We Must Be Doing Something Right!

Yesterday we were spotlighted on a Facebook page that we get some of our inspiration from, Play Empowers – Sharing the Power of Play! You might think “What’s the big deal?”. For us, it’s validation that the play experiences that we provide our Co-op Kids on a daily basis are valued and important, that what we do is what is right, and that making a conscious decision to support and provide an appropriate environment is the best way for children to learn. Our families who are enrolled support our efforts, the families on our waiting list support our efforts but it sure is nice when we gain some national validation. We must be doing something right!      We’ve caught national attention!

Redneck Waterbed

Note: We were recently talking about some of our favorite projects – the ones that the kids have the most fun with – and this one was near the top of the list. We originally posted it in 2012, but are re-posting (with a couple of edits for clarity) in case some of the new parents missed it. As soon as we have some reliably warm, dry weather, it’s definitely time to do this again!

The Redneck Waterbed was a big hit with each of the age groups. Each class and, moreso, each child had her own unique way of exploring it.  The Chameleons lined up and took turns running or hopping the length of the thing. The younger ones, whether by lying down, jumping, walking or pretending to swim, all got a kick out of it . The fun everyone had was well worth the little effort it took to put it together. I’ve included photos and a step by step of the ridiculously easy process below.

Note: It was our original intent to have a square envelope, but the plastic sheeting we purchased was 50 feet by 3 feet. This turned out perfect for our purposes, because the big kids had a long runway to run and hop on.

 

Step 1. Get yourself some plastic sheeting. We used a 50 by 3 roll of 4 mil; it was plenty tough.

Step 2. Tape the first seam. We used brightly colored 3M duct tape because it’s pretty. . . and it was in the supply cabinet. Fold the sheet in half to produce a 25 x 3 foot envelope and tape along the two long sides.

Step 3. Put interesting stuff in it. We used contact paper octopi and glitter.

Then tape the third seam. Leave a hole to fill with water.

 

Step 4. Fill with water. We used blue food coloring, too. ‘Bout half a little bottle of McCormick blue.

Then tape your fill hole shut.

 

 

Step 5. Enjoy. Luckily, being an education center, we always seem to have children on hand. You could just as easily use your own;)

Another Year

At the close of another year we reflect on how grateful we are to be part of this amazing and wonderful adventure that is the Child Development Cooperative and want to express how truly proud we are of everything we have accomplished with our little “village”. Our fall garden is still kicking thanks to some green thumbed grownups and big kids (a big accomplishment after our sad spring garden). Our parents are more active than ever: cutting our lawn, taking care of trees and leaves, purchasing copy  machines and supplies, donating items to be reused as art projects, and participating in all the fun year round activities and field trips. We’ve furthered our “growing up green” mission by adding our enrollment and employment application online instead of paper, switched to organic milks, held a successful toy and costume exchange, and receive regular donations from our families of paper that was printed on one side to be used for art. (We go through a LOT, so this is huge!) We also had an amazing Art Show in conjunction with our community’s annual White Light Night art hop, raising more money than we ever have just by our families “bidding” on their child’s art. The family turnout was inspiring.

There have been too many beautiful moments to list here. I just want to end this year by saying we love our Co-op staff, without which of course none of this would be possible and look forward to yet another fun-filled, awesome  year with our kids and families.

Loose Parts and Pieces!

Physics , geometry, mathematics. Call it what you will, we absolutely love how loose parts can completely engage, challenge and stimulate our Co-op kids! We have been working on transitioning our playground for the past five years to a loose parts and pieces playground. As those donated or purchased plastic, single-use toys get broken or age we have not been replacing them. We have been collecting reused items like buckets, crates, different sizes of wood, rope, baking tins and more to create a playground that fosters imagination and collaborative play. The results are often unexpected and wonderful!

This was completely his idea with ZERO grown-up help!

Why Preschool Shouldn’t Be Like School

One of the questions that we get most frequently from people unfamiliar with our play-based, child-guided school is how do you get them ready for Kindergarten and what do you do all day if you don’t teach them the ABCs and their numbers and their colors and how to read and walk quietly down the hall?! Quick answer: We don’t teach them; we let Them learn. 

Here is a simplified definition of the difference between us and academic based schools.

Academic or Skills Based Preschool

Academic or skills based programs are teacher directed and managed.  This means that children have limited choice in what learning takes place and how that learning happens.  It is very structured and routine oriented.  Teachers extensively plan activities for the children in their classes and guide the children in that learning.  This design is aimed at preparing students for kindergarten, which seems to be the new first grade.  Children in academic programs will most likely spend the majority of their day learning letters and sounds, colors, shapes and numbers, as well as participating in handwriting practice.  They may also participate in learning drills and complete worksheets in addition to a few art projects.

Play Based or Child Centered Preschool

In a play based program, children are given the autonomy to choose activities based on their current interests.  A child who is interested in dams and bridges may be allowed to spend the majority of her center time at the sand and water table.  Play based preschool classrooms are set up in sections, usually having a kitchen area, a play house, a reading nook, a sensory table, a block area, etc.  Teachers may incorporate academic skills through theme based activities, and may add theme based props to classroom learning centers, but the main goal of play based preschool programs are often to develop social skills by teacher modeling.  In this case, the teacher acts more as a facilitator of learning than a lecturer of direct instruction.  Students progress is monitored by their participation in hands-on activities and observational assessments, not by worksheets and drills.

What the Research Says

  • Public schools in the United States push for children to learn more at an earlier age.
  • Many European countries don’t begin formal literacy and numeral lessons until the age of at least six, if not seven.
  • Play is the context in which children can most optimally learn
  • Pushing too much academia can cause a child to loose interest and motivation in learning.
  • Children who participate in academic based preschool programs often score higher than their peers on standardized tests, but the gap is typically closed by the end of first grade.
  • Some experts now claim that one of the greatest predictors of life long success is a child’s ability to control impulses (self regulation), which is learned in social environments, such as a play based preschool program.
  • Children who are enrolled in overly academic programs tend to have more behavior problems than their peers.

The following is from an article by Alison Gopnik Posted Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Click here for the rest of the article.

New research shows that teaching kids more and more, at ever-younger ages, may backfire.

Ours is an age of pedagogy. Anxious parents instruct their children more and more, at younger and younger ages, until they’re reading books to babies in the womb. They pressure teachers to make kindergartens and nurseries more like schools. So does the law—the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act explicitly urged more direct instruction in federally funded preschools.  There are skeptics, of course, including some parents, many preschool teachers, and even a few policy-makers. Shouldn’t very young children be allowed to explore, inquire, play, and discover, they ask? Perhaps direct instruction can help children learn specific facts and skills, but what about curiosity and creativity—abilities that are even more important for learning in the long run? Two forthcoming studies in the journal Cognition—one from a lab at MIT and one from my lab at UC-Berkeley—suggest that the doubters are on to something. While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution.

This is what we have been saying all along. More and more research is coming out about this. We must teach them HOW to learn, not just sight words and rote memorization! This month we are learning about bugs…what a better way than to let them go outside and find one to explore up close!