My School Is Cooler Than Yours!

We all do it. Repeating an action over and over even though the process or outcome isn’t what was desired, because it’s what we’ve always done and it takes a “duh” moment to shake you out of it. Mine (at least one of them) was our annual parent meeting.

Every fall we host an adult-only parent meeting. We review events and activities that will be happening throughout the year, fundraising opportunities, what we do and how we do it. We have a slide show that I recycle each year updating photos periodically that outlines my talking points. The parents spend time listening to me yammer on about play-based, child-led curriculum and how beneficial it is for their children. They spend time in their child’s classroom participating in an open discussion about developmental issues that they will be experiencing over the course of the next year, and they get a couple of minutes to socialize with one another.

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This year, our annual meeting was scheduled for a few weeks post flood. For those not from around Baton Rouge, we experienced a devastating rain event at the beginning of August that caused wide-spread flooding in our community. If you were not directly impacted with water inundating your home or business, someone in your family or one of your friends was. Needless to say, everyone was too busy to be able to make it to the meeting, so we decided to cancel. It was only the second time in 17 years that I have had to cancel the meeting. The first time was when a hurricane blew through. As I was thinking about rescheduling the meeting and maybe doing it a different way this year, I got to thinking about the purpose and the why; what were our goals and why do we do a fall parent meeting. That’s when the “duh” moment hit. We do this primarily for parents to meet one another and to be able to talk with our staff without the distraction of little people. So if that

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was our purpose, then why are we doing what we were doing in the way we were doing it? Sure, it’s nice to be able to spout on about play being important and THE only way children learn and retain new information and how children who are fortunate to attend programs like ours are better set for the rigors of “big school” all the way through college to a captive audience of believers. But that’s just it. Our families ARE believers and they already understand the importance of play, that’s why they chose our program over the academically based program down the road. See? Duh! Time to rethink how we facilitate our main goal. Out with the meeting and in with cocktail hour!

We met last Saturday at The Radio Bar. Everyone brought something yummy to share and because we met at happy hour, we practically had the place to ourselves. Parents came. Staff came.img_1673 We talked, laughed, and played darts. We talked about all kinds of things, kids, parenting book recommendations, camping, developmental milestones, movies, respectful discipline, where to go out after. It was fun! An
d most importantly, it far exceeded our goal! Parents met one another, they had the opportunity to learn more about our staff, and they got to spend a couple of hours talking with other adults who share some of the same values and
parenting styles they hold. We will definitely do that again! As for all the other stuff we usually cover at that meeting, isn’t that what email, Facebook, Instagram and blog posts are for? I do have to say, it was really hard to let that slide show go but I can always use it when I visit other centers and do their training, right?

So I have to say, my school is cooler than yours and if your school doesn’t have happy hour parent meetings, maybe you should look into mine!

Maybe One Day…

I read something last week issued by the Louisiana Department of Education that scared 11218857_10154244755635663_4421363728814798525_nme. It really scared me. The LDOE is pushing for “strong and coordinated curriculum and assessments” in child care and early education. They are even going to implement a program for centers to either get approved curriculum free or funds to help purchase and implement high quality, approved curriculum. WHAT?!?!

The push down of academics into early childhood education is nothing new. It’s not right, but it’s nothing new. I believe that the intention behind it is sincere. “They”, they being the policy makers of our state and federal government, want our children to succeed. Sure. Grand idea. Children are not entering kindergarten prepared to do what is expected of them, never mind that what is expected is not developmentally appropriate, so let’s push these academic principles down to our 4 year olds, our 3 year olds, our 2 year olds so that when they enter kindergarten, they will be better prepared. We must get them ready for school. IT’S NOT WORKING! The children are farther behind than ever! It must be the child care centers, the early learning centers, the preschools so let’s get stricter and push even more down on our youngest children so they can be ready to enter school. Well people, it’s still not working and it never will. You want to know why? Because it’s not. developmentally. appropriate. Those little brains are not made that way and no amount of drilling, flashcards, worksheets, computer games, teacher-directed instruction and no outside time because there is too much to learn is going to change that fact. It is a scientific fact that humans learn best through self-directed play. Scientific people. Look it up. Here, I’ll get you started with thisthis, this, this & this. There is no scientific research that proves academics introduced to children during their toddler, 10445964_10153141185005663_5980882347948440154_npreschool and pre-k years is successful. In fact, scientific research is proving the opposite. More harm is done in the long run. IF, and that’s a big if, a child who has been in an academic environment during their preschool years enters kindergarten slightly ahead in academic knowledge than their counterparts from a play-based, child-led program, they certainly do not enter kindergarten socially advanced and any academic difference disappears by 3rd grade. At this point, other difference begin to emerge. These differences have been present all along but the gap becomes exponentially larger. The child from the academic preschool environment falls dramatically behind socially, they have poor impulse control as they have had all along and a poor attitude about school which translates into poor performance in school, on assessments and a higher drop-out rate. The rise in childhood mental disorders is also directly linked to the decline of play and the rise of academics in early childhood.

Now, why does the LDOE helping child care centers purchase and implement high-quality curriculum scare me so much? Don’t I want children to begin their academic journey with as much of a head start as possible? Of course I do but high-quality curriculum does not come in a box. It does not carry with it pages and pages of assessments that are to be placed upon the child. High-quality early childhood curriculum comes from an enriching, engaging environment where the child is free to choose what they will work with, how they will work with it and how long they will work with it. High-quality early childhood curriculum comes from being outside for most of the day and working with loose parts in whatever way the child can dream of. High-quality early childhood curriculum provides the child plenty of opportunities for them to figure out how their bodies work and how powerful they can be. High-quality early childhood curriculum comes when the adults get out of the way and instead ask “what else do you need?” ensuring the child has everything they need to fulfill their goal and not the adult’s. High-quality early childhood curriculum focuses on social-emotional development and provides opportunities for children to figure out how social dynamics work. High-quality early childhood curriculum does not, and never will, come from a box. It cannot be purchased. It is up to each child to create their own curriculum. Children are only ready for kindergarten when they have had enough time to explore their world on their terms. Only then will they be ready to allow someone else to tell them about their world.

For those of you who know us (The Co-op), you know that we don’t subscribe to the canned curriculum. We allow our children the opportunity to explore the environment on their terms. They drive the curriculum. Our children are competent and eager seekers of knowledge. Our center is one of a kind in our community. I wish it wasn’t. The children in our community, in our state and in our country deserve a high quality early childhood and they are not getting it. My wish is that one day, “they” will wake up and think, “This isn’t working, maybe we should look at all that scientific research.” Maybe one day those centers that are using TV and flash cards and worksheets with their littles will read the evidence that they are helping to perpetuate the po1425581_10154358086185663_925725690316525098_nverty cycle. Maybe one day families in our community will stop putting their children into inappropriate environments because they fear their child won’t be ready. Maybe one day publishers won’t print that canned curriculum. Maybe one day I won’t have to defend what we do. Maybe one day…

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!

YES, YES and YES!

We have been super busy, but I wanted to share a fantastic article that is from one of our favorite blogs about preschool…check it out at http://grassstainguru.com/2009/10/27/boredom-is-not-a-4-letter-word/ or see below.

Quoted from the Grass Stain Guru:You see, I am a BIG fan of boredom. I invite it into my world. Roll around with it and ask it to dance. If I were a politician, I would run on the pro-boredom ticket.

Boredom, it seems, has become a 4-letter word in many households with children. Apparently, boredom in children is a fate that many fear more than a bad FICA score or bathing suit season. To remedy this fact, many kids are plugged-in and given activities to do every second of the day. No stone is left unturned in the quest to keep kids entertained and to stop them from uttering the words that strike fear into the hearts of many: “I’m bored!”

To which I say, um,  SERIOUSLY?! Boredom is one of the greatest gifts of childhood — without a doubt. Out of  “boredom” springs creativity and great bouts of imagination. Countless adventures of the mind start with a simple spark necessitated by boredom. If we do not allow kids to arrive at this state, how will they ever learn to entertain themselves, stretch their imaginations, and call on their own inner-reserves to create play and self-directed learning.? If we merely fill their reserves with television, videos, or structured activities, how will they ever realize that they have everything they need right at their disposal? No batteries required. No directions needed.

A box of crayons. A garden or backyard. A park or playground. A pile of sofa cushions or a journal and drawing pencils. Books and blocks. Simple tools and nearby places — all of which stir the imagination if given half the chance. Children will blossom if we step back and let them be — give them the time and space they need to rely on themselves and their beautiful, natural-born creativity, ingenuity, and imagination.

Kids will create worlds within worlds, fly rocket ships to the moon, build forts with traps doors and hidden passage ways. They will surprise us and even themselves with the fun they can create when they are bored. If we stop acting like Cruise Directors determined to fill every moment of their schedules, kids will create fun and play and magic with their friends, siblings, and even on their own. Sometimes, they will even invite us into their worlds and games and let us pay witness to the glorious things they cook-up. When this happens, just dive in and enjoy.

Like anything else, it just takes a little practice. If you swoop in with an activity or “solution” to their boredom every time, of course it is going to be difficult for them to work through things on their own. But they will. The whining will stop and the creativity will flow. Just have a little patience…

Creativity, self-reliance, self-direction, problem-solving — all of these skills are the hallmarks of a successful adult. They are also all things that children can learn through play and finding their way out of boredom. Let’s face it — coping with boredom is a life skill that everyone should have, so why not foster it now?

The theater of the mind is a powerful thing — I would hate to see what my life would be like if I wasn’t able to tap into that.  How about you? So, next time you are tempted to play Cruise Director, stop yourself. Take a step back, and let boredom blossom into whatever comes next.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a box of 64 crayons that is just begging to take me on an adventure. It would be rude of me to refuse.

See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru