It started off simple enough. Shredded paper. Sensory tub. But by the time we were finished, we had bird’s eggs, buttons, feathers, sorting, nests, and (of course) some hand-eye-coordination practice via the vacuum cleaner. Part of my philosophy is that children (all people, really) deserve the right to engage their passions, follow their impulses, and control their learning, and that an outcome of making this kind of space for children is a set of lifelong learning skills that become the foundation for later success. As early childhood educators, we facilitate those endeavors by supporting the social and emotional interactions and offering materials to enable exploration.
If you’ve been following our adventures here at Abundant Life for very long now, you will know I am passionately devoted to open-ended play things for children: materials that spark creativity and imagination and leave the product wide open. Our shelves are filled an odd assortment of wooden spools, ceramic tile samples, and wooden trim pieces that serve a variety of purposes throughout the day. It was not until recently that I made the connection between my love for wordless picture books and my passion for open-ended materials. With wordless picture books, the storyline is left to the reader. And while there is one primary theme running throughout, the story can be retold thousands of different ways each time it is told.
I have a fantastic picture to share with you. This captures the heart of emergent, organic literacy development in action. At Abundant Life, I use emergent curriculum, which means that everything I offer the crew grows out of what they are already interested in – I don’t impose lesson plans of my own creation on their work unless my ideas were sparked by theirs, and in those cases, I rely on careful observations to see how my ideas are received. I have bailed more than once on what I thought would be a good idea for the sake of preserving the child-directed quality of my program. A group of children had created a play scenario with a baby tiger family, but was having a hard time keeping other children quiet so the baby tiger could sleep. I offered to Cadence the option to make a sign, that others might not know that the tigers are trying to sleep and a visual reminder might be the solution. We worked together to make this sign.
Discordance and synchronicity walk closely in young children’s relationships. Mutable dramatic play scripts pouring out of collective imaginations require sophistication to sustain. Incorrect assumptions assign malice where none is present in block tower topplings. At one moment, my friend and I are destined to remain friends forever, wedded bliss assured. At the next, the mere sight of each other elicits stomping and yelling. Consider the high-level social skills required for relationships: the ability to read body language and tone of voice, pick up on the subtleties of a heavy march or a raised eyebrow, or recognize internal states of being and a working vocabulary to aptly describe those moods. When day-to-day business revolves around pair and group play, consistently reading what my friends are verbally or non-verbally communicating insures that I am either in or out. And out is about as bad as it gets. (more…)
I’ve written about it before, but at Abundant Life, we sing all the time. We sing to mark special events, we sing to transition between activities, we sing when something special happens, we sing as we dress for the outside, we sing around the table at meal and snack time, we sing when we need help, and we sing just because we feel like singing. Singing does many things for our bodies and spirits: transforming our speech into melody with rhythm and accent, drawing us into a place of thoughtfulness about what we say and do, and connecting us with our inner creative muse. Singing in tempo swells our innate understanding of rhythm and patterns – foundational numeracy skills. Crafting spontaneous songs builds storytelling and rhyming skills which are at the heart of literacy.
There is a major push in early childhood education to build literacy skills — the skills necessary for children to read, write, think critically, and access knowledge. But this push begs the questions, Exactly how do children learn to read and write? and How do we best prepare our children for a life of learning? No doubt parents and teachers are under enormous pressure to mold the minds of their young ones earlier, more fervently, and with more insistence on demonstrating growth than ever before. Two decades ago, the thought that a child could learn to read before entering school was preposterous, but more and more, preschool teachers and parents of young children are being told that with enough enrichment, children can develop these literacy skills at younger ages. Advertisers have this niche market figured out — all parents want their children to be successful and to have the strongest chances in this competitive world, and with claims that appear to guarantee “success”, we’d be fools to look the other way, right? After all, research does prove that the seeds of early literacy are sown as early as infancy. What are we to do? I’ve been re-reading Einstein Never Used Flashcards and WOW, is it ever good! The authors do such a wonderful job of meshing research with best practice and making it all practical! Here is some of what the authors share: