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.

 

Think Positive

We all meet challenges in life but what sets us a part is how we react to those challenges.

One of my favourite positive hero’s was Forrest Gump he was  able to extract something good from potentially bad situations, and whether by luck or by determination, he made the best of things, showing a relentlessly positive outlook.

This quote attributed to Buddha is great but probably works best when reflecting on a challenge – the old lightbulb  moment “ohhh ah I see the positive side now… “Every experience no matter how bad it seems holds within it a blessing, the goal is to find it”.

The great bards Chumbawamba were succinct with their 1997 hit “Tub thumping” – I get knocked down but I get up again … speaks to me about resilience and thinking positive about whats coming next.  Tom Laurie said “Positive thinking helps you stand back up again when you are knocked down by bad luck or negativity” (Goal Setting: 12 step guide to achieving goals and realizing real success). There are moments in life where you need to tell yourself that you can do it – that you can get through to a your goal or a better place

Its been 10 years since Rhonda Byrne published the secret which proposes a law of positive attraction where a call to the universe encompasses a mind over matter idea, where there is something greater than the physical – think positive  / be grateful.

The power of positive thinking – if you don’t mind then it doesn’t matter. Not always realistic but bring you peace when  used in conjunction with some of the following;

  1. Be grateful  – keep a journal
  2. Reframe your challenges. … “Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.” – Robert Kiyosaki
  3. Get good at being rejected. …
  4. Use positive words to describe your life. …
  5. Replace have with get. … I haveto go to work. I have to go grocery shopping. I have to pay my rent. Now change this one little word to get and see what happens. I get to go to work.
  6. Don’t let yourself get dragged into other people’s complaints. …
  7. Make someone else smile

Numbers 5 and 7 work well for me and everyone is different but we all can do with a reminder sometime to look on the bright side, be grateful and think positive.

Here are a couple quotes to keep you thinking, Merry Christmas

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty” – Winston Churchill

“Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow.” ~ Seth Godin

 

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.

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/

Time for change

Giddy up I say, it’s time to play. For more than 5 years in the same role I studied for my degree in teaching, I have finally begun to mold my own beliefs. I am grateful for my beginnings and every person I have observed and worked alongside, for each one has helped me decided how I want to be part of children’s learning.

Last Friday the awesome Kristy brought us tickets to to see Nathan Wallis talk about the development of 3 – 7 year old’s WOW one of the best talks I have seen. I am reinvigorated and re inspired to push the message that under seven year old’s grow and learn best by having a responsive adult support and acknowledge their emotions, strength’s, interests and encourage their developing working theories in the context of their community and culture – Whew that was a mouth full!! but this is what I believe.

Now armed with Nathans research backed ideas, a philosophy of engaging children’s minds through activity based wonderment and a understanding and nurturing disposition I’m ready to take on a new challenge. Had a great first day at my new centre in Kaiapoi and am looking forward to making a difference with new families and colleagues.

 

 

 

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…