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Certified PreK-6. Masters in Child Development. Advocate for play, teacher & children choice, & the family's voice. Believe in volunteering as social justice.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

What Did I Take Away from the NAEYC Conference? The People. Always, the People.

Well, well, well...I know that it has quite literally been A YEAR since I've published anything on the blog.  What can I say? I've been in a year long spiral of new jobs, too many commitments, and a period of not trusting my voice.  While I can't promise myself that I'll be super consistent, I do want to try to get back to the blog.  In the meantime, I was asked to write a reflection as part of my participation in the Lasting Legacy Scholarship for the 2015 NAEYC conference and I thought I would share it here as well.  Perhaps it will be the first of a series of posts inspired by my thoughts from the conference.

As I settle back into the cold Chicago winter and the day to day responsibilities as a preschool director, my thoughts keep drifting back to Orlando and the 2015 NAEYC Conference.  I think about the practical information I learned that will help me as a first year director, the new ideas about curriculum I want to share with my teachers, and the words of inspiration from some of my early childhood heroes.  What do I think about the most?  The people and the relationships both renewed and made anew while at the conference.  Vygotsky taught us that children learn and thrive in the context of relationships and the same must be said about educators as well.  The conference provided me with a context to build relationships that will push me to be the type of early childhood professional I want to be, the relationships that will challenge me, the relationships that will pick me up when I fall and tell me to keep going.  

I am an academic at heart and I can tend to let my introversion, reflective personality, and lack of confidence keep me looking inwards only rather than looking outwards.  There is great value to reflection, but there needs to be balance, a balance in which I often struggle to find.  The conference forced me to be brave, to step out of my world of words and introspection, to have the conversations that will foster collaboration and community.  From the first meeting with the other women who were awarded the scholarship, to meeting global friends face to face for the first time, to connecting with local professionals in the exhibit hall and inside workshops, to quiet coffee chats with early childhood kindred spirits, to sharing stories with each other at the end of the conference, I was pushed to make conversations and connections outside of the written words that make up my comfort zone.  

Because of these opportunities to be brave and build relationships, I left Orlando with the connections to further my work at home in Chicago.  I’m taking away from the conference the knowledge that I have people that I can turn to when I want to challenge my teachers to think about their classroom environments in a new way or to consider technology in a new light; when I am ready to build a collaboration of preschool directors within my city; when I’m ready to bring the voice of the young professional to the state AEYC; and those who will be there when i want to cry, scream, laugh, or problem solve the day to day.  

So yes, while at the conference the words of Ruby Bridges and Lella Gandini wowed and inspired me and moved me to tears, but more than that, it was my fellow professionals who had the most impact on me.  It is the women from my scholarship cohort, the enthusiastic students who are just starting their early childhood journey, the mothers turned teachers with the passion to change the world, the fierce advocates for social justice; the friends from Canada and Jamaica who I was fortunate to finally meet face to face; the former co-workers who have moved out of town and happened to also be at the conference, these are the true inspirations and the people I will turn to as we continue our all important work of advocating for play, for social justice, for the children and the families who we serve every day.  These are the people who make me brave, who give me hope for the future of childhood.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Curation of Ideas

A couple of weekends ago I went to the Magritte exhibit at the Art Institute.  Surrealism isn't generally my favorite type of art, but I can appreciate the deliberate oddness of it, and my dear friend loves the exhibit and we were downtown...so as they say...happenstance!

As we walked through the exhibit, I began to notice the walls and partitions that were put in place to display the art.  There was a sense of obscurity behind the arrangement.  Rather than paintings being hung side-by-side on four walls, the walls were moved so that the viewers walked through a maze of sorts, encountering different paintings from different perspectives.  At one point, there were partitions set up in a row, down the middle of a long hallway (think dominos) with one painting on each wall so that you could see 5 or 6 partial paintings if you looked at an angle, but in order to see an individual painting you had to stand between two partitions, obscuring everything else.

As my friend and I left the exhibit, she turned to me and mentioned how the curation of an exhibit is an art itself. Picture my mind being blown, because of course she's absolutely right.

I then begin to draw parallels between the curation of an exhibit and what I do in my little classroom, because in the care and intention that I put into the environment I too am curating ideas.  As a teacher in a play-based environment, my job is to reflect on the children and their interests and to very carefully set up a space that invites exploration.  It is my job to make observations and to document the children's ideas and the life of the classroom.  It is my job to find beauty in nature and in loose parts and in the everyday and introduce it to the children.  It is my job to invite children to explore the unexpected and startling.  It is my job to help the children find and celebrate their own quirks, ideas, and discoveries.

I am in the business of curating ideas. And it is a wonderful business to be in.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What's best for a family?

I've been debating whether or not to write the second #kinderchat summer blog challenge.  So much so that it is now past the unofficial deadline for this challenge.  The thing is? I argue a lot.  I'm already pretty outspoken and loud, and unfortunately sometimes snarky, when I read certain things.

A year ago, I got extremely riled up over a post a fellow blogger had written in which he claimed that daycare was not school and wrote this response.  This was really the first time that I had dared to speak against another blogger and semantics got in the way and think that we both missed out on the opportunity to have a real dialogue.  Looking back over his post, I saw that he changed the title and edited the post slightly.  And I appreciated the fact that the author was able to reflect on the fact that the original title was an attention getter and to modify it slightly.  

And I've spent a lot of time reflecting on this. A LOT.  At first it was because I felt attacked as a professional who spent a great deal of time working in childcare.  Later, I realized that there was more to it and have had time to step back and look at it a bit more objectively.  

I still don't agree with the overall tone of the post and I think it's past semantics at this point.  I think what still rubs me the wrong way is not the disagreement over what to call these experiences that happen before school, but the underlying assumption that some parents cannot make the best choice for their children.  To be fair, this is the concern I have with the push for universal PreK as well.  Don't get me wrong, I want PreK to be available for everyone who wants it and I want every effort made to let families know of the services provided.  

However, and this is a big one, I firmly believe that parents are the child's first teachers and decision makers for their future.  As educators, we can't presume to know what is best for every child and every family.  Yes, I one hundred percent agree that the first 5 years are essential in building brain connections and that early experiences are among the most important.  I still don't agree that there is only one best way to achieve this and I certainly don't agree that just because a family is in poverty or otherwise teamed "at risk" that educators know what is best for them.  We have to remember that risk factors such as poverty are a larger systematic problem and that school alone won't "fix" it.  Our role is to support and strengthen families in whatever way we can and in whatever ways fit that particular family's context.  

Formal PreK may not be the best choice for every family.  Some families may (rightfully, in my opinion) decide that while their child is 3 and 4 the best place for them is at home, learning their home language and cultural values.  What then can we do to support these families that choose this?  What can we do to support these children, who may not have the same school readiness* skills as children that attended formal PreK when they enter kindergarten?  Can we think outside of ourselves and reflect that maybe they are learning different skills and that these skills are assets as well?

When thinking about children and families, can we think in the grey area rather than assuming that one choice is the best for everyone?

*I have a whole different rant on the whose idea of school readiness we are talking about....

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Beauty is a Side-Effect

Fair warning, this post has been sitting in my draft folder since November.  NOVEMBER!  It's been a very busy and exhausting year as evident by the fact that I never seem to post anymore.  Ever.  I chalk it up to the vast amount of documentation I do for school and the juggling of jobs I do.

Anyway...it is once again time for the #Kinderchat Summer Blog Challenge and that generally sends me on a bit of a blogging spree.  As luck would have it, the first challenge is to put a post out there that has been left in the shadows and I'm also preparing for a presentation on collaborative art that I will be giving later this summer...as they say, serendipity.

One of the things I've enjoyed the most about my new school is that we have a studio; a room dedicated to making messes, connections, and often beauty.  The studio is a symbol for a collective, underlying belief in the arts as a way for children to share their ideas and to build relationships, both with other humans and with the materials themselves.  As a staff, we like beautiful things.  We lovingly and intentionally collect materials for our classrooms, displaying them with the utmost care to create invitations of wonder.  We place a lot of value on the children's work and take care to document the process and results.

But, you know what?  The beauty is a side-effect.  An afterthought to a much larger and more important process.  It is the process of mess making, of mistake making, of collaboration that goes into the work; these are the reasons I get up and go to work every day.  It is in building relationships with the materials that the children are learning a trade, a craft, an appreciation.  It is in trying a processes over and over and over again that the children are learning persistence, a drive to always learn and build on skills.  It is through working in collaboration with other children, teachers, and families that the children are learning about working towards a common goal, of community and shared ideas, of not always having the final word.  It is through the act of looking deeply and closely at the details that the children are learning to slow down, to look beyond the first thought, to question.

We create a lot of beautiful things in our day to day work.  We also create a lot of things that are not so beautiful.  And that's okay too, because the beauty is a side-effect, not the end game.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Not the Terrible Twos, but the Wonderful Twos

I'm in the midst of parent-teacher conferences for my 2 year old classes and I've begun to cringe every time a well meaning parent calls this time in their child's development "the terrible twos".  I'm sure the parents now all think I have a weird affect or something because they all say it and it makes me cringe every time.

I've spend a year working closely with 18 two year olds and they are anything but terrible.

They are curious; tiny scientists eagerly trying to figure out their world.

They are brave; every experience is new and frightening and exciting.

They are problem solvers; they think of solutions that get the job done.

They are loving; they are so interested in people around them.

They are joyful; the littlest and the biggest events are causes for celebration.

They are kind; taking care of babies and serving tea to teachers tops their list each day.

They are silly; playful in a way that older children forget.

They are collaborative; even in their parallel play they can work towards a common goal.

The 2 year old years are anything but terrible.  They are a wonderful, engaging time of development in which the tiny humans are figuring out what it is to be social, what it means to be a member of this world.  Yes, it is a year often filled with defiance, with tears, with misunderstandings, but it is within these trials that the 2 year olds learn about themselves and others.  

So, please, let's stop calling it the "terrible twos".  Let's instead embrace the amazing journey that is this age, remembering that behind all the tears and acts of childhood anarchism are little people learning how to be.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Breaking the Rules

One of the things I quickly noticed at my new school was the lack of posted rules.  There were no lists of rules, guidelines, or expectations, either teacher generated or child generated, in any of the classrooms.  It was one of the things that I liked most about the school.  To me, the lack of posted rules shows a powerful respect for the children and the community they build with each other and the teachers.  This doesn't mean there is chaos and that everything goes; on the contrary, the classrooms are among the calmest and most productive I've ever seen.  Conflicts are thoughtfully dealt with as they arise and teachers spend a large amount of time building relationships with children.

And yet....

And yet I've begun to look beneath the surface and although there are no posted rules, there are unwritten rules that permeate our space.  Rules that I am starting to think the teachers don't always know why they have them.  Rules that have just been the "way things are" for so long that no body questions them.

                   And yet... I break so many of them all the time.

Children are told that they can't climb up the slides on the playground and yet the JK kids I teach in enrichment gleefully climb up the slides when with me.

Children are told that they can't bring the toys or materials on the climbing structures on the playground and yet those same JK kids bring the snow shovels to the very top while I watch.

Families are told that children shouldn't bring toys from home and yet many of my 2 year olds have small tokens that sneak out of their pockets or a security blanket tucked under their arms.

Families are told that they must drop their children off at the carpool line and yet my co-teacher and I have all of our 2 year old families walking their children all the way in to the classroom to say goodbye each day.

Teachers hover anxiously as the children jump on the trampoline and yet I sat back on Monday and watched the children jump dangerously and quite recklessly, sometimes landing on each other at their dismount.

Children are told to all walk the same direction, one at a time, over the little wooden bridge and yet I enjoy watching two 2 year olds meet in the middle, going opposite directions, and negotiate how to get down.

Children are told they shouldn't build with the blocks above their waist and yet I let my 2 year olds build with abandon and am their to provide cuddles if their epic towers crash on to them.

I enjoy breaking the rules.  I think it's sometimes how we learn the most.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The View from the Bus: #Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Day 15

It's Wordless Wednesday at the #Kinderchat Blog Challenge: "What's the view from your window?" 

This is the view from the bus window as I leave a staff meeting at the Children's Museum.