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Gail Multop @gailmult

Gail Multop @gailmult

Gail teaches Early Childhood Education as an Adjunct Associate Professor for Northern Virginia Community College, one of the largest community college systems in the country. She is a popular trainer in the DC area, leading workshops on such topics as Engaging, Arts-Based and Outdoor Learning, and Guiding Behavior. She is a member of the Virginia Community College Peer Group which collaborates with the Virginia Department of Social Services to train and license childcare professionals throughout the state. Her blog on BAM's EdWords is referenced in several arts websites, and is used in Early Childhood courses throughout Virginia. She is also a member of NAREA, the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. You can contact her for more information about Professional Development opportunities. 


Gail lives and works in Northern Virginia. Her special interests include arts-integration, play, Reggio Emilia, music and yoga. 

Posted by on in Early Childhood

Teachers, do you know the Mozart Rondo in A minor? Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1? Perhaps you, like many Americans, prefer to stick with what you know when you play music for children. It is certainly understandable. When I started teaching, I mostly played this music in my classroom because my undergraduate degree was in music. I knew “classical” music through and through. I was trained to identify Beethoven in two bars. I still can! So why should you, as a teacher, use music you are less familiar with? After all, the children won’t like it, will they? Not so, of course. Young children love music, and do not discriminate, as adults do, on the basis of genre. Just as they do not on the basis of race or culture. Music penetrates their undefended hearts.

Let me say that I myself had a learning curve once I began teaching young children. Multi-cultural classrooms enticed me into multi-cultural musical genres. Other genres caught my attention on iTunes and I introduced those as well. In my years of teaching preschool, I played all of these musical gems in the background during centers. Placing instruments or scarves near my boom box, children could participate in the artists’ music making. During Vivaldi’s concerto, Summer, the storm sequence (presto), two little boys spontaneously invented a partner dance that reflected the energy of the piece. Jittering their bodies in place, making claws with their hands as they looked at each other, they expressed the feelings of the music as they experienced it. This is called creative movement and meets a national dance standard for pre-k. The way the children danced was play-based because it was spontaneously chosen. They started and stopped at will. So using classical music created an opportunity for play-based learning. 

I have taught college students that there is no end to the possibilities of playing music for young children, and they have proved my point by bringing in anecdotes such as this one, involving behavior management: A teacher was substituting in a classroom of threes. The children were “off the wall”.  I had taught her about how music from the Baroque period, especially, created a more purposeful and balanced atmosphere for children during play due to its steady beat (Baroque composers believed in keeping the beat steady in each movement. The beat is called the tactus). So, at her wit’s end, she put on Vivaldi. The mood in her classroom shifted to one of calm, and the children stayed longer at their chosen activities.

This, of course, is anecdotal information, but there is ample research available to prove the point. For me, no proof is needed. When I played the opening from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana for a class of teachers, and told them children could benefit from this music, they looked at me in horror. “It will scare them!”, they said. So I took it to the voters, my preschoolers, as an experiment. I played the opening of the piece and they, sitting in a circle on the floor, began pounding their heels into the carpet, ecstatic smiles on their faces. I gave them feeling words to choose from to express their response. Only two words resonated: Happy, and excited. Needless to say, they wanted to stand and dance.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

I was excited to read Peter Gray’s blog post about the importance of reading stories to young children. This practice has been singled out, with good reason, to be crucial to future literacy. There is more to story reading than cuddles and close relationships, he writes, though these are essential for human growth and development, not to mention human joy!

“Knowing how to deal with evil as well as love, how to recognize others’ desires and needs, how to behave towards others so as to retain their friendship, and how to earn the respect of the larger society are among the most important skills we all must develop for a life.”  These skills are actually something we learn all through life, but giving children stories to reflect on gives them a huge advantage, psychologically, as an early start on braving human relationships, and fostering skillful interactions. Dare I say, also, that stories help children learn to be wise rather than right, as in, “right, not wrong”? Our current political discourse would benefit from wisdom rather than from arguing positions of “rightness” as is currently the case.

Surprisingly, one book that became a favorite with a group of pre-k students last year, and demonstrated the difference between wisdom and “might makes right”, was The Cloud Spinner, by Michael Catchpool and Alison Jay. This entrancing story starts out, “There was once a boy who could weave cloth from the clouds”. The boy sings as he works: “Enough is enough and not one stitch more”. Immediately, Alison Jay’s illustrations captivated our children. The hills and houses reflect the moods of the characters. Our preschoolers noticed this before I did! Smiles on hills are made of trees and sheep. Houses smile with windows and doors. In the beginning, nature is in harmony because the boy with his magical loom only makes what he needs. One day, the king notices the boy in a crowd and madly desires clothing, of both himself and his family, made of the clouds. He commands the boy to weave for him. The boy balks at first: “It would not be wise to have (so much fabric) made from this cloth. Your majesty does not need it.” The king is apoplectic, commanding the boy do his bidding. So he does. He weaves, and the illustrations reflect the sadness of the task with darkening color and forlorn hills.

The Cloud Spinner does not so much have a cheerful ending as a wise and uplifting one. Our children were absorbed in noticing details of the varying shades of color that reflect the boy’s, and the King’s daughter’s moods (She helps him to reverse the tragic disappearance of clouds that cause drought and discontent among the people). The King and his family are astounded by the gratitude of the people, after the clothing ordered is turned back into clouds, causing welcome rain. The boy and princess exult in the restoration of a wise order in nature and among humans. Our children, sitting before me, sigh in contentment.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

It started when I gave my students a passage from The Hundred Languages of Children to analyze and discuss. It was, I confess, rather abstruse, and they were speechless when I asked for opinions. In frustration, I blurted out: Malaguzzi took it one step further. Vygotsky said that language was interdependent with growth and development. He was talking about verbal language. Malaguzzi asserted that the hundred languages at children’s disposal were interdependent with their development. All of these languages helped them express what they knew and furthermore, changed them and those around them. I was rather emphatic, as I can be, sometimes when talking about children. But I gave them this example:

At a NAREA conference, George Forman showed a video of mobile infants, sitting on the floor, watching teachers spin pot lids like tops. The babies watched, and then expressed their understanding of what they saw: They began undulating their bodies as they sat! The babies were being playful, but their behavior was purposeful. This is how a baby expresses a concept. I believe there was a combination of physical, intellectual and emotional intent inherent in their behavior. Teachers provided the “provocation”, and the babies went for it.  So much cognitive development going on, and in an artistic language—dance!

Similarly, older children at play are exploring concepts through different modes of expression. Stomping around to imitate dinosaurs demonstrates a three’s understanding of force, as well as their understanding of psychological intent (intimidation, power). Painting a picture demonstrates a four’s understanding of light and dark, one’s day, or the universe. Sharing work with each other can bring more learning and development. My boys, last year, began drawing from a picture of a T-Rex. Every day they took time to gather and draw, pointing out different parts of the picture to each other, arguing about perspective, detail and color (Constructive arguing, I like to call it). This was interdependent learning at its finest.

Teachers in a center situation can be a potent resource, asking questions that bring out the intent of play (“Oh, I see you are making a house” doesn’t cut it!).  A teacher must be a grounding presence; an advocate for the individual child’s intent, even when the child doesn’t yet know what that intent is. To continually look for the intent through listening, observing, and collaboration is to be the “intentional teacher” that we all seek to be. This teacher (and other members of the team) provides what is necessary for children to seek the experiences they need, and to express their learning in powerful ways. A teacher moves with the children; s/he collaborates with them.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

ying yang wallpaper by rstovall

I love listening to to Rae Pica’s BAM Radio program, Studentcentricity, during my commute to Northern Virginia Community college to teach. Thank God for Bluetooth! Last night I listened to a program about enjoying process over product in education. I totally agree with Amanda Morgan. Teachers shouldn’t do toddlers’ art for them, or give cookie-cutter art projects to preschoolers. They should know, by now, that asking for the right answer shuts off the process of learning to think. But they still do these things, with good, if misguided, intentions. Parents love the cute. Children love to be praised by their teachers and parents. Our culture mandates the great finished product. This cultural bias invades our efforts to teach young children how to solve problems, find creative solutions, and pursue worthy projects.

But wait a minute! Solving problems? Finding Solutions? Projects? Isn’t that about product?

Years ago in education, we discussed the importance of divergent, vs. convergent thinking. Divergent thinking was elevated, as well it should have been, because for too long convergent thinking (getting the “right” answer) was seen as the sole indicator of intelligence. Brainstorming, mind-mapping, and webbing became symbols and tools for divergent thinking. Creativity depends on divergent thinking! We need it in order to converge on something cool! Diverging to different creative ideas eventually leads to answers, products, which lead to more thinking, more creating and—yep—more final products.

Today we elevate process over product, just as we did divergent over convergent thinking. In doing so, we perpetuate a false dichotomy. As the old song goes (even though its premise was not true), “…you can’t have one without the other.” Amanda discussed allowing children to make mistakes in order for them to learn. Mistakes are not bad. They are necessary bumps on the road to learning. The cognitive process involved is invaluable to the child. They learn to learn. Process leads to product, which leads to…well, you know! A false dichotomy is where there is either one right answer or another. The two ideas compete. There should be no competition between process and product. Like the colors in the Yin/Yang sympol, there’s a little bit of each in the other.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

This past fall, our center took on an exciting professional development project. We were privileged to have Katherine Lyons work with us as our artist-in-residence. Katherine is an actor by profession and works for the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts. She is a teacher trainer using drama to address learning standards. I hardly need to reiterate my own passion for teaching through the arts. I pursued a certificate from CETA (Changing Education Through the Arts). What was unique to me, among other things, was a particular chant she used to teach our three to five year olds what older children usually learn in elementary school English.

I have taken children’s stories in dictation for many years, and have a collection of them that I share with college students. I even conducted a study in graduate school of the differences between dictated stories among boys and girls in each age group from two and a half through five. I have always allowed children to dictate their stories without a particular framework. There are many books, videos and articles about children’s stories that support this approach. This chant, and the Wolf Trap approach, went much further…

“A story…a story…a story…a story! Let it out, and bring it in! Let it out, and bring it in” (gesture with arms forward and then back, like casting and reeling for a fish).

Who-o-o’s in the story? Who-o-o’s in the story?

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