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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, 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.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

This Week in the Classroom: #Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Day 14

Today's #Kinderchat Blog Challenge asks us what is one thing we want to do with our class this week.

Well, I have three different groups per week, so I have three different things instead of one.

For my Monday studio group, I wanted to engage new students from the morning 3's group in their "beautiful alphabet" project that 3 of their classmates initiated in November.  ....And I did! 2 students who had never ventured into the studio space excitedly came in asking which letters were left to build.  Apparently all of the children in this class had been sharing their excitement over the "beautiful alphabet" and the idea that they are building something that will be a gift to their classroom.

For my Tuesday/Wednesday young 2's group, I want to help my two newest children and their families feel confident and ready to separate.  We've all been working to build trust, relationships, and comfort in the space and the children are ready.  The parents are ready too...everyone just needs a little extra love and support.

For my Thursday/Friday group of 2's, I am looking forward to seeing their reactions to the new dramatic play invitation.  My co-teacher and I worked with the other teaching team we share space with and re-imagined our dramatic play into a grocery store.  We have canvas bags from local stores, a conveyer belt and cash register, shopping carts, and items from around the children's homes.  I snuck in and saw the 2/3's group using the space today and they were so busy.  It was fantastic.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Movin' and Groovin' (in my slippers): #Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Days 12 and 13

Oops! I missed yesterday's blog challenge.  So here is a short bit for yesterdays and the a little list for today's #Kinderchat Challenge.

Yesterday's prompt asked what our "go to" piece of clothing was.  I would have to say that my slippers when the top spot at the moment.  I dislike socks and shoes and generally prefer to be barefoot.  Obviously that isn't possible at work or in the winter.  So I compromise by wearing slippers; I have a pair stashed at school, at the museum, and at home.

Okay! Here's my Monday List- 5 Songs that Make me Dance (and Sing):

1. Big Parade (and Hoy Hey) by The Lumineers

2. Wake Me Up by Aloe Blacc

3. Let Her Go by Passenger

4. I Will Wait by Mumford & Sons

5. King and Lionheart by Of Monsters and Men

Saturday, January 11, 2014

#Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Days 10 and 11

I sort of spaced out on writing my #Kinderchat Blog Challenge post yesterday.  So this is a 2 in 1...yesterdays would have been fairly short anyway.

Day 10: If I won the lottery I would....
Honestly? I don't have any grand dreams about what I would do with a lottery windfall.  Rather, I would pay of all of my (many) dollars in student loans, put some aside so that I would actually have a savings, and then donate the rest to the volunteer organization I lead programs through.

Day 11: A book that always gets me teary...
Seeing as I cry at the drop of the hat this should be easy...but I also read a ton of books, which makes it hard to narrow it down.  I always cry when Beth dies in Little Women and when Professor Dumbledore (not to mention Dobby the Elf!) dies in the Harry Potter series; basically all of book 7 makes me cry.  Of course Where the Red Fern grows makes me sob along with Summer of the Monkeys.

Okay, short and sweet. I will try to make tomorrow's post have more substance.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Before the School Day Begins: #Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Day 9

Today's #Kinderchat Blog Challenge asks us to share our morning...before we go to school.

My typical school day starts early....alarm goes off at 5:30. (Yes, unfortunately you read that right.)

I'm out of the house by 6:30 so that I can walk the 15-20 minutes to the commuter train. On that train for 20 minutes.  Fortunately the train station is next to Starbucks.  Walk another 10 minutes to school.

At school by 7:30. Depending on the day I have a varying amount of set up to do.  Mondays mean setting up the studio for 2 or 3 classes and their particular projects or setting up the studio for a parent-child exploration day.  Tuesdays and Wednesdays mean getting the studio turned around so I can teach  small group of 2 year olds in it.  Thursdays and Fridays mean transforming the young 3's room into a space for my larger group of young 2s to have class.  There's a lot of running around and setting materials up in an inviting manner.

By 8:20 it's a quick trip to the coffee maker, a check in with either my co-teacher or the other teachers,  a check in with the office manage to see if any children are going to be out for the day, a "fight" for a turn to use the ONE grown up restroom (another teacher and I crack up because it's usually one of us waiting on the other) and then it's off to carpool line by 8:45 to greet the children and families.

 (This is why it takes so long to set up the room each day...)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wordless Wednesday, A Favorite Part of the Classroom: #Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Day 8

It's Wordless Wednesday over at the #Kinderchat Blog Challenge.

Share a photo of your favorite place in your classroom:

(Part of the garden, my outdoor classroom)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Before the End of the Year: #Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Day 7

Day 7 of the #Kinderchat Blog Challenge and I'm going strong! We'll see if I can keep it up once I go back to work tomorrow.  Today we are thinking our class and what we want to do before the end of the year.

For each of the groups of children I work with in the studio, my young 2s, and the families, I have simple wishes before the end of the year.  I want...

To see interests grow and creativities discovered.

To see confidence built.

To see and hear body shaking laughter.

To see messes made.

To see risks taken, both physical and emotional.

To see them fail and try again.

To hear language emerge...all the languages of children.

To see relationships nourished.

To see dancing and singing with abandon.

To seeing personalities emerge.

Monday, January 6, 2014

What's in the Bag: #Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Day 6

Today's #Kinderchat Blog Prompt will be short and sweet; a list asking for 5 things in the bag we take to work with us.  So here are 5 of the many things that are in my bag; some people live out of their car, I live out of a bag.

This is actually my "small bag"...which gives you an idea of how much stuff can be crammed into my large bag!

I always carry a small notebook and pen.  It's easier to write down random ideas or quotes or anything I want to remember in a notebook than my iPad or computer when on the go.

I keep all of my commuter passes and my school key in my bag so they don't go missing the day I'm running late.

My computer is small and light so it generally travels to my jobs with me.  I find it easer to document and send emails on my computer than the shared ones at school.  It also allows me to read my graduate students' papers in my down time. 

I always have a small bottle of lotion for my hands.  Lately I'm really enjoying Bath and Body Works' stress relief. 

Mints and pain reliever...can't leave home with out them. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Would I Be Brave Enough: #Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Day 5

On this frigid Sunday evening, the #Kinderchat Blog Challenge question asks in what historical era would we live if given the choice?  I wish that I had the opportunity to live in 1960's America.

As I've thought about this prompt throughout the day, my mind kept circling back to a video I watched a couple of years ago in a course centered around the social and historical factors of early childhood care and education.  The video was a documentary of the beginning of Head Start  and Lyndon B. Johnson's so called "War on Poverty" in the 1960s.  As with any federal undertaking, Head Start's government founders had their own political agendas, however it is the conviction and passion of the teachers and mothers that I observed in the video that hit me.  These amazing women took a political agenda and shaped it to serve children and families.  At the same time, in 1966, 3 amazingly smart women founded my much loved graduate school, Erikson Institute.  This was a time when the importance of early childhood education was barely on anyone's radar and yet a host of teachers, parents, and community members thoughtfully and adamantly put child development on the map. 

At the same time, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing.  Rosa Parks reused to move to the back of a bus, children like Ruby Bridges bravely demanded equal educational opportunities, Martin Luther King Junior was inspiring change, and young people across the nation were standing up for what they believed in.  The 1960s were a powerful time of activism and belief in social justice.  This was a time that set the stage for change, that laid the groundwork for social protests and community voice, that ordinary people sparked extraordinary change.

The type of change that shakes people and a nation to their core.  The type of change that people die for.  The type of change that inspires the future.  And I wonder if I would have been daring enough, confident enough, willful enough, brave enough to participate in that amount of social change?  

I hope so.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

When I Was Little: #Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Day 4

Today's #Kinderchat Blog Challenge's prompt asks the age old question, "when you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

Do you expect me to say teacher?  I bet you do, it would only seem natural since I have been working with children from the time I was 12.  Honestly? I'm not sure I ever really wanted to be a teacher until undergrad and even then I wavered during student teaching.  It's a lot of commitment, picking a label to define one's self! And yet, here I am, teaching...but with my broader definition of teaching.

Anyways, I am meandering.  As a young child, I wanted to be Madonna.  I spent hours dancing around and singing, "I am a cheerio girl".  When I was 10, I wanted to be a novelist.  I even asked for (and received!) a typewriter for Christmas.  In 8th grade, I wanted to be a radiologist for all of a year. I can't even remember why; I know we took one of those fill in the bubble aptitude tests and mine said I should work in the medical field, but I hate blood.  In 11th grade, we were required to take the ASVAP (military entrance exam...very small rural school) alongside the ACT and I scored very high and began to receive endless recruitment calls...thought it would save me from making a career decision, but quickly decided that I'm not the military type of girl.

And then I graduated and needed to declare a major so I went with education.  And I still felt a little unsettled, right up until I found the masters program at Erikson and realized that there was a broad range of things I could do in the best interest of young children and families that wasn't necessarily teaching.

So there you have it, how I accidentally became, and enjoy, being a teacher.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Best of 2013: #Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Day 3

Today's #Kinderchat blog prompt is to share the best thing (s) about 2013.  2013 was a challenging year, intellectually, professionally, and personally.  It was a year that pushed me to reflect deeply and stretch beyond my comfort zone.

Within those challenges, however, were a few notable high points.

I led my 6th Chicago Cares Serve-a-Thon, this time at a "VIP" site where I gave my orientation speech in front of Chelsea Clinton.  I will continue to fight for social justice and advocacy through volunteering into 2014 and beyond. 

After 3 intense years of study and reflection I graduated with my Master's Degree in Child Development.

With a lot of kicking and screaming I turned 30 and celebrated by painting and drinking with friends.

I began to re-investigate my creative interests through book making and rediscovering my guitar.

I started my current teaching job as an alterista and 2s teacher. 

Here's hoping that 2014 brings more moments of joy and hopefully some traveling.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Resolution: #Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Day 2

Today's prompt for the #kinderchat blog challenge is to write about one resolution we have for the year.

I saw this penguin staring down a rubber duck at the aquarium.
I love his confidence and the fact that he's not backing down.

I'm not one for rash resolutions just because it's the new year; but I am for creating change, reflection and continued improvement.  There are several things that I have recently begun or am planning to start/get back into, but ultimately they all contribute to my one resolution, something that I have been reflecting on and working upon for the past year.

This year, I am resolving to try to be confident.  

I'm hoping to do this in ways both big and small that add up to me beginning to trust myself and my decisions and not to agonize over every choice after the fact.  Change doesn't come suddenly, it takes work and reflection and messing up and trying again.  I know that there is a lot of work I need to do with the taking care of me; to begin I am going to (try) to stop apologizing for things that don't need an apology because I'm quite guilty of saying "I'm sorry" when someone else bumps into me or when someone is angry near me or.....the list is embarrassingly long.  I'm also going to try to be more confident in my casual, day to day interactions with people.  Like many people, I am not overly happy with my physical appearance and, as a result, I often look down when walking down the street or display nervous body postures when talking to those I don't know well-all of which come across as slightly aloof, not a reflection I want to give.

As I work hard to show better confidence in small ways, I also want to work on my professional confidence.  In a detached way, I know that I understand child development and working with families and young children deeply and am able to apply this understanding in my work and in professional conversations.  But, in the day to day, I second guess myself constantly.  Especially when confronted.  On a practical level, I need to be more confident in what I know and do so that the families I work with are able to feel secure in our relationships.  On a professional level, confidence in my knowledge and practice is necessary for the eventual direction I want to take in the field of early childhood care and education.  On a political level, teachers of young children need to be confident in what we do in a way that allows us to defend play, children and families, and our profession.

This is my resolution for change.  One I hope is realistic and one I know will be a lot of hard work.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Photo to Represent 2013: #Kinderchat Blog Challenge, Day 1

In an effort to bring blogging back to my reflective practice, I'm planning to participate in the Kinderchat 30 Day Blog Challenge as a way to reinvigorate this blog.  Make sure to check out the blogs of the other wonderful early childhood educators participating in the challenge!

Day 1: Wordless (mostly) Wednesday: A Photo (s) to represent 2013

2013: Attempting to Defy Gravity