Reflecting on the Hundred Ways of Thinking Conference: Philosophy with Children

Imagine a community of learners where children are teaching each other in collaboration. Imagine the idea of supporting individuals AND the group.

How do we bring children to be able to collaborate with one another?

A starting point is to begin to understand that what I see/feel is not the same as what you see/feel. For example, if a big dog runs up to you, do you jump up and down with excitement or hide behind the nearest tree? If you were about to get on a roller coaster would you feel excited? or frightened?

Metacognition is thinking about your thinking:

Play with loose parts.

How do we teach metacognition? Suzanne Axelsson uses questions to encourage children to think more abstractly. She gave the example: “What colour is Christmas? Why did you choose that colour? The ‘why’ is the important part. Suzanne tells us she has noticed that as children mature, their reasons for choosing the colour change.

Suzanne Axelsson tells us she records what children say, reads back what they say, and checks in with them and to see if it is accurate, then she adjusts accordingly. She mentioned that she sends the questions home a day in advance to families with children who may have trouble coming up with answers or are a bit shy to speak in the group so that they can practice at home first.

How do we teach listening, recognizing that 40 percent of communication is listening?

“We listen with eyes, ears, mind and heart.” S.A.

Suzanne brought up an important point about children who require extra support. Rather than just the adults sorting out how to support the child who needs it, what about asking the child’s classmates? What if we shifted the mindset from each child’s individual learning to learning while being supported by peers. How could we as educators encourage children to support one another in areas where they need help?

Loose parts provide endless possibilities and a springboard for communication.

My reflections:

Communication skills are the foundation of collaboration. So teaching these skills are key to working together as a group towards both individual and group success. When you think about the whole picture of communication skills, we are talking about reading, writing, speaking and listening. In my mind, greater value needs to be placed on speaking and listening. Early childhood educators have opportunities to encourage children to express themselves in full sentences and to listen to one another with the intent to fully understand. The process of asking questions and recording children’s answers and then going back to check the correctness of the written record is a really useful tool in the support of developing early literacy. During the process, the children get practice with speaking and listening skills AND they see reading and writing skills demonstrated for them. The model of writing and reading is the first step in learning these skills in the same way we model speaking and listening.

What will my next question be? I want to ask the children about their parents. If your Mom/Dad was an animal, what animal would they be? Why did you choose that animal? I’m looking forward to the discussion and cannot wait to hear their answers, especially to hear the reasons for their choice.

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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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Thank you for stopping by my blog. You are welcome here any time.

Have a wonderful day!

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.

Collections

Katie Shaeffer would just love this tray of miscellaneous items!  

It always amazes me how a simple collection of items can be so inspiring for a child.  My group of preschoolers can do amazing things with the most random objects.img_3206

“Katie assembled and constructed; she glued and she taped; she stacked and she hammered, until finally her creation was done.” -from Katie Shaeffer, Pancake Maker

Here are some real examples of creations made by young children with miscellaneous items:

img_3201

I believe young children are capable and can do amazing things if given the opportunity! That belief together with the inspiring creations I see children make daily helped inspire the story Katie Shaeffer, Pancake Maker!

Here’s a synopsis of the story:

Join Katie and her friend Baxter in this fun story as they use a passion for collecting and building to find a way to realize Katie‛s pancake dream! This upbeat energetic tale with great potential for reading aloud will appeal to adults and young children alike. The book includes a predictable rhyme that will have children chiming in as the story unfolds. Children will celebrate with Katie and Baxter as their pancake dream becomes reality! Recipe included. Author: Cynthia Mackey Illustrator: Paula Nasmith

Contact me if you are interested in receiving an advance review copy of the story! I hope to have these available soon.

authorcynthiamackey@gmail.com

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.