Posted in Early Childhood Education

The Journey into Play Based Education

As an early education major, it was drilled into my head that play is what young children should be doing. I heard things like, “It is the work of children to play,” and, “Play is the child’s best teacher”. All. The. Time.

As a student of education, I thought it was great! I bought into it completely. Still do, in fact. I’ve sung the praises of play in school for years now. But the truth is that it’s so easy to talk. It sounds so easy to pull off. Just follow the kids lead. The learning will happen. Let them experiment! Explore!

I had no idea what I was talking about.

I completed 600+ hours worth of student internship time. Both of my placement sites claimed to be “play based”, and I thought they were too, at the time. I’ve since learned that there’s a whole spectrum of what’s accepted as “play based education” by the early education community.

On one end of the spectrum is teacher-led “themes”, where the teacher plans a weeks worth of play activities they think the children will be interested in. The best teachers observe the children to actually learn their interests and plan with them in mind. Others plan themes out for the year in advance regardless of the children’s personal interests.

At the other end of the spectrum is child-led curriculum, where teachers provide a rich environment and then observe children’s play and ask thought-provoking or concept development questions to help children learn and grow. Through my own research and limited experience, I had determined that this is the direction I lean in as a teacher; The research says that the best learning happens when children are interested and engaged, and they will never be as interested or engaged when the teacher is calling all the shots. Project learning and Reggio Emilia are favorite philosophies of mine for that reason.

Both my internship sites leaned in varying levels toward the theme direction, however my current teaching position falls at the very far end of the child led side. There are no teacher directed lesson plans here. Or any lesson plans at all really. Every piece of the day holds learning opportunities, and every child discovers them at their own pace. Sounds great! Right?

I was So. Not. Ready.

Concept development, the main teaching tool in this kind of setting, is like an art form. I used to watch in awe as my internship teacher interacted with children. She could take literally anything they were already doing, and turn it into a learning experience. It was amazing. I’d think, “When I grow up, I want to be that kind of teacher!”

Well I passed her class with a 4.0. I graduated with a BA in early childhood…. It’s time to start being that teacher.

The thing is, I’m a structure person. Lists are my best friend. I was bullet journaling before I even knew it was a thing. I can wing it, but that’s not where my best teaching happens. Not to mention, lesson  planning and intentional teaching are two more concepts that were pounded into me in every single early ed class I took. I can’t imagine a life without some kind of planning.

That said, I believe that even child-led education should be intentional. My challenge as a new teacher is figuring out how to marry these concepts that seem so opposite on the surface, and yet so important. Perhaps if I worked at a more structured center, there would be policies and procedures that would help me through this process. But I don’t, and there aren’t.

I want to be the best teacher I can be, and these kids deserve the best, so I am tackling the challenge myself.

I’ll be documenting my efforts toward that aim here. Concept development methods, lesson planning, and assessment are all issues I’ll be incorporating. In the mean time, does anyone else struggle with this? Or have you got it all figured out? I’d love to hear of your experiences with play based, child led education!

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Posted in preschool

Morning Meeting and Fresh Starts!

Today was a big day for preschool at Discovery Schoolhouse! Last week the yellow team teacher and I decided that, different as it may be, Blue and Yellow teams needed to part ways. As in, not even in the same room! That’s a tall order for a school that only has one licensed preschool room, but we felt it necessary to reduce the over stimulating atmosphere that was creating some major behavior issues and learning barriers for the children.

After much debate and drafting of schedules, we concluded that drop off should continue to be in the classroom from 7-9, but that the teams would split from 9-12 for circle, choice, and outside time. Yellow team would keep its schedule, and blue would flop outside and choice time, so the teams qould be using the classroom at opposite times. This was a huge change as it was, so of course I decided to take it a step farther and totally change how we run circle, outside, and calendar time! It was pretty nuts trying to pull it all together, but we survived our first day.

I won’t go into everything new in our routine yet, but the best part of our day today was definitely morning meeting, which I decided would replace circle time. I had actually stumbled onto the concept of morning meeting by accident. I thought it was a synonym for circle, but boy was I wrong! Morning meeting is actually part of a larger classroom management system called “responsive classrooms”. There are whole books about the subject, and I haven’t read ANY of them! What I have read are a whole slew of blog posts from teachers who use morning meetings as a way to teach social skills and build community in the classroom. There is even room for academics! As someone who is looking for a great way to incorporate those very things, I decided to jump right on that bandwagon.

For those who don’t know, Morning meetings have 4 parts:

Greeting: This is a time for the children to greet each other. It’s a great opportunity to teach them the social rules of greetings. Greeting each child individually helps the children feel valued and build confidence.

Share: Morning share can be done many ways, depending on the size, age, and development of the group. Essentially this is an opportunity for children to practice the skills of respectful listening, as well as public speaking. Children share their thoughts and opinions one at a time in groups or in front of the class. Since my group is age 3-5 and our attention spans are short, I’ve decided to take a question of the day approach. I’m starting with simple answer questions like, “What’s your favorite food”. Then we go around the circle, and each child answers. As their skill and attention span increases, I’ll ask questions that are more open ended.

Activity/Game: This is a time to get thw kids up and moving and having fun!

Message: The purists say that this should be a written message with announcements for the day and anything special you want to emphasize as the teacher. I’ve decided to keep it looser than that. For me its a verbal message about what to expect with our day and any special instruction I think we need.

We began our meeting right after transitioning outside, which was great! The kids were all a little shocked at coming out so early without the yellow team, and they were curious.

I led them under the tree in the yard, and we sat down together in a circle. I told them that we’ll be doing circle outside from now on and that calendar would be at the end of the day. After that we sang a greeting song, and I invited them to wave when it was their turn. They felt a little silly at first, but they were smiling by the end. After that I asked them to share their favorite food and taught them the hand signal for “me too!”. That really got them excited! We sang some wiggle songs for the activity, and then we discussed the Blue Team Agreement for the message.

That part was hilarious! They were VERY explicit about what how we should and shouldn’t treat each other. “No punching, hitting, pushing, slapping, kicking, choking, spitting, or biting!” The list could have gone on, but I suggested we condense rules like that by saying, “Be safe.” I asked if they had any ideas for how we ¬†should treat each other, and they were off to the races again! “Be kind, be nice, give hugs, play together, share toys, and hold hands”, were just some of the suggestions. We wrapped that one up with, “Be Kind.” Now if only they’d actually do it!

Tomorrow our morning message will be to write down the team agreements, and then have them sign their names on it. I’ll push for a rule that has to do with listening when others speak and I think I’ll even ask for what they think the consequences for breaking the agreement should be. I can’t wait to see where that takes us! Updates to come!!

Have you ever tried morning meetings? What are your favorite strategies for promoting community and social development in your class?