No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.
When colleagues ask me what is most important ingredient for learning I answer "Kindness Patience and Time". I want to say something more profound but that really that is what I ask myself at the end of each day along with How did it go, what needs tweaking, what worked and so what's next? The more I reflect on my practice I realize that children need me to treat them with kindness, I need to find patience to listen, step aside and observe, that time is a critical element in allowing them to learn and grow, especially in a play based program.
This past year my professional learning action project was to better understand about the growing anxiety in young children. Naturally, play continues to be a large piece of children's childhood including play in preschool and primary classrooms and so I read countless journal posts on the topic. While I was reading about playful learning this past year, I was surprised that the research suggested that there has been a drop by about eight hours a week in the amount of time children play, over the past two years. This is juxtaposed with an increase of children from all backgrounds entering school with underdeveloped play abilities as well as a decline in emotional and cognitive self regulation in some young children.
This loss of opportunity to build self regulation through play experiences has created a need for teachers to be purposeful about building self regulation through school experiences for both emotional and cognitive self regulation. It also makes me wonder how this contributes to the increase in anxiety we are seeing in young children. I read recently that it is the number one health problem for young children.
Self regulation has been a big interest for the last five years as public schools respond to a notable decline in self regulation while adding Full Day Kindergarten programs. Teachers are looking for definitions, programs and resources to teach self regulation. Instead I believe we should identify those factors which provide experiences which in turn develops self regulation.
I began by observing preschool teacher's interactions with students as their programs are both play based and responsive. I noticed four key elements: there was a consistent calm, warmth and gentleness when teachers interacted with the children; the flow of the day was predictable and responsive to the children's stamina; the learning environment was organized and responsive to the children's learning; most of the children's time was spent in open ended play. The more open ended, playful, organized and responsive the environment was the more the children were self regulating. In these classrooms the teachers provided affection, meaningful praise and were sensitive to children's needs. When talking with teachers they referenced specific strategies selected to support specific students. Teachers working together used shared language and strategies with the vulnerable children. These programs also included opportunities for self directed play outdoors where the environment offered natural and open ended play materials like sticks, stones, plants, bugs, dirt and water.
I expect that transferring some or all of these elements to Kindergarten classrooms should continue to support growth of self regulation in children. This decision helped me in my planning for not only my practice, but also the consulting work that I do for school teams.
This summer I returned to work as a educational consultant for vulnerable 4, 5 and 6 year olds in a summer program. I was determined that these elements would be used. In our planning we were intentional in which frameworks were chosen and the sequence for the daily flow. We learned as much as we could about the children and then chose strategies to support them and move their learning forward. On the last day of inservice we planned the physical environment beginning with an empty room and being very intentional about what materials would enrich their learning and support self regulation. We used sticky notes to represent the furniture and learning centres which made it easy to move the furniture around the room. When it was time to bring in additional resources we used what we knew about the children and emergent curriculum to guide our decisions.
We combined these elements with experienced preschool teachers to provide a rich, play based and responsive learning environment. The children began last Monday and each day when I debriefed with the team, we framed our conversations around the four elements as we learned more about the children. By Friday the teachers were beginning to work as a team, the children were learning to predict the flow of the day and the learning environment was amazingly responsive to the children!!!
This year I have been reading a minimum of five books a day to my Kindergarten students as well as songs, finger plays and chants but if I were to track the number it would probably be closer to ten books. I regularly included re-reading favourite books and actually began every circle time with a familiar song book like Over In the Meadow or Down By the Station. We loved our book times and I was amazed at how easily books grew to become cherished parts of our day.
My love of books has always been a big part of me and yes I really believed when I was around five that the mobile library, which parked in front of our house each week, was there for my personal reading pleasure. The librarian was kind and passionate about connecting books with children. She always had one or two special books tucked away just for me. I would carry my big collection up to my bedroom and sort them into the order that I wanted to read. The collection always included my favourite re-reads, some new books, the special books from the librarian as well as a book for my older brother, Bobbie, to read with me. I still remember my plan to read every book on the bus and maybe I did! My siblings and I enjoyed lazy afternoons on the sofa, the beach, the boat, in the bedroom or our treehouse.
Books were an integral part of my childhood and then later when I became a parent it was an important part of our family culture and hopefully will become a part of our adult children's new family culture. I don't have any memories of my parents reading with me but coming from a large family I do have many many memories of my brothers reading to and with me.
Mem Fox talks about how important it is to read to new babies and shares the impact on the brain. While I have always known how important it the intimacy with your child that lap reading creates; physical touch, hearing your voice, noticing your child's expression and body language are all important and key ingredients for nurturing that loving relationship with your baby her advice was new to me. Here is link to Mem Fox. It will inspire you to read with your child ten minutes a day.
In Kindergarten I am always looking for books to engage children in our read aloud sessions. these books always have district features like repeating phrases, rhyme or silly moments.
When I find the just right book, I begin with a Read Aloud. Then if I receive the expected response I read it again at the next transition in the day and pause at predictable parts to encourage the students to join in for shared reading. We continue to re-read the book a couple of times each day and every time more students join in until they are reading it without me. After this it goes on our bookshelf where we keep all of our very most favourite read alouds. The students always pick these books for family read aloud as they love to impress their parents/grandparents or guest with their independent reading. It is such a delight to listen to a small group chant through one of their favourite books to a surprised adult.
What happens when you put together a basket of small puppets, trees, fabric and tree blocks and sit it on a play stand?
Well in Kindergarten voila! you have a storytelling learning centre. The children make up a story and then practice. When ready, they collect peers from around the room to watch their show. In the afternoon when it is quiet play the two students perform for each other.
PS: It helps when you do lots of modelling and the kids have become very comfortable with story telling.