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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

I have been teaching Art, Music and Movement to college students for a while. There are certain concepts we try to get across to practitioners that are important to ECE professionals, and encouraged by our professional organization, NAEYC. One of those concepts is the idea of open-ended activities.

What are open-ended activities?  Do you put out a mass of materials and say, “Go get ‘em”, like one workshop participant opined? If you change materials, are you being too “teacher-ish”?

Well, yes and no…

Because many tend to think, in this post-social media age, that each question has a right and a wrong; that the right is might, and the wrong is way too strong, we have trouble seeing the grey areas. Perhaps I’d rather say the value areas. In art, adding white or black to a color changes its value. When we consider concepts, our values may change a tiny bit or a lot, depending on what is added or subtracted. So, as Diane Kashin has written, there is a continuum between a concept such as “open-ended” and its opposite. Open-ended might mean throw the lot of your materials on a table and see what they do, and closed might mean giving children directions and materials, saying what they must do with them (generally not recommended!). But in between, ah, there is a rainbow of values!

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

children playing music

Music makes everything better. I recently gave a presentation about this topic to caregivers and teachers in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I emphasized the tremendous importance of music experiences for young children, talked about using music and movement for behavior management, and gave examples. The attendees were enthusiastic. Many have used clean-up songs and hand-washing songs for a while. But they weren’t aware of the power of using music to elevate or calm mood, or the power of movement to smooth transitions, something my friend, Rae Pica, speaks of so eloquently on her new YouTube Channel.

I work in a quality child care center. We sing directions all the time. We make up the tunes, or use old favorite tunes with the appropriate words (to the tune of "If you’re Happy and You Know It": “Put your bottom on the rug, on the rug. Put your bottom on the rug…and give yourself a hug. Put your bottom on the rug, on the rug.” Or anything else you can think of!

I talked about what I call “waiting songs”. What are waiting songs? Why do children have to wait? In a perfect world, they shouldn’t have to, but it happens. My example to them was that sometimes the whole group is outfitted for the cold and someone suddenly has to go to the bathroom. Yes, we had them go ahead of time, but nature calls again, sometimes, and we need to accommodate. One of my waiting songs is a Raffi tune called, “Something in my shoe”. You can look on YouTube for it (but learn to sing it! Do not use a video when a live teacher is available!). At the end, the children mime, with the teacher, going to bed. So the song can be used as an activity that morphs into a settling down song before a story as well.

Wee must never waste children’s time. Having them sit still while someone “goes” is wasting their time. Asking them to join you in a waiting song gives them the opportunity to move and sing. They are practicing math skills (rhythm, rhyme, and language patterns). The steady beat of a song nurtures attention skills. Dare I say it prevents squabbling, also? It does.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Picasso

After weeks preparing for an arts experience by discussing Matisse and Picasso, and by drawing or cutting out shapes, it was time for my small group of eight to put together a “product”. This would be our contribution to the school’s fund raising auction.

The children and I met around paper on a large table. I asked each child to choose a shape from the bag of shapes they had cut, and to place "their" shape on the paper. Then the negotiations began. My job, as teacher/facilitator, was to have the children think as a group, to let go of their attachment to their own shapes, and make some difficult group decisions about where the shapes should go to make a more pleasing (to the group) picture. I made changes and asked for a vote. I asked individuals to make suggestions for improvements. It was a very enjoyable group effort, one that pleased each child and myself. In the process some of the children caught on that using white space as part of the picture was an artistic choice, and not just for background. There were also lively and constructive discussions!

Arts integration means integrating both the formal ideas and ideals of arts disciplines with the ideas and ideals of language, history, mathematics, engineering, and science. Because the arts are integrative in themselves, they entice and seduce our children into learning. During my own research for this work, I discovered (teacher, teach thyself!) that the word shape can be categorized as either geometric (that which we teach young children to the point of obsession), or biomorphic (shapes children see effortlessly, through their curiosity in exploring their world. These are the shapes of nature, and include the human body). We explored these shapes through the work of Matisse.

All process is a function of play. All humans play with materials, with ideas, with words. Play is the precursor to invention, to innovation. In early childhood, some play-based programs have it half right. Their children learn through play, yes. But adults are often just furniture around which to play, or people who only talk to each other while they “watch” children. Adults should play a role, in school, to safeguard and encourage process, and they are instrumental in reminding children of their most deeply held interests when distractions prevail. If a child invents something, ruminates over it, takes time and energy all alone, that is a play/process/learning experience. When a group decides to make a trampoline out of old rubber mats and tires, it is a model of group invention and innovation. This is process, but the children rejoice in the product as well.

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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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