Friday, March 29, 2013

Putting Imaginative Play Back Into Childhood



The most imaginative play comes from the simplest of surroundings.  I remember creating forts out of sheets and castles out of refrigerator boxes.  Entire worlds can be created in mud or wet sand.  A row of chairs becomes a bus or train or airplane.  When I speak to parent groups and talk about the play of our childhoods, everyone gets very nostalgic.  Then we leave the room, return to our children and resume today’s version of childhood – lessons, organized play dates, appointments, computers, tablets, video games that don’t even require two friends playing to be in the same room.  Today’s children have adult schedules and are thrust constantly into an adult’s concept of imaginative play.  As spring weather approaches and you face more decisions about how to spend your time and money, I implore you to remember:
  • Play is created by children, not adults.  Dance lessons, sports teams, drama classes and other adult led activities are not play.  It is nice if your children enjoy those activities but we must recognize that they are adult driven activities during which our children follow directions.  They are not play.  Play is imaginative and child created.  It begins at that magical moment when children enter a world that is of their own making.  While playing, children set boundaries and explore different roles.  They determine their rules and experiment with imposing them.  They are sometimes the leaders and other times the followers.  They make the decisions.  From positive, child created play, comes self-discovery, self-esteem and confidence.  We need to ensure that they have time in every day to use their imaginations.
  • Anything your child plays with is a toy.  “Toy” is a misunderstood word.  A toy is any instrument of play.  A box that your children can make into a car is no less a toy than the brand name cars in a toy store.  The sheets that serve as the boundaries of their indoor forts are toys.   Many an adult has joked about their children playing longer with the box than the toy that came in it.   It is the box, because it can become anything, which captures their imagination.  Adults love big, expensive toys.  Big, expensive toys represent success to us and the older we get the more expensive the toys.  Buy whatever you like for your children but remember that it is far less consequential to them.  They want what they see on TV because we are a society of consumers and children are no different.  They will be so excited to get it and, eventually, we notice it has been abandoned.  Along with the toys we purchase, be sure to provide plain, everyday items.  The plain paper plates, boxes, material and old clothing will stimulate their imaginations and, therefore, encourage more learning than any adult constructed toy.
  • Children cannot pretend that which they do not know.  When you take a child into a room and say, “Let’s pretend to be in a submarine” but they have never seen a submarine, they have no idea what you want them to imagine.  They can imagine that which they know – things they have experienced or seen.  Children can pretend to be superheroes because they have seen them on TV.  They can pretend to be in a car because they have been in cars.  They cannot pretend to be at an amusement park or in a location that they have never seen or experienced.  They cannot pretend things that they cannot picture.  Our world view and theirs are very different.  In order be immersed in play, children need to set the scene.  They need to assign the roles.  Adults should wait to be invited and then take their cues from the children.  
  • There is no greater playground than nature.  Lying in the grass watching the leaves blow and the clouds go by or watching the movement and strength of ants provide lessons that cannot be replicated.  Children learn about weather from being in it.   They learn about substances from playing in sand and mud.  They need hands-on experiences to build knowledge.  Electronics do not provide hands-on experience.  They try to replicate it but they cannot replace it.  Playing outside and observing nature should not be limited to team sports and time in the pool.  Children need time year round to experiment and to observe nature.  It is in nature that all of their senses work in tandem.  They can see, smell and feel the beautiful plants.  They can touch an apple tree and taste its fruit.  They can hear and see the birds as they fly by.  The more senses children use, the more active their brains.  The more they observe, the keener their analytical skills.  Give them time to just spend time outside.

Play is the hard work of childhood.  It is through play that children develop social, emotional and cognitive skills.  Be sure that their play time is filled with their own imaginations.
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Read this blog for more articles and learn about early childhood workshops for parents and early childhood professionals - www.helpingkidsachieve.com
                                                      
Copyright 2013 © 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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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Full Day Kindergarten Mandates & Curricular Changes: Will We Create Thinkers or Test Takers?



There is a bill in the New Jersey Legislature that would mandate full day kindergarten throughout the State of New Jersey.   One reason purported for the necessity of full day kindergarten is that the current core curriculum standards are too rigorous to be accomplished in a half day program.  Standardized testing has permeated our educational system and, too often, has become the curricular focus.  Classroom time is spent preparing for the NJ ASK, GEPA, HSPA and other acronyms.   We are surely creating students who can pass a test but are we creating thinkers?

In this very product based society, we have forgotten how children learn.  The foundation for future critical thinking skills, self-esteem and confident decision making occurs in developmentally appropriate early childhood classrooms.  Early childhood, which encompasses birth to age 8, is a time of great intellectual growth.  Children go from the dependency of infancy to being curious explorers and finally deeper, more abstract thinkers.  Developmentally appropriate classrooms encourage hands-on, interactive self-discovery.  It is from that foundation that children develop a love of learning.  If our kindergarten classrooms, full or half day, are being driven by concern for future test scores, the time is not being spent wisely.

We have a choice when we work with children of any age.  We can grasp their curiosity or we can squash it.  We can take hold of their enthusiasm or we can beat it out of them.  Rote memorization is not deeper learning.  Following adult instructions all day long and successfully completing worksheets does not encourage children to analyze and stretch their thinking.  We seem to have many people watching the test scores and designing curriculum around them.  We need to ensure that there are also watchdogs guarding our children’s development of intellect.  In our quest to achieve, we cannot abolish childhood by taking young children and making them produce on paper more than explore. Kindergarten classrooms need toys, dramatic play areas, hands-on science and creative art.  As we move toward the possibility of mandatory full day programs, we need to demand that our children are offered opportunities to learn the way they learn best – through play, by being in nature, by negotiating social situations and by doing all of it at their own pace.
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Read this blog for more articles and learn about early childhood workshops for parents and early childhood professionals - www.helpingkidsachieve.com
                                                      
Copyright 2013 © 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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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How To Play WITH Your Children – It’s Harder Than It Sounds



Ask parents if they play with their children and they will inevitably reply, “Of course I do.”  Chances are, however, that they are not really playing WITH.  Adults tend to play near, at and around but not quite with. 

The most important part of a child’s day is play.  It is through play that children experiment with role playing, symbolism, rule setting and negotiating social situations.  They begin to develop empathy, expand their vocabularies and create new brain connections.  Children need to design their own play based upon their view of the world.  Young children are very concrete and can only pretend that with which they are familiar.  They are also often unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality.  That inability to separate the real from the imagined is what makes their capacity to play so much deeper than that of an adult.  Adults do not typically spend endless hours in a doll’s imaginary world or putting toy cars through the toy car wash.  Adults cannot stay in the realm of the imagined.  Not only can’t we stay, we are challenged to enter it successfully.

In order to get a glimpse of how children see the world and to determine what interests them, adults need to enter their play.  Adults have to resist the overwhelming urge to make the rules and steer the course of their children’s imagination.  Adults tend to dictate play rather than join it.  When a grown up walks over and dictates play – says, “Let’s do this” – the grown up has taken over the thinking process.  When adults become the active thinkers, children become passive.  They become followers instead of leaders.  It is essential that adults do not take control of play.

The first steps in entering play are to wait for an invitation and to observe.  There are times when children prefer to play alone or only with other children.  Adults should not power their way into this other world.  Going over and trying to join with them is, when you think about it, not very polite.  It is not very different from that moment when we are writing checks to pay bills and our children come over and grab the pen.  We are models of behavior in every situation and play is no different.  Pull up a chair.  Sit nearby on the floor and wait.  If the children want to play with you, you will be invited.  The children will hand you a toy or begin to include you in conversation.  While waiting for your invitation, observe.  The only way to truly enter their play is to observe.  Take note of what exactly they are doing.  Children sitting around a table in a play kitchen may not actually be cooking.  Children building with blocks could be building anything – a tower, a roadway, an entire town.  Adults should build what the children are building to encourage their creativity and decision making skills.

Once you have been invited, ask questions.  Ask who you are in their dramatic play or how you can help with their construction project.  Asking rather than telling enables the children to keep the power in their imaginary world.  Children spend most of their day without power.  Adults tell them when to awake, set the schedule of the day, and determine their meals and more.  The one time that children really control their world is when they are pretending.  Letting them be the leaders gives them the gift of self-confidence.  They can make decisions that others will abide by and encourage.  There is no greater lesson they can learn about their abilities.

When I watch young children play and participate in their imaginary world, I am in awe.  They are so much more capable than we often give them credit for being.  They think of things I could not possibly have added.   They show us exactly who they are and how they see the world around them.  Play is the hard work of their development and our window into their thoughts.
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Read this blog for more articles and learn about early childhood workshops for parents and early childhood professionals - www.helpingkidsachieve.com
                                                      
Copyright 2013 © 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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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

When Did the Product Become More Important Than the Process?



When I was a girl struggling through my first encounter with Algebra II, I groaned to my father, “Why do I have to learn this?  I will never use it.” 

My father replied, “It teaches you to think a certain way.  You have to think critically and analyze.  Those are important skills.” 

At the beginning of this school year, I attended my son’s High School Back to School Night.  Teacher after teacher explained the importance of their class based upon test results required for the HSPA, the SAT and a variety of other standardized test acronyms.  I felt that every presentation and every conversation was about that product.  School has become about the grades and test scores.  Sports have become about the winning travel teams.  Dance has become about the competitions.  When did everything become more about producing a tangible product and less about the process of thinking and learning?  Why do even parents of 2 and 3 year olds want their children to produce workbook pages?  What are we so afraid of that we need all of this proof of performance that actually has nothing to do with the process of thinking and learning?

I cannot speak for everyone but I know what makes me afraid.  I am afraid that this mindset is permeating early childhood education.  I recently taught a workshop about positive discipline.  One preschool director shared many behavioral challenges they face on a daily basis in her preschool.  She named her preschool so when we were done listening to tales of children so obviously fighting for control, I looked online for their philosophy.  Their website proclaims that they can get every preschooler to work at least one year ahead of their chronological age.  They are proud to have kindergarten and 1st grade level workbooks in their 3 and 4 year old classrooms.  It is no wonder that there are behavioral issues.  This is not how children learn.  This is not how children develop the skills that enable them to successfully make decisions and think critically.  Young children learn best by exploring their curiosity and extending their knowledge in an environment that encourages self-discovery.

I am often asked why I spend so much of my professional life in the early childhood arena.  My credentials enable me to teach any age group and, as Director of Schools in my current job, I do direct education for preschool through 12th grade.  I thoroughly enjoy being able to work with students at all ages and stages.  The rest of my professional life – teaching adults, providing staff development for educators, speaking with parents groups – is focused on early childhood.  Our youngest learners are amazing.  They produce the most amazing pieces of art that give us a glimpse into how they see their world.  They tell fanciful stories and create lands of their own.  They build incredibly balanced structures.  Their emotions are honest and on the surface.  We clearly can see when they are angry, sad, frustrated or elated.  They can build their own knowledge faster and with more enthusiasm than most adults can muster.  They need to be provided with environments that do not beat the wonder out of them.  Their products are the new words they say, the blobs of art that are meaningful to them and the facts they compile by interacting freely in a safe environment.

It is fine for a young child to enjoy dance class and not be the best dancer.  It is within the norm for 4 year olds to be beginners at tracing lines to form letters.  It is acceptable for them to be more interested in pretending and building than writing and reading.  No matter what they are doing, they are learning.  If they are lucky, they are socializing, finger painting, playing in mud and wearing costumes.  Those children will be the great thinkers of the future.

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Read this blog for more articles and learn about early childhood workshops for parents and early childhood professionals - www.helpingkidsachieve.com
                                                      
Copyright 2013 © 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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