Tuesday, February 21, 2017

This Is Why We Are Here...

Years ago, I was given Jon Muth's beautiful book, The Three Questions, as a graduation gift. It was a gift from my then-boyfriend's parents (who are now my in-laws).
This beautifully illustrated picture book, based on Leo Tolstoy's story of the same name, is a  meditation on the meaning of life.

The little boy in the story ponders three questions, "When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?"

His friends offer many possible answers, all tailored to their own particular interests and habits, until he is led to the answer through a series of experiences with Leo, the old tortoise, a mother panda, and her baby (it's a truly beautiful story and one that can be appreciated on multiple levels - I urge you to pick up a copy and read it if you have not).

He is led to these truths, which I try to meditate on daily:

The best time to do things is now.

The most important one is the one you are with.

The right thing to do, is to do right by the one who is by your side.

I can't say I'm always successful.

Children are simply better at this, at being here in this moment, with whatever it offers. 

There is a lot of angst and worry and anger in the world right now. We, as adults, are walking around with a lot of weight on our shoulders. We think a lot about what's wrong, and we wonder how to fix the things we don't like, and we feel overwhelmed. 

A dear friend asked me if I'd be interested in writing a guest post on her blog and made a point to ask that it be "positive and non-political." This sounded like a piece of cake but I am ashamed to say that I have yet to complete this task.

I realized that I found this request to be far more of a challenge than I'd expected. I could never get very far into a post without connecting to something "bigger," and those "bigger" themes were always heavy. They were dark, they were angry, and I was frozen with my inability to work my way around this, to write the "right" things.

Now, look, there is a time and a place for anger, and I have many dear friends who are dedicated activists and their strong emotions are warranted and purposeful. Worry and fear serve their own valid purposes, too. 

But not properly harnessed and channeled, these emotions muddy our better judgments and intentions. They're distractions. This is not why we are here. 

If you know me, and you talk to me often, you know that my stance has always been that the most valuable thing we can do to change the world is to help shape thoughtful, empathetic citizens. People who are kind and giving; who help their community and think critically and independently and find their niche - the thing that makes them truly happy and allows them to give back to the community.

This has ALWAYS been my passion. I really believe this. 

But to do it, I need to show up, be present, do the hard joyful work. 

Kids know this; they live in the moment.

In The Dude and the Zen Master, Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman meditate on this idea that "people get stuck a lot because they're afraid to act...We need help just to move on, only life doesn't wait."

 The solution?

 "[Y]ou want to row, row, row your boat -- gently. Don't make a whole to-do about it. Don't get down on yourself because you're not an expert rower; don't start reading too many books in order to do it right. Just row, row, row your boat gently down the stream."

When I ground myself in that moment, when I push aside my adult agenda, when I row gently down the stream, the joy comes rushing back in.

It's not hard work, living and being present, once you allow that weight to lift from your shoulders.

It's joyful. And it's meaningful. And it's a very effective way to get some very important work done.

"Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world.

This is why we are here."

Originally posted at Sylvan Taylor's Sprouts Playschool Blog.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Not A School

By Kisha Reid 

If you listen to my podcast, Dirty Playologist, you may have listened to the episode called "NOT A School" It's the one where I tell the story of an angry parent who shouts out to me... THIS IS NOT A SCHOOL! The most ironic part was that she was upset because there was no space for her child to attend. At the time, I was offended, hurt, and a little heartbroken. I had spent so much time and energy trying to convince the world that we were a school, that play was important and that our work was valuable.  It took me another three years to get to the point where I came to terms with the fact that we, in fact, are not a school.  Yep, I said it, WE ARE NOT A SCHOOL!! At least not in the typical sense of the word.  Do children learn here? Yes, in every single way, during every single second, but that is not what makes a school.  So what are we then?

We are a venue through which authentic childhood is practiced. We provide a safe, richly stocked space both inside and out that supports the intrinsic needs and desires of children. The role of the adults in the room is to love, trust, and care for the children. By loving the children we understand their needs and support them, by trusting the children we allow them to act out those desires with little interference unless in times of real danger, by caring for the children we physically and emotionally provide what they need to explore their interests in the most meaningful ways. 

I have not yet figured out what to call us, but I know we are NOT A SCHOOL! And I am OK with that, in fact, I am proud of that. 

by Lakisha Reid 
Founder of Play Empowers, Early Childhood Presenter and Consultant, host of Dirty Playologist Podcast and Owner/Director/Educator at Discovery Early Learning Center 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Power & Freedom #2: Throwing Sh*t off a Ledge

(posted originally at The Childcare Brofessional)

The outdoor area for the Nursery at my school is much bigger than my original 2 year old program.  My favourite thing about it is that part of it is on relatively substantial hill that the children can go up, and look down on the play area, the rest of the school and neighbourhood.  As I am getting to know all the children in the nursery, a group of them have repeatedly wanted me to go up with them on one part of the hill.  There’s a walled off ledge here, and a path under and along side it.

Up on this part of the hill we’ve spent time just sitting and watching the action below, making pretend sneezes to laugh about, playing with ropes I tied to tall tree branches and more.  It’s a great place to get away from the commotion and fluorescent lights inside.  I do my best to not hog the spotlight of the play but since I am new to the nursery, and I want to build good relationships with the kids  I am leaning more into my funny, entertaining new-adult-in-the-room mode.  As the relationships get in place I will increasingly pull back from the center of the action and let them get on with their play more and more.

Yesterday one boy suddenly decided to start to throw everything he could off find of this area and off the ledge.  A small dug up dead bush, plastic cups and plates, two logs almost as big as him and two big plastic crates.  It was getting on the path below and it looked messy.  He was having a really good time!  I wish I was able to take a picture of all this so you could see what I am talking about.  This is notable to me because I distinctly remember when I would’ve stopped this sort of play straight away.  I would have thought it looked destructive, messy and if allowed to continue, might lead to Lord of the Flies situation.  Children need to obey our orders to not make needless messes.  I don’t say this only to pat myself on the back for my supposed enlightenment but more to be honest about the path I’ve been on working in early learning.

Learning to trust children more and tolerate more mess, I observed as I let him continue with the chucking everything in site off the ledge (there were no children below and if any were coming I would’ve asked him to wait until they passed).   Since I do not yet know this boy, and our setting is in a working-class, immigrant area and many of the children aren’t given many opportunities for messy, risky, big body play my assumptions about his play started off honestly pretty paternalistic.  He hasn’t had opportunities to explore the trajectory schema (good on me for letting him do so).  Not that I think I was wrong at all here, but it puts his supposed setbacks in the foreground of the situation.  After a few minutes I think I looked at it more positively.  This boy is developing full body strength as he actively explores weight, gravity, trajectory.  He is feeling powerful, something every human needs, using his body to send this stuff through the air, and most of all he is really enjoying throwing sh*t off the ledge!  Allowed power and freedom to play how he liked, this boy was engaged in most every single Characteristic of Effective Learning and his Laevers Scales were strong fives.  

Do you remember how much fun it was to throw things as a child?

Many of our assumptions about, and rules and expectations for children needlessly interfere with children’s hardwired plans for their healthy growth and development.  I won’t delude myself into thinking anybody reading this isn’t already part of the choir but what would be gained from stopping this boy from enjoying this activity?  I think the only real answers are concerns over safety (besides getting to know the kids I was up there to make sure nobody would get hit), “respect for the toys” (nothing was broken),  but if we are really being honest, it is about breaking the child’s will.
I don’t think many would be happy to look at this way but again, I remember how I used to look at children.  I remember what I felt and thought when I first started working with kids in the US without any understanding of early childhood development.  I simply did not understand the biological and psychological reasons behind much of their behaviour.  I started working in a preschool because I “liked kids,” but I now know I was completely ignorant about them.  I saw a large part of my job as providing consistent limits, expectations and consequences so they would eventually, somehow follow adult expectations of behaviour.  This was how they would be socialised into well-functioning adults.

I saw children through what I call the all-pervasive “cute, empty-headed beasts” lens of childhood.  If we don’t know about children’s development so much of their behaviour will then be inscrutable and maddening.  It is something to be managed, corralled, punished, praised, bribed and manipulated until they eventually live up to adult expectations of behaviour.  If I remember correctly, I would have worried “how else will children know how to behave?”  If this boy thinks it’s okay to throw the toys off this ledge now, how is he going to learn to delay his gratification enough to get through the hardships of adult life that are to come later?

The answer to this very legitimate concern is that children in stable loving environments full of secure relationships with adults and other children will naturally grow into stable, loving adults who are secure in themselves.  It is not complicated but it does require faith, trust and respect for children in a culture that thinks these are outlandish ideas.  Babies and young children learn how to be decent adults by the example of being treated decently by adults.  As Magda Gerber put it, “Personality characteristics such as generosity, empathy, caring and sharing cannot be taught, they can only be modeled.”

I  put sh*t in the title of this piece because I think much of the reality of children’s play can be a bit distasteful or controversial to our adult senses.  Children’s play is not always respectful or part of polite, adult society.  We can get trained on and read books about schemas and understand it all intellectually, but genuinely being okay with things getting thrown through the air is and the path getting messy is an entirely different ball game.

If our settings are supposed to be for children’s growth and development, I am going to let this boy and and any other child throw sh*t off the ledge and engage in other behaviours that might challenge some of our adult hang-ups around mess, risk, and safety.  To be clear I am not saying I have the monoply on “best practice” here.  I am not arguing anybody needs to go to work and to pretend they are okay with behaviours that they are not (it won’t be sincere and you will drive yourself nuts), nor is this saying children don’t need age appropriate expectations and limits, but I am advocating people engage in some serious yet gentle reflection and find their growing edge of comfort with these topics.
Who are our settings for?  What is the worst that could happen if you let that child follow their urge to put the sand in the water table?  Stand on a chair to make their block tower higher? Not come to your mandatory circle time and instead carry on with their play?  Take the play dough outside?  Roll a tire down the slide?  And of course, what is the best that could happen if we let our children have more power and freedom in how they play?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Let Loose!

By: Kisha Reid

Bits and Pieces of Loose and Lost parts are all the rage right now at Discovery Early Learning Center.  Treasure hunting is what the children are calling it and it's filled with imagination, detailed storylines, and loose parts as props to extend the narrative.

I have only noticed this way of play since I let go of providing invitations and displays of loose parts in themed baskets, trays or whatever way I was presenting the materials.

Loose parts are just that, LOOSE and they are found in all shapes, sizes holding a wealth of possibilities in every corner nook and cranny of our indoor and outdoor classroom.

Finding, collecting and gathering these materials is chalk full of whole child learning. When children hunt for materials they are mobile, actively engaged and working towards a goal, they assess materials for their value in their play. A game of shipwreck calls for loose parts that hold a certain set of characteristics while a game of house has a different loose parts agenda.

They use their large and small muscles to transport and collect materials building on to their script as they go. This sparks language and takes children into a sort of heightened state of imaginative play where they are embedded into the script in such a way that it feels so real.

They sort, classify, and count materials, they think critically about the alternate uses for open-ended materials and extend their ability to play symbolically, holding fast to their ideas and points of view.

This process of collecting or "treasure hunting" seems to be vital to the building of their play. It's like they build up to a climax where their reach that zone, the zone where they all buy into the storyline, they are fully in character and what seemed hard or challenging is now the possible, what seemed above their physical and developmental potential becomes second nature.

It takes time, it takes space, and it takes adults who do not feel the urge to over organize.

We can provide a pretty array of loose parts for children to play with and explore, or we can design spaces using the loose parts concept in all areas of the space allowing children to explore parts that are truly LOOSE.

So what does this mean? 

  • Allow children to mix and move materials from one area to another 
  • Allow materials to travel from inside to outside 
  • Provide creative tools for transporting ( bags, boxes, buckets, baskets) 
  • Don't feel the need to arrange or display loose parts perfectly. 
  • Let loose parts at play stay at play ( no sorting at the end of each night) 
  • Provide loose parts with a variety of properties ( size, shape, weight, purpose etc) 
  • Replace closed-ended toys with open-ended loose parts. 

The benefits outweigh the mess! 

  • Language development 
While at play with loose parts children have to share their ideas, the uses and purpose of each part and how it works in their play scenario. They have to build the play script part by part as new materials are collected and introduced to the play. 

  • Mathematical concepts 
As children gather a variety of loose parts they are having real life experience with "stuff". This naturally supports sorting, counting, classifying by characteristics such as size, color, shape or purpose. Children embed mathematical ideas and data gathered from the hands-on experience with these materials. 

  • Scientific concepts 
Large loose parts require creative ways of transporting. This often beckons scientific thinking, simple machine creation, and testing of ideas and theories. concepts such as gravity, balance, weight vs strength, textures and more! 

  • Physical development 
Loose parts play is PHYSICAL running, digging, lugging, balancing, and sorting.   Children are active and a-buz as they collect and play with large and small loose parts. 

  • Connection 
Loose parts seem to generate a hive mind type of play, a play where children are all collecting, piling, scripting and engaging in the same developing play scenario. This type of play develops a sense of connection and almost an unspoken agreement to keep the play alive. Large parts require many children to work together, share ideas and set plans as a group. After reaching their goal they rejoice as a group allowing their collective success to pull them closer as play partners. 

  • Meeting natural urges in play 
Children's natural urge to collect, connect, position, contain and transport are met through loose parts play. 

  • Social concepts 
When children play with loose parts they are met with the task of sharing their ideas, contributing to the narrative and accepting the points of view and contributions of others. They have to compromise and negotiate. 

  • Imaginative play 
Loose parts provide endless possibilities. Children play symbolically as blocks become telephones and boxes serve as spaceships. Loose parts come alive when met with the imagination of a child. 


Here I have compiled a short list of loose parts to get you started! The possibilities are endless! 

Natural Loose Parts 
Large branches
Pine cones
Corn cobs 
Tree cookies 
Small and large logs 
Bamboo cutoffs
Hay bales 
Seed pods 
Sea glass                                  

Other Loose Parts 
Wooden bits 
Large pieces of lumber 
PVC pipes 
bottles, cups, jars, buckets 
Hose cut offs 
Board game parts 
Bike parts 

So let loose with LOOSE PARTS PLAY and watch as your children develop as players and people. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Learning That Sticks

My fondest memories of school had to do with projects. 
Time spent on a task with friends or moments of deep connection. I also remember the REALLY BAD times.. times when I felt insecure, powerless and frankly misunderstood. These negative and positive events are etched into my brain. The stuff in the middle is lost, my brain has trimmed it. Really, that is a real thing, did you know your brain prunes what is not important?

 I remember sitting in Kindergarten on a rug listening to my teacher sing Puff The Magic Dragon. She sported a jean shirt, and a red afro.  I remember Micro City in 5th grade, we got to plan and create our own business from advertising to sales.  I remember government class when we got to act in mock trials. I remember homecoming week when we got to build themed sets in the hallway. Those are the times I learned, the times when my heart was filled with joy and I was motivated beyond belief to think critically, to gain new knowledge from experience and to connect with others to reach a common goal.  I couldn't wait to wake up and go to school when we worked on group projects, I'm social and it triggered something in me, I became secure, powerful, and totally understood. Through these projects, I learned that I had ideas! I had leadership skills, I was creative and fully capable of learning. 

Learning is the stuff that does not get trimmed, it's the stuff that shapes who you are. If this is true then why don't we fill schools with busy children working together on meaningful projects, sharing ideas and LEARNING?? 

 Stop wasting time on pruned "learning"  like busy work, worksheets, and listening to lectures and instead, fill our days with more authentic learning, More doing things, touching things, connecting to people MORE LEARNING.. REAL LEARNING... Learning that STICKS!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Bringing Adventure Back into PLAY

Realising the Value of PLAY Through Nature Experiences

The environment I most often witness PLAY, real play, play that is not adult directed, play where resources are open ended and where children are given time and space....is in Wild Nature! Wild nature are spaces that have not been tidied up, where leaves have not been blown away, where sticks and stones are left on the ground, where ponds and streams are not covered or fenced and where children can immerse themselves in what the environment offers.

Such environments are often a far cry from the traditional child care environment designed by adults. Adults and children often view ideal play spaces through different lenses.

Many adults value aesthetic beauty, children's physical safety, colourful adult designed resources preferably with an obvious academic value.

Children value an environment where they have the freedom and 'safety' to play, where they can change the space and come back to their games later, where there is stuff to do stuff with, where they can take risks and challenge themselves.

This mismatch in expectations of the ideal play space often leads to frustration and a reduction in opportunities for the true joy and opportunities of play.

Having spent many years supporting educators in developing forest, creek, beach or bush programmes for their children internationally, I have seen the benefits for children and adults.

Children who initially come into the bush and ask "but where are the toys?" very quickly develop the imagination and creativity to use what they find.

Adults initially fearful of children's physical injuries in what is perceived a risky space soon realise the value of 'learning injuries' as children deal with the scrapes and scratches that are or should be part of a rich childhood.

Adults realise that they do not need to direct or structure children's play as children are happily engaged in the changing awe and wonder nature provides.

 To my delight, I have found that these experiences in wild nature eventually transfer back into the fenced childcare space.

Natural materials are no longer removed and are in fact brought in by educators and parents.

Open ended man made resources such as planks of wood, pipes, fabrics, cable reels are valued and introduced.

Adults become less concerned about every day childhood injuries and focus more on the benefits of children managing their own risk and challenge and the possible learning injuries that might occur.

Adults feel less inclined to structure children's time as children manage their own time very effectively.

Children have developed the imagination to be creative with the open ended materials available.

Children's attention span increases as they engage for long periods.

Children become competent risk assessors and cope with mistakes and accidents with increased resilience.

Most important is that the well-being levels of both adults and children increases.

Children accessing wild nature is an ideal which may not be achievable on a daily basis BUT we can offer similar valuable experiences by transferring the philosophy of nature-based practice to the centre so that centre-based practice aligns with many of the rich opportunities naturally offered in wild nature.

Thank you to all these awesome Australian Centres who provide such rich opportunities for their children and who have agreed to be part of my new book to be published in 2017. 

Niki Buchan is an International Educational Consultant and Nature Pedagogue with Natural Learning Early Childhood Consultancy in Australia.

She works internationally as a conference keynote speaker, nature pedagogue, nature kindergarten facilitator, naturalistic playground advisor, international study visit facilitator, mentor, author as well as delivering a large range of professional learning opportunities on all aspects of early childhood education and care. She has developed a reputation as a strong advocate for children’s right to a high quality childhood, including having regular access to nature, play and having their voices heard. She is considered a leading voice in promoting Nature-based pedagogy and is the author of the Australian book “Children in Wild Nature”  and UK book “A Practical Approach to Nature- Based Practice”  as well as co-authoring books. 

Natural Learning website, Facebook site
Facebook site for Nature-based Pedagogy International

Saturday, November 26, 2016

More Ugly Concrete Paths!: Space and Emotional Environments

So overall I am getting into a pretty good routine at work.  In the mornings I am with a wonderful group of two year olds for a short AM program and in the afternoon I am a special needs assistant for an eight year old boy.  I've been having a lot of thoughts in my head lately I figured I should share them all here for posterity.  Let's start with something about the environment.

I'm not surprised but I am struck by how often the group of two year olds choose to play in the least resourced area we have: a gated off concrete  pathway outside our playground.  This is the only space where they can run or ride trikes back and forth without obstacles.  Obviously enough a common group activity is running back and forth, chasing each other and screaming.  They don't play here all day but it is a very popular space and it makes me think about what sort of environments do young children really need?  The proper room itself isn't that big and stuffed with catalog furniture, shelves and toys.  I think it probably looks good and "educational" to most adults.  This concrete path on the other hand is ugly, especially right now during the winter.  If we were part of a private setting, it would not be a selling point to any adults.

It's not that they don't play inside with all the catalog-bought toys, it's the obvious fact they are often drawn to having more space and freedom to move and follow their natural and important 2 year old urges - and even if that's in a less than stellar outdoor space it still better than nothing.  They have less adults chatting over their heads, telling them what to do and how to do it when they are outside.  When I am out there on this ugly path I mostly just sit in one spot and enjoy watching them play.  If a child needs help I do my calmly help them figure out what they need.  I am learning more and more the importance of just being present with children and letting them do their thing.

I think it's easy for adults to focus on the looks and physical objects of an early learning space.   Let's add wooden materials to attract certain parents.  Let's put numbers and words all over the walls because it's educational.  Let's buy tons of toys from the right catalogs.  The physical environment is absolutely important but I think we need to talk more about what some of have called the emotional (and maybe even cultural) environment of our space.  This environment is shaped by our relationships with the kids, and basically the culture we set by role modeling behavior and what sort of activity we allow or don't allow.  I think this is the sort of stuff that is hard to sell to adults who don't understand early childhood development.  The only people who might know it are the adults and children who share this relationship, understanding and culture.

The most dynamic, exciting and joyful interactions I've seen the past several weeks have been on this small, drab, gated concrete pathway.   The kids have chased each other, danced, thrown balls, looked for planes and birds in the sky and plenty more.  Just having the space and freedom to do what they like is an amazing thing to watch.

Related to this I have just discovered some of the writings of Claire Caro.  This is the first time I've seen somebody spell out in plain, step-by-step terms the sort of early learning ethos I have been finding myself drawn to and excited by.   She describes the role, skills and actions to take as early learning educators who value the importance of child-led learning.  To start off with I recommend "The Adult Role in Child-led Play" and "Five Easy Steps for the Observer."  Both articles give concrete advice on the how's and why's of forming the right emotional and cultural environment.  A lot of it is about the importance of trusting and respecting the children in your care ihere and now.  I can't recommend them enough!

What's more important, nice bulletin boards and all the right natural toys or children truly knowing they are consistently trusted, respected and loved?  Especially when they are in the middle of a conflict or dealing with difficult emotions?

I'm not saying that my two year olds like this space because it's ugly.  I am saying they like it because they have the room to move freely and I do my best to provide a suitable emotional environment for them to be in.  Positive emotional environments can't be bought out of catalogs and they might not be able to be quantified much at all, but they are vital for children's growth and well-being.