Monday, April 24, 2017

What Our Garden Grows

One of the richest learning experiences we share at our school is the making, caring for, and harvesting of our school garden. The experience is owned by the children from the very beginning. Long before any seed is carefully placed into the ground our garden begins to grow.. 

It grows a sense of community 

 It grows a sense of                 inquiry 

 It grows a sense of discovery

It grows a sense of resourcefulness  

It grows a sense of pride 

It grows a sense of inquiry 

It grows a sense of imagination 

It grows a sense of responsibility 

It grows a sense of joy 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Neuro-Diversity: It's a Thing

By Becky Gamache 

She blows into our house each day like a tornado.  Backpack, jacket, socks, clothes hurtled in separate directions until she’s reduced to underpants.  She can tell you what the teacher talked about in school that day and if it’s interesting to her she asks questions and/or researches it further. She makes notes about what she wants to learn more about and what books to check out of the library.  She has at least four books going at a time and can tell you in depth about each one.  Her beloveds have been read to tatters. 

 Clothes don’t always feel right.  Noises and busyness can reduce her to tears.  She knows exactly what kind of a day you’ve had by looking at your face or by the tone of your voice.  If there’s tension in the room, it bothers her… a lot.  She feels and understands things on a whole different plane than me, but when she’s able to explain things herself, I always have an A-HA moment. 

By age 9, my daughter Caroline has had the alphabet soup of acronyms thrown at her…ADHD, ODD, ASD, SPD and GAN.  None of these acronyms even come close to helping tell her story, a story that gleans a new acronym depending on who you tell it to.  Instead, I use the term “neuro-diverse” to describe Caroline. 

 I don’t even really know if it’s a thing, but as far as I’m concerned it is the only term that begins to tell her story.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of a diagnosis for my child.  I’m afraid of a diagnosis putting her into a box, surrounded by inappropriate goals and expectations.  I’m afraid of a “one size fits all” approach to education that doesn’t support the diversity of children coming through the doors.  I’m afraid children are diagnosed to be pounded into the mold instead of diagnosed to allow the mold to be broken so the child can grow as an individual. 

 I call her neuro-diverse because I want the adults to change how they approach her and her learning.  I want the adults to recognize in her what I do and seek to understand like I do.  I want the adults to think of all children as neuro-diverse so that each child’s story and their journey into learning is their own. 

Unfortunately, where I live, the majority of school environments are set up for collecting arbitrary bits of data that have no real depth or understanding of what kind of learners the children are.  Each year is a carbon copy of the last.  If a class is struggling to learn a concept, the teacher feels pressure because now he is behind his grade level partners.  Learning is focused only on the “big test” and weeks of instructional time are devoted to reviewing for or practicing how to take it.  This is not the environment my neuro-diverse daughter thrives in and I would argue most children do not either.  

The environments where my daughter has thrived have been ones where the adults were responsive to the needs of all the children.  Those adults reflected on how they engaged with children and the interactions they had.  They wondered why behaviors were triggered or interests were piqued, looking to themselves and the environment for answers.  Those adults understood that all children are neuro-diverse and to be a responsive teacher you must continually observe, document, reflect, adapt and modify.  

There are children in our midst with and without diagnoses; they all deserve the mold to be shattered.  It’s the only way responsive teaching happens.

Becky Gamache has been an early childhood educator for over 20 years. She is a Home Base Teacher and Family Advocate for Head Start. Over the years she has been a consultant for early childhood programs, a presenter at local and state conferences and is adjunct faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. She lives in Hermantown, MN with her husband and two daughters.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

In The Process Of Trying

By Kisha Reid

A story of what is learned, in the process of trying:

It was the first really hot day, so in no time the children began asking for water. Cheers filled the playground as the first drips of water flowed from the pipes, it had been a long winter with very little snow, so the return of this natural loose part was highly anticipated.

The flow of the water immediately generated interest, busy children moving about all with their own ideas and methods of exploring them.

One child, in particular, noticed the water draining from the sand pit, " Hey the water's getting out a-dare!" he shouted as he ran off, he returned toting a heavy rock walking in a sort of rocking motion in order to balance the weight of the rock as he transported it from clear across the playground. He was visibly intrigued by the route the water was taking as it left the pit. He squatted close to the edge of the pit and quietly watched the water curve around the surface of the stumps and trickle down between two. " It's gonna flood the school!" he said in a voice that revealed a bit of anxiety and fear, at this point I was not sure if the feeling was fear or a part of a dramatic rendition of fear. I asked myself " Is he really scared that the school would flood? I didn't dare interrupt his process to ask the question for only he really needed to know that answer. I was merely a bystander to this unfolding of discovery.

He purposefully wedged the rock in the space between the two stumps, then waited and watched. A few seconds passed before he noticed that the rock only created a new path for the water to flow. Water began to trickle down and around the sides of the rock. This both seemed to frustrate and fuel the desire to figure this out and solve his problem.

He scanned the playground and when he spotted a pile of blocks, he was off again, this time returning with each hand stretched across a block. swinging by his side as he made his way back. Noticing the space under the rock, he began to shimmy the blocks under the rocks edge. He repositioned the rocks a few times after assessing how it's placement altered the flow of the water. When he was satisfied with their placement he returned to source additional materials to dam up the flow of the water.

The flow had now become a trickle, but the water was still escaping. He had added bricks, smaller rocks, and packed sand in the cracks of it all. In the end, he never stopped the flow of water, Many adults would see this as a failure, some would even see this as an opening to "teach" him by doing it for him, asking him leading questions or just telling him he can't stop the water.

He had a goal that he didn't reach, but if you look a little closer and observe a little longer, it wasn't stopping the flow of water that would deem this a success, it was what he learned in the process of attempting to contain the water.

He added to his layers of understanding about the properties of water, it's power, and how it's path adapts to its obstructions. He learned that his ideas were valuable, that it's OK not to solve the problem on the first try. His urge to figure this out pushed his physical limits as he carried heavy materials, he planned and thought through his plan adapting as he gathered new information about the water patterns, he felt a sense of purpose as he worked.

The space between this encounter and the next will be the time to process all of this new understanding. When he returns to this play, he will be starting from a new point of understanding, he will have a much deeper relationship with the water. I hope he doesn't figure it out anytime soon because there is so much to be learned in the process of trying.

 Trust in the natural development of children through play means that we allow that learning to be theirs, give them the full control of the process and how they internalize the learning they take away from "their" play.

Many higher level concepts are learned through play, often times a child is unable to totally verbalize what they fully understand. This does not negate their level of understanding of the concept. This is why quizzing and testing are not valid methods to use when attempting to measure understanding and mastery. Simply observing a child at play will give you a much fuller scope of their level of understanding of the world around them.

Other times children are chomping at the bit to share the details of their new discovery. Being there to receive this verbal processing without hopes of pushing or pulling them past their current understanding allows the child's learning to unfold as they explore the process of learning. Often just having space to think, or hear themselves verbalize their understanding causes them reach a higher level of understanding. As the adult, I often repeat their words back to them, or notice when they are wondering something.. " Oh you were wondering if the rock would hold the water in?" This interaction is always a reflection, never an interruption as the child is at play and is meant to echo their current path to understanding, not alter it.

This type of authentic learning unfolds in layers, with each layer it is sweeter, it is deeper, it is more filling. By allowing children plenty of time and space to play around with ideas, make new discoveries, and connections we provide the perfect recipe for learning.

Lakisha Reid
Owner and Educator at Discovery ELC

Co-Host of Dirty Playologist Podcast -

Founder of Play Empowers-


Hijacking Play

By Kisha Reid 

The other day two of the boys in my group spent the majority of the day in the mud kitchen, They filled pots and pans with natural loose parts, packed in dirt, rocks, and water into muffin tins and worked long and hard planning a party complete with a very well decorated cake. They used kettles to fill cups with mud mixed water and laid out found pieces of felt on wood stumps as placemats for guests.

 After spending the day setting up they collected paint chips and set off to cut up tickets. "What color do you want?" they asked as they cut tickets off of the color reel.

As  an educator, I am able to observe this play, see what each child is getting out of it, visualize their thinking, their process and ultimately their learning. I understand the value in the children's own natural intrinsic motivation.
As I observe children in the "Zone" I watch as they solve problems on the spot, share ideas and consider the ideas of others, collaborate on completing a task, use past knowledge to take themselves further in their thinking and understanding, in effect stretching their own learning. It's like their mind is set free and their vision is clear.

If  I am watching from a, what I call,  "outside of the bubble" position I can see the rich learning present in this type of organic play.  I can see the whole picture and all of it's moving parts. I can see children who have a deep understanding of numbers, fractions, equal parts, volume, one to one correspondence, language, vocabulary, and an understanding of how tools work. Not to mention the scientific understanding that is gained from manipulating natural loose parts, mixing mediums, and hands-on experiences with the Earths treasures. I see children who display impulse control, respect for others, turn taking, critical thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to create an imaginative story line based largely on past experience.

Now, what do I do with what I see, do I take it and plan a "CAKE MAKING DAY?" no, I allow the children to own the idea, it's theirs.. they own it. I will not hijack their play to make it fit into my mold of where it should go. I will not steer it in any direction, I will not rob them of the right to create their own play, by creating it for them.

If they evolve to the point of wanting to make this "pretend" party into a "real" party I will be there to support them as they write the list of what they need, I will take them to the store and shop for their needs, I will provide them with all the time in the world to experiment with this idea and again.. get out of their way and allow it to unfold, allow the natural learning to take place, to allow the children to own their process.

They have all of their life to learn how to do it "right", right now is the time to learn how to figure out what their "right" way is and that takes experimentation.  If they look to me as an expert in cake making and ask for my input, I will be there, asking questions, reading labels, and filling that role, but until I am pulled into the play, I am not barging in..                                                                     
 -Lakisha Reid