Parks in China, Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar, and India

In the last two months our family has spent time in six different countries, visiting parks in every location.  I have a growing theory that the casual observer can learn something about the culture from paying attention to the types of equipment in a playground and watching the ways that equipment is used by the children and the adults they are with.

My sampling of playgrounds from the countries in the title of this post (plus, the post I wrote a few weeks ago about parks in Japan) is very small, and I’m sure does not provide a clear overview of playgrounds across that country.  Still, I enjoy reflecting on our experiences in these parks and wondering what conclusions I can draw given my very limited experience. (more…)

Who’s Driving Your Car?

Process-oriented art a la Cadence

Metaphorically speaking.

I was at a park, sitting a few feet away from my very capable 1-year-old who was climbing up and down the stairs and skillfully maneuvering the slide.  The mother of a young toddler followed her daughter through the structure close to Desmond.   She spotted him, and looked concerned, thinking (I assume), “Where is this boy’s parent?  Should I intervene?”  She was alarmed – unaware of Desmond, his context, his mad climbing skills.  From my place, however, she was hovering – crowding her daughter’s exploration, and giving her daughter a false sense of competency.  Our eyes met almost immediately, and she asked, “Is he yours?”

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Learning from Children: 3 Lessons for a Full Life

To risk repeating a tired cliche, children know far more than they’re given credit for.  Frankly, many of their natural impulses move them along developmental trajectories swimmingly until we jump in and pull them off track.  Take eating, for example.  Did you know that typically developing children are born with the mechanisms to get food? (crying for mama paired with a powerful sucking reflex)  The natural sense for when they are full? (turning away from the bottle or breast)  And taste buds that differentiate safe and unsafe foods? (sweet = safe)  And then there’s motor movement.  Children – without interventions from us – will learn to stretch, roll, grasp, stand, run, skip, swing from the monkey bars, stand on one foot, and dance a powerful, impromptu, and uninhibited jig.  (Believe me — one such jig was danced in an oh-so-powerful and uninhibited manner this very morning!)  What about their insatiable drive for knowledge?  Manifesting in early infancy as an imitative protruding tongue, in toddler-hood as the oft declared NO!, and in the preschool intensity with the sand and water table – children passionately construct knowledge of the world around them like little sponges soaking up everything that brain wiring and hands-on experience affords.

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The Play Waltz

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.

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Water Crystals

Do you spend time foraging for materials that would be the pièce de résistance of any given sensory activity only to find those materials collecting dust on your art shelves months (or years!) later?  Me?  Guilty.  Majorly guilty.  I attend conferences and write feverishly as presenters give out suggestions for supplies that extend the learning of children in their programs, and then spend hours in the days following hunting them down online or locally only to set them on the shelf and look at them.  Look. At. Them.  What part of looking at a bottle of glitter glue, or staring at box of glow sticks, or creating in the presence of a wonderful bag of metallic balloons does any child any good?  It doesn’t even matter how expensive the materials were!  Often, the dust collectors set me back a couple of dollars at most!  Yet I typically fall into the trap of hoarding “my” supplies (who are they for again?) and doling them out sparingly – preferring to stick with safer and more known materials like play dough and paint.  And I even tend to guard those materials with the sharp eyes of a hawk.  (more…)