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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Adults interrupt young children in a fraught struggle over a toy, by ordering “share”. The child drops the toy in tears and frustration, having learned that if you have something, you have to “share”? (AKA give up) Jacky Howell had an example in one of her trainings: Walking up to a woman, she looked into the other woman’s purse, saw her wallet, and said, “Share!”. It brought forth paroxysms of laughter among early childhood educators, not to mention parents. Point taken! When a very young child is absorbed in play, constructing with blocks, or racing a car along the carpet, an abrupt interruption of that child’s play, I believe, communicates disrespect for a child’s focused attention.

One of the key objectives of education is teaching children to be intentional in their learning process. If a child is playing with something, focusing on making it do something to the point of tuning out everyone else, imagine how startled and frustrated that child is if, out of the blue, another child grabs the toy, and adults order, “Share!”. What an adult has taught is that a child has no right to use his or her nascent negotiation skills for a few more minutes with the toys: No making some kind of trade, or coming up with any other solution to the problem. The child is learning nothing but anger, guilt, and a desire for revenge. You will see the revenge eventually, if you observe what happens later!

It doesn’t have to be this way.

You could be teaching negotiating skills, and respect for another’s desires. The Virginia Foundation Blocks for Early Learning give a thorough set of developmental objectives for fours, which can be modified for younger children. Standards such as “Initiate and sustain interactions with other children”, “demonstrate respectful and polite vocabulary”, and “begin to recognize and respond to the needs, rights, and emotions of others” are excellent objectives for both teachers and parents.

During my time in the ECE field, it has been my great pleasure to observe children working (the work of children is play, remember) on developing skills through their use of toys, especially what we call manipulatives. These are any toys that can be used in different ways to create a larger whole. Manipulatives include such objects as blocks, or found objects integrated with toys and blocks. This process develops over time, if adults allow lots of play time for these skills to develop. Children need negotiating skills to “share” these toys, because it is the nature of human life to need to learn to work together.

Teaching these negotiating skills is part and parcel of both teaching and parenting. As preschoolers grow, they need adults to have respect for their developing maturity.  Commanding “share” ignores the truth of a child’s  willingness to resolve a conflict in another way. They don't want to fight. They'd prefer another approach.  Amid the flurry of feelings that erupt in an argument, a child needs a way into verbal negotiation. Saying, “use your words” is not enough. If they had the words, wouldn’t they be using them? You can give them words they can use, tools for life! Using such sentences as, “When will you be finished with that toy?” “Can I trade you this toy for that toy”?” What are you doing? Can I help?", are some sentences you can teach. I’ve found this last one to be have an amazing effect. Most children will easily open up to another child, sharing their toys as they explain to the other child the ideas that they are pursuing. Helping children to verbalize their meanings, intentions and expectations nurtures budding language skills.

There are many kindergarten readiness checklists where “sharing” and “taking turns” are among the skills listed. How about changing these to, “negotiating solutions to conflict in play”? This would be more useful as a tool in school, and in life, then ordering adult-mandated solutions.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood


A rainy Saturday afternoon in Eugene, Memorial Day weekend 2019. Family reflection. 

If you are a preschool, kindergarten teacher, aide, parent, grandparent, everybody, this blog is for you! 

Never did I think I would round out my teaching career in preschool, but I did. The kids taught me so much, a world of hand washing, bandaids, bugs, snails, glitter and a lot of books. Childhood is a precious time, what's the rush?

What if we had some barometers of what a ready kiddo might ideally need to know, be ready to do, to be successful in first big time school experience? Behavior to look for? Attitudes and skills to hope for.

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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

In my work, as in the work of many people, I imagine, there are themes that come up again and again. Sometimes I get asked a question and I can point to a blog post I wrote or an article I read months or years earlier that touches on the same subject. Little kids have some very consistent interests; it’s why certain toys remain popular for generations. Building toys are one of those evergreen entertainments; kids can play with Lego or magnet-tiles forever, it seems.


In general, my attitude towards the “problem” of repetitive play has been to encourage educators to look more closely at children’s play, to observe with a curious eye and to wonder about what they might be missing. In short, my approach has been to push back against our perception that there IS a problem at all. Often, when children return again and again to the same materials, they’re trying to figure something out and it’s our job to value what they’re doing enough to discover and support the intentionality of their play.

However, there are some times when repetitive play really is something to be concerned about and it’s worth spending some time thinking about how we might structure the environment and our interactions with children to support expanding their repertoire of play behaviour.

Recently, I was working with a teacher who was distressed by the repetitive play she was observing in her classroom. A group of boys consistently chose to visit the Lego centre and exclusively created spinning toys that they then “battled” against each other to see which one could withstand colliding with the other spinners. They resisted choosing any other material or building any other type of structure. It had been months of repeating the same play behaviour and they were unfazed. The teacher had tried her best to extend the play towards an investigation into rotation, more broadly, but they were unmoved. The Beyblades continued to duke it out.

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