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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

To me, integrating the arts in education, using the arts as a vehicle for learning, is one of the most important educational goals for our time. The arts demonstrate, on one hand, the shared experience of humanity, and, on the other hand, the intricate, subtle traditions and arts human beings use to express their experiences. The arts will never be frills, except to those who have blinded themselves to the richness and variety of human life. Teaching through the arts means challenging children to use their learning in a creative context. It is more than asking them to glue goldfish they have colored onto a piece of paper to demonstrate the number five. I am embarrassed to admit that at one time I used to do this type of activity. I have since learned otherwise.

My arts expertise is in music, having spent many grueling hours in theory class. Usually, preschool has music/movement pull-outs. Either the music teacher comes in and gives a “lesson”, usually singing children’s songs; sometimes using children’s instruments. Or, in tonier settings, the children troop to the music room for a lesson. I was a teacher in both types of settings. Nothing is intrinsically wrong with these, except for those programs where only children whose parents pay extra get music class (I kid you not!). Children enjoy these opportunities, and get a taste of making music. Always a good thing! But if this is all that is offered in a program, everyone is missing out. Here is the definition of arts integration by the Kennedy Center’s CETA program, Changing Education through the Arts.

Take a close look at this language! “…students construct and demonstrate UNDERSTANDING through an art form. Students engage in a CREATIVE PROCESS which CONNECTS an art form and another subject area and meets EVOLVING OBJECTIVES in both.” I love the phrase EVOLVING OBJECTIVES. Nothing is static in the real world. People everywhere know this. Children and teachers need to be involved in passionate work that progresses and evolves. As a friend says, change is the only constant in life. Objectives may need to be met, but they don’t have to be the stopping point.

While working with brilliant young children (they are brilliant, you know), I would supply instruments to explore. I noticed that the children tried every way possible to make sound and silence with an instrument, say, a drum. Thoughtfully rotating a drum to explore its many surfaces, a child might try beating the side, the top, and even inside the drum to make different sounds. I would ask how the sounds were the same or different. How can you change the sound? Describe the sounds involved. With a small group of young children, there will be a lively debate! Oral language integrated! Make instruments available on a regular basis. Find those that reflect different traditions. Be available for support, and children will maintain interest. What matters is that a child is learning to think, to develop hypotheses, and to test those hypotheses.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

To older people, time seems to fly by, when to young children time seems infinite. Young children obtain and process images more quickly than elders. They experience less of their reality, because it is a longer road between synapses. I can, unfortunately, relate.

From the psychological perspective (disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, I am an Early Childhood Educator), I believe there is more to this. I remember when time seemed endless, when the sensory experience of the clear, shining the sun, the taste of a ripe peach, the smell of fresh-cut grass, even the feeling of a rough towel drying my small body, were all vivid and fresh in the moment. I also recall the sudden end to this bliss. It was the middle of the summer before second grade when I realized, very soon, that my summer idyll would be abruptly ended, and I would be taking quizzes, memorizing poems, and adding stacks of numbers on those hated worksheets. Following directions, negotiating relationships, and getting in trouble for writing messy papers (I got that often) were my daily bread in grade school. Mental freedom was a thing of the past.

Today, “school” starts at three years! I didn’t learn to read until I was six. My 3½-year-old grandson laments that he can’t read yet! Do children in most standard child care programs know the freedom of mind I experienced in early childhood? Or are their schedules awash in activities influenced by peers or parents, with little time to breathe? This a recipe for hurry-sickness.  

To cultivate in the minds of early childhood college students the concept that children need safe spaces to create and collaborate, I assign them to view interviews of several children’s authors who discuss their early childhood arts experiences, and how these experiences inspired their future profession. Lois Ehlert, the esteemed children’s author/illustrator, tells the story of how, as a child, she was frustrated by not being able to finish an art project because she would need to clean up after a session with her materials. Cleaning up was a guarentee that she would lose track of her process and have to start over. Her parents, responding to her need for a dedicated space for her art, gave her a table (I always imagine a card table), saying she could leave her art table in any condition she wanted! Imagine such creative freedom! A safe space, both physically and mentally, gave her the impetus she needed to become herself. Similarly, good centers and schools give children a space for “work in progress,” with the understanding that they would could discern for themselves when they were finished. Finding such a space is possible, if you are committed. In every center I worked, we found somewhere for children to keep their "work in progress." 

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

angry teacher2

I taught preschool for thirty years, in a half-time preschool, full-day preschool, and full-time child care. If anyone understands this difficult but rewarding job, I do. Every year there were “good” children—no-stress children who listened, did what they were asked, and had a network of friends—and “bad” children—highly stressed and stressing children who got attention in the worst way. Yelling out of turn, throwing anything at hand, even hitting and kicking were ways a “bad” child got attention. If the teacher ignored them, they would ramp up their efforts, like a pitcher using his “slider” to get a batter OUT! You know this child?

There is much that teachers are still doing that make behavior worse. That much is clear. Do you still say, “Sit there and think about what you have done?” Do you give long-winded explanations to a barely verbal chld about why you are having that child closed from an activity (one source calls these commercials)? Do you complain to parents because you feel that they should be better at their job? Do these strategies work for you? If you feel like every day you are, like Sisyphus, pushing that boulder up the mountain, then stop. There are no “bad” or “good” kids. But when you are at the bottom of the mountain again, you start feeling that it’s true.

How do you cope? Don’t immediately think ADHD. That is where teachers, parents and others seem to land. The mother of a girl in my group asked me, after one conference, if her daughter had ADHD. The mom was surprised to hear me say that ADHD should be the last thing we would look at. A study recently came out explaining that children just about to enter kindergarten are increasingly diagnosed as having ADHD. This diagnosis and its subsequent medication happen 34% more often if they have August birthdays, these in states where the kindergarten cut-off date is September. The authors of the study believe that this is due to developmental issues, not medical ones. How obvious to me, to you. Children a year younger will be less attentive, more wiggly than those a year older. Why should they not be? Diagnosing and medicating them without looking at the bigger picture is medical malpractice.

Resources for you, as an Early Childhood Practitioner, are actually numerous. Social/emotional development (“social skills,” we used to say) are the hot topic even in state learning standards. One resource is the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). There you will find tools for teaching social/emotional skills, and ideas for creating visual prompts that facilitate a child’s understanding of rules and routines.  You can read about the Pyramid Model, which is an educator’s visual for understanding that social/emotional learning is supported by layers of guidance, not by one-size-fits-all rules. You can read through the NAEYC Standards for Professional Preparation, which emphasize understanding child development, and find a training program that helps you to learn about this topic.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

When my daughter was in second grade, in the ‘80s, the second-grade teachers started the morning with a piano, a teacher who played, and children sitting on the floor around, singing. The interactive song, The Cat Came Back, by Fred Penner, was much requested. Where are the routines that involve singing for the pure joy of it, now?

At the center in which I worked recently, “Singing Circle” was a non-negotiable part in the school routine. It came right before lunch. Children would call out, as lunch was being brought up from the kitchen, “Lunch is here!”, smelling the meatloaf and sweet potatoes. But keeping to the schedule, the teacher leading that day would say, “We have five minutes! Let’s sing another song”. Each teacher was able to plan her/his own ideas for singing circle, but children quickly found out who was leading each day and put in requests, which were usually put in the schedule. Aiken Drum, and Tooty-ta were popular. But so was Laurie Berkner’s The Story of My Feelings (usually sung along to the CD), and Puff the Magic Dragon! Singing sweetly, leaning on teachers, or sitting in laps, the children and teachers partook of one of the oldest traditions of humankind: Singing together as a community.

There are centers that use YouTube videos, and other recorded music, for their programs. "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" is a staple, along with "Going on a Bear Hunt.: But where is the individualized, personal song sharing? Who sings to children so that, eventually, they will learn the song and join in? The more nuanced, slightly more difficult songs get short shrift because teachers fear the children will not “get” them, or that they themselves will look bad. Searching your heart for those songs that move you, or excite you, may be where you will find a gem that children look forward to singing.

The songs you choose needn’t be educational (not that I’m against that). I knew a teacher who asked her threes to lay down while she dimmed the lights and sang Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, right before they went home! These threes learned every word of the lyrics, and sang along. Another teacher sang old American folk songs, finding the lyrics from internet searches, such as Tingalayo (without the cute YouTube video!), Old Susanna, This Land is Your Land, and Bought me a Cat. Often using a drum for attention getting, I did scat with the children, introducing it to them with Scat Like That (are you in for a treat, if you teach them to scat), sang the Abiyoyo song while I recited the story, and loved to do Girl and Boy Scout songs (‘My Mom, she gave me a penny, and Oh, I wish I were a little round orange). A teacher, who happened to be African-American, brought delightful game/songs to our somewhat Lilly-white school, such as Little Johnny Brown. Her instrument? A tambourine!

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Many years ago, teaching pre-k students about stories, and story structure, it occurred to me that since my students sang their made-up songs in dramatic play, I should share the grown-up version of stories that are sung. That is how teaching opera to young children was born in our classroom. The opera by Englebert Humerdinck, Hansel and Gretel, was one I’d sung in the past. It is usually performed during the holidays, ostensibly for children (though I defy any adult to fall asleep while watching it). The story itself is problematic for early childhood classrooms. A mother/step-mother who wants her children to die so that the couple has enough to eat? A witch who turns children into cookies? The original tale is a typical Brothers Grimm tale, based on many word-of-mouth versions going back to a famine in fourteenth century Germany. To our modern sensibilities, it is a terrifying story. The wonderful James Marshall’s comic version is one children enjoy, but at the end, the step-mother is still dead. Reading this version to children one year, a boy pronounced this turn of events, “Good!” (Good riddance to a bad mommy?). Older school-age children will enjoy comparing all of the versions, but for preschool, Beni Montresor’s version is best. And it is identical to the opera libretto.

Here is a very brief synopsis: A poor mother sends her children out to pick wild strawberries because of their need for food. The children get lost and sleep in the forest, protected by the friendly animals (children in costume), and angels. Here is the scene in the opera which will illicit conversation about feelings of sadness, loss, and how we sometimes need a good sleep to overcome these feelings. Hansel and Gretel find the witch’s delicious house, and meet the old, seemingly friendly woman who owns it. The story proceeds from there as it usually does.

The witch’s character is usually played for comedy, sometimes in even in drag, softening the horror of a witch who eats gingerbread children. After Gretel pushes the witch into her own oven, the other children that were liberated from witch enchanted cookie forms (played by the Met Children’s Chorus in my recommended DVD), and Hansel and Gretel, celebrate, singing and dancing with gusto. The mother and father sing themselves in from the wings, and they joyously reunite with Hansel and Gretel. There couldn’t be a more satisfying ending, provided you don’t mind the children’s chorus ripping the witch/cookie apart and pretending to eat her. Our children loved this part! The storybook and opera prepare children for the themes of overcoming hardship with ingenuity, and the ultimate triumph of love over adversity.

I have always shown the DVD (VHS years ago) in twenty minute installments, making sure to pause and discuss what is happening, and listening to comments and questions. Children have amazing observations to express and discuss.

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