Thursday, September 3, 2015

To Plug In or Not Plug In?

This summer I'm reading and commenting on the book What If Everybody Understood Child Development? by Rae Pica.

Chapter 21: Should We Teach Handwriting in the Digital Age?
Chapter 22: Just Say "No" to Keyboarding in Kindergarten
Chapter 23: iPads or Play Dough?

These three chapters focused on issues related to technology and young children. As Rae Pica states in the book, the opinions on this larger topic run the gamut--from those who advocate full-on technology usage in the youngest classrooms to those who think all electronics should be banned for young kids.

Some say that we should be teaching those keyboarding skills to kids since they will use them their entire lives. Handwriting is obsolete or soon will be, they say. Kids can communicate their ideas more completely using technology since they don't have think about letter formation or stamina in writing. Technology is better because kids can focus on the ideas rather than the mechanics.

While I agree that some kids struggle with the physical demands of handwriting, I do think that kids (and adults) lose something when writing on a computer rather than by hand. When writing by hand, the writer can ponder and make a more physical connection with what is written. Ideas percolate more and can be refined before being put down on paper.

Using more technology often leads to less physical activities and less exploration with "real world" materials. While kids may love using screens for all kinds of things, they also enjoy and learn more from using their senses, moving their bodies, and handling all kinds of things. More understanding of trial and error, cause and effect, and learning from failure happens when kids are using a variety of materials and exploring and experimenting.

I think too often we see technology as THE answer. Technology (just like play dough or blocks or paint and brushes) is a tool that can aid a child's learning and pique his curiosity. I think technology should be just one part of what happens in a child's life. As with anything that comes into the classroom, it should be used intentionally and judiciously.

I would advocate a balanced and reasoned approach. Technology exists in the world of kids and should be a part of the classroom. But when it's used, it should be purposeful and intentional. It should fit with the play dough and crayons and dolls and dishes. It should follow the child's lead and interest. It should be part of the authentic learning that's happening in the classroom.

P.S. A personal peeve: "They'll need it later so we should give it to them now." Let's teach who our kids are now, not who they will be or what they might become. Let's give them what they need now. And give them what they need later when it is later.

Some links from the book---
And a few more---

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Learning in the Doing

It's something I heard at the very beginning of my foray into early childhood education - and it's something that I continue to hear to this day.
It's about the process rather than the product.
When I first heard it, I wondered about it and explored it. As I've worked with groups of kids (of all ages and all types), I know it is true.

The learning comes with the the doing of something. The value lies in the exploration and discovery, not what you have at the end.

This week I saw it in action again. Affirmation that kids are more about the experience of it all rather than the "something" that may exist at the end.

We were making wrist bands - using pieces of cardboard paper towel tube, masking tape, and stickers. I saw kids putting on stickers, removing them, rearranging them. I saw kids exploring how to pull take and cut tape. I saw "wrist bands" become towers or cylinders wrapped in tape.

I saw kids work on it for a while. Then some of them put their "product" in the trash can, just tossing it away. "I don't want it," they said.

This emphasis on product seems to be most at hand when kids are using art materials or related activities. We as adults expect an end product, it seems.

But this learning through doing happens throughout our classroom, the process is always in action.

I see it as kids use blocks. They explore different shapes and try different approaches. They mix materials in different and creative ways. I may talk about what they are doing but the end product is not important - and is so temporary.

I see it as kids play in our home center. Roles are taken on and discarded. Scenarios happen and then change. The table is set for a family meal and then evolves into a restaurant and then into a completely new place - all with the fluidity of process and learning and experience. In fact, this type of activity is all experience.

Years ago I read an article titles "Put Your Name on Your Painting But the Blocks Go Back on the Shelves." It stressed the value often put on more permanent experiences and less value on those temporary ones. I think we often stress "What are you making?" over "What are you doing?" or "What are you learning?"

Let's value the process, the doing, more than what may be made at the end. Let's value where the real learning happens.