Sunday, March 25, 2012

Using Art to Build Self-Assured Critical Thinkers in Early Childhood Centers


The art hanging on the walls of The Early Learning Center of Temple Shalom is child created.  Each piece of art is unique and developmentally appropriate for children ages 2 ½ thru Pre-K.  No two paintings or drawings or collages look alike.   You may think that every preschool could say the same and that there is nothing unusual about our walls.  Think again.
Far too often, emphasis in early childhood centers is placed on creating crafts that seem to demonstrate to parents that a lesson was learned that day.  When learning about animals, adults seem to feel compelled to grab the cotton balls and have everyone glue them onto construction paper or paper plates. Sheep are not made of cotton balls.   The children know it.  We know it.  Yet, many a cotton ball has given its life to create cloned sheep.  Taking cotton balls and gluing them teaches the children only to stick cotton on paper.  If we want children to learn about animals, we need to show them real or, at the very least, pictures of real animals.  We need to listen for their questions and respond to their curiosity.  Last week, our Pre-K class was learning about cardinals.  They saw pictures of cardinals and we talked about their characteristics.  We gave the children an opportunity to create their own cardinals.  We put a plethora of materials on the table and let them choose how they would make the birds.  Some students immediately grabbed red materials and began to cut & paste.  Other students decided upon different colors.  No two birds looked alike.  When I asked the students who selected blue or green or yellow what a cardinal looks like when we see it outside, every student said, “It is red.”  Selecting other materials did not mean that they did not learn that cardinals are red.  They simply didn’t want to create a red bird.  Likewise, just because a child paints a blob and calls it a car doesn’t mean that they cannot identify a car in real life.  Adults need to accept that projects that look cute to us, that look like the sheep or the cardinal, do not indicate that any in depth learning has taken place.
One might wonder what benefit it has to let the children use materials of their own choosing or create a product that does not resemble an adult concept of a particular item.  Children who create crafts and are not restricted by pre-cut parts become confident decision makers.  They discover that their thoughts have value and that they have power.  They develop critical thinking skills.   The moment we place the glue for them or insist that the eyes go in a certain position on the face, we have taken their power away.  We have created a situation in which they can be wrong.  They become concerned with being right and pleasing the adults.  They become passive learners instead of active thinkers.
Letting go of the concept that crafts indicate learning is one step in the process of acknowledging that our children are independent thinkers and can explore topics in ways that do not include pre-fabricated figures and school glue.  Whether you are a parent or an educator, I hope that you will begin to help build children’s self-esteem by letting them create things that have no right & wrong and think independently.  The students at The Early Learning Center of Temple Shalom take great pride in their crafts.  They love when we hang them in the hallway.  They invite their parents into their classrooms to see the amazing things they have made.  That sort of pride and self-esteem will travel with them into their elementary school years.  We take great pride in that.


Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

The Importance of Learning Through Play in Early Childhood and Beyond


In today’s test driven educational systems, it seems that we have forgotten that learning through play during the early childhood years is the basis for later critical thinking.  It distressed me to learn recently that some early childhood programs have taken the word “play” out of the description of their curriculum.  One director apologetically explained to me that in today’s educational environment, the word “play” was viewed negatively. What does it say about our society that parents do not want to hear that their preschoolers are playing?  Perhaps the problem is a lack of understanding. Play is not something children do between learning opportunities.  Play IS the learning opportunity.
Children learn best when they build their knowledge through play.  Providing a student-centered, play & experiential environment at all ages enhances a student’s receptiveness to learning. Students need to be active rather than passive.  Think about your best learning experience.  You may have been actively engaged in debate, on a school trip, creating something.  You were undoubtedly active. When I teach workshops, I often ask people to think back on their school years.  I have yet to have an adult tell me that their best learning experience was when they were not in some way engaged in activity.  If adults recognize that we learn best from activities that engage us physically and intellectually, they shouldn’t expect anything different from children.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play promotes both behavioral development and brain growth.  The University of North Carolina’s “Abecedarian” Early Child Intervention program found that children who had the benefit of both enriched, play-oriented parenting and early childhood pro¬grams had significantly higher IQ’s at age five than those that did not (105 vs. 85 points).
The benefits of play are evident when we recognize what children learn when they play.  A child building with blocks is learning about spatial relationships, weight & balance, problem solving and size comparisons.  A child engaged in dramatic play is practicing oral language development skills, storytelling and developing an understanding & empathy for others.  Why is it important to make those beaded pieces of jewelry?  In order to get them to look just right, students might be sorting, classifying and patterning.  They learn so much more than they would in a workbook by using toys, manipulatives and other materials.
Parents and educators need to work together to bring education back to its core.  All of the workbooks, standardized tests and pushing children to learn things before they are developmentally ready are not improving our educational system. Parents and teachers in my workshops frequently tell me that they fear that we are creating people who can produce a product – a correct answer – but do not have the experience to think deeply and to analyze.   By giving your children a foundation of learning through play in the early childhood years and voicing your concerns about including experiential learning for every age group, we can make a difference for this generation of learners.

Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

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