Saturday, December 3, 2016

My Kids Don't Do Art

Now, if you know anything about me as an early childhood teacher, you know that I think choice is important and that I want kids to follow their interests. We often have activities that have little or no interest on a particular day. And that's fine.

But this year I've noticed something interesting about my little group of kindergartners in my church kindergarten class. They are not really all that interested in using art materials.

I often have no one go to the art table to even check on what's there. For the first few weeks, we had out painting every week. No one painted.

My group likes to be creative in many other ways. They like to explore blocks and build interesting balancing towers.

They enjoy playing games together. One day we played a counting/math game over and over and over.

They enjoy working puzzles. And even trying to work them out of the frames.

They do like to write sometimes. Or draw. So the writing center gets some attention from time to time.

But the art table is often neglected. And when they do go there, they like to do it as a social activity. They will talk and interact with one another or enjoy an activity that is more cooperative in nature.

Having a group that is less interested in art means that I plan in different ways.

1. We still have an activity at the art table (even if no one does it). It's important to provide that option every week. You never know when a child will need that outlet. Or if something happens in the room that leads a child to go to the art table.

2. Sometimes an art activity will be available for two weeks instead of just one. If no one does it, I may not plan a new one for the next week. The previous one makes a return appearance, just in case someone decides to choose it. (But after two weeks, something new appears.)

3. I make sure to tell my kids what's at the table. They often head directly to blocks or games and may not look at the art table on their own. I will tell them what's there in case it sounds interesting to them. (I have done this in the past, but it seems more necessary with this group.)

4. If we are doing a painting activity, I don't pour out paint until someone is ready to do it. I have washed some paint down the sink by putting out a pan of paint that no one uses.

5. My activities are less elaborate but still engaging.

6. I look for ways to include some options for art sometimes in other centers (like blocks or dramatic play). By including art in areas that seem more engaging to this group, I increase exploration opportunities.

Each year I learn something new (or am reminded about something) regarding teaching young children. This year my group is reminding me that it's okay if something isn't done in the room. And that the room should be about them and not about me or a preconceived idea of what activities should be done.

My kids don't really do art. But they do create and they do learn.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Minimally Invasive Education

Free to Learn by Peter Gray

Chapter 6 - The Human Educative Instincts

"All animals learn, but only humans learn to a significant degree from others of their species and thereby creative, transmit, and build upon culture, from one generation to the next."

The title of this post is a phrase from Peter Gray: minimally invasive education, or education with minimal intrusion in the children's lives. That's what I often think when I think about teaching and learning in the early childhood environment. And it's a difficult balance - prompting or asking questions without intruding on what the children are exploring on their own. Gray would probably advocate only becoming involved at the child's direction. I sometimes think that a little question or push can expand thinking but ultimately I think kids should pursue their own agendas.

Peter Gray writes: "Today when most people think of education they think of schooling. In other words, they think of education as something done to children by adults." I would tend to agree. Gray writes about three innate aspects or instinctive drives within us that can serve education.

Curiosity - the drive to explore, understand, find out about the world around us. From earliest ages, children are intently interested in things they have not seen or experienced before, more than what they have seen or experienced already. As they grow, children are interested in exploring beyond what is known, not just replicating past experiences. If an adult explains how to use a toy, a child will explore it less and not discover much beyond what he was shown. If an adult just plays with the toy randomly and then gives it to the child or just gives it to the child without doing anything, children will explore the toy longer and discover more about its attributes. "Teaching" inhibits curiosity about the toy. Less direct instruction can yield more learning, deeper learning.

Playfulness - the drive to practice and create, to repeat new skills and use them in creative ways. Curiosity is focused on discovery. Playfulness is purposeful action to produce known result or using something in a different but purposeful way. Peter Gray lists several different types of universal play. (These types overlap and are not distinct categories.)

  • Physical play - using bodies in coordinated movements (running, wrestling, chasing)
  • Language play - learning to talk and use language to communicate (babbling, puns, rhymes)
  • Exploratory play - refining exploring skills (making sense of the world, science)
  • Constructive play - producing something that is in the mind (drawing, building)
  • Fantasy play - create and operate within an imaginary world (pretending, thinking logically)
  • Social play - cooperating and restraining impulses (playing games, negotiating)
All children play in these ways. Specifics of play vary from culture to culture.

Sociability - drive to share information and ideas, telling and teaching others what we know.
Children will naturally show others what they have learned. They will help other children discover how things work. Children learn more together than alone. Groups can generate more ideas and pool their knowledge to have greater understanding. Language is a key component to social learning.

Gray writes that schools thwart these natural instincts of children. They do not allow children to explore what they are interested in or make many choices related to what and how to learn/explore. Schools tend to focus on "one right answer" over finding ways to solve problems. Schools stress evaluation and assessment. Included in this chapter is a quote from a teacher; when students began to exploring items in a way different from what she had planned, she said, "Kids, I'll give you time to experiment at recess. Now it's time for science." (In other words, do things my way and explore on your own time.)

I think there's a lot of meat in this chapter regarding these three instincts. Peter Gray broadens the discussion of these three in the next chapters. But I think the note that adults and schools often thwart the natural ways kids learn is an important point. And I think the focus on standards can also tie the hands of educators who want to encourage exploration. The question I come back to is this: Are we derailing learning--true deep understanding and mastery--for education (performing well on tests and parroting back established formulas)?