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…)

A Glimpse…

Looking at the world through sequins.

Frequently throughout the day, encounters occur that I wish I could capture in their fullness – the spirits of the children involved, the intensity of the negotiations, or the passion behind the artistic expressions.  Suffice it to say that young children are deeply feeling beings, and they have no social stigma about announcing to the world in all their passion exactly how it is that they are feeling.  Pure joy or raw creativity – it is all wrapped up in such a small body, looking for expression.  Occasionally, I am able to capture some of the emotion through pictures. Here are some of the shots from the last week or two.

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We eat a lot of peanut butter.

All of the food at Abundant Life is vegetarian.  I work hard to serve healthy and well-balanced meals, peanut butter included.  But my motivation for serving snacks and meals with peanut butter changed when I saw pictures posted by Jeff Johnson of Explorations Early Learning of another family childcare provider’s do-it-yourself blocks (check them out here)  made out of empty peanut butter jars.  I knew we had to increase our consumption and make our own set.  You would be surprised at how quickly we can go through peanut butter around here!  After all, we eat it on rice cakes, graham crackers, as a dip for apples and carrots, in hot dog buns with bananas for a lunchtime favorite, “banana dogs”…but I digress.

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