Of wonderment and fascination

Teachable moments or spontaneous learning are what helps remind  us about the joy of early childhood. I love those moments between routine and curriculum where you can really enjoy seeing the awe and fascination in children’s faces as they discover something new or achieve something for the very first time. Picture this – a beautiful playground full of engaging activities, resources and spaces to explore and in the middle sits four girls all about three years old squabbling over a plastic cup!?

I could observe and see how they work it out or offer a solution like direct them to where there are more cups or suggest they take turns with this precious chalice, but on this occasion I lie flat out, face down before them and begin picking up tiny items from the green astro turf – they stop and watch me collect a pin head size yellow crayon, then a piece of leaf, a twig, an almost to small to see tuft of blue wool and some green pastel nicely squashed etc…

As I pile up my treasures interest grows the girls draw closer and one by one they start looking around for things to add, then the ideas, the language, the excitement starts! “We could build a castle …with all these gems” and  “look a feather from a Kiwi”, the exploration of small things goes on until the cup is full and discussion moves around what each piece could be and what to do with them – Team work, collaboration, Imagination confidence to express themselves all growing and changing  from things not usually noticed. I excuse myself on the promise of coming right back with a magnifying glass. Thirty seconds later the girls have moved off to new adventures and all that remains is the empty cup in the middle of the playground and the idea that there is learning and wonderment in every moment of a child’s day.

I see some children examining some leaves and I offer them the magnifying glass which leads to using the sun to burn paper but that another story…




Let the children play

A United Nations legally binding treaty, the Convention on the Rights of the Child incorporates respect for all children’s needs. Article 31 states that the child has the inherent right to “rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”

Rituals and routines in early childhood environments are important and impart social and cultural expectations for the very young. care needs to be taken that an equal amount of emphasis, observation and encouragement to free play is given as children create their own knowledge and may not always understand or take on long term the content of structured learning.

I admire the way Aotearoa/ New Zealand’s play based child led curriculum Te Whariki is open to the different ways children and communities teach and deliver learning with children being at the centre. Let the children play; stop and think before interrupting or stopping play to move children on to different experiences, which activity will give them more fascination or more enjoyable learning? Maybe it’s the one they have devised themselves or become focused on from their own interest or curiosity.

Preschoolers learning from movement

Activities for preschoolers

This reminded me of an article by  Rae Pica (1997) who thought that active play with peers encouraged social and emotional learning as it requires awareness of others, turn taking and cooperation in creating a sense of happiness from achieving positive peer interactions. Kids love doing active things together!

Obstacle courses

Especially ones they have input into, try to incorporated instability, walking, crawling, jumping and things they need to go over or under, give obstacles names ie; the tyre of doom or walking the pirates plank. Do it with the children to role model or engage target children as leaders or to be the “first” to try.

In summer have the final hurdle be a ramp into water or use hula hoops to roll in front of children as moving obstacles. You have children carry objects through the course to score goals or points to encourage them to keep going back again and again with some reward for whoever “scores the most times”. Make the course a baton relay with teams at each end or set up 2 courses for teams to race on.

Almost any object can be used on a obstacle course – logs for stepping stones planks for walking on, going under or as a seesaw to walk across, bean bags to jump, rope to pull and tyres to leap, try using a tarp to army crawl under or plastic pipes to walk length ways yours and the children’s ideas are limitless.

Alternatively for older children – make pictures of different activities ie: leap frog, star jumps, forward rolls and ball throw or ring toss and have children do a circuit trying each movement.

Try putting music on, have the children do the activities to different paced music, let them know it’s fun to be engaged in these activities. Don’t forget obstacle courses for bikes too.


How many times have said “Throwing is for outside!” Give lots of opportunity for children to throw, theorists believe throwing is an inbuilt and innate part of boy learning retained from our hunter ancestors – let them throw – target or score! Let them hone a skill that helps them learn to control their minds and bodies, estimate force, weight and distance while practicing perseverance.

Balls into buckets, bean bags at cans, put a target on the wall – use chalk or on an A3 sheet and throw wet sponges or water bombs. I’ve always wanted to try a big canvas with children throwing paint sponges – watch this space.

Challenge active children – if they are engaged in throwing or batting with fly swats or doing target practice with water spray bottles or any other stationary movement then have them stand on a box or on an uneven surface that will challenge their proprioceptive or unconscious sense of space and movement. Keep your mind open throw ducks instead of balls, keep thing silly and interesting.

Rope – My favourite Item for play

Jump it, or go Under it – Limbo

Walk it – try “Elephants on a string”

Towing each other – bikes, boats, prisoners

Swing on it, Tug on it, hang upside down on it …

Let the children’s imaginations turn it into anything –

Recently I saw two children use skipping ropes to pull a tyre they called their boat on to a plank on top of another tyre which they sat in and sailed – until they towed it again to put into a big wooden cube hut.  Imagination, role playing, leadership, problem solving and working theories focused, engaged and perseverance. These girls were building a relationship through active play. I observed a lot of energy going into manipulating objects to fit their play and all without my help although I did ask questions and suggest the tyre was too wide to go in the cube length ways.


If it’s windy make kites, paper darts or animal shapes with crepe paper tails on a stick or straw, A recent butterfly experience led to children making their own then running outside with crepe paper fluttering behind them great to witness their expressions and the dance of the butterflies. If it’s hot put water in the sandpit and dig moats and channels, or build huts with planks or cardboard boxes and blankets to shelter in. Use what resources you have and let the children’s imaginations do the rest all you have to do is be present in the moment.

Child led and challenging

The challenge of providing a child led, play based curriculum requires negotiating appropriate experiences and activities that follow the imagination and strength’s of some. Some children can self regulate and adapt to social situation or play constructively on their own, but challenging children really require their energy and ideas to be channeled. By suggesting activities or provide materials  that get them thinking or provide a sense of wonder they take ownership and pride in their environment and draw others into the prosocial experience. By providing for children that are more active than others we are displaying equitable practice that uses the strengths and interests of some for the learning and enjoyment of all.

Enticing, well thought out playground setups are more likely to keep children focused when others are involved and there is a sufficient level of challenge. Some studies and said that children will add risk and challenge to their play to offset  limited  playground choices. – they will make unsafe choices and jump off things if we don’t provide alternatives – if they jump anyway let’s hope we have helped them gain the physical skills to land unharmed.

Although “Slow down and get down” is appropriate when you are wanting to bring children into small controlled groups, often the children you most need to be with are not drawn into this slower play.  The hardest level of movement is to be still and asking more active children to stop or even slow down can be very difficult. 

Teachers need to be involved in the play children create and be prepared for children to change the setups adults have provided, rather than have them move on to less desirable activities and behaviours, as teachers we need to show that we value children’s contributions to build self esteem and a sense of belonging that make s positive challenging children’s behaviours.

Two quotes from Magda Gerber “Let the child be the scriptwriter, the director and the actor in his own play” and  “Observe more, do less. Do less, enjoy more.” These help me to believe that having patience and allowing children to develop in their own way and time are important parts of the child led curriculum puzzle.



Boys in Early Childhood Education

In a recent seminar I received some light bulb moments about the meanings and reasons of boys needs and behaviours in ECE.   The question was posed that although girls and boys are very similar with research showing boys just as nurturing as girls -“Are your team ready to meet the needs of boys?

Anecdotal evidence from university graduate statistics summised that a “Lack of male role models is part of why males failing in tertiary education”

Boys play differs from girls generally in that it can be more technical, requiring more rules, maps and structure which leads to activities like collecting, organising and pretend play with defined roles and characters.

The idea that learning is socioculturally learnt is set against the belief that play is innate including gun and superhero play which stemming from 1000’s of years of practising ancient survival skills. Boys need to be active and active play is where children process ideas and learn. “Let children think (play)”, using sport as a surrogate for hunting. Gun or hero play (or sport) = hunting play which helps boys to express emotions and learn to self regulate. Without this boys can struggle to develop empathy.

Our speaker was keen to share the idea that BOYS ARE HARD WIRED TO HIT/KILL (win)
A.K.A throw, kick or score goals which harks back to the actions of our ancient ancestors.

In summary Imaginary play that involves, challenges allows problem solving, and some sort of score or win that marked the end of the hunt helps to channel boy play – let them be boys by role modelling and providing safe and engaging challenges or at least the space and resources to extend their imaginations. Failure to recognise boys needs leads to dangerous risk taking and disruptive behaviours or less opportunities for them to process learning.

Seeing children holistically – using the bigger picture

Just found my pedagogy statement from 2014, for those who like long winded, for those who don’t it says believe in children and let your care and curriculum fit the individual – be present.

Pedagogy Statement
I believe children are competent and capable of creating their own knowledge from their socio cultural surroundings as in Vygotsky and Piaget’s learning theories, these are also reflected in Waldorf, Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Te Kohanga Reo approaches (Berk, 2009; Isaacs, 2012; Krogh & Slentz, 2001; Nicol & Taplin, 2012; NZQA, 2011). My belief that children’s interests should be observed and responded to as emergent curriculum is reflective of the theories of Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Rudolph Steiner (New Zealand Tertiary College [NZTC], 2014).

Brunner developed the theory of scaffolding building on Vygotsky’s idea of the zone of proximal development, this is how I view the teacher /child relationship, with teachers facilitating learning by giving support to achieve the next level of ability, raising children’s self esteem and confidence to learn more as they achieve each milestone (Berk, 2009; MacNaughton & Williams, 2009). These ideas also support my philosophy that children learn best in socio cultural environments such as the whanaungatanga approach of Te Kohanga Reo or cooperative approach of Reggio Emilia (NZQA, 2011; Rankin, 2004).

The teacher’s role should be to work in partnership with families and children in providing safe, respectful and challenging environments as in Kohanga Reo and Reggio Emilia philosophies where the inclusion and respect of family as knowledgeable first teachers is key to children’s learning (NZQA, 2011; Rankin, 2004). Providing open ended resources to encourage imagination and the creation of working theories is where I follow Reggio Emilia’s philosophy that children should be encouraged to develop their own learning outcomes (Drew & Rankin, 2004).

Teachers should provide an environment that is interesting and welcoming as it encourages children’s curiosity and wellbeing through a feeling of belonging (Ministry of Education [MoE], 1996). I believe that by including some resources with set outcomes such as those valued by Montessori, teachers promote resilience and perseverance in children as they grow their problem solving skills. I believe that using different approaches creates a good balance in curriculum creation, such as using parts of the Montessori and Reggio Emilia approaches (Drake, 2008).
My philosophy is to be “present” and child centred while facilitating the
learning and use of problem solving and negotiation skills. I believe that to know and teach children you must see them holistically as being part of a wider community as described in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model (MoE, 1996). Through a close association with family and the community teachers can be culturally sensitive and collaborate in implementing curriculum for each individual as they value the learning community’s aspirations (MoE,1996; NZQA, 2011).

I believe teachers should be facilitators of learning, guiding and scaffolding children’s own ideas, allowing them to extend their skills and understandings at their own pace. I believe that all children have the ability to achieve and succeed with the support, care and positive guidance of all those in their learning community. As a teacher I believe in learning through reflection, seeking better ways to empower children to become lifelong learners. I believe that teachers should observe, listen and be responsive within cooperative environments to facilitate children’s developing as confidence and competence.

Reference List

Berk, L. E. (2009). Child development (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
Drake, M. (2008). Developing Resilient Children After 100 Years of Montessori Education Retrieved January 28, 2014, from http://www.redorbit.com/news/education/1390115/developing_resilient_children_after_100_years_of_montessori_education/#ZtUPHl0Spm1ExpvF.99
Drew, W. F., & Rankin, B. (2004). Promoting creativity for life using open-ended materials. Retrieved January 28, 2014, from http://www.rediscovercenter.org/pdf/promoting_creativity1.pdf
Isaacs, B. (2012). Understanding the Montessori approach (pp. 46-65). Oxon, UK: Routledge
Krogh, S. L., & Slentz, K. L. (2001). Early childhood education: Yesterday, today and tomorrow (pp. 42 – 72). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc
MacNaughton, G., & Williams, G. (2009). Techniques for teaching young children: Choices in theory and practice (3rd ed.). Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson Education Australia
Ministry of Education. (1996). Te Whāriki: He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa/Early childhood curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.
New Zealand Tertiary College, (2014). B301: Curriculum approaches study guide. Auckland, New Zealand: New Zealand Tertiary College.
Nicol, J., & Taplin, J. T. (2012). Understanding the Steiner Waldorf approach (pp. 13-28). Oxon, UK: Routledge.
NZQA. (2011). Report of External Evaluation and Review 2011. Retrieved January 28, 2014, from http://www.nzqa.govt.nz/nqfdocs/provider-reports/9381.pdf dec 17
Rankin, B. (2004). The Importance of Intentional Socialization Among Children in Small Groups: A Conversation with Loris Malaguzzi. Early Childhood Education Journal, 32(2), 81-85.

Teachable moments and adapting play

I’ve planned my day for preschool; activities to do, stories to read, feeling energised and ready to have fun guiding 3 year old’s to discover positive social disposition’s and learn through play.

Great it’s raining and the kids are wired like they started the day with a double espresso. I love the idea that everything can be a learning moment and a sense of wonder can be found in the simplest of impromptu activities. I Stay calm while post toddler boys challenge the rules around relationship building and leap off furniture to add spice and excitement to their classroom bound day. “Line up!” I shout across the cacophony of 20 small children. Stopping mid play expectant eyes watched as I set an inside obstacle course, planks and pipes from outside to make a balance beam and seesaw, then cones and hoops to move around, through and over – then out comes the eggs and spoons?! Some boys help move chairs and boxes to where they think they should be on the course and we are set.

A challenge, something different, motor skills put to the test while having to work alongside their peers. Wow, this is the stuff of great imagination.

I watch as the children line up practicing turn taking, I see focused concentration as the first child wobbles across the bridge of doom and I take his hand as he steps through the hoops, then holding the spoon in two hands to moves around the boxes … – ahhh disaster! the boiled egg drops. He recovers well showing great resilience to make it to the finish and hand over to his friend.

So we didn’t get to build a giant volcano in the sandpit or do sensory play with gloop, what the children needed was a challenge to make them move and think. Spontaneous play provided a rich source of fun teachable moment’s.

The school day is done, time to prepare for another.