Reflecting on the Hundred Ways of Thinking Conference

Inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, Suzanne Axelsson, from Sweden, shared her ways of approaching early learning with a group of 250 Early Childhood Educators from various parts of British Columbia. The conference organizer, Marayam Nadaaf, was passionate about finding ways to allow people to travel to the conference and thanks to the travel bursary, I was able to attend as were many others who came from outside of Vancouver.

Suzanne explored the idea of weaving dialogue and technology with young children. She showed us her journal of questions, and in the same spirit, I’d like to share some of the questions that came up for me including some questions posed by Suzanne.

Conference Room at Croation Cultural Centre in Vancouver, B.C.

What does it mean to wonder? How can we encourage a sense of wonder in children?

How to we develop curiosity in children? Is curiosity different from wonder?

Suzanne argued that if we set up just the right challenge for children; find the sweet spot between too easy and too difficult, then children will become curious and engaged.

In our play experience with the marbles and clothes pins I became that curious learner as we attempted to create a marble run that would last exactly 5 seconds. Participating in the experience was like being a child when all sense of time falls away and your parents call you for dinner and you think it couldn’t possibly be dinner time already but it is.

I believe it is helpful for us as teachers to put ourselves in the shoes of the children from time to time as we did here at the conference. It gives us a greater understanding of what we ask of them when the play session ends and it is time to move to something new.

More questions that came up…

What does it mean to slow down and focus on children? What more can we learn by slowing down? How can we find opportunities for joy? How can we allow children to explore all of their emotions in a safe environment?

In what ways might children use these loose parts? How might we challenge children with these materials?

What if instead of talking to parents about risky play we talked about play with uncertain outcomes? How can we find ways for children to do their own assessment of outcomes? What kind of social or emotional challenges can be set up with uncertain outcomes? Where is the sweet spot for learning?

What would happen if we try new ways of offering paint? Can we offer 1 color for each child (but not the same color)? What other new strategies or ways of offering materials can we come up with? How will those limitations or different ways of offering support finding the sweet spot for learning?

How do children come to know things? What forms of knowledge might we pursue with children?

“Play is needed to convert facts into knowledge.” – S.A.

What are some of the ways children can use imagination? How might we bring more opportunities for imagination?

“If knowledge is an island, imagination is the coastline.” – S. A.

It flows from this that helping children gain knowledge can assist with their developing imaginations. I think of a child I currently work with who loves animals. She recently told me she was pretending to be “a horse on the Savannah.” To me this illustrates the example as her understanding and knowledge of what it means to be a horse is extended by her understanding of the habitat of the Savannah.

I recognize that my post is full of questions but that is what being a reflective educator is all about. I hope these questions helped bring new insight into your thinking about young children and how they learn, particularly for people who wished to attend the conference but were unable to be there.

Oh, and in case you were wondering. I still have my cold; I think I just need a few more days and it will be gone.

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Have a wonderful day!

Sidney, B.C. Two Hundred Boxes!

About 5 years ago, when I first began working at Sidney Preschool, I introduced a new and special day to our program. I called it our Cardboard Box Extravaganza! We had our parents collect and bring in boxes and the children were give some simple materials to work with as well as an opportunity to use their creativity to go wherever their imaginations may take them with the collection of boxes. This was a huge hit! And each year proved to be a little different as new children and parents brought their own unique ideas to the event.

Small boxes can be great for creative minds as well.

And that is why it does my heart such good to see this event taking place in Sidney. Two Hundred Boxes is an event for the whole family and takes place February 16th from 10 am to 4 pm at the ArtSea Gallery in Tulista Park. I have no idea how this event came to be but what a wonderful opportunity for family and community engagement. Castles, towers, tunnels, neighbourhoods, forts, planes or trains could all be part of your experience as you work with the boxes. This event is totally free of charge. Kudos to the Community Arts Council for organizing!

And because I am a huge supporter of children’s literature, let me add a couple of great picture books that encourage creativity with cardboard boxes. Not a Box by Antoinette Portis and What To Do With a Box by Jane Yolen. Do you know some other great books on the same subject? Have you and your children created something amazing and wonderful with a cardboard box? Share in the comments.

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Play Grows Brains.

When you hear that play helps with brain development, what kind of play do you imagine?

I would define play as self-directed, freely chosen, and intrinsically motivated activities.

Makers of electronic toys would have us believe that we need these educational toys to ‘teach’ our children something. And yet the research has shown that the most simple toys that do not actually ‘do’ anything (non-electronic) are the best for play. It turns out that the electronic toys do not encourage parent-child interaction, whereas the simpler toys do allow for more interaction. It is those interactions (often compared to the serve and return) that facilitate neural development.

Glitter bottles
Sensory bottles are simple to make and are wonderful playthings.
Creative play with basic materials is so valuable!

Simon Nicholson’s Theory of Loose Parts has been a force in early childhood education and shows how play with basic materials above promotes creativity and discovery.

Do you imagine play in organized programs like gymnastics, soccer, swim lessons, piano lessons, karate, t-ball, and others? Yes, these programs may have a playful element; however, are they self-directed? Are children intrinsically motivated to participate? Maybe. And maybe not. In my opinion, organized sports are best saved for children ages 8 and up.

Read this Harvard Research Brief, The Science of Early Childhood Development to learn more.

Aside from educational benefits, there is another less obvious reason to promote children’s self-directed, freely chosen, intrinsically motivated play, one that is biological. In a review in the American Journal of Play (yes, there really is a scholarly journal on play), evidence is provided from controlled studies in rats and some primates. These studies show that when young animals are encouraged to play they develop improved social competencecognition, and emotional regulation later in life. Play experience also makes them more adaptable to unexpected situations.

Do children need commercially produced toys to improve their development?

No. That is all just toy company marketing.

It turns out the ‘toys’ that are going to benefit children’s development are for the most part free and easy to collect. And this is very good news for young families who are on a budget.

Reference:

Suggested citation: Center on the Developing Child (2007). The Science of Early Childhood Development (InBrief). Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.

Lego Inspiration at the Sidney Museum

Here’s a wonderful event that we are so lucky to have here in Sidney! On now through March at the Sidney Museum, there is a popular Lego Exhibition. https://sidneybia.ca/calendar-event/lego-exhibition/

A gift from one of my piano students!

Have a look at all of the displays and be inspired to see what you can create. At our house, we have quite a lego collection and though some of it is sorted into actual sets, much of it is a jumble. That really is no matter, though because the random pieces allow for new projects to emerge; ones that don’t match the picture on the box. And for some of us, it is best to work without an end product in mind and just see what unfolds.

The endless possibilities of lego.

So take your family to the Sidney Museum and see what creative potential may emerge. Do you have a photo of your own lego creation or one done by your kids? I’d love it if you’d share! Let’s see your lego creations.

Summer Reading Challenge: Week 1

Welcome to a new weekly feature here on my author blog!  I’m participating in Rena Traxel’s summer reading challenge and having a ton of fun while reading and discovering new and different picture books.  Here are some photos from this week. Rena has challenged us to find new a different places to read with a different book each day.  By the end of the summer, I will have read 62 picture books!  Yay!  This is the perfect challenge to encourage me to research in becoming a skilled picture book writer.

July 1st:  I began with a bright red strawberry lemonade and enjoyed reading The Moccasin Goalie by William Roy Brownidge in celebration of Canada Day. After all what could be more Canadian than a story about a child who plays hockey on an outdoor ice rink while wearing moccasins? Read someplace in celebration.

July 2nd: Still celebrating from Canada Day, I moved my chair into a new spot and chose another Canadian picture book, When We Go Camping by Margriet Ruurs and Andrew Kiss.  This book tells the story of the camping experience while at the same time serves as a search and find book with opportunities to look for animals camouflaged in their natural habitat.  It has a very Canadian feeling. Read someplace new.

July 3rd: I found a swing! The Best Places to Read by Debbie Bertram, seemed a perfect choice for this reading spot.  Though I’m not sure a swing like this one is best for reading as it makes holding on and swinging a little tricky.  Still fun!  Read on a swing.

July 4th: This was a week of hiking for me so I decided to take books along to some of my hiking spots.  The first book was Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik which I took along to the Kinsol Trestle Bridge (built in 1920) where we hiked for the morning…14.8 km in my new hiking boots. No bears in sight on this hike. Whew! Read someplace old.

July 5th: We found a magical spot in East Sooke Park and my friend, Sara, asked me to read to her so I did: Spotted Owlets by Victoria Miles and Elizabeth Gatt was my book of choice.  Read someplace magical.

July 6th: We found the perfect log while hiking in the Mystic Beach area and stopped to read The Owl and the Pussycat with illustrations by Stefanie Jorisch.  This was just the right seaside location as the book begins “The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat”; I can picture them out for a ride… Read on a log.IMG_4873

July 7th: I sat on a park bench near my home to read this picture book about a very difficult topic: living in a residential school.  Though this is not a part of our history to be proud of, we certainly do not want to ignore the injustices done to children in these British Columbia schools.  Bravo for dealing with a difficult topic and making it appropriate for children.  The book is titled Shin-chi’s Canoe is by Nicola I. Campbell.  Read on a bench.IMG_4903
What will I be reading next week? Check back and find out!  And though it is too late to join Rena’s challenge, you can still read along with me all summer!  It’s easy, just pick a new book each day and try reading someplace new each day OR follow along with locations from Rena’s blog.

 

Blog Giveaway This Week!  You can win a free picture book, my own, Katie Shaeffer Pancake Maker.  Giveaway closes midnight tonight, Pacific time.  Visit my blog at http://www.cindyscreativecorner.wordpresss.com to enter.

A Book Designed to Inspire

One of the many thoughts in my mind as I was writing Katie Shaeffer, Pancake Maker involved inspiration.  I love the way that picture books can inspire children’s play and I wanted to create a picture book that would inspire children to construct their own unique creations out of free reusable items that are readily available at home.

“Katie Shaeffer loved building things, she loved collecting things and most of all she loved pancakes.”img_2822

The story was written in part for myself as a preschool teacher, as I wanted a great picture book that could be a jumping off point for activities like this one.  I like to provide children with assorted sizes of cardboard boxes.  They use tape and scissors to construct a creation of their own choosing.

The learning opportunities here are so plentiful.  Children learn to use scissors and tape effectively.  This takes huge amounts of skill and focus for three and four year olds but they can do it.  Children develop confidence in their abilities as their fine motor skills improve.  Because the project is of a child’s own choosing, the child is highly motivated to complete the task and will spend more time working towards their goal.

I love this because it only requires scissors, tape and boxes.  Sometimes children like to paint their creations as well.  Some children have constructed creations and then taken them home to play with over and over again.  Just imagine how it would feel to be three or four years old and create your own toy!

I hope that Katie Shaeffer, Pancake Maker will inspire you and your children to construct unique creations from a panoply of recycled items just as Katie did in the story.

Katie Shaeffer, Pancake Maker will be available soon.  Check back here at my author website for updates!

Getting Inspiration

For me, inspiration comes from a variety of sources. Katie Shaeffer, Pancake Maker was inspired in part by the book Loose Parts , Inspiring Play in Young Children written by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky.

The book is full of beautiful photographs of loose parts arranged to inspire play in young children.  Here are a few examples that I photographed from the book.  There are many many more in the book itself so I would highly recommend purchasing the book for your own inspiration as a parent or as an educator.  Or at least borrow it from the library!  It really highlights the endless possibilities that loose parts can present.

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And during the time I have been using loose parts theory in the preschool classroom I have witnessed many projects that children have undertaken.  These projects have also served as inspiration for the story.  I hope that Katie and Baxter from my story Katie Shaeffer Pancake Maker will inspire young children to take on more creative projects using items they and their parents or teachers have collected!

Have you or your child created something using loose parts?  Maybe you are an educator who has been using loose parts theory in the classroom like me.  Send a photo of your project to authorcynthiamackey@gmail.com and I would be happy to feature it here on my author blog.

In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”  -Architect, Simon Nicholson

This post was written in response to the Daily Post Discover Challenge   Mixing Media.