Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why The Box ?

By Emily Plank

It’s a well-worn theme of childhood that children would rather play with the boxes in which their toys were packaged than to play the toys themselves. But why? Why the box?

The answer lies in one of the primary functions of play in children’s lives: children use play to make meaning.

Through a series of back-and-forth coos, play is the way that babies learn to differentiate between “me” and “you.” With their whole bodies and full voices, toddlers play through daily welcome routines with peers, running and jumping and fake-falling as a way to say “Hello. I’m happy to see you.” Three-, four-, and five-year-olds develop increasingly sophisticated play scripts portraying the events of their lives: doctor, library, bus, parent and baby, grocery store, school. They add elements of fantasy to deepen the meaning of these moments.

As an adult, this particular purpose of play that I relied on as a child has been transformed by spoken and written language. At the end of the day, for example, I recount my comings and goings with loved ones by telling them what happened. If I encounter something intimidating or unknown, I will quickly send a text or call a friend for support.

Children, with their formal spoken language skills still developing, draw on a rich capacity to play in to process things that I process with words.

Open-ended toys like boxes help children make meaning out of their world because their use is so flexible. Blocks can be built into castles or animal cages or used as fire hoses. Fabric can be pinned into ballerina skirts or folded into baby blankets or left of the floor as hot lava. Cardboard tubes can be telescopes or trumpets or material for art projects.

When children have access to a variety of open-ended toys, it’s like giving them access to a complete lexicon. On the contrary, sitting them down with the shape-sorter is akin to giving me an Italian-English dictionary and forcing me to tell about my day in my non-native tongue.

Why the box? Because a box can be anything.

And with anything, children can make meaning of their world.

Bio: Emily Plank is an author and speaker. Follow her at emilyplank.com or on Facebook, and read more in Emily’s book, Discovering the Culture of Childhood.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mirror Image

By Lakisha Reid

Children are born scientists. From day one they study the world around them. First and foremost in their world are their parents. They hear our voices from the womb, they connect with our heart beat, our sleep schedules, and enter the world eager to connect and be loved. Early on they began to follow us with their eyes, they perk up their ears when they hear our voices, they seek our physical touch and emotional connection. They watch, listen, and feel who we are, how we move, the sounds we make, the expressions on our faces. 

They begin to form ideas and generate data based on their interactions with those that take care of them. 

As they grow into toddlerhood, they begin to form more complex language, they have studied the sounds made by their parents and others around them, They have looked for meaning in these words. Through this observation, toddlers define and properly use words learned directly from parents. 

They feel love, connection, protection, and power when parents and caregivers are loving and responsive to their needs.

 They feel isolation, disconnection, vulnerability, and powerlessness when parents and caregivers are not responsive to their needs. Through these early interactions, the child's emotional blueprint is designed. 

As children leave the solo play and parallel play stage and become of age to take on play partners, they reach back to their foundational social experiences. A child who has experienced rejection, excessive punishment and reward,  bribery and other control based tactics learns to use these same tactics in play. 

A child who hears harsh language, negative feedback, and physical punishment will learn that this behavior is a part of their culture, this will be written into their blueprint. 

As caregivers and parents, we must always remember that we are being observed. Our actions and behaviors have a direct effect on the actions and behaviors of our children. We ARE their first teachers. 

As parents and caregivers, we should make it our practice to take a look in the mirror and reflect upon the image that we see. 

The mirror I speak about is the mirror of our child's eyes, look deep into their eyes, if you look deep enough, you will find your own reflection.  Do you like what you see? 

 Lakisha Reid 
Founder of Play Empowers-Sharing The Power Of Play, 

Early Childhood Presenter and Consultant
Co-Host of Dirty Playologist Podcast-www.stitcher.com/podcast/explorations-early-learning/dirty-playologist
 Owner/Educator at Discovery Early Learning Center  www.facebook.com/discoveryearlylearning/

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Powerful Messy Play

Rethinking Our Practice- Art 

     Created by a small group of 3&4-year-old children

It's a collaborative work that pushed me to the limit of my comfort zone, but I did some self-talk as I noticed the deeply engaged children exploring the paint in ways that are natural for children. They were in a state of mind only reached while in play, they seemed so enthralled with the process as the paint dripped, splashed and blended together, this creative freedom seemed intoxicating. The children were pulled deeply into the experience, closely observing, thinking, then adding elements as if answering questions or playing out assumptions they held in their minds and hearts.

Often as adults, we see experiences like this a frivolous, wasteful and careless.

With closer observation and a shift in mindset, we can see that this experience is bursting with meaning. It is providing each participant with a sense of belonging, a sense of power, freedom of expression, and pure joy. Moments like this are of utmost value and should be the goal of every preschool environment.

Supporting these intrinsic needs in young children in our programs requires educators to reflect on their program culture and environment, then alter their practice and design.

Program Culture:
What do your policies say about powerful messy play?

How do you support and inform parents about the importance of powerful messy play?

What verbal, non-verbal and/or unintended messages are we giving children about powerful messy play?

Program Design:
How does our program design support or hinder the act of powerful messy play?

Who are we designing for?

How can we alter our classroom design to support powerful messy play?

Starting here will create a ripple effect that will take you and your team to a place of deep reflection, re-creation, and rethinking of your practice around powerful messy play.

by Lakisha Reid 
Founder of Play Empowers, 

Early Childhood Presenter and Consultant
Co-Host of Dirty Playologist Podcast Owner/Director/Educator at Discovery Early Learning Center 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Learnable Moments

by Lakisha Reid 

There is some very interesting play going on around pipes. This arched piece has baffled a few. Its shape makes it attractive and also makes it difficult to handle. Once the child is able to successfully connect it to another pipe, they then attempt to insert objects. The downward positioning causes their mission to oppose the forces of gravity. Mission not accomplished...

As onlookers and facilitators of play, it is our responsibility to allow children to reach disequilibrium, a point in which their idea or belief is challenged causing them to alter their mindset. It is important that we allow the process to be the child's and realize that if we correct, explain, or fix the problem, we are robbing the child of truly discovering and experiencing the process of solving their problem.

Many times this process does not immediately culminate in a final understanding of the original challenge, but instead, makes way for bits and bits of layered understanding over time.

This layering effect fuels the intrinsic need for the child to return to the play to further gain understanding. It feeds their innate curiosity and drives them to continue to crave knowledge.

Allowing children to reach a point of struggle and make their way through it is the best way to support their learning through play.


Often this support is simply:

-Acknowledging their feeling of frustration "I see you are frustrated"

-Asking a question, " what is your plan?" being prompted to verbalize their plan often helps them hash it out and alter their approach.

-Giving them an out "Should we take a break and come back to this?" Sometimes a break allows a child to return to a problem with a new set of eyes.

The goal is to allow the frustration, allow the struggle, but support the process. Never just doing it for them, showing them how you would do it, or making it a "teachable moment", but instead seeing it as a "learnable moment" that spans a lifetime!

by Lakisha Reid 
Founder of Play Empowers, 

Early Childhood Presenter and Consultant
 Co-Host of Dirty Playologist Podcast  Owner/Director/Educator at Discovery Early Learning Center