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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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Posted by on in Early Childhood

preschool children

I just returned from our state’s annual Early Childhood Higher Education Summit feeling a mix of angry and frustrated. Our NAEYC state affiliate maintains a staff of attorneys and advocates who actively participate in legislative conversations and hearings dealing with early childhood education. This month, a bill comes up for a vote on whether or not to increase funding for our state-supported preschool programs. This has stirred considerable debate, as I know exists in other states around the country, as well. A spokesman from our advocacy team highlighted conversations she had with legislators and said there is still a good number who aren’t convinced preschool makes any difference- and therefore may not be worth the money.

This seems unbelievable to me, considering the past, current, and ongoing available research to the contrary. What don’t these people understand? Can we just break it down into terms they are capable of processing? This isn’t just blind spending. This is a real investment in everyone’s future.

meeting

How about some simple facts:

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Do you remember the first time you had a sleep-over? Along with that first loose tooth, this is one great big rite of passage.

Lately I find myself spending more time listening to the ever-present Eugene rain, Soundscapes and relaxation music. If I look at social media I get fixated on mindless, fun stuff or very inspirational real life stories and musings.

Except for the littles, not much makes sense to me right now. I kind of feel like that scene in the movie "2012" where the North and South Poles switch places. Maybe I am sort of like the Woody Harrelson character, sure those secret ships will take us up and away. 

Now a fan of therapy dogs Max and companion Ruby, Esther the Wonder Pig, cat videos, although I am allergic to cats. A lot of wonder and wonderful, kind-hearted people in this world. That's what I'm focusing on.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

kindergarten classroom

I've been thinking about mistakes in the classroom...mostly the ones I make. The first one that comes to mind happened when I was teaching first graders. I had put up a wonder wall and received lots of great questions and wonders. One day, when reading some of the wonders in our group, I read a great question about rainbows - and then I proceeded to answer it instead of leading the group in ways to discover the answer. I realized that mistake as I drove home. I'd missed a great opportunity to lead children in discovering their own answers to questions.

I've made spelling mistakes and factual mistakes in the classroom. I've tried things that just didn't work or that just didn't interest the children like I thought it would.

I think about how to take advantage of mistakes when I make them - showing the children that we all make mistakes and mistakes help us learn. I think about how plan to avoid general mistakes. I think about how to laugh when I make them and how to encourage when kids make them. Making mistakes is a great way to learn. So often, children are afraid to be wrong, to make mistakes. But I hope to create classrooms that welcome mistakes and use them for more learning.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

alg classroom kids

The list of consequences for kids forced to sit too long is a lengthy one. Among other things, sitting is now considered as detrimental to health as is smoking (the human body was built to move!). Research also has shown us that sitting increases fatigue and reduces concentration, neither of which is an optimal condition for learning. And we all know that young children need to physically experience concepts to best understand them. So, when I tell you that too much sitting in classrooms also leads to an inability to master body and spatial awareness, you might think that it’s no big deal, considering the other consequences.

But let’s ponder it. As adults we use our body and spatial awareness to navigate through the world. We can (usually) walk down a crowded sidewalk without bumping into a lamppost, or maneuver our way around trees on a crowded ski slope. We find our way to work and through large shopping malls. We fit our cars into narrow parking spaces or garages and, more importantly, keep our cars from coming into contact with other cars, people, or objects. We understand the social customs that dictate we not be like the “close talker” depicted on an episode of Seinfeld. We understand that some people do not want to be touched. And when a hug or a handshake is appropriate, we’ve learned how strong and how long it should be.

These are lessons that cannot be learned by sitting at a desk. Like so much else in early childhood, body and spatial awareness must be experienced and practiced if they’re to develop fully. When a baby is born, we realize she doesn’t come equipped with a perfectly functioning proprioceptive sense (awareness of her body in space). That’s why we play “I’ve got your nose,” “This Little Piggy,” and knee-bouncing, lifting, and spinning games with her. But when she starts navigating her way through the world via crawling and walking, the only consideration we give to her spatial sense is whether or not she’s going to bang into the coffee table. And if she doesn’t – or doesn’t continually – we take for granted that she’ll be able to successfully navigate her way through the world.

And maybe she will. But we’ve all had children in our classes who line up too closely to one another, and who bump into everyone and everything. We’ve all had children whose desire to “crash and go boom” overrides any respect for personal space. Who hug or tag or poke too hard. Who view themselves as clumsy or uncoordinated and therefore lack confidence in their physical abilities. And many a child has shown up in second or third grade not knowing his elbow from his shoulder, or unable to distinguish the difference between a lowercase “b” and a lowercase “d.”

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