Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Too Cold to Go Outside?

You don't have to look far on the net, or in the real world for that matter, to find plenty of examples of children enjoying the benefits of being outdoors. You would actually be hard pressed to find anyone who didn't support the idea of children getting out into the fresh air and playing. Think of the exercise they're getting. What about the sensory experiences that just can't be replicated indoors? An let us not forget all that natural wonder waiting to be explored.

And yet when the weather becomes less than desirable those same people begin howling that the children must get out of the weather. Now a part of me can understand when there is extreme heat such as that which we get here in Australia. Yet if we dress children appropriately, ensure they remain in shaded areas, are well protected with hats, sun block and have access to plenty of drinking water then it really shouldn't be an issue.

The same goes for colder weather. However, in this area I'm a little less understanding of why people are against children being out in the cold. I get there are circumstances when children may need to avoid the cold sue to illness or underlying conditions, yet the majority of children should have the opportunity to experience all types of weather conditions. Apart from being great sensory opportunities it's just plain FUN! 
Snow isn't usually an issue here in Australia, but it still serves as a great example of how children can get out and explore the outdoors in all types of weather, even extreme cold. Yet there are those in relatively warmer climates who complain about the cold and demand children remain indoors when the temperature is in the teens Celsius.

 Photo courtesy of Frode Svane. Kindly shared by Juliet Robertson from Creative Star Learning.

However, for me you only have to look at these children at play in Norway during the Winter to gain an understanding that there really are very few weather condition that should keep children indoors.

Photo courtesy of Frode Svane. Kindly shared by Juliet Robertson from Creative Star Learning.
In fact, I believe that if the children of Norway are able to venture out in sub zero temperatures then surely children elsewhere should be given the opportunity to experience play in conditions much more mild. Even the hottest of Aussie Summers should provide opportunities for children to experience short periods of time outside.
Photo courtesy of Frode Svane. Kindly shared by Juliet Robertson from Creative Star Learning.

There had been a fundamental shift recently in early childhood education in Australia recently and the changes are ongoing. At the forefront of this is the first ever national early childhood framework - the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). Within the Framework there are a set  of pedagogical practices that underpin what we as educators should be doing as we help children grow and develop. One of these, Learning Environments, includes the following statements:

Outdoor learning spaces are a feature of Australian learning environments. They offer a vast array of possibilities not available indoors. Play spaces in natural environments include plants, trees, edible gardens, sand, rocks, mud, water and other elements from nature. These spaces invite open-ended interactions, spontaneity, risk-taking, exploration, discovery and connection with nature. They foster an appreciation of the natural environment, develop environmental awareness and provide a platform for ongoing environmental education.

Now if this is within the document that all early years educators are meant to be using to guide their practice and there is  still an alarming amount of professionals unwilling to make the shift, then are we setting our services up to fail? To fail the children and families they are entrusted to do their utmost to care for and educate?

I know for the most part I'm preaching to the converted here, but if I can connect with just one individual. Convince just one person, whether they be an early childhood professional, a parent, or some other party with a vested interest, then I will have done something worthwhile. And hopefully that once voice will be carried on the wind (while the children play in it of course) so that others may see the benefits of being outdoors in all types of weather.

Males in Early Childhood would like to acknowledge to contributions made by Creative Star Learning and Mr Frode Svane.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Make it Visible

There's an important rule to remember in early childhood education. No matter what the topic, it's easy for us to get caught up in the knowledge that we know what we're talking about. That we understand that there is much more going on than meets the eye. However, from a parent's perspective that might not wash. As a parent I may well have confidence in those charged with caring for and educating my child/ren, but I should also be able to see the benefits my child is getting out of being in this setting. What skills and knowledge they are gaining.

Take the picture above. We can see the creativity going on here as well as the mathematical concepts being explored, but do parents? If we share this picture do we explain all that was going on during the process of its creation? I believe we owe it to families to ensure they are getting the whole picture of what their child is learning in each experience. If you were shown this picture as a parent would you look beyond the coloured lines and outline of your child? What else would you think had been going on? What learning is occurring? Remember, most parents are not equipped with in depth child development knowledge so may not think of thing you might take for granted.

Another case in point is the simple game of Follow the Leader. This is a game most children would play with peers, siblings, parents and other adults. An enjoyable experience in itself, and a great way for children to learn about turn taking and following directions. During such an experience you could mention what is happening to expose children to the terminology. Words such as along, through, over, behind, up, together, opposite, etc. Children learn language when exposed to it. They don't need to repeat it time and time again.

Sharing this with parents can be as simple as highlighting key words in documentation, or when speaking with families about their child's day mention the little details. They will be things that will matter most and will most likely stick in their minds. I know this sounds like redundant advice as it's so obvious, but I know I sometimes fail to share the more important small things and I doubt I'm alone in that. We owe families at least that much, if not much more.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Taking Care of the Boys

There has been much discussion recently on the interspace/cybernet about the need to do something about the education of young and not so young boys. Much of that discussion has centred around the how tos as the overwhelming majority agree about the why fors.

Now I'm all for getting the education of young boys back on track and there are enough facts and figures to highlight the dilemma facing boys to fill 100 blog posts. However, I don't want to get into the semantics of what the problem is or even what the possible causes might be. Solutions are the important ingredient here.

An interesting recent article by Niki Buchan talked about this very issue. She raises some interesting points, just as many others do. What I want to get across though is that when we focus on boys, or girls exclusively to the other gender we are doing a disservice to all children. A prolonged focus on boys could lead to girls' results beginning to fair worse. In short, if we put too much energy into one group, the other is bound to suffer.

Having said that, let's get back on track to what people want us to do about boys. Find things that interest them. Shouldn't that work for all children? Get them outside so they can let off some of that energy? Again, shouldn't all children be spending more time outside? Get more men into the profession who can handle the boys. Now while more in working with young children is an absolute goal for me and all who care about young children, getting them just to look after the troublesome children, who just happen to be mostly boys according to many, is just plain ridiculous. Why do people think that men would be automatically better at dealing with so called difficult young boys appropriately than women?

I could go on and on, but I'll spare you that. The point is that boys do need our attention, but if we give it to them, we need to be very careful we don't do it to the detriment of the girls. I want to do my best for all children. Sometimes that will mean giving special attention to certain boys, just as there will be times when I attend more to particular girls. Hopefully, in the whole scheme of things I provide a balance that enables all children to get the best out of themselves. I also hope that others aspire to something similar.

I don't mean to diminish the plight many boys find themselves in or the wonderful work so many, such as Niki Buchan are doing to change the imbalance. I simply caution that sometimes we look for broad reaching, simplified solutions to very complex problems and that rarely bodes well.

So get out there, help those boys, don't forget about the girls and advocate for more men, but for all the right reasons. What are those right reasons? They are probably different for everyone so only you can answer that question.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Vale Maurice Sendak

I had all intentions of writing a post about boys. How we can engage them more effectively in learning opportunities and change our approaches to better meet their unique needs and interests. However, an event occurred last night Australian time that changed my mind.

I went to work with the knowledge that acclaimed author and illustrator of numerous children's books, Maurice Sendak, had died.

I'll admit that for much of my life I was only aware of one of his creations. "Where the Wild Things Are" is still one of my all time favourite children's books. I wasn't a fan of the movie version though, but this is not the time or place to get into a debate about that. I have since discovered that he was responsible for writing, illustrating, and in many cases both, dozens of stories. I was quite surprised to learn that he created the "Little Bear" series, which I was only aware of via the animated television series from the '90s.

The main reason I am writing about this is that it sparked a series of quite spontaneous experiences and discussions with the young children in my care. As I drove to work I developed a rough idea in my head that I wanted to broach the subject of Maurice Sendak's death with the children, but in a way that didn't overly worry the children.

First of all I sat with the children, showed them my copy of Where the Wild Things Are and told them that the man who wrote the story had died. One question came immediately back to me, "Why did he die?" I told them he was old and had been sick. I then went on to explain that while this news might make us sad we should remember all the good things he did. I informed them how he had written and/or illustrated lots and lots of books that have made many people very happy.

I also said to them that dying is part of life and that everyone dies sometimes. We even have some of us here who have had pets who have dies. In response to that I get over half the children sharing how their dog, cat, fish, bird and cow had died. What followed was lots of sharing of stories about what these children remembered of their beloved pets.

We read the story with the children acting as the Wild Things. I then said I would place the book on the drawing table if anyone wanted to look at it so they could draw a picture to remember Mr Sendak with. Many of the children were quite keen to do this, but one youngster came up to me and said, "I don't want to draw a picture from the book. I want to draw a picture for my Jersey" This had been this boy's pet dog who had passed away earlier in the year.

That got me thinking. I went round to all the children individually and said to them if they wanted to draw a picture for their pet, whether they had died or not, I think they would love it. You know, I've never seen the drawing table so busy. We had to set up 2 other tables and borrow some crayons and pencils from other rooms.

When I wrote the daily diary I came to the section titled, "What's next?" What would I follow up this experience with? I thought for a few seconds before the idea struck me like a lump of 2x4. I would ask families if their child had any pets that had died and if so then if they had a photo of said pet. My idea being that we could make an area a pet wall of remembrance. A place that could spark discussion and evoke wonderful memories of joyous times spent with said pet.

This was well received by every single parent and carer I spoke with.  I must admit I was expecting some hesitation, but I underestimated my families. Just like I believe in the capabilities of the children to cope with this sort of subject matter when addressed with care, compassion and respect, I must remember to do the same with their families. Respect  their point of view of it differs from mine, but have the confidence in them that they value what I am teaching their children and also respect their capabilities.

A few parents had even already had talks with their children about death, because of the pets or in some cases actual family members. These children will cope with death in their own way, just as we all do, but telling them the truth about such matters and being honest and up front about stories of death and illness will empower them to be better equipped to handle such events when and if they occur.

I understand not everyone will agree with this approach and that's ok, but I truly believe that we are better teachers when we are honest with the children, honest with their families, and most importantly of all, honest with ourselves.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Don't Forget the Fathers

Last year I posted about the Journal of Men's Studies issue that focused entirely on males in early childhood education. In my belief this was a very rare instance that such a highly regarded peer reviewed journal has published an entire edition on this topic.

Well that was great for the male educators out there, or those thinking about going into the profession, but what about the dads? Well I have some good news for you. The same group of professional publications has a journal for fathers.

Courtesy of Men's Study Press
As you can see it is simply titled "Fathering" which doesn't need much grey matter to remember. After just a quick scroll through some of the articles however, I discovered that while the target audience may be dads, there is much on offer for the professionals amongst us. Take these three titles from the current issue as just a small example:

Guest Editorial: Community-Based Programs Serving Fathers
Impacts of a Parenting Newsletter on fathers of Kindergarten Children
Rethinking Services for Young Fathers

As you can see from just this small sample, there is plenty there on offer for early childhood educators and service managers/providers to think about when considering how they engage the fathers within their service. And lets face it, despite our best efforts there would be very few of us who could honestly say we meet the needs of our fathers as much as we do our mothers.

Food for thought?