Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ignored Is Still a Success

If children made choices, explored, decided what to do and not do, learned something new - then the day was successful. Even if they totally ignored something I put out.

(And they were all over the tape when I put it out the next week.)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Cube Blocks and Free Play

What can kids learn or explore own their own? What do they do when they can play freely and independently?

In my classroom one day we had the cube blocks. We've had them before. And we'll have them again. Not a particularly unusual or unique item. 

I wandered over to see what one of my friends was doing in the block center this particular day. He is one of my builders. He always spends some time stacking and building. 

I noticed immediately that he wasn't making stacks or creating tall buildings. Something else was happening. 

I saw that he had created a word. And then, before I could really absorb what he constructed, his hands moved along the bottom of his creation (with a few blocks in hand). His hands moved around the top, bounced on the middle, and pushed some blocks out of his construction. 

The new blocks formed a line and his play was complete.

I wondered at what I'd seen, clicking my phone's camera while I watched. I didn't interrupt - mainly because I was busy processing what he'd done. Then it hit me. (And I really saw what he had created.)

He had re-enacted the opening of every Pixar movie. The word appears. The lamp hops along the bottom of the word and then jumps, bounces on the i, and replaces the letter.


I didn't comment. (A rare occurrence.) I just let it play out. He moved onto something else and so did I.

But I pondered (and have since pondered more) about this. I could never have suggested such a play exploration to him. It wouldn't have occurred to me. But what if I had insisted that he make a building or a cube or some other specific play plan that I already had in mind? He would have complied (probably) or just moved away. And never explored his own idea.

This is the same boy that had repeatedly written "20th Century Fox Entertainment" on white boards and paper. He recently did the same with magnet letters on our magnet board. He has drawn (rather successfully) the Warner Bros logo several times.

Why is he fascinated with these logos? I don't know. I haven't asked. Just as I don't ask why a child likes cats or cars or the color pink. They just are interested in these things. And want to explore them in different ways.

If I insist that the blocks are used for certain things or that they write the words and sentences I have provided or that they draw certain themes or characters, I circumvent what they want to explore and learn more about. There may be times that their energies should be focused in certain directions. But, as I ponder more about Peter Gray's Free to Learn, maybe that's not true. Maybe they need to explore logos or cars or the color pink as much as they choose. When they have mastered whatever they need to know about that (as determined by them) then they are ready to explore something else and master it. 

What will my friend do with his knowledge of Pixar and Warner Bros and 20th Century Fox Entertainment? I don't know. And probably he doesn't either at this point. But we both can enjoy the journey of discovery together.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Free to Learn: Final Reflections

Free to Learn by Peter Gray

"We do have a social obligation to provide rich educational opportunities for every child, regardless of his or her family background or income."

I finished reading Free to Learn a little while ago. And I've been pondering some of the things I read and I thought as I read. Here are a few general things that I'm still thinking about:

  • Children are capable of guiding their own learning. They understand themselves and will go as far as they feel comfortable but will limit themselves if they begin to feel incapable.
  • Left on their own, children will play and that play will be educational. They learn all the time, even if (or maybe I should say because) no adult is "teaching" them.
  • Play is play only when children have freedom--freedom to explore, freedom to change and adjust what they are doing, freedom to quit, freedom to ignore and do something else entirely.
  • The way we do school in most cases is not conducive to optimal learning. Lots of things that are inherent in the school culture oppose the way children learn most effectively.
  • Many adults do not have an appropriate view of the capability of children. They think children are more fragile and less able than they really are.
  • Children learn more from one another (of different ages and abilities) than they usually do from adults. They do learn from adults, but more from watching and mimicking than from listening.
  • Adults can be a resource and can offer help for children to make sense of what they are doing. 
  • If we want kids to be responsible, capable, helpful, cooperative, etc., we must allow them to practice these things on their own and in their own ways.
Most of these ideas are not completely new to me. Some things I knew have been affirmed. Some things I knew have been expanded and connected to other things. Some things have been challenged by meeting new information. 

But what I do know: we must not give up advocating for children to be a part of their own learning. Play is important. Play is who children are--children of all ages. We must determine how we can make children and school/education get on the same page. (And it's not the children that need to change.)

I enjoyed reading this book. Well, I liked it at first. Then I questioned it and where it was going. And then I ended up seeing the whole and agreeing with it on the whole. It's definitely added to my knowledge of children, learning, and play.

All the reading/reflecting for Free to Learn is on the book's page here on Brick by Brick.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Some Ideas from Around the Blogosphere

I love reading new things. I love being reminded of old things. I read some favorite blogs regularly and I find other things by happenstance (and Twitter).

Here are few things that piqued my interest in the past couple of weeks.

Want to Raise Successful Boys? Science Says Do This (But Their Schools Probably Won't) -
Amanda from Not Just Cute shared this link. Boys need to move but are not allowed to do so in school. "Boys are treated like defective girls." Definitely worth a read.

Powerful Words to Say Instead of "Good Job" - Teach Preschool
Deborah shares her conversation with Rae Pica and Randy Hitz (on BAM Radio Network) and delves a little more into the topic. She makes me think about how I respond (and maybe how I should respond) to the children in my classroom.

Why Did He Leave the Room? - EdWords
Speaking of BAM Radio Network, Jon Harper is a featured writer on the blog there. He shared these ideas and lessons gains from writing with his kindergartner.

DIY Building Blocks You Can Make Anywhere - Hands On As We Grow
I'm always look for new or other ways in incorporate building activities. Especially with the group I have this year. This fun and quick idea triggered all kinds of possibilities for me. I'm thinking I can add these simple "blocks" to our center with our wooden blocks...and just see what happens.

Letting the Teachable Moment Pass - Teacher Tom
Tom is good at helping me challenge assumptions I have. In this post, he affirmed what I sometimes do. Let kids talk about things and come to their own conclusions without stopping to teach. It's important for kids to ponder and wonder and conclude without adults "robbing" them of this thinking by supplying knowledge. Thanks, Tom.

What has challenged you or caused you to think recently?

Friday, January 13, 2017

String and Paint

Have you ever said, "I'll never do that again?" Well I have. More than once. The most recent time was after our first day of Art Camp last summer. I said, "I will never do string painting again."

String painting - tie string or yarn around the end of a clothespin. (You can use anything for a handle. Or just use the yarn. But we've found that having something to hold is a good idea.) Fold a piece of paper in half and open it back up. Drag the string/yarn through paint, place the drenched string on one side of the fold, fold the paper over on top of the string, pull the string out, open the paper and look at the symmetrical design.

The kids loved this activity. I did not. Now, I've done string painting before. Several times before. The last time our kids made a pull with each color and were done. But not this group.

They went back to add color several times. Enjoyable process and fun result. So what was the problem?

Well, first I cut the yarn too long. The first girl to pull out the painted yarn pulled and pulled and pulled. When it came out, it swung back and made a wide purple swipe on the bare leg of another child doing another activity. I quickly trimmed down the yarn to a short size.

I had 10 (or more) kids moving around the room, doing 5 different painting activities at the same time. It was stressful (for me) to make sure everything was stocked and monitored and labeled with names. I had some great teenagers helping me, but I was still stressed.

And this activity is messy. I don't deny it. So cleanup was a little more than I planned, too.

At the end of the day, I said, "I'll never do string painting again."

But several kids did not have the opportunity to try it. So what happened? We had string painting out again the next day (even though it wasn't painting day). After all, I'm planning for what they need not what I need.

Maybe that's the best way. Get right back into that activity so the pain isn't too long. The second day was better. I placed the activity in a quieter corner with short yarn. It was still messy. And stressful (for me). But better.

But it's fine if we don't string paint again for a while.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Trusting Them with Their Own Development

Free to Learn by Peter Gray

Chapter 10 - Trustful Parenting in Our Modern World

"If you want responsible kids, you have to allow them the freedom to be responsible."

In this last chapter, Peter Gray focuses on parenting. He identifies three styles of parenting.

TRUSTFUL PARENTING: Parents trust children to play/explore on their own, make decisions, take risks, make mistakes, learn from their mistakes, and so forth. They do not direct the child's development since they trust the child to direct their own. This is not neglectful parenting; parents provide freedom with sustenance, love, respect, and support for development as needed.

DIRECTIVE-DOMINEERING PARENTING: Parents work to quash the child's will and replace it with a willingness to abide by the wills of others. This style is not very effective and has greatly diminished as a parenting approach.

DIRECTIVE-PROTECTIVE PARENTING: Parents limit the freedom of children because they fear for the safety of the children. They view children as fragile and incompetent. They believe they can make better decisions for the children than children can for themselves. They work to direct the child's development because they feel that adult plans are the best way for kids to develop.

Of course, Peter Gray advocates a trustful parenting approach. Trustful parents communicate to children: "You are competent. You know what you can do and what your limits are. Your opinions count. You are responsible for your own behavior and your own mistakes. We are with you, not against you."

But the North American culture overall greatly underestimates children's abilities and thus deprives them of opportunities to learn to control their own emotions and behavior. The decline of a more trustful approach is due to some changes in the world: decline of neighborhoods and neighborhood play groups so there are more restrictions to playing around the neighborhood; more culture of fear with media and "expert" warnings and dangers; desire to protect children from mistakes and own foolishness; view of childhood as time for resume building instead of playing (to have a more secure adult future); rise of school-centric model of development and the need to conform to mandatory school requirements. All of these can chip away the trustfulness that parents can have in their children.

Ways to become a more trustful parent (and I think these apply to teachers, too)

  • Examine values and how to apply them to children - How can you best build values of responsibility, honesty, self-initiative, etc.? Practice them as adults and help children practice them, too.
  • Accept that children need to take ownership of their own futures without adult control. Adults do not determine or set the child's future and should not shoulder the responsibility to direct the child's development. (This doesn't mean that we don't support development; we shouldn't try to direct it.)
  • Create safe spaces for play and exploration. Trust the child's ability to do his own activities and don't monitor too obsessively. Consider other alternatives to conventional schooling.
This trustful approach has me thinking. Rather than trying to develop differentiated learning experiences within the classroom environment, we should try to find ways to provide a broad space and materials for learning and allow children to direct that learning on their own. I'm reminded of Gray's discussion of the Sudbury Valley School environment. How can we create learning environments that allow children to take ownership for their own learning, responsibility for their own behavior, and ability to make mistakes and learn from them? Some big things to think.

I'll have one more final reflection post on Free to Learn. It's been an interesting read for me.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Play Is Freedom

True play allows children to choose to do or not do, to choose what to do and how to do it. If there's adult direction in any form, it's not really play.

(See posts on Free to Learn by Peter Gray.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

One Word for 2017

A few years ago, inspired by One Word 365, I began choosing one word to guide me for the year. Instead of resolutions or goals, I use this one word to help me focus for the year.

As 2016 was ending, I began to think about the word that I had chosen for last year (purpose) and what the word would be for this year. I've been thinking about purpose and choosing things that line up with my purpose. (And maybe dropping a few things that do not line up.) While that's been a good focus for a year, I'm thinking that I need to push the envelope - in my teaching and my writing and my life.

I sometimes like to try new things but they definitely make me a little uneasy. I get really anxious when I think about moving out of my comfort zone. I still do some things outside that zone (because how do you grow if you don't). But I still make calculated moves and overthink what to do and how to do it. And I feel like something is around the corner that I need to pursue - I just don't know exactly what.

So that led me to think about my 2017 word and when it popped into my mind, I knew it was the right one.

One Word: RISK (Brick by Brick)

This will be the year of the word RISK.

I want to take some risks. I want to do some things in the classroom that push me and maybe push the kids. I want to try things that are a little different or unusual (at least for me). I want to try some thing that seem uncomfortable.

And not just in the classroom. 

I would like to make some new and unusual memories this year. What does that mean? I don't know. But I would like to try some things I've never done before.

I want to find and use my writing in new ways and in new places. 

I want to do some "scary" things, things that push me to areas that are not my natural strengths or my natural comforts.

And I think that God may be leading me to take some "uncomfortable" steps, too.

Thinking these things is a little unsettling. Typing those things here is a LOT unsettling. Now someone outside my head knows that I'm thinking this. And, possibly, someone will ask me what new and risky things I've been doing. In other words, I might be held accountable for this word and that makes me really concerned.

Now I have to do it. 

I'm not going to jump out of a plane or pack up and move to the other side of the world. At least that's not what I think I'll do. 

But I will be out of the comfort zone this year. In the months ahead I'll write about some of these things. 

Here's to a year of RISK. (Gulp!)