Thursday, June 30, 2011

On Being a Dad and a Teacher - Part 4

So far I've been telling my story in a linear fashion. Moving along a timeline so to speak. At this point however, I am going to break that sequence so that I may relate some of the positive and negative experiences I've had along the way. As a father I have generally only had positive feedback from others when they have seen me engaging with my children, whether it be at the park, shopping, sport, playgroup, preschool, school or wherever. I digress for a moment to share something I omitted before. That I also often took my children to playgroup. That was my first taste of an organised social environment for my children. What I will say about that is that while I was often the only dad there, there were other dads that came from time to time. Sadly, it was almost always us dads who were out playing with the children, or down on the floor with them inside. With only a couple of exceptions the mothers almost always remained inside for the majority of their time their apparently content to drink coffee & socialise. That's not to say the mothers did nothing. Many of them worked hard to prepare the area inside & out each day, often made treats for the children and were the ones actively seeking support for the service. This is not an opinionated statement, rather a factual recount.

Back on task now. As I said, I have usually received positive feedback from those around me. The only negative vibe I have received as a father was when I volunteered at the children's preschool. I have already told this story in Part 2 so I won't retell it here. However, I have experienced a few more negative moments in my teaching capacity. Some secretively or even subconsciously, while others more openly. My worst experience came at the hands of a Director during my internship, which I withdrew from because of what transpired. I won't go into details, but she was covert to begin with. Undermining my efforts and belittling my achievements. When I finally informed her that I would be withdrawing she openly told me (in private) that it was the first decent thing she had witnessed me do as men don't belong in childcare. I eventually completed my internship the following year with a Director with the completely opposite outlook & hence had a fabulous experience, regaining the confidence & self worth that had been sapped from me in the other setting. However, even in that positive environment I found out afterwards there was one snake in the grass. A coworker who apparently made some accusations against me & even fabricated evidence to back up her story. her lies were discovered easily enough, but I was left unaware until after I completed my 10 weeks. I am grateful for that as I am unsure how I would have dealt with that sort of information. There have been other minor incidents, but insignificant compared to these two.

I must say, it is disturbing that almost every negative comment or experience has involved a so called early childhood professional. Apart from the incident at my children's preschool I have only had encouraging feedback from parents & families. I even had one family follow me over 100 km when I moved from one centre to another because they couldn't imagine anyone else teaching their preschooler. While the negative comments & experiences took their toll, it's all the wonderful things I hear almost every day that stay with me. I have made some enduring friendships because families keep in touch after their child has left my care. That is what makes this job worthwhile, along with the warm greetings I get each morning from the children as I walk in the room. I have been hurt, but my heart is too full of the love of children to be broken down by some sad individuals.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Being a Dad and a Teacher - Part 3

I have related my journey with my children through preschool & into school. Now I venture into their sporting endeavours. Junior sport is full of parents. Some are eager to pitch in & help, some are content to watch from the sidelines while others, it seems, are at pains to make the whole experience a nightmare for all involved. I have had my share of experiences with all of these & must say I would place myself in the first two categories at different times. The truth is junior sport cannot function effectively without the dedication of small number of parents with others willing to support in a number of ways. Depending on the sport I have either dived headlong in, as much as my knowledge or skill base & confidence would allow, or I waited in the wings to offer my little bit of assistance when & if it was called for.

There is no need for me to go into details here, but I am proud of the amount of time I have given to my kids' various endeavours. Of course I know of many individuals who contribute so much more than I do, physically, emotionally, time wise & financially. Nevertheless, I believe I have made an impact of the lives of a number of children because of my involvement in their sporting ventures.

About the same time my son began his football (soccer) career as my daughter began playing netball. Now I didn't know much about netball at the time, although I learnt as I went, but I helped out where I could. In the canteen, assisting with drills at practice, & even leading a cheer squad. There was no shortage of parents willing to have a go in the first couple of years of soccer, so I again settled for helping in small ways, such as setting up the ground or being a ground official on game day. As netball & soccer often clashed my wife & I decided we would take turns at each child's sport so that we could share in the thrills & spills of each equally. This was during the Winter months, but during Summer the kids started little athletics. I discovered myself drawn towards little athletic more then soccer or netball, perhaps because there seemed so much more to do. I began by helping out at the events while my kids competed. Once my son moved from tiny tots (3-4 year olds) to under 6s I volunteered as their age manager, meaning I supervised their entire night (they compete Friday nights) & usually ran each field event they competed in. I often had the care of 30 or so children between events, especially waiting for their turn at a track event. It was during these occasions that I began using strategies that belonged more to the 'teacher' tag than the 'parent' tag. Although this was a couple of years before I began studying.

Both soccers continued with my help from time to time, including a couple of very ordinary attempts at refereeing when the rostered referee failed to show. I may have been a terrible referee, but at least I had a go & the game was able to go ahead as a result. I continued in my role as age manager with my son's age group at little athletics. Each year the numbers dropped a little, but I became more & more attached to them as a group & as individuals. We have now been at little A's for 10 years & I have progressed to become a vice president of the club. I am so fond of all my kids they are like my own children in so many ways. This year they leave me as they join up with the older athletes & don't need me any more (although I think I still need them). I have however, put my hand up to go back to the tiny tots & help the new families settle in & show them the ropes.

In the meantime cricket emerged as an interest of my son (& daughter for one year). Each year a suitable dad volunteered to be coach, but I put my hand up to be assistant coach/manager. In all these endeavours I have drawn on my knowledge & experiences as a competitor in my own junior days. But what I think is more astounding is that I have come to realise that I developed some strategies to relate with the children that have become part of my teaching style. These may have in part been influenced by my parenting, but equally I believe they had a lasting effect on how I parent. So many different aspects of my life are intertwined & influence one another, that I can honestly say that I am a very different person to what I was 16 years ago when I got married, or 7 years ago when I went to university, or even last year. I guess what I'm trying to say is that  every aspect of my life is influencing the father & teacher I am. I think that's a good thing. Lifelong learning is not just about professional development or personal growth. It's about how you adapt yourself to a changing world, becoming a better person for it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On Being a Dad and a Teacher - Part 2

As my children grew I became as involved as possible in their lives away from home. The preschool they both attended offered parents volunteer days where parents could remain at the preschool all day, engaging with their own child as well as the others. There was a roster so that no more than 2 parents at a time remained for the day. I volunteered on several occasions & revelled at the opportunity to build relationships with so many children. I think that is where my passion to work with children truly began. Anyway, the staff, parents & children were all very welcoming & positive. That is, they were to my knowledge until the Director informed me that a few parents had raised their concerns of a man being at the preschool while their child was there. She assured them that their children's welfare was not at risk and that it was advantageous for the children to engage in experiences that include positive male role models. I have not obtained permission to mention her here, but this Director has been an advocate for males working with young children for more than 2 decades.

As my children progressed to primary school I became a classroom volunteer, beginning with being involved in reading groups to remaining for half days. I was included in class activities, helped children with additional needs in the mainstream class & assisting the teacher in lesson preparations. I really enjoyed the experiences with the children and valued the experience I gained under a skilled educator.

This time was the lead up to & the beginning of my studies. I now believe that my time in the preschool & school contributed to making me a more effective teacher from the outset. I am grateful for their time & the opportunities they provided. Perfect examples of professionals influencing present & even future colleagues.

Monday, June 27, 2011

On Being a Dad and a Teacher - The Introduction

I have been a dad much longer than I've been a teacher. Although, from the moment my first child was born, and even while she was in utero, I was a teacher. But in the technical sense I have been a parent nearly 3 times as long as I've been a qualifies early childhood teacher. So how do the roles compare and compliment each other? Does being one make you better at being the other? Have I changed my parenting style since training to be & practicing as a teacher? I will try to give a relatively brief account of my experiences and my slant on the relationship between fatherhood and teacherhood. I know I said I will try to be brief, but I am a very verbose person so I will therefore break this reflection down into several parts. Perhaps one for each day of this week. We'll see how it goes anyway.

Since I have begun with such a long introduction my first offering will deal with how my life changed in so many ways when I discovered my wife was pregnant. I stated in my intro that I was a teacher to my daughter while she was in utero. I believe this is so for a few reasons. Firstly, although a mother & child begin bonding almost instantly, a father & child can bond very early on too. This was during the mid 90's and my favourite song of the time was Wonderwall by Oasis. I would sing this to my wife's belly several times a day from as early as 2-3 months into the pregnancy. Later, during her infancy I would to sing it softly to my daughter to calm her down, get her off to sleep or simply to be with her. To this day she has an undeniable attraction to the song, even though it was before her time & no other Oasis song appeals to her. Yes this was parental bonding and attachment, but I feel it was also teaching as I provided my daughter with an opportunity to experience the presence of another significant person in her life apart from her mother.

The bonding & teaching continued as significant milestone approached & were achieved. I spent many hours curled up on the lounge or bed with my baby in my arms. As I usually came home from my work in the mid-late morning we would often have our midday nap together. I never really saw these moments as anything more than precious moments for the both of us. Yet my studies opened up a whole new perspective to me. I now realise that I was teaching my baby much more than I ever knew.

I repeated this process with my son a couple of years later, except his song was Beautiful Boy by John Lennon. I also fell into the second child syndrome where everything is still special, just not big a deal for 'experienced' parents. Therefore, while we still celebrated the milestones, it was the little everyday things that we let pass unheralded (or at least less heralded that with our daughter). We have since come to regret this, as I suppose most parents do. I was still a teacher to him, but probably a less effective one than I could have been. Luckily he hasn't suffered from it in our opinion. Maybe I'm just being hard on myself, but that is what reflection is all about. Something else that highlights the Teacher that was, & still is, in the Dad.

Hopefully part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Eric Carle

Through a post by Donna and Sherry at Irrisistable Ideas for Play Based Learning I discovered that it is Eric Carle's 82nd birthday this week. Kate at An Amazing Child is hosting a blogging birthday party for the great man in celebration of his wonderful contributions to children's literature.

My contribution to this is what we did today to celebrate. We read one of Eric carle's most loved books,
The Very Busy Spider. One aspect I love about this book is that it has so many dimensions to it. You can talk about the animal that appears on each page, or move & sound like them as we did today. Or you can introduce maths concepts as the web is constructed such as, the number of threads that make it up increase each page, the shapes that appear as the web develops or classifying the animals into groups (eg: by number of legs). You can add to the experience by introducing props or other enhancements. Today we read the book a few times & each time our resident spider helped us along the way.
So in the end our Very Friendly Spider helped us read and experience The Very Busy Spider.
Wasn't it nice of her to take time away from her web?

All Creatures Great and Small

Earlier in the year one of my explorers discovered a frog in our playground.
By the way, that's just some wet sand o it's back and not a tumour. We have since come across many others during the ensuing months. However, none of them captured the attention and imagination of 2 year olds as much as this first one.
The children were all keen to get a close look at our new friend and some were prepared to handle it. We made sure we were vey careful to minimise our impact on the little critter and then a brief discussion resulted in the decision to release it back into nature.
Although little reluctant to leave us, freedom's call was too strong in the end.
Interestingly enough, a few days later a slightly larger new friend paid us a visit.
Luckily for the froggy these two didn't meet.
As this lovely lady was due to visit a couple of weeks earlier, but had a prior engagement.
She was shedding her skin and brought in as a gift for us. This is one of the many reminders of the creatures that inhabit the world with us. There's our Rainbow Lizard (sorry no photo yet), pictures of our frog visitors,
The spider web we all made earlier in the year with our very own neighbourly spider hanging out in it.
All incidentals, even when part of a planned experience, that have inspired a love and wonder of the natural world in a special group of toddlers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Puffy Paint

Due to the inspiration of those wonderful ladies, Sherry & Donna at Irresistable Ideas for play based learning & their post about Puffy Painting we finally decided to give this a go for ourselves on Thursday.
Our mixture of self raising flour, water & green, red, blue & yellow food colouring resulted in some pastel coloured paint.
We soon discovered our mixture was a little runny, but we persisted with it anyway to see how they would turn out.
Unfortunately they didn't 'puff' up much after being microwaved. On Friday we tried again, but with less water this time. The result was a more gelatinous mixture.
The colours also seemed to sit side by side rather than blending together as they made contact with each other.
These works definitely did puff out in the microwave. Unfortunately my photos of the finished works were accidentaally deleted so you'll have to take my word for it.
Today (Tuesday) we extended on this by providing tissue paper for the children to apply their puffy paint to.
While this was a different experience again, we found that as the paper was more flimsy it performed it ways that worked against the children as they painted.
The paper stuck to the brushes, folded in on itself & even tore in places.
Nevertheless, some wonderful ingenuity on the part of these 2 year olds led to some very creative and imaginitive artworks. This included excellent problem-solving skills to get around the paper-folding conundrum.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Science Pt 2

Well after many unsuccessful attempts I have decided to share this post minus the pictures. I hope you are not too disappointed.

Our next experiments following on from the display bottle also involved colours. We had recently been using marker pens outside when some wind and rain rolled in. It only lasted a brief time, but when we returned outside the children noticed that some of the artworks had gotten wet. It soon became noticeable that the colours in the artworks were 'running'. This led to a discussion followed by our experiment. We all (the children and adults) cut some coffee filter paper so that it could easily sit over the mouth of a glass. The children then selected a marker & made a clear dot on the filter paper. Each child then had a turn at adding a few drops of water onto their paper with eye droppers. The results were surprising. Even though I expected the filter paper to aid in the process, there was a mixture in the amount of seepage that took place. However, there was still enough for everyone to see how the colours dispersed and separated into their component colours.

For days afterwards the children tried and tested many ways to mix their colours with paint, chalk, pencils markers and crayons. One day we even shone a torch through some balloons of various colours.

Once again the extended language the children acquired through labelling new and different colours, naming the various implements and tools we used, and the discussions that ensued amongst themselves as well as with their carers was both fascinating and a delight to behold.

Our last experiment veered away from colours and involved watching seeds grow. Many of our children have seen a multitude of plants grow, flourish, wither and die over the years so we thought we'd try to grow our own seeds. the children placed kitchen sponges cut to size inside some zip lock sandwich bags. They then added some seeds of a variety of beans. Finally we all carefully added small amounts of water to each bag and hung them in the room so we could clearly see any changes taking place. The first few days didn't have much to show in the way of results, but by the 4th day our first seed had begun to sprout. The children became eager to count how many sprouts there were each day and we all began wondering just how big they would become. Our first hurdle came over the weekend. When we arrived Monday we noticed not all the seeds had sprouted and some of them were looking rather less then healthy. An interesting and forthright discussion ensued where it was decided to add more water to the bags. We also took the seeds from a couple of bags and added them to our garden due to the insistence of two persistent and strong willed enthusiasts. While a couple of the seeds seem to relish the extra water, most of them had appeared to have gained some new friends in the form of mould. While it may have been interesting to keep the mould and watch it transform, some of the children (and higher authority adults) were far less eager for it to remain. So it was decided to trash the affected bags and keep the few who still seem to have sprouts growing within. By the end of the 3rd week all of the sprouts were looking rather sorry and there had been no sign of life from those we had planted in the garden. Unfortunately there appears to be no budding (pardon the pun) green thumbs in our room. Nevertheless, it was a great learning journey for everyone with wonderful opportunities for the children to be part of a democratic decision making process.

Science - not merely the bunsen burners and beakers in a high school lab. Nor only for the school-aged child or even preschooler to engage in. Science is all around us and can open up a whole world of opportunities and experienced that promote children's development in a range of areas, not least of which is literacy, social, fine motor and mathematical skills.

I hope the lack of photos hasn't lessened the value of this post. It is my hope that someone reading this will be inspired and may challenged to rethink their preconceptions about what 2 year olds are capable of.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Computer troubles

I've been trying to post the second part of our science experiments, but each time I attempt to upload the photos that go with it my router drops out. I'll keep trying, but if I don't succeed soon I might just post without the pics.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Science Pt 1

During April my toddlers engaged in a number of scientific experiments, in which they had the opportunity to be both a participant & an onlooker. the first of these was adding food colouring to water, then combining the various colours to see what resulted. Not only did we get the standard green by combining blue & yellow, purple via red & blue, & orange after mixing yellow & red, but we discovered something else. By varying the amounts of each colour we managed to create variations on the initial secondary colours produced. For example, a darker yellow we labeled GOLD, a deeper shade of green we called OLIVE & a brownish hue we decided would be BRONZE. The only thing we didn't figure out is how to make SILVER. Not only did the children enhance their fine & gross motor skills & their hand eye coordination, they also developed their problem solving skills, predicted what might happen & tested their hypotheses, & built on their mathematical literacies, discovering new colours & ways to describe them.

As a follow on from that experience we tried to layer different liquids in a glass container & display it in our room. The children chose which order to pour the items into the container & we began with the coloured water. We decided green would be a good colour as it stood out much better from the other liquids than other options available. Next we added golden syrup, which travelled straight through the water & settled on the bottom of the container. Some of our budding scientist predicted this while others were quite surprised. Finally we poured vegetable oil in & while it initially swirled around within the water it quickly resurfaced & settled on top of the green layer. We placed a stopper in it & found a highly visible shelf that was also out of harm's way, in order for us to show off our creation to all those visiting our room. We later attempted a 7 layer display thans to a suggestion from Sherry & Donna at Irrisistable Ideas For Play Based Learning which involved adding various oils to the existing list. unfortunately the oils all tendeed to blend together & when we tried to add colour to some of the oils to help distinguish them from the others the colour went straight through the oils & into the water. We discovered through firther investigation that food colouring is water based & hence would be of similar density. Although we ended up with a very murky looking brownish sludge the learning opportunities for both adults & children meant that the experience was a success even if the outcome was what we had intended. It's the jouurney that matters, not the destination.

I will continue with the rest of our experiments later. I hope someone will find these of interest.

In Sickness

While in the middle of a 2 week illness I have had time to reflect on the state of affairs here. I think it would be weak of me to simply throw my hands in the air & say it's all too hard because I appear to be doing this on my own. So I'm growing a spine & have decided to attempt to maintain a blog of sorts on here. Some of it may be personal, but I hope most of it will be Early Childhood related if not directly Males in EC related. See you tomorrow.