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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

When I was little, I was afraid of thunder and lightning, and you can be sure there was plenty of that in Northern Ohio, where I grew up. Lake effect storms were common, coming down as rain or snow. As I cowered from a storm, my father bid me come to the screen door to watch. He explained how the lightning always preceded the thunder, and that it demonstrated that the speed of light was so much faster than the speed of sound. Because I felt safe with him holding my hand, I gave in to my curiosity, which was, after all, behind my fear. I absorbed the sense of wonder in his voice. I fell in love with thunderstorms.

I’m not going to say I ended up as a meteorologist, as he’d wished he’d been (the Navy made him an engineer). But I still feel that grown-ups who model their love and wonder of natural phenomena must always be part of the young child’s learning. If a child becomes enamored of worms, find your inner worm-lover and join in!

On our playground during the spring, a few younger children found two enormous worms. Because I was near, they pulled me into the excitement. “They are so big!” “Giant worms!” “Ugh, I am not touching them!”  I picked one up. Without thinking about how I should approach this learning opportunity, I said, “Looks like night crawlers”. I could have said something more adroit, questioning them about their interest, but I guess I was channeling my Dad. They asked, "What's a night crawler?" so I looked them up on my phone. I showed them the pictures, which got them even more excited because the worms looked exactly like what we were seeing (and some were holding)! Jumping up, one girl went to get her teacher. “We found a night crawler!”, and showed her teacher the worm. “It’s another worm”, the teacher said, as if that was all that mattered. It was kind of deflating (in fairness, we were seeing every worm every child had found during a forty-five minute time period outside).

These children were seeking a meaningful connection with teachers, something crucial to real learning. Young children learn more, absorb more, if teachers fully connect with them in their interests. If teachers join in the excitement, giving opportunities to expand on the learning, they will provide the necessary container for the children’s exploration. Teachers' willingness to put aside their own agendas will be rewarded by their students' increased interest in learning.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

dramatic play

I recently spoke with the new director of a “Religious Exempt” preschool that wanted to improve her school. It had been grossly neglected, both by the church in which it was housed, and by the former director. The current director had workers fix the holes in the walls, clean dirt from floors, and install a sink with running water for the toddler changing area. Yes, in Virginia, if your school is religiously exempt, you do not have to insist on washing hands after changing a diaper. It is fully up to the discretion of the director.

What impressed me was that this director, overseeing a staff of women who were not required to have training or experience in early childhood development, wanted to find a way to open a discussion about this question: What is play? I applaud her for this!

One would expect to need such a discussion in an unlicensed school. But these questions are good ones for everyone in education. There are schools that say they are play-based. They give children the opportunity to be children (a terrific start); to be with each other in play experiences both outside and in. Teachers watch them play, and intervene when there is conflict. Then the “curriculum” intervenes!  Themes are handed down from on high: farm animals; community helpers; life cycles; and “all about me”. Lessons are constructed. Crafts are implemented. And play takes a back seat to “learning.” These experiences are required, not optional. So play goes out of the window.

Dr. Peter Gray, in The Value of Play, defines play as “an expression of freedom”. It is intrinsically motivated and freely chosen. In a play situation among children, players choose, but they can also quit. My young friend at the water table with other children plays with materials we have provided: Tubing, funnels, CVC pipes, and turkey basters. Through daily experimentation of his choosing, he discovers that inverting the baster in the water, and connecting it to rubber tubing with a funnel at the top, creates a water pump. Pouring water into the funnel, then squeezing the baster, makes the water come out of the funnel like a geyser! He eventually stops playing in the water table. Being able to stop is part of play. If compelled to continue, according to Dr. Gray, play would cease to exist.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood


“It’s necessary that we believe that the child is very intelligent, that the child is strong and beautiful and has very ambitious desires and requests. This is the image of the child that we need to hold. Those who have the image of the child as fragile, incomplete, weak, made of glass gain something from this belief  only for themselves. We don’t need that as an image of children. Instead of always giving children protection, we need to give them the recognition of their rights and of their strengths.” Loris Malaguzzi.

Having worked in a Reggio-inspired program for four years, I endeavor to hold this idea in my mind as I teach young children, and as I teach adults. Young children are amazingly capable. They can learn anything at their level of development and as members of a larger culture. By providing support for what they are capable of, we honor their essential natures.

Recently, I have been thinking about DAP. What does developmentally appropriate practice mean to each of us? I think that, in spite of NAEYC’s very positive and specific guidance for us as Early Childhood Educators, schools and parents who want to honor DAP have differing images of children in their minds. I see so much that is good in the practices of my adult students, and among my ECE colleagues, but also I sense that many of us still tend to see young children as individuals who need protection, nurture, and dare I say, sheltering. The image Loris Malaguzzi presents in the quote above certainly contradicts this image.

In the NAEYC literature, 12 Principles of Development and Learning, the eleventh principle, “Development and learning are advanced when children are challenged” strikes me as particularly important. From self-help skills (pouring water, and counting out crackers at snack, to pulling up their own pants, with appropriate scaffolding) to project work (planning and creating a part of a project a child sees as needed, each contribution demonstrating not only skills, but ideas as well), young children are vastly more capable than we habitually see them. Perhaps, as Malaguzzi implies, we want to see them as needing more help, so that we can fulfil our own need to nurture (full-disclosure: sometimes guilty myself!). But we do not give them our best if we do things they can do themselves. Neither should we over-protect them.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood


Since my last post I have been thinking more about play. Why is it so hard to understand its importance? Then, two days ago, I went to visit a friend who has made (“French”) horns all of his adult life. George wasn’t trained as an engineer. He had drafting lessons in the Navy, and went on to be chief engineer for a well-known brass instrument company. Finally, he set out on his own to build horns by hand. His horns are played in symphonies all over the world. He has so many patents he has lost count. George is 84 years old, and still talks about horn making like a child with a new toy. He said something that struck me as the essence of playful creativity during our lunch together: “People say I should just order mouthpieces from Europe. It would be so much easier and quicker. Why do I make my mouthpieces by hand? And I tell them, well, what fun would THAT be?!”

What fun indeed?

This morning, my Pre-K students were all over the room solving problems through play. When I say play, I mean not only playing with materials, or playing games, or playing pretend scenarios, but playing with ideas as well. Two boys worked together with Magna-tiles to make something that they envisioned: A rocket within a space station. They worked for a long time to get the surrounding “station” just right so that the separate rocket would fit inside, but slide out easily for launching. Two girls challenged themselves to make a ball go “up” a ramp. Through trial and error, they made two ramps connect so that when a ball ran down the first ramp, it would, through momentum, go up the second one, only to slide down again. Their image was that of a skateboarder going up a ramp and coming back down, they said.

Is this only play? If someone walked into our classroom they would see children playing with many materials, including Magna-tiles, and ramps with balls. They would not see the creative problem-solving, nor the give and take of conversation driving the creative thought. They might think, “Oh, well, I want my child to learn. This is just playing.” How wrong they would be!

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Posted by on in Movement and Play


I was so excited listening to Rae Pica’s program,” How Play Supports Brain Development”. Her two guests, both experts in the field of early learning, emphasized how play is not an option for children. Children’s brains need play like a thirsty runner needs water! Children’s brains run on play. So why would parents worry if their children play in preschool or kindergarten?

I suspect there are many reasons, including that many parents’ early memories of school include academic instruction, and perhaps their struggles with it. Parents don’t want their children to struggle and they acquire the mistaken notion that doing worksheets and flashcards will give their children an edge. They want to see their kids buckle down and learn, darn it! Play looks too, well, uh…fun.

Another reason, I suspect, is that when they shop for preschools, they run into some programs that say they are play-based, but do not know how to make play the center of learning for the children. The teachers do not have the training to scaffold children’s skills to go deeply into their interests, to pursue and develop their ideas in play. The play these parents see is not high-quality play. It is not avid, creative learning. It is just, well, let’s be frank—goofing around. Flitting from activity to activity. I know this from what my college students tell me.

The most important fact, in my mind, is that mature, high-quality play is creative. Creativity is an innate part of cognition. Once I had a pre-K student who noticed that birds seemed to poop all over the playground picnic tables. He developed a hypothesis that if he made a bird toilet, our picnic table would be cleaner. In the classroom, working for over a week, he used constructive materials (boxes, tubes, and magazine pictures) to create his bird toilet. On the seat, he glued a picture of worms to attract the birds so that they would be motivated to use the facility rather than our picnic table. In the process, he explained his contraption (oral language; cognitive development), asked others to find materials for him (social development), and through trial and error, created his invention. He tested his hypothesis outdoors. Now I would love to tell you that the birds flocked (no pun intended) to his creation, but of course, this didn’t happen. What did happen is that other children began forming ideas of inventions they thought might be needed and began creating them. The bird toilet itself was used on the playground for imaginative, if bathroom oriented, play by many children!

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