Lessons in Learning: Familiarity Breeds Competence

I am a floater: using the “Amazingly Awesome” boards in Pinterest, surfing the blog-o-sphere for an afternoon  to carefully engineer the next great experience for my Abundant Life crew.  I float from one good idea to the next.  It’s not a trait I am altogether aware of, proud of, or would tout as “best practice” among my early childhood colleges.  The reason is this: while novelty spikes a momentary flurry of activity, familiarity is the fertile ground from which competence can bloom.  Unless children are afforded numerous and extended periods of time with the same materials, they can’t deepen their understanding of the why, the what if or the when behind its workings.  Take my awesome pipe construction set (thank you, Do It Yourself Early Learning).  I purchased the materials, and with the help of my ceaselessly talented and supportive partner-in-crime (thank you, Ezra!), cut the pieces to length and introduced them to the crew.  But I didn’t get them out very often.  They fit so neatly on one of the shelves up high in our space, and took forethought to pull them out of their bin.  Out of sight = out of mind, and the crew didn’t ask for me to take them down.  Plus, now that I had introduced them, I moved onto the next greatest experience.


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.


Rainbow Party!

Our rainbow on the ceiling

A few weeks ago, we were walking home from the park when it started to rain – one of those spring rains with large drops and still visible blue sky and sunshine.  Rainbows!  Look for the rainbows!  The crew and I started looking, but couldn’t find one that day.  When we got home, we started talking about rainbows – where they are, what colors they are made of, what letters are in the word, how to create rainbows from primary colors…all of the logical extensions of a near rainbow sighting.  I was inspired by some of the pictures posted by For the Children during preschool tours to create some rainbow art, and we ended up with a masterpiece! (more…)

All Things Beautiful

“Children are miracles. Believing that every child is a miracle can transform the way we design for children’s care. When we invite a miracle into our lives, we prepare ourselves and the environment around us. We may set out flowers or special offerings. We may cleanse ourselves, the space, or our thoughts of everything but the love inside us. We make it our job to create, with reverence and gratitude, a space that is worthy of a miracle!” – Anita Rui Olds (in Designs for Living and Learning)


Early childhood educators are known for their ability to make gold out of someone else’s recycle bin (to be honest, there is gold to be found in the dumpster as well!).   I have written before about the value of repurposing soon-to-be-recycled stuff into fine works of art or ingenious open-ended play materials.  Those of us in early childhood professions often find ourselves at the mercy of tiny budgets, and work to create environments out of a conglomerate of discarded hand-me-downs – not that there is one ounce of anything wrong with creating environments out of second-hand materials, but beauty often takes a backseat to functionality when it comes to early childhood space design.


Boats and Watercolor

We didn’t dilute our water color today.  We pulled out red, yellow, and blue, and armed with full-strength color, we painted strokes of beauty and creativity on thick, absorbent watercolor paper.  We used white crayons to create a color resist, we pressed down masking tape before adding color to protect some area of our pages for a striking white design, and we even soaked strips of paper in water first and then added color, watching the primary set bleed and then transform into the secondary.  (more…)

It’s complicated.

More than once, lawn envy has bested me: looking at my neighbors with perfectly manicured lawns, a single variety of thick blade grass mowed to a uniform height, glistening with morning dew.  Tempting, huh?  Since we moved into our Iowa home six years ago and began to tend our own landscape, I cannot seem to achieve the supposed lawn perfection, partly because I am uninterested in chemical solutions to the naturally concurring variety in our front and backyard ground cover (because of things like, you know, polluting our water table and children running barefoot through a chemically maintained lawn) but partly because it is just plain hard work!  Nature does everything in its power to diversify, and homogeneity is won through incredible force or unfair chemical advantage.  One thing I have learned through working with Backyard Abundance on our natural playscape is that the mark of a well established ecosystem is its diversity, and as human participants in our ecosystems, we do everything in our power to eliminate the diversity of our natural spaces.  Foolish humans.  I am grateful for the landscaping plan Backyard Abundance has drawn up because it embraces the natural penchant towards complexity and diversity and uses it strategically.  Plus, I made it clear that low maintenance was critical – like I have time to mow! – so our new landscape will have very (very) little mowing required!  Do I hear a halleluiah? (more…)