It’s Not Just Play

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a blog post.  As it turns out owning and operating a daycare, being pregnant, and having a baby all take up quite a bit of time and energy-who knew?! I do however enjoy writing, and one of the goals that I originally set for myself when opening my business, was to help inform and educate others of the importance of the educational philosophies that shape our days here.

Owning a business, a daycare, was not the path I sought for myself five years ago. I am an early childhood teacher by training and through seven years of college, hundreds of hours observing and teaching young children in classrooms, I never imagined that life would take me down a path that did not lead directly to a kindergarten or first grade classroom. Yet, here I am feeling more and more like I am right where I am supposed to be. In my home, teaching young children, and using educational philosophies that I wholeheartedly believe in – something I would be unable to do in a traditional classroom setting.

My message is fairly simple (though you might not know it based on the length of this post)—-play. Children NEED play. It is necessary to their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical selves that they have plenty of time throughout the day to be immersed in play. Whether that means completely open-ended play, or an activity that leads to open-minded and open-ended play, it is imperative that they play. It has been long established what play does for the development of a child, yet we continue to move in the opposite direction.  We have serious conversations about the state of our education system, yet we seem to turn a blind eye to what children really need to thrive.  We have a play deficit in this country, and we have been seeing the negative impact of that for quite some time. Academic agendas are being pushed on children from 18 months and up, and it is having a harmful effect on their entire being.  That is why I do what I do.

My daily goal is to create an environment in which children are learning important and basic life skills, academic skills, physical skills, social skills, and emotional coping skills.  There is purpose in everything we do and objectives that we try to meet which will ultimately match up with what they are going to need to learn to be “kindergarten ready”, but I don’t need worksheets to meet those goals. They learn all of this through play, and if done correctly they will hopefully grow to love and enjoy learning.  I engage them in in-depth project based learning, which is rooted in their current interests, I also pursue meeting learning objectives by doing something as simple as laying out materials for them, and seeing where they go with it.  And throughout all of this play we have discussions about colors, and shapes, and what letter sound something begins with. They learn everything they will need to know, but they also learn so much more,  and simultaneously they are happy, involved, and excited about their learning.  I work very hard to help them learn how to love learning.

Our activity yesterday is the perfect example of how academic, physical, social, and emotional objectives were met and exceeded through our play:

I recently noticed that the children in my care have been picking up sticks and other objects and swinging them around in the air, as well as swinging them to bang them on something.  Obviously this is a behavior that I have tried to stop.  However, wanting to swing, throw and hit objects with other objects absolutely has a place in the world, so this led me to thinking about how we could safely meet the need to swing and hit an object while at the same time having a discussion about safety and the proper times and places to do that type of activity.  Those were my initial aspirations with this activity.  Yet, as usually happens, the kids ended up showing me how such a simple activity could become an even more enriching learning experience.

As I filled the balloons one of the girls asked if we could paint them because we already had our paint outside.  I said “sure, what a great addition to our activity!”.  They each painted several balloons and I asked them if they would like me to paint letters onto the rest of the balloons that way I could say “Okay, now we’re going to hit the balloon that has the T on it”, and so on.  They loved that idea and told me which letters they would like painted on the balloons by making the letter shapes with their fingers (which they thought was hilarious, and I thought was fantastic).  I then strung up most of the balloons in the tree and let them each choose a stick.  Before I let them start swinging we sat down and talked about the importance of being aware of your surroundings when doing something like this, and that this was an acceptable time to swing a stick because I was there supervising, but that it is not okay to do it outside of this activity.  I told them they need to look around make sure that before they swing they are completely sure that no one is standing near them.  They did just that.  They checked all around them before swinging and when one child was swinging the other children made sure to keep a very safe distance.  They ended up hitting the balloons with the letters that I called out to them and when we were finished with the balloons in the tree we took a few over to the blacktop to play.  They asked questions like “how high do I have to throw it for it to pop”, and “what will happen if I just roll it?”.  We experimented with all of those scenarios and they were able to get answers to questions that I had not considered would be asked when thinking of this activity.

IMG_6101

So to get to the point—

My initial objectives:

  • Teach the kids about appropriate times to swing and hit an object
  • Teach the kids to more aware of their surroundings as they do something that could potentially harm another person
  • Work on hand-eye coordination
  • Work on gross motor skills
  • Have Fun

Their actual achievements through open-minded play:

  • Learned about appropriate times to swing and hit an object
  • Learned to be more aware of their surroundings as they do something that could potentially harm another person
  • Caring that the baby may be too close and might have water splashed on her from the balloon
  • Worked on hand-eye coordination
  • Worked on gross muscle skills
  • Had Fun
  • Observed and discussed what happens when you hit a water filled balloon with a stick vs. rolling, dropping, or throwing a water filled balloon
  • Utilized fine motor skills by painting with brushes on an object they have never painted on before
  • Utilized fine motor skills and cognitive recognition of letters of the alphabet using their fingers
  • Recalled letter sounds and shapes by hearing me say the sound of the letter and then hitting the balloon that had that letter painted on it
  • Had questions asked and answered via scientific inquiry as to what would happen the balloon and why if we rolled vs dropped vs threw
  • Continued learning about the importance of being generous, taking turns and sharing with one another (as one child wanted to break all of the balloons but realized that her friends wanted to be able to participate too)

None of those objectives would have been met if my only goal was to have them learn the symbols of the alphabet, or if I felt that rote counting was of the utmost importance. They learned more through this one play based activity than I could have hoped, and that is why I am begging you to let your children play and surround them with people who encourage their excitement and love to explore and engage in the world around them.

Keep an eye out because there is plenty more to come as I make it a point to blog more often about the things I am passionate about!

Processed Focused Art for Children: Why it’s Important & How to Get Started

 

Art

Most of you are probably wondering what exactly I mean by “process focused art”.  Art is Art right?  Well, I’m here to tell you that all “art” is not created equally, at least when it comes to young children.  Just as children need time, space, and freedom in order to have a rich and meaningful play experience, they need the exact same things in order to have a successful creative experience.  Process focused art is about just that – the experience.  Unfortunately, in the product focused lives of young school children we often see the converse of this concept being put into practice.  That is not to say that crafts, or product focused “art” is without benefit.  When children are given a cute bunny to cut and paste together they are learning how to follow directions, put things in order, and are honing their fine motor skills.  All of these are of course important, but the benefits of letting children be free and creative with their art far outweigh the benefits of having them create a product that they can’t really even call their own.

The creative experience is satisfying in such a way that it cannot be replicated or replaced by any other type of experience, and when we only allow children to participate in “creating” product centered art we are robbing them of that unique experience.  Being given the freedom to create can help children to foster emotional health.  These experiences create limitless opportunity for children to “express emotion and, by gaining relief and understanding through such expression, coming to terms with them.” (M.COX)  This type of creative experience can simultaneously foster cognitive growth in that children are given the opportunity to express and try new ideas, problem solve, and use symbols to replace real objects, which represent ideas and feelings.  These are just a few of the reasons process focused art should be the cornerstone of your little ones creative outlet.

One last, and I believe the most advantageous benefit of process focused art is the ability for children to find meaning and satisfaction in the here and now.  At some point in our lives we have all heard and pondered the ever famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination”.  There is a great deal of wisdom and truth in this one simple sentence, and I don’t know about you, but I think it is definitely a notion worth striving for.  This is an attitude that I try to adopt in my own life because I want to be satisfied and happy in the moment, versus feeling unfulfilled because I am waiting for a specific end result, something that will satisfy me in the future.  This is an especially important concept that children need to learn as they grow, even more so in our “everything you want or need is available at the click of a button” world we are living in today.  As children grow out of the stage of life where if they need something, they get it right away, it is so important for them to adopt an attitude of patience and understanding.  However, this is not something that will necessarily come naturally to young children, it is something that must be taught and something that parents can be especially mindful of.  Letting your children engage in process focused art can help children to learn to enjoy an experience without the need for a predetermined outcome.

So, how can you help your children engage in process focused art?

1.  Provide a variety of self-expressive materials for

  • Painting – Paint (oil, water-color, etc.) Sponges, Brushes, Twigs, Logs, Pinecones, Seashells, Paper, Q-Tips, Cotton Balls, the options are pretty endless!
  •  Collage Making – Again, Endless Possibilities!  Tissue Paper, Glue, Paper, Yarn, Magazines, Smooth Glass, Buttons, Small Twigs, Grass, Flowers, Leaves, Etc.
  • Dancing – scarves, Musical Instruments, Wands
  • Dough Play/Clay Play – Anything that can be pressed into or help to roll the dough! Pasta, Beans, Wooden Letters, Cookie Cutters, Rocks

These are just a few ideas, but let them explore and utilize any materials they wish!

2.  Interfere as Little as Possible

  • Let children explore the materials as their impulses and feeling require.  Avoid the instinct to tell them how to do something, or that they are doing something wrong.   This greatly limits creativity and suppresses the child’s instincts and originality.

3.  Never Provide a Model for Children to Copy and Understand that the Process, not the Product is What is Important to Children

4.  Allow Plenty of Time

  • Children need time to work their way into an experience and to develop their feelings and ideas as they go along.  Ideally you should give them as much time as they need or want.

5.  Provide Enough of Whatever They are Using

6.  Let Children Come and Go From Their Art at Will

7.  Play Music in the Background

8.  Take it Outside!

9.  Say YES to Your Child’s Ideas

Keep these basic principles in mind, and have fun watching your child engage in meaningful creativity!