17 from ’17

Last year I was challenged by a professional Facebook group I belong to to choose 16 photos that best describe my program. This year the challenge was extended again this time using 17 photos. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do because we are so much more than 17 photos! Those that know me know that I take thousands of photos throughout the year. Choosing just 17 is nearly impossible but it does give me a chance to reflect on our past and plan for our future. As I write this post, I’ve only narrowed down my choices to 40. Let’s see if I can stick to 17 to describe our program:

1. Problem solving skills are something you need to have to become a successful member of the community. Problem solving skills are not something inherent. You need lots of opportunities to practice. This particular problem involved a little yellow ball being stuck in a tree. The littles came up with their own plan (or 3) to get the ball down. They compared and contrasted their own heights, they measured the length of the tools they choose to use and they formulated & tested hypotheses on how to get the ball down. They were ultimately unsuccessful as the ball was at an angle that even the tallest big person could not reach. Questions were posed “what else can you think of that might make you taller?” Stacking crates were thought of but quickly abandoned due to the tree roots and instability of the crates. They accepted defeat with grace and moved on to another problem to solve. Experiencing failure and disappointment is something that is vital to the problem solving process. If an adult steps in and saves you every time you fail or make a mistake, you will never learn how to adjust your theory and figure out a different way, so that ladder in the shed that could have easily solved this particular problem will stay where it is until a little figures it out.

2. Teamwork is as important as problem-solving skills. Littles need real work to do and to feel that they are needed. Working together toward a common goal is a skill and requires practice. Our littles help in various ways around the Co-op. They build the pallet bridge when it rains hard so that moms & dads can get to the Chameleon classroom without puddle boots on. They help carry in the groceries when I get back from the store, They carry water bottles, art supplies, shoe baskets and anything else that needs to go from outside to inside or inside to outside.Sure it would be quicker, easier and a whole lot neater for an adult to do all these things but the only message that sends to a little is “I don’t trust you”.

3 through 7. Reasonable Risky Play. Notice I said risky not dangerous. There is a difference. Risk can be physical or emotional. Littles at the Co-op have opportunity to explore both. Allowing plenty of opportunity for reasonable risk-taking decreases the chance of our littles developing motor and sensory delays and poor spatial awareness. Did you know that children who are not allowed daily practice with reasonable physical risk-taking can become more accident prone and unsafe in the long run? Examples of physical risk are pictured here. Standing on a chair to stack blocks, standing on a slide and being confident enough to allow another to slide through. using a ramp to climb up and building up high. In each of these examples, an adult is close at hand but trusts the little’s ability to decide what they are comfortable with. In each instance, the little has practiced with these concepts on a smaller scale working up to what is pictured.

Each time a little reaches out to another is an emotional risk. “Will they like the game I just thought of?” “Will they be my friend today?” Elementary concepts but potentially scary none-the-less. Voicing opinions, listening to others, compromise, collaboration  are all part of playing and working together and littles need time and space to practice these concepts. We all know some adults that don’t quite have this down yet, don’t we?

8 and 9. Babies! We only accept 5 infants at a time because we want to make sure that we are providing an enriching environment and not simply meeting just the physical needs of our youngest littles. We cuddle, nurture and provide lots of opportunity and time to explore familiar materials in their environment. Infants have an incredibly long attention span if allowed the time to fully explore.

10.Families play an important role around here. As part of conditions for enrollment, families must volunteer a minimum of 15 hours each year. Volunteer time can be as hands-on as lending a hand in the classrooms to as hands-off as tracking down requested items for donation. We have parties and family outings that count toward “Co-op time” as well as our annual family workday. We could not do everything we do without family support!

11 and 12. Providing a child-led play-based learning environment doesn’t mean that we reject academic learning. It just means that we do it in a different way. Our environments are set with traditional academic concepts in mind, concepts like math, science, reading, writing. The materials are available for the children to engage with. We wait for them to choose to engage. We could spend hour upon frustrating hour forcing 3 & 4 year olds to write their letters or we can wait until they are ready to do it and then write out words like “experiment” for her to copy because she needs to entitle her paper with it so she can write down all of her experiments. Writing concepts look different in a toddler classroom. Here they are pushing corks through holes in a cardboard box. This game develops fine muscles and visual discrimination, skills that are vital in writing. EVERY. SINGLE. THING. our littles do is tied to an academic concept or skill. When we allow our littles to learn through play, they learn on a deeper level that they will carry with them throughout their lives and not just to get through the next test. When we allow them to learn when they are ready to learn (instead of forcing or drilling), they learn quickly and they learn forever. “You can struggle for weeks to teach a child to identify colors before they are ready or you can do it in a few moments when they are ready to learn.”

13 through 17. Our littles are given the time and the materials to explore as they see fit. Figuring out how things work or what would happen if… is important in gaining a deeper understanding of how things work or what would happen if… How are littles to learn that your head will get muddy and wet if you stick it in that mud puddle if they are never allowed to do it? The time to fully explore materials and the freedom to use them in different ways is a cornerstone in child-led learning. Yes, we have overall guidelines like ask someone if they want mud thrown at them before you throw it and you can’t take something away from someone if they are not done using and even paint on paper or yourself but not on the walls. It’s a messy endeavor and we are able to provide a place and space for the littles to figure things out on their own. 

Well, I did it! 17 photos that describe our program (that extra photo at the top doesn’t count, it’s the title photo! 😉 ) We really are more than these 17 photos and I invite you to visit our Facebook page to see more.

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