The playground as a teacher

 

I believe the environment is an important part of teaching as it invites children to play and, seeds imaginative and curious play from a sense of wonder and fascination.

Having a variety of experiences and resources available in a preschool environment encourages children to put their own ideas into inanimate and open ended objects.

Having set ups that are colourful, make sound, are touch sensory or require and enable movement not only engage problem solving and creativity thinking, but also lead children to share ideas with their friends as they work alongside and cooperatively with each other. Often putting out an activity for pre schoolers has the best learning outcomes when the children do something completely different with the materials, for example the tree stump put in the sandpit to act as a table for the fairy’s tea party quickly becomes a volcano with roaring dinosaurs or a launch pad for super heroes to jump from, follow their lead they are learning.

By providing an environment with open ended resources such as  jumping challenge courses to share with friends, encouraging them to take responsibility for their own learning and behaviour as they step gingerly from lilly pad to crocodile across the playground. By selecting teaching approaches, resources, technologies and learning and assessment activities that are inclusive and effective for diverse children such as unstable surfaces that have hand supports for all abilities and levels of confidence. Wobbly bridges or large flat stepping stones in the sandpit can be ideal for practicing balance and confidence boosting.

The environment and invitations to play in it are an important part of supporting and developing children’s physical and social competency. Through their developing language, relationships and knowledge of their world they laugh, demonstrate, lead and share what they find and how and why they might use it. “Watch me!”, what’s that?”, “follow me”, “can I play too?” should be heard in the playground every day.

I have hung triangles or pots and pans from trees and placed drums in clusters along walk ways just observe that no child (and some adults too) can’t resist playing at least a few beats as they pass which leads to others trying it out and creating their own play/ learning. Invitations to play support curious minds, encourage participation and lead to social learning opportunities.

Learning comes from doing and at preschool this happens mostly in social moments where the children are free to develop their own ideas about what they are experiencing and then sharing those ideas with their friends and teachers. Set the scene for the senses and let the children play.

 

Advertisements

The Cycle of Motivation

20170617_084040[1]What drives us, is it fear, desire, greed or is there a built-in human trait of just wanting to achieve more? Whatever it is we are all part of the cycle of motivation.

I run because I want my body to keep up with my children but also to be a positive role model

I work to make a living but also because I am passionate about what I do as a teacher.

I skype my grandmother every week because I care about her being on her own and I know she wants to see her great grandchildren.

Can motivation be seen a vacuum, where a single focus either the spark or the goal is the only thing that moves us forward? I believe motivation is a combination of past, present and future, all three influence what you do next. Previous experience or learnt values have gotten you to where you are today; your current beliefs about what and where you want to be will put you on the road to achieving your vision in the future.

We are all motivated and we all motivate. Something drives us to get up and just do it! We encourage or inspire others by role modelling our behaviours, but we are not just motivated we are also motivators. Our achievements and the way we handle our journey are soul food for those trying to get or keep themselves on track.

Does it come from inside? You know you want to live a healthier life, or have more quality time with your family or maybe retrain for a different job, what-ever the reason do you have the tenacity and perseverance to go out and get what you want? Or is it that we are ruled by external factors? A need to pay the rent or live up to peer and social expectations, or cultural values and beliefs. We are all a complex mix of emotions, needs and desires so what motivates you may not necessarily drive me. At some time, we may all lose our mojo -that feeling that we are on a roll and making progress in our lives. Once you have discovered your purpose, your goal and then surrounded yourself with supporters that will help you to refocus when things get tough or when you just lose track of your goal your mission is then to seek advice, get encouragement and stay motivated.

I had never been sporty or into fitness, but after an accident caused me to rethink my career options I sought guidance counselling. These sessions gave me light bulb moments, an epiphany if you like, I felt like I had a been in an exorcism that left me enlightened, ready to change my life and get on with studying – unbelievably as it turned out, to be a personal trainer. I was motivated, I needed to make a living and I needed to new beginning. I shared my mission with everyone and over the long months that followed I self-doubted, I struggled with study and the financial cost of retraining, I wondered if I wasn’t wasting my time but by using those around me and being persistent I achieved my goal of being a fitness instructor and then as a personal trainer.

Think about anybody in sales or counselling maybe your personal trainer or real estate agent and how they reach in and find the pain, the thing that really motivates you and helps you to see where you should be going. They help you to make decisions, and find the motivation to move forward. We might not always like it, but sometimes we need someone to shine a light on what we really should be doing.

Maybe you are one of those who like to prove others wrong, when you’re told you can’t achieve something or for whatever reason people don’t believe in you or don’t know your inner strength. Bloody mindedness, stubbornness can be great traits in the truly motivated.  When I was working and fell out of a tree the surgeons told me I wouldn’t walk normally for a long time and to avoid the high impact labouring work I was doing, I was devastated and lost my business. After the shock wore off I got motivated and when the screws were removed from my ankle I rehabbed myself until six months later I ran my first marathon. Don’t tell me can’t!!

Self-doubt can cause you to step off the track to your own success. When something goes wrong or you see a hurdle you need to use that part of motivation where you reach inside and overcome the fears and uncertainties that stop you jumping out of bed, trying new things or pushing forward with the things you believe in.

Everyone is different, it might be the accumulation of things or wealth or the desire to be a specific type of person; well-travelled, educated or highly regarded in your field, whatever it is it comes from inside. Your past experiences have moulded your desires and your need to gain whatever it is you strive for.

Motivation can be linked to enthusiasm, as in “nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm”. Share your goal, your dream, your enthusiasm. Search out the things that motivate you and nurture your own fan base, you don’t have to do all the work alone to be the person you want to be.

I encourage you to get up and share your enthusiasm and through your motivation inspire others to find their passion and push themselves to achieve and continue the cycle of motivation.

 

Challenge the challengers – Take a deep breath and have a happy Queens Birthday

 

Back to the beginning, every child is an individual and goes through multiple stages and phases of emotional and behavioural growth. So, what makes a child tantrum or act in ways that are not appropriate? Any answer is going to change as quickly as a 4 year olds mood; everything and anything from not enough sleep to their emerging understandings of relationships, and power with peers and with you the parent.

Sure, it could be chemical related from a testosterone surge, and a lot of behaviour may be short lived and grown out of, but likely as not small children are subconsciously testing boundaries, learning their rights and exploring what and how to cope with the expectations of others. Children cannot be spoiled with too much hugs and attention, they do need to learn how to cope when we don’t have the time to do all that they request and they do need to learn appropriate timing; such as not interrupting when others are talking or repeatedly trying to sit on a parent’s knee during meal times.

Raising children requires setting boundaries and expectations and helping them to practice getting them right. They will forget, they will test your resolution to follow through, they will try to see who is the boss and they may get angry or frustrated when they don’t get their own way. Sometimes this is how we all learn to self-regulate and create our own working social theories – Remember that children like a lot of adults haven’t learnt what battles to pick and will without self-regulation ability fight on regardless of how futile. Be patient and wait for them to calm and make sure you are clear in what you expect if possible get them to tell you what the positive behaviour would look like.

The way children behave is largely how they have forged their own ideas from watching and being around the important people in lives, they are constantly learning; social expectations, boundaries and what is acceptable in your family and culture – these are not inbuilt and will be learnt over time with every child picking up different concepts at different times.

My strong belief is in the adage that “you get more from bouquets than brick bats”, focus on positives e.g. “you really helped so well this morning getting your bag ready for school or brushing your teeth when I asked” or “I loved the way you said please and thankyou at the café today” (not mentioning or briefly mentioning the current situation). Paint a picture of what the child can do right, get them to see themselves as champions of the behaviours you want to achieve. Proximal praise can be a helpful strategy, where you lavish praise upon another child close by for their positive ways of doing, once again helping the challenger to see what is preferred with the bonus that they will want to be the one on the end of a teacher or parents glowing praise next time.

Sticker charts and rewards may induce change and could be a good part of a short term strategy if a child is really resisting. My understanding is that role modelling positive behaviours, checking there is nothing physically wrong, – you may have heard of the baby that wouldn’t stop crying? It turned out there was a strand of hair wrapped around her little toe – agony! Hair gone = happy baby. Does your challenger have a splinter, wiggly tooth or ear ache? Sometimes you need to ask what’s bothering them, building social relationships with peers or even siblings can be a minefield for young players. Changes in surroundings, misunderstandings or low confidence with peers might manifest in angry outburst at unrelated times such as a tantrum over meal choice or what clothes to wear, so try to find out what else their minds are trying to contend with not just the outburst of the moment.

Be consistent, be confident with what you want the child to learn and be patient. You can be firm and caring. You may never get thanked for laying down the law and it may hurt you more than it hurts them, but being clear on what you want your 3, 4 or 5 year old+ to understand will support positive change.

Being timely with dealing with negative behaviour, getting down to the child’s level and keeping your voice as calm as any stressed parent can, are all important techniques for diffusing the bubbling “DOH What are you doing!!” moments, and help give you time as the adult to see that there are reasons why everything occurs.

Take a deep breath, wait for the pint-sized challenger to calm enough to listen, a few minutes at most so they won’t lose the reason you are talking with them, then work on the why’s and where too’s.

The smallest of our society face the biggest challenge of learning to be just like us. Make their challenge your challenge and guide them

 

They can work it out

 

20170108_161910

Why do we sometimes stop child initiated play? Is it our own individual sense of how safe we perceive a particular activity? Or is it just how we do things around here?

There is a plethora of research to indicate that children especially boys learn best by doing. Being active and creating their own play enables children to problem solve and grow socially while using their imaginations to challenge themselves.

I have heard myself in the class room using, “Inside voices please”, “walking feet” and, stop! or, don’t jump off that … (usually a chair but sometimes table or bookcase). Getting children outside should be not just about lowering the noise levels or the perceived dangerous play but more about using their bodies to get their thinking into motion.

Busy wet days make any space acoustically challenging and active play can be limited to space constraints, so opportunities to provide activities in between showers such as a high box to jump from to a crash mat or follow the leader through gardens are great teacher inspired curriculum. Providing resources such as hula hoops or any throwing and hitting games like T-ball or throwing at a target are good ways to engage children in using up energy and helps them learn how their bodies works while working alongside others,but we should be encouraging children to create their own play from their own interests and strengths.

Now children and heights make a lot of us nervous, the same with water. For kids the higher the tree to climb or the deeper the puddle to jump in the better – what kid doesn’t want to climb up on the roof given half the chance? When you see an activity that follows a current interest such as climbing and jumping I believe adults should support it  – when children form lines or take turns and encourage each other without any direction or influence from outside they are practising social cues, problem solving and self-regulation all the while the grow confidence in their emerging abilities – Awesome! So why when children do something unorthodox like repetitively climbing through a playhouse window do we stop play? Adults support children’s learning by ensuring that any activity is safe and understanding the value of that learning before acting to curb play.

If we don’t do something because we haven’t before or because someone else  viewed similar play through a different lens, are we not limiting the imaginations of children to that of our own? Just because we as adults couldn’t or wouldn’t do an activity should not mean our curious explorers should have their contribution to play and learning devalued or dismissed.

A quote about growth and learning sums up my thoughts on encouraging challenging play. “If you always do what you have always done you will always have what you have always had”. The more children try new things the more ideas that they will have to build on.

I would like to illustrate the idea of thinking about why we do things with a little story I heard many years ago about asking the question “why do we do this like that? –  A young woman is preparing a roast while her friend looks on.  She cuts off both ends of the roast, prepares it and puts it in the pan.  “Why do you cut off the ends?” her friend asks.  “I don’t know, My mother always did it that way”. The question made her curious, so during her next visit home, she asked her mother, “How do you cook a pot roast?”  Her mother proceeded to explain and added, “You cut off both ends, prepare it and put it in the pot and then in the oven”.  “Why do you cut off the ends?” the daughter asked.  Baffled, the mother offered, “That’s how my mother did it and I learned it from her!”

Her daughter’s inquiry made the mother think more about the pot roast preparation. “Mom, how do you cook a pot roast?”   “Well, you prepare it with spices, cut off both ends and put it in the pot”.  The mother asked, “But why do you cut off the ends?”   The grandmother’s eyes sparkled as she remembered.   “Well, the roasts were always bigger than the pot that we had back then.  I had to cut off the ends to fit it into the pot that I owned”.

To build confidence in children and encourage them to contribute and use imagination in learning about the world around – we as parents , teachers and responsive adults need to stand back sometimes, respect the child’s machinations and value their work.

Let them jump in puddles and climb through windows (when it’s safe) and not stop them because that’s how we were taught or because that’s how we have always things.

 

Women’s Work

 

Is it called women’s work because it means getting paid less? Now it is true that women get paid less than men! A 2015 study says 20 percent less! In most occupations the difference is not that noticeable, but I believe that women get paid less than men because of their preference for occupations as carers and educators.

In New Zealand it has been over 120 years since Kate Shepherd led the suffrage movement to allow women the right to vote, and yet women still fill the low paid and under-appreciated roles of educarers, not what most of us think of as equality. It has been 100 and 20 years and those of us who do the women’s work of early childhood education still accept that even though we nurture the future leaders of society and have full responsibility for the wellbeing of societies most vulnerable, we as teachers still accept being paid less than other qualified professionals.

Why do occupations dominated by women earn less than a men’s? Is this why only 2 percent of early childhood teachers are men? According to Employment New Zealand statistics in 2015 the average pay rate is approximately $31 for men and $27 for women, Now most qualified early childhood professionals do not earn the women’s rate and I’m sorry to say I bring the male average down too.

Womens work and by this I mean the ability to nurture, and in a calm stable manner provide education and care in equal proportions.  Yes, by this I do mean to multi task and think on our feet – this is skilled work that to do well takes years of practice and dedication.

This work is arguably the most important work in society – work that I might add sends grown men running in terror, work that the average parliamentarian would not and could not even dream of doing as a career.

The work caring for the elderly, caring for the sick and caring and educating our children are predominately women filled roles where people are responsible for societies most important assets and families most precious possessions.

 

What makes an early childhood teacher? It is not just the now mandatory 3 year degree plus 2 more years of on the job evidencing teacher practice – (yes it does take 5 years to be a registered teacher of 3 year olds!) It is about looking after young children as an altruistic vocation. I have heard teachers described as “someone who steals from home to take things to work” this is a passion not just a job. Just like all teachers, early child hood teachers take work home and are under pressure to meet company, parent and government expectations. Early childhood teachers act as professional guardians of children and manage situations in the moment while delivering curriculum from a social and academic basis. Womens work is done from the heart, this should not mean that teachers are penalised and taken advantage of by being given less than they deserve.

Research says that the early years of 1 to 5 are the most important as they affect the rest of our lives. What you did or did not learn before you went to school has shaped what you are today. These years are where language is developed, social skills are ingrained, and the habits and behaviours that follow us for the rest of our lives are made. While parents are the most important part of any small child’s life, 96.2 percent of New Zealand’s children are spending their important waking hours in centres away from family.

What children are being imprinted with and the quality of care they receive comes down to the expectation that caring qualified professional women and men will do this role for less than the average man, for less than a professional wage, for less than they deserve.

Early childhood teachers are there when children’s brains go through the most rapid growth, when children are developing theories about the world around them and when they are creating disposition’s and character traits to carry them through the rest of their lives.

Why don’t more men do women’s work and by default increase the pay rate for women? The answer could be in this quote from Ruth Simpson (2005) who wrote “Women pursue male careers because they offer prestige, higher pay and opportunities for advancement, but men in non-traditional occupations have less to gain and much to lose. They may have to make sacrifices in terms of pay and status, as well as raising questions on masculinity and suitability for the job”

So much has been written about why men don’t work with small children – is it the noise?, the runny noses?, the fact there are so many women or is it because of the nurturing nature of the job? I believe it is about the money $$

Teachers have accepted the low pay rates for too long – a qualified professional is a qualified professional no matter what your trade or gender. Private centres are reliant on Government subsidies to pay for qualified professional teachers and when these subsidies fail to keep pace with inflation and the cost of living, teacher’s wages also fail to keep up, which makes it difficult to attract and retain dedicated professionals.

 

The government accepts the importance of quality early childhood education and our politicians have children too, so why the reticence in paying educarers a professional wage?

Government policy decreasing subsidies since 2009, to childcare centre’s to pay for qualified staff can mean either a drop in pay and/or less qualified staff to provide a high-quality care for children or for centres to pass the cost of hiring professionals on to parents – making quality care out of the reach of working mums and dads

The women’s work of early childhood education should be much better respected, remunerated and restated as the valued and valuable profession of women and men.

 

References

http://www.iwpr.org/initiatives/pay-equity-and-discrimination

http://stop4-7.be/files/janpeeters10.pdf NZ Research in Early Childhood Education, Vol. 10, 2007

Simpson, R. (2005). Men in non-traditional occupations: Career entry, career orientation and experience of role strain. Gender, Work and Organization. 12(4), 363-380.

Maria Johnson: Early education needs funding boost from Government http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=11787131

 

The force is strong in all children

It’s good to remind myself that play is the way for early childhood learning and that being an early childhood teacher requires supporting, facilitating, encouraging and sometimes being part of that play but above all we are professionals who are there to protect that right, observe, assess and guide that learning by being present.

The following is from an article I found in the Washington Post, you can read the full article at https://www.facebook.com/mencanteach/

[The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues]

By Nancy Carlsson-Paige

“Play is an engine driving children to build ideas, learn skills and develop capacities they need in life. Kids all over the world play and no one has to teach them how. In play children develop problem solving skills, social and emotional awareness, self-regulation, imagination and inner resilience. When kids play with blocks, for example, they build concepts in math and science that provide a solid foundation for later academic learning. No two children play alike; they develop at different rates and their different cultures and life experiences shape their play. But all children learn through play”.

Supporting imaginative play

It’s not just about providing games and dress ups. Giving time, opportunity and open ended resources to young minds, supports an endless amount of imagination and learning in play. Recent playground experiences where a good supply of large objects tyres, pipes, crates etc… led to amazing cooperative and social play inspiring leadership, confidence, cooperation and a chance to stretch problem solving skills – (we also got a pirate ship a castle a car a train and a crane:)

Junk modeling or the use of “loose parts” is where natural or synthetic objects are found, bought, or upcycled —acorns, hardware, stones, aluminum foil, fabric scraps, Children can move, manipulate, control, and change items within their play. Loose parts are alluring and beautiful. They capture children’s curiosity, give free reign to their imagination, and encourage creativity.

Open ended resources (sometimes  known as junk) supports open-ended learning, enhance play, and empowers children to create their own learning experience. With loose parts, the possibilities are endless.

“Children acquire their first math skills and understanding of numerical concepts when they manipulate small loose parts, like blocks and bottle caps, by sorting and classifying and combining and separating them. Once they begin integrating loose parts into their games, you commonly hear them start to count and see them arranging the parts in specific sequences, patterns, and categories by color, type, number and class.” Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky, authors of Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children.

Turn off the tap

Should councils stop granting consents for New Zealands water to be bottled and sold?

I recently had the Forest and Bird society on the door step asking for donations towards riparian planting to help filter the toxic waste as it runs into the rivers and lakes contributing to NZ’s poor water quality. With out doubt business and industry should be responsible and liable for the clean up and improved quality of water we all should be enjoying, it is a crying shame that with all of modern science, we can’t or won’t do anything about allowable water pollution.

There is an issue about taking water for bottling and it may be a drop in the bucket compared to the legal dumping of harmful materials into the water ways, but it is emotional to see clean water that the public is being denied, sold off for what seems like a pittance.

Clean green pure NZ, the public needs something to show that government and councils are taking this issue seriously – granting consents to discharge into, pollute or take billions of litres for someone else’s profit just doesn’t seem right.

http://www.turnoffthetap.co.nz

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/8978223/Many-NZ-rivers-unsafe-for-swimming

2, 4 , 6, 8 is testosterone what we really hate?

Behavioural challenges in toddlers and young children can have multiple causes. There is a large amount of conflicting research around what affects little boys behaviours, with no real evidence to suggest that it is just a burst of testosterone. I believe that a number of factors including hormones such as testosterone, and environmental and social experiences affect children’s abilities to self regulate, communicate and adhere to socially accepted and expected norms.

  • Are the adult’s expectations of a child’s behaviour right for that child’s developmental stage? – preschoolers just don’t think like adults!
  • Are boundaries and expectations taught in positive ways that the child understands? – convince the child it’s the behaviour you want to improve and that you love them always.
  • Are there any socio-emotional issues that are affecting a child’s actions/reactions? Family violence/abuse? post natal depression? poverty? or attachment disorders?

There is very little reading available around 2 year olds (terrible two’s) other than their struggle and frustrations to communicate, learn social rules and concepts while dealing with their families fast paced worlds.  There is little to suggest testosterone is the culprit.

Early language development can be attributed to lower testosterone with at least one study suggesting that this is why girls talk earlier than boys, can communicate better and get less frustrated equaling less challenging behaviour.  Higher levels lead to less early language and a toddlers preference for larger groups and later aggressive play. (Alexander,2014; Friederici, et al. 2008). This must not be read in a vacuum and will only play one part in how a child learns and copes with different situations. Having positive role models and present supportive adults should be seen as key to positive learning out comes.

Children grow and learn so rapidly and there are a multitude of reasons why they might have challenging behaviours. Check your own behaviours, expectations and strategies for helping wee ones through this awesome time in a child’s life.

Snippets and articles for further reading.

“Increased testosterone may be linked to increased levels of aggression 1. But there is certainly no link between testosterone and inattention or over activity 2. So, if Mr. four years old suddenly started to fight or behave in an aggressive manner it could be linked to an increase in testosterone – however, a four year old who does not listen or is generally acting up is not likely to be caused by any hormonal changes”. (Evidencebasedparent, 2014).

“What’s Really up With a Four Year Old Boy’s Behaviour Then?

In short – Us, me, you, parents, adults, society…….. We don’t really “get” normal little boy behaviour, which is strange given that around half of all adults have been one. Little boys (and that is what a four year old is) need to play, play, play, play, play and play some more. They need open space, nature, air. They need trees to climb, balls to kick, mud to squelch, frisbees to throw. They need to be allowed to use their amazing imaginations and explore the world with their whole bodies” (Ockwell-Smith, 2014).

References

Alexander, G. M. (2014). Postnatal testosterone concentrations and male social development.

Evidencebasedparent , (2014) http://evidencebasedparent.blogspot.co.nz/2014/07/the-myth-of-toddler-testosterone-surge.html

Friederici, A. D., Pannekamp, A., Partsch, C. J., Ulmen, U., Oehler, K., Schmutzler, R., & Hesse, V. (2008). Sex hormone testosterone affects language organization in the infant brain. Neuroreport19(3), 283-286.

Ockwell-Smith, (2014). https://sarahockwell-smith.com/2014/06/09/why-the-huge-testosterone-surge-in-young-boys-is-a-myth-and-what-really-causes-their-behaviour-to-change/