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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.

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.