture of something you see when you look out of your window.
•You might see a bird, a car, a tree, maybe even flowers.
•You can make a “detail finder” by cutting a peep-hole in a paper. This will help you look really closely!
•First get children’s ideas and then, if it seems helpful, show these pictures.
•Only use these pictures as prompts to start a conversation about building a special reading and play spot at home.
•At morning meeting, brainstorm some chores to do at home. Possibilities are washing dishes, setting the table, sorting socks from the laundry, folding laundry, putting away toys, making the bed, etc.
•Each child can pick a chore that they want to do.
•Parents (or older siblings) can video tape the child doing the chore and send it to the teacher.
•The teacher can make a “chore montage” and everyone can watch it together.
•This might be followed by a discussion of other ways to be helpers at home, how it felt to get a chore done, who helps out in our community and in our home, etc.
Go on a search around your home
•See how many electrical items are in each room.
•Can you draw a picture of something you might invent that could use electricity?
You might want to use recycled materials to construct a new machine.
•Can you give names to parts of your invention and label them?
•You might want to write a story about your invention. Let your imagination go wild!
•Listen to your favorite song. Make up a dance or exercise routine to go with your song. Ask the teacher if you can share it at meeting and teach it to the class.
•Play a board game with someone in your family. Then see if you can make up your own board game. You can play it with someone in your family. Ask your teacher if you can share it at a class morning meeting.
•Can you draw a map of your room or of your apartment? What are the landmarks that are very important to you?
•You might imagine that you are a pirate and you’re looking for a treasure. Draw a treasure map.
•Think of everything on your mind. How could you draw a map of your mind? What about a map of your heart?
Cooking Together Day
•Children (with an adult) cook the dish and the teacher cooks along with them.
•Send the recipe a week ahead so parents can prepare ingredients and be familiar with the recipe.
•Children who can’t participate might sketch what is happening and make a recipe/cook book. Perhaps they might want to create their own recipe.
Two kindergarten teachers from the Dalton Hong Kong school shared some ideas with me via zoom.
I sometimes asked children if they could change their intials into new or silly pictures. This is a similar challenge.
As a final 2-cents piece of advice, I really would like to urge teachers and parents to ignore any message that children are “falling behind” during this time. Children are naturally curious and they are always learning something. It’s the responsibility of the teacher to observe, listen, support and facilitate children’s learning by understanding what they know, what they’re interested in and to build on that. Vygotsky wrote of the zones of development. Young children need to have the freedom to explore and learn in their Actual Zone of Development, their comfort zone. As teachers, we can gently and perceptively challenge them to stretch into their Zone of Proximal Development. This is where they can experience the excitement discovering new understandings just as this prekindergarten boy did when he proudly blurted out, “I did it!.”
I’d like to share information about an exciting conference for Kindergarten educators that will be happening at the Bank Street College of Education in NYC on April 3rd and 4th, 2020.
Kindergarten plays a unique role in a child’s life when language, literacy, science and math take on real meaning through play and active learning. It is a year filled with discovery, wonder, creativity and friendship. This year’s focus, Sowing the Seeds of Social Justice, emphasizes the role of teachers as they inspire children to be empathetic members of their community and learn what it means to advocate for fairness.
Friday, April 3, 2020
Teaching, Learning & Curriculum in Politically Uncertain Times: Moving Towards Civic Participation
Children engaged in protests, walking picket lines, delivering rousing speeches are often praised by adults for their visible engagement. Yet beyond these hypervisible, familiar political acts, how are children already engaged just by their very being as children in the world? Children’s identities, differentiated along the intersections of race, gender, ethnicity, citizenship, and ability are already political in nature. As political beings, what are they creating, embodying, and doing in the course of their everyday life at school through moments of play, curricular conversations, and inquiry? During a particularly tumultuous political moment, I feature young children whose conversations lead teachers to reimagine curriculum and pedagogy; I show children engaged in thoughtful dialogue around issues of race, gender, and religion; I bring together playful exchanges that make prominent the social, cultural, and political issues children are still grappling with. In doing this, I highlight the importance of capturing and following children’s inquiries and questions as we strive to engage alongside young children towards civic action.
Dr. Haeny Yoon is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University where she teaches courses on curriculum, language/literacy, children’s play, and qualitative methodologies. Her interest in how children play with materials, spaces, their peers, and in popular culture stems from working as a staff developer and primary school teacher. Partnering with in-service and pre-service teachers, she is committed to listening to children’s descriptions of their lives and the world around them. Her book, Rethinking Early Literacies: Reading and Rewriting Worlds (2018), co-authored with Dr. Mariana Souto-Manning, honors the diverse languages and practices of families, homes, and communities across the United States. Dr. Yoon received her MA in Elementary Education, and her Ph.D in Curriculum and Teaching from the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign.
Stories that Nourish the Hearts of Children
Laura Simms reconnects us to the dynamic, inspiring, and profound experience of Storytelling. By telling stories and listening to stories, we will explore how and why storytelling touches the hearts and minds of kindergarten children. Laura will also share her experiences of storytelling with young children from around the world. She will be accompanied by musician and storyteller Therese Folkes Plair. Teachers will leave with a renewed appreciation as well as the joy of bringing storytelling into the life of the classroom.
Storyteller, writer, arts-educator, and humanitarian, Laura Simms has been telling stories and training teachers for over forty years. She is the author of over 20 books, recordings, and articles including Our Secret Territory (2011) and Stories to Nourish the Hearts of Our Children (2013). Simms is the artistic director of the Hans Christian Andersen Storytelling Center in New York City and the Founder and Story Mentor for Girls Write Haiti, Port au Prince, Haiti. In addition, she is a senior teacher of Dharma Art in the Tibetan tradition of mindfulness. Previously, she was a Senior Research Fellow at Rutgers University and worked with UN Women, Mercy Corps, Common Ground, and The Arthur Mauro Peace and Justice Center. Simms has taught master classes in storytelling and fairy tales at Antioch University, NH and New York University, NYC. She is known as an advocate for engagement, compassion and imagination as a powerful antidote to the challenges we face in today’s world. She earned a BA from Harpur College, Binghamton University in Comparative Literature and History.
Therese Folkes Plair is a musician, storyteller, educator, and activist with 30 years experience developing arts education programs. She has worked in schools with grades prek-12 in the New York State and the New York City tri-state area. Plair is currently an NGO Representative to the United Nations for IDEAL Society (Institute for the Development of Education, Arts & Leisure) British Columbia, Canada and Co-Chair of the United Nations NGO Committee on Children’s Rights. Her international work includes the US State Department’s Speakers’ Program sponsorship of Storytelling: A Culturally Familiar Means of Educating and Disseminating Information About Social Issues (2001). She has a BA in theater and anthropology from Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York.
Saturday April 4, 2020
Tom Roderick, educator, activist and writer retired recently after 35 years as founding director of the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. He has worked closely with educators to help young people develop the values, personal qualities, and skills necessary to thrive and contribute to their communities.
Back to the Garden: Inspiring Kindergarteners to Grow into Curious and Concerned Citizens of the World
Kindergarten children, in the presence of gifts of nature – seeds, tall trees, rain storms, birds with many types of beaks, and leaves that change color- wonder, explore, and talk about how things grow and change as they seek to become experts. We, their teachers and their multicultural families, with the magic of the outdoors, help children understand the complex concerns for conservation, health, food, shelter, and climate. Our contribution will be to prevent raising the last children in the woods.
Dr. Maritza Macdonald has been on the faculty of Bank Street College, Columbia University, Teachers College, and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Her expertise and research focus on the importance of learning outside school, the importance, beauty, and humans’ need for nature, while encouraging cultural and linguistic knowledge for all. Her major contributions at the AMNH include the development of URBAN ADVANTAGE, a partnership between museums, botanical gardens, zoos, and The Hall of Science. Most recently she created the Master Level Science Teacher Preparation Program. Dr. Macdonald is an Alumna of Bank Street College and Teachers College and the recipient of two Honorary Doctorates in Humane Letters from Bank Street (2011) and Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of Natural History (2019).
Big Questions for Young Minds: Extending Children’s Thinking
This talk will give participants a chance to think about and practice using the range of questions to support high level thinking. We will explore the types of questions that can stimulate culturally responsive conversations in kindergarten classrooms and share many ways to engage kindergartners in discussions about their family and their community.
Dr. Janis Strasser has been in the field of early childhood education for more than 45 years as a preschool, kindergarten and music teacher, and Head Start Education Coordinator. She is also a professor of early childhood education at William Paterson University. Dr. Strasser has been consulting editor for Young Children, a member of the Advisory Board of Teaching Young Children, and has published more than 60 journal articles and several book chapters. She is the co-author of two books including Big Questions for Young Minds: Extending Children’s Thinking (2017), with Lisa Mufson Bresson. A graduate of Bank Street, she received the 2001 Bank Street Alumni Association award for Outstanding Accomplishments in the Field of Education.
WORKSHOPS Morning workshops:
1. Animals Alive! Using a Science Way of Thinking and Doing 2. An Unexpected Baby Study
3. Play with Me and I’ll be Smarter
4. Reframing Stories of Black Resistance in Early Childhood
5. Validation Through Collaboration: Empowering Students to be Problem Solvers
6. Building with Boxes: Imagining New Ways to Play
7. Powerful Play, Powerful Curriculum
8. Learning to Listen to Children’s Stories
9. Rhythm and Rhyme: Making Musical Connections in the Classroom
11. The Magic of Being, the Delight of Becoming Afternoon Workshops:
1. The Garden Endures! How and Why Kindergarten Invites the Emergence of Social Change
2. Incorporating Play in Traditional Classrooms
3. Opening the Door to Inclusivity with Music
4. Cultivating Your Secret Garden: Bringing Positive Changes to our Kindergarten Class
5. Immersive Language Learning in the Reggio Model
6. Sunlight in the Forest & Shadows in the Garden: Developing and Documenting Outdoor Classrooms
7. Engaging With Children’s Pretend World to Create an Environment Where Imaginations Drives Learning.
8. Asking K Children to Think about Their Thinking
9. Blocks: Building: A Democratic Community for Birds
10. Little Innovators: Out of School Engagement for Young Students and Their Families
11. Young Woodworkers: Sanding, Cutting, Hammering and Thinking Three Dimensionally
Fanny Roman and I will be presenting An Unexpected Baby Study. I’m sure that it will be both interesting and provacative!