Our school was recently graced with early childhood expert Deb Curtis, who did a presentation for a staff development workshop. One aspect of her "thinking lens" for reflection is that of children's competencies. (Harvest Resources Associates) Observing children's actions through the lens of what they were capable of, including what we don't initially see as such, sparked my thinking.
While we often share with parents and other staff members anecdotes about children's learning, less often do we bring the children themselves into the conversation. Since Deb's presentation, I have been increasing my comments directly to the children.
In particular, I am noticing the growth in what they are able to accomplish. Sometimes I offer them a memory, such as, "I remember when you were learning to cuttape. It's not easy to work with sticky masking tape that often gets stuck on the scissor or tangled before you can attach it."
"You were so proud. I remember you shouting, 'I did it!' You kept cutting more and more pieces, and shouting, 'I did it!' each time. Then you learned to use the tape to connect tubes. Your smile was just as wide as when you learned to cut tape. And now, you can create amazing designs with those same materials. You're still using tubes and tape. But, look what you are able to do with them!"
Another child, who had recently become interested in recycled materials, quickly began to expand the size and purpose of his art. He went from handheld objects to those he could put his whole body into.
E-mailing home photos and text of observations and appreciations widens the circle of encouragement. It brings in the perspectives of the parents and family members and strengthens the bridge between school and home.
By modeling appreciation for their growth and authenticity, we give children a framework for valuing their own experience and learning. Hopefully, it can assist in creating a structure not based on comparison with others, but rather on appreciating their own interest, progress and mastery. By doing this, we help set our children on course for a lifetime of authentic learning, as well as greater inner peace and happiness.
Making time to observe the world of children and what they are mastering is invaluable. While I am privileged to work with small groups, where witnessing each child's learning is simpler, the classroom teachers have observations built into their schedules. Hats off to the leadership of our director!
For those of you who are interested in this practice, I have a couple of suggestions:
- Work with your teammates to create a regular observation time. You could observe a small group of children, while your teammates have the remainder of the children in your outside space. While a 1/2 hour is recommended, even 15 minutes will be of benefit.
- If separating the group to be observed is not possible, have your teammates be responsible for the majority of the children while you observe a smaller group. Trading off being the observer will keep things fair.
- You might want to wear a sign that designates you as an observer so that the children get used to your silent witnessing. At first, they will likely ask you lots of questions and try to engage you. You can let them know that you're doing important work: watching all the amazing things they do. You can tell them that you'd be glad to share your observations with them afterwards.
2. Recycled and Open Ended Materials
The same recycled materials can be an ongoing source of engagement for children. I remember thinking that the children would never stay interested in toilet paper and paper towel tubes. I am happy to report my error. These easily collected loose parts remain favorites.
For lenses of observation and many other wonderful ways of viewing children's play as connected to learning and development theories and research, I enthusiastically recommend Reflecting Children's Lives: A Handbook for Planning Your Child-Centered Curriculum by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter (Redleaf Press, 2011).