I learned a hell of a lot from Dan Hodgins.
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Sunday, August 29, 2021
First, age is a number. Children, especially young children develop at different paces. The range of ages at which children accomplish certain developmental milestones can be HUGE! So, just because you work with a specific age group does not mean that you don't have to deal with some of these same issues. If we can let go of the age expectations and respect children for who they are and where they are developmentally, it will make juggling those differences much easier. One of my favorite quotes that I'm not sure where it originated is : "The only place we segregate people by age is school."
Providing children an opportunity to learn and grow with a multitude of ages is more natural and allows those children to benefit more from each other. Giving older children the opportunity to interact with infants helps them along their developmentally path of gaining empathy. (Check out this article on CNN). Older children also have the opportunity to be role models for younger children, and can reach greater levels of mastery when they become the "teachers." Younger children have an opportunity to be exposed to activities and to try things that the older children initiate.
Providing a variety of different materials for a similar activity is a great way to allow various ages and levels of development to participate. Younger children may not be able to squeeze the spray bottles, but they can dump the paint and/or use the paint brushes. (This is the fizzing sidewalk paint!)
I run a play-based, emergent curriculum which really helps cater to a variety of ages and developmental levels. My job is to create an environment for learning and I don't really see myself as a teacher or educator, but more as a "facilitator." When the environment is well thought out and prepared, my role in the child's learning is minimized. They gain the independence and confidence to take charge of their own explorations, and ultimately their own learning. My job is to provide the resources and to keep children safe. Thus, the "structure" of our day is highly variable. We have consistent meal and snack times, but the activities of the day are often child driven and thus cannot be planned well in advance. When children show an interest in a topic, it is my job to research and to provide additional materials in the environment in order to encourage deeper investigation. I often find myself asking questions like, "What do you need?" "Where do you think we could find out?" "Is there anything else?" AND, I really try hard not to say "no" but to find a safe way to continue activities and exploration. This comes into play when older children would like to try things that may not be safe for younger children. Sometimes it takes some creativity to adapt activities for younger children. (The infants may have a different type of paint or sensory material than the older children). Sometimes, activities can also be done by older children while younger ones are napping. We also tend to have a wide array of activity going on simultaneously. The more independent you can make your children, the easier it will be do juggle all of those ages and stages.
Another big tip I have for you if the range you are working with is too large, is ASK for help! I am very fortunate to have a great partner in play-Mr. Allan. If you don't have an assistant, there are a number of things you can do. First, you could encourage more parent involvement. Second, if you live near a university, college, or high school that has an early childhood program, you could look into having student volunteers or interns as a part of your program. Third, "baby helper" is a great job that you can rotate among the older children. This job allows the older child an opportunity to connect with the infants by singing songs, "reading" or telling stories, and talking to the younger children.
A good friend of mine once told me, "boredom is a choice." I love to follow that philosophy, and I encourage children to make the choice to be active. Again, asking questions like "what do you need?" help them to realize that you are there to help them with resources, and a well stocked classroom of open ended materials helps them make engaging choices. Older children are the ones who will typically tell you that they are bored. Engaging in meaningful conversations with them, and providing materials for their continued exploration is key to keeping them active and learning. If you are not successful in doing so, perhaps your program is no longer the best fit for that child.When we go on field trips, which we do quite often we have a buddy system. The older children are not allowed to be buddies with each other, they must assist a younger child in our adventures. I always walk behind the children. That way, I can help to make sure that all of the children are safe and an older child in the lead can help give us direction.
Regardless of how varied your ages are, you are still going to be concerned about meeting the individual needs of each child. A few things that I do are to take some time to talk with each child each day. I NEVER require children to participate in any activity. I invite them to participate, and then allow them to make decisions as to where they would like to play and explore. We don't gather in a circle for "circle time" Children can choose wherever they would like to sit, or stand, or play during our story time or song time. We often have our group time, planning time, etc during our meals. It is a great time to share stories and make decisions and everyone is gathered together. Adding resources based upon children's interests and requests allows you to juggle those individual differences.
I'm going to take a few minutes to answer some of the more common questions I am asked about integrating such a wide range of ages in our classroom.
What do you do with the infants?
The majority of questions I receive in regard to mixed ages has to do with caring for infants at the same time as older children. Yes, infants do have some additional needs that you don't have with older children. However, having infants together with older children provides a wonderful reciprocal learning opportunity. Older children are constantly modeling and scaffolding for the younger ones. Younger infants and toddlers provide ample opportunities for modeling empathy and treating others with respect.
Logistically, What does this look like in our classroom?
We run an emergent play-based classroom. This means that we are very child centered. The children take the lead, and we support them through resources, conversation, and reflection. Our materials are set out at child level with any material that would be a choking hazard or require additional close supervision to be placed on higher shelves. We have real- honest and open conversations about our concerns with materials.
"Ms. Amy, Can we play with the dollhouse stuff?"
"I'm a little bit worried about all of the small pieces with the babies here today.... How could we make that work?"
By sharing my concerns with the older children and asking them to be the problem solvers, I am not imposing rules..... I am inviting them to be active participants and to solve problems to come up with agreeable solutions. Sometimes the ideas the children come up with are brilliant......
Sometimes, it means that I engage the younger children in a different activity. Sometimes it means that the small pieces are only played with at a table or on a higher level than the younger children. Sometimes it means that I play too, sitting with the infants to make sure that they don't put any pieces in their mouths. Sometimes it means waiting until the infant(s) take a nap. Whatever the solution, the children own it.
I also try to promote as much independence as early as possible. This means that mobile infants are on the floor and mobile. I don't tend to use things like exersaucers, swings, or bouncers inside. We do have a few chairs for sitting in, and I use the high chair seats on the floor. (The ones that you would normal strap onto a regular chair). By having the chairs at the child's level, they can crawl up to them.
When older children are building with blocks and don't want the younger children to knock their creations down, I ask them to use their words. "Tell them you don't want them to touch your tower." It usually doesn't work very well as very young infants are quite egocentric and if they want to do something, they continually try to do it. So, I usually position myself on the floor near the structure and keep little ones from knocking the tower down, reminding them, "I think I heard M.. say that she doesn't want you to touch her tower. We need to find something else to do. I can build a tower for you to knock down or you can find something else to play with" I proceed to engage the younger children in something similar and keep them from the older children's creations. Most of the time this works out well, and sooner rather than later they start to understand to respect the space and explorations of others.
Working with mixed ages can prove to be a challenge, but the benefits far outweigh those challenges! Sometimes it just requires a little bit of creativity and planning to make sure that you are able to meet all of the individual needs and support the investigations of all of the children.
Originally Published by Amy Ahola: http://www.prekandksharing.blogspot.com/2011/11/caring-for-mixed-ages and http://www.prekandksharing.blogspot.com/2013/01/more-on-mixed-aged-classrooms-how-do.html
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
As you know, we are a home based childcare program. Allan and I have been working together from home for the last almost 16 years. We are a licensed group home caring for up to 12 children at any given time. We consider ourselves a play based, child centered program and we are always learning, always questioning, always growing. We have built up a pretty solid reputation. We have clients who have been with us for over a decade, and we take great pride in our business and the long term relationships we hold with our families. We are not a center, we are not a school, and we do not strive to be. We provide care in our home, but we are child care professionals. We do our best to make our space a space for the children, a place where they know they belong, a place they know that they can come to and drive their own learning, curiosity, and whims. A place where it is okay to just be whatever, whoever... A place that supports children's development and recognizes the needs of the whole child.
I still get really frustrated when people think that just because a childcare program is in a home, it isn't a "real" job or a quality program. If you haven't figured it out yet, This is our REAL job, and some days being with children is more real than any experience out there. Just because we choose to operate out of our home does not mean that our program is just "babysitting" or that we don't run a "real" business.
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Last week, a colleague of mine asked, "What does a child-led, play based program look like for infants and toddlers?" For many, it is really easy to see how to follow a child's lead with older children. It is easy when children can communicate with you, when they can tell you what they are doing or want to do, but how to do you embrace a child-led, play philosophy with our youngest learners?
As a home based childcare program with mixed ages, I have the wonderful opportunity of learning, growing, and playing with children of all ages. In our program we support a play based program for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, school aged children, pre-teens, teenagers, and sometimes even adults! Regardless of age, supporting play boils down to relationships and trusting the player.
Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Dan Hodgins, a good friend and colleague posted a great question over on his Invitations to Learning Facebook page today. The question simply stated was, If we plan for it, is it Play??? I invite you to visit the page and get in on that discussion.
Dan is one of my favorite ECE people, not because we agree on everything, but because we don't always. We also tend to make each other think. After answering his question today and some dialogue with a few other ECE professionals, I have decided to share a few thoughts that were originally published in the Child Central Station Provider's Play Day Book. (This isn't a book you can order, it is just a collection of handouts that changes every year and is given to each attendee of the Play Day).
So here is section 1. During Play Day, we took a lot of time to discuss this in small groups.
Why Choose Play? A Journey to Play
We are living in a time where “play” is almost a 4-letter word. Some advocates have indicated their concern in regard to the possible extinction of childhood, the extinction of play. Why is this? The research continues to support play as the best way for young children to learn, and yet….. practices do not always match our words or intent. The value of play although repeatedly proven, has been diminished. People continually challenge and question the validity play has an children are given fewer and fewer opportunities to play. Why do we have such a hard time allowing and trusting children to learn through play? Why do we continue to add things and call it play when really it is not?
Before we go too far, let’s take some time and reflect…… on PLAY… spend a few minutes jotting down some thoughts and ideas to the following prompts….. Keep in mind there are no right or wrong answers. This is purely for self reflection, contemplation, and group discussion.
What is play? How would you define it?
It can be hard to define play, perhaps think of some tenants or characteristics of play. What makes play, play?
And perhaps… What makes something NOT be play?
Is play something definite? or is there a continuum of play?
What about playful learning? What does playful learning look like?
Would you describe your program as a play based program? Why or why not?
What do you see as your biggest challenge in regard to play?
So, for a moment… Let’s get on the same page. Let’s look at how we define play.
Dictionary.com defines play “To exercise or employ oneself in diversion, amusement, or recreation” or “to do something in sport that is not to be taken seriously” I wonder, a diversion from what? and really? Are you serious? not to be taken seriously? No wonder why play is on the extinction list… the dictionary does not give play any justice….. Play is not a diversion, play needs to be taken seriously…. and fortunately for us, there are researchers who have spent a lot of time looking at a better definition and proving time and time again that play is important, that play has value, and we need to start paying more attention and embracing the benefits of play.
Dr Peter Gray says that play has 5 main characteristics:
(1) Play is self-chosen and self-directed
(2) Play is activity in which means are more valued than ends
(3) Play has structure, or rules, which are not dictated by physical necessity but emanate from the minds of the players
(4) Play is imaginative, non-literal, mentally removed in some way from “real” or “serious” life
and (5) Play involves an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind.
(Psychology Today, November 19, 2008).
So, according to this… anytime YOU the teacher determine the activity or come up with the project or plan… It is not truly play. Again… Play needs to be self chosen and self directed. To get the full benefits, the child needs to drive their own explorations and learning. Play is a process! We need to trust that process and we need to remember and to trust that young children are capable!
Dr Peter Gray also indicated that play is not black and white, that there is a continuum of play. Meaning that activities and pieces of our lives can be partially play and partially not at the same time.
How do you feel about play? Does this set of criteria work for you???
What do others have to say about play?
Teacher Tom, (Tom Hobson) describes play as one of his students proclaimed, Play is…. “What I do when no one tells me what to do.”
“Play is the highest form of research” -Albert Einstein
“Play is the answer to how anything new comes about” - Jean Piaget
“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Play is often talked about like it is a relief from serious learning, but for children play is serious learning” - Fred Rogers
“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” - Joseph Chilton Pierce
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than you can in a year of conversation” - Plato
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing” George Bernard Shaw
“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul” -Friedrich Froebel
“Play is not frivolous, It is not a luxury. It is not something to fit in after completing all of the important stuff. Play is the important stuff. Play is a drive, a need, a brain building must do.” Jeff A Johnson & Denita Dinger
“Play is a signal that nature’s wisdom is being enacted” Jane Goodall
“Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity of humor” Dr Stuart Brown
More questions to ponder…...
So… What exactly is play? Can anyone besides the player really determine if it is true play?
How can we support children and encourage more opportunities for play?
This is a question I deal with all of the time, and I think the biggest difference between what many folks define as a play based program and an academic based program boils down to one characteristic of play. In a true play based program children have a lot of power and control over their time, explorations and environment, they as the players have the opportunity to choose and design their own learning. The more child-centered a program is and the more opportunities children have to drive their own explorations, the truer it is to play. Where things start to get muddy is when adults start to attempt to control the learning by providing “fun”, “cute” activities for the children to meet an adult goal or drive. Remember, that just because something is fun does not mean that it is play! (on a side note, this is why the term playful learning drives me nuts… All play is learning, but when an adult has their own agenda and is pushing academics or ideas it is no longer play and in many cases the children do not learn the subject matter as it is not real or relevant to them.)
Originally published by Amy Ahola DBA Central Station 2016 (c) All Rights Reserved.
Saturday, May 4, 2019
A few years back, I attended an amazing professional development conference. Like all opportunities to learn and grow, I found myself among many like minded people. One of the beautiful things about diversifying the training I attend is that I am exposed to a variety of programs and points of view. During this particular session, I found myself questioning my practice and wondering if what the presenters were sharing really fit with my point of view and practice.
Are you familiar with the idea of loose parts? If not, there are plenty of resources out there for you to explore. The basic premise is that children don't need to have toys that have a single purpose. The idea is that you can provide them with a variety of odds and ends where they can be creative and use them for a multitude of different uses.
You'll find some practitioners who promote the loose parts theory who can give you a recipe... or a plan for exactly what to use and add. They may tell you to make sure that you store them in baskets and that everything needs to be "aesthetically pleasing". I urge you to question that... I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this. What is aesthetically pleasing to adults may not be as inviting to young children. And, for us, sometimes baskets are just not practical. I use some baskets in our program, but seriously, they are not always practical. Do you know how quickly baskets can be destroyed... and not because children are being especially destructive, but because most baskets are not made to withstand the use that young children put them through.
A couple of statements from that workshop run through my mind daily. They told us to go home and throw out the yogurt cups. It's a good thing that I'm not very good at being a blind follower. In fact, I urge you to collect some yogurt cups. The plastic yogurt cups are used daily in our program. Not only are they a favorite loose part for many of the children, they make sense in our program. They are economically a sound investment. They are also being reused as opposed to being recycled or thrown away. Did I mention that the children love them? They fill them, they dump them, they pretend they are cups. They stack them, they knock them down. They send them flying with the catapult... They are used in so many different ways.
I also want to you to consider this... It is a thought that has continually been running through my mind. I don't think loose parts really have to do with the actual parts. Think about it, I mean yes you can be given a list of things to put into your classroom to use and you can come up with some of your own things... but is it really about the stuff?? or is the idea really more about a mindset? Are there only certain things that can be considered loose parts???
Here is my take. I think the theory of loose parts is a mindset. I think that anything can be a loose part when the classroom culture supports it. If children are given the freedom to use equipment and are trusted to explore how they see fit, I don't think the "stuff" really matters. I have seen children use toy cars as money. I have also seen children use just about anything they can find to build structures and piles with. Once, while I was visiting and consulting at a program I was puzzled as to why they had a parking structure/ramp/garage for the children in almost every classroom. It seemed to take up a lot of space and not have much in terms of play value. However, the program supported children and the culture allowed for that piece of equipment to be used in so many different ways! Had I not spent time observing the children there, I may have recommended getting rid of the structure. If given the freedom and the option to imagine, children will turn anything into that which they need.
Friday, April 19, 2019
"LOOK! It's Santa!" I exclaimed in my best impression of elf as I noticed a child putting on a Santa suit.
"I'm not SANTA! I'm -------"
"Oh, I thought you were Santa."
"No, Santa's dead. I guess I have to deliver the presents now" (with a deep sigh)
"Santa's dead?? What happened?"
"Yeah, Santa's dead. It's a long story"
and.. just like that he skipped off to play. Clearly the story was too long to tell, and he had other things that were more important to do than to share it with me.
Many programs are looking at the calendar and providing materials and lesson plans revolving around spring and Easter. We tend not to look too closely at the calendar and instead follow the lead of the children. We have many holiday related materials available to the children, but they are available year round. On any given day of the year you will most likely find a child dressed up as Santa (in fact, one the children has dressed as Santa every day for about the last 2 years.) Children also regularly trick or treat and play hide and seek with plastic Easter eggs. We don't rotate most of our supplies, because as adults, who are we to say what will be needed when.
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