Give to the KCDC

Building Cooperation

This morning two of our girls, K (age 3 ½) and N (age 2 ¾), approached the big blocks and began construction of a house to take care of their babies/stuffed animals. Soon, A (age 3 ½) came up and roared loudly at them because he was pretending to be a meat-eater and seemed to want both to join their play and be a dinosaur. K promptly screamed loudly to go away! This was partly because she wanted to play with N only and wanted the whole block area for their play, and partly because she didn’t want to be a dino meal at the moment. I admire K’s gumption to stand up for herself (no one is going to push her around!), but we have been talking about how to use a talking voice with a classmate rather than yelling. And A needs reminders to ask someone if they want to play dinos and not assume they want to be his next snack. After a short scowl, K resumed stacking blocks and adding short boards; A quietly joined in, deciding that building and playing together was more important than being a T-Rex at the moment, and K didn’t object.

Soon L (4 ¼) wanted to join the building, too, and was told that he couldn’t help with their structure. He shrugged and said he would build his own. He began going back and forth to retrieve big blocks and boards. First he placed a big board between 2 blocks like a bridge and then slid other blocks underneath until the board was supported all the way across. He narrated each step to me as he built. In the meantime, S (4 ¼) had also joined the group. As the block supply dwindled, K and L decide that “Hey, they can go together!” and the 2 structures meld into one. When all the big blocks had been used, there was a moment of competition over who got the last block. I posed the simple question, “So what can we do now?” As the kids glanced around, S excitedly said, “We can use those!” and pointed to the nearby shelf of cardboard blocks. Soon everyone was carrying the colored blocks over to add to their structure. S said “No, guys, it’s too much” as lots of blocks were placed on a board. At this point, the level of cooperation was such that several blocks were promptly moved to another spot.

blockstructure2

There wasn’t a lot of play with the structure after it was built. Often the process is more useful than the product. This picture was taken when everyone had abandoned this project for others (like the tumbling room or the snow in the sensory table). The structure survived most of the morning, though, as the kids climbed over, around, and through it. S and D (both 2 ½) sat and talked on it at one point, adding some smaller wooden blocks.

Sharing space and ideas with others can be quite complicated! A common dynamics in social interactions can be that children can want to play with just one favorite friend and find all others to be intrusive or even threatening. Sometimes the child who wants to join is a new friend who hasn’t played with the duo much before, or it could be that 3 good friends are figuring out how you can have more than one playmate at the same time. Sometimes a project can bring together playmates that don’t frequently seek one another out. Decisions are made, like when L decided to build his own structure instead of get upset about not joining the first group. By the time our kids are 4-4 ½ they are often (not always!) looking for ways to cooperate and our 4’s and 5’s are modeling that cooperation for our 2’s and 3’s as they work on projects together.

And don’t forget that in the midst of these social interactions they kids were experimenting with building, construction, balance, spatial awareness, matching, and creativity.

Whatever the dynamic, children learn more about themselves, others, and the world around them with every interaction they have. That’s why open-ended creative play with adults who can help facilitate is so very important!

A Play Haven

The sub-title of the K-CDC has always been “A Play Haven.”  We have put it on our pamphlets and our t-shirts and anything else we share. I thought it was somewhat of an original thought, but several years ago when I went to re-read Bev Bos and Jenny Chapman’s “Tumbling Over the Edge,” there is was:

“Belonging for young children is being in a place where they feel comfortable enough to play without having to look over their shoulders seeking approval – or dodging disapproval – to explore without fear, to redefine their space and to use materials found around them to create for themselves a sense of order, pattern, and structure. In a place of belonging, a haven, children have people who know without words when they need to be held, that they need to be listened to, cared for, and loved unconditionally. Children know when they are accepted and when their play needs are understood. And certainly when they are not.”

When we moved to our current location almost exactly 8 years ago, I put a sign in the front door that said “A Play Haven.” Recently I remade the sign and added some text to welcome those who enter. I could cover the walls with all the important messages about how vital a sense of belonging and play is for young children, but for now , this is what the new sign says:

A haven,
a safe space.
Here children are supported in play, that most important element of true learning.

Here it is safe to run, climb, mix, paint, experience emotions, talk, create, problem solve, experiment, dig, express yourself, and so much more.

Here is a space where childhood is celebrated, appreciated, and respected,
with all its joys, sorrows, and messiness.

Welcome!

I printed it off, and now as I read it, I think there isn’t enough here. However, one of my areas of weakness is that I want something to be just right before I write it or post it or display it. The problem with that approach is that I don’t share enough of my experiences with young kids, so here is the imperfect “welcome” the K-CDC.

Oobleck and Elbows

Yes, we had oobleck up to our elbows, and it was great! It started in little baggies, trying to find the right consistency of solid (cornstarch) and liquid (water). The kids, of course, tolerated that for a very short time — what was I thinking using small baggies! — and soon the containers were out for bigger mixing. We added green food coloring and some kids requested spoons, although most wanted to use their hands. It was a workshop of experimenting with dry and wet ingredients, of giggling at the tickly goop as it dripped from fingers to table, of asking for “more” and having it readily available, of experiencing joy amongst friends at the wonder of this project. The younger kids spent time dumping, scooping, and stirring in containers, while the older ones sought the magic ratio, only to giggle when they added “too much” and asked for more of everything. Overall, it lasted for about an hour, with a few of the kids there the whole time. And all surfaces (tabletops, floors, bowls, and kids) are washable!

oobleck3                                          oobleck2

Lap Reading

One of the spots the kids love the best is our couch.  Most of the time there is a teacher reading books to 2-3 kids, although favorite books like Pete the Cat or Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late or Owl Babies draw a bigger crowd.  The kids choose books from a very full bookshelf, finding a few to save on their laps for their turn to pick the next book.  The dialogue begins as everyone gets settled and the teacher reads the cover.  Questions often begin.  What do you think this book will be about?  Look at the pictures – What do you think is happening?  What do you think might happen next?  When kids have the time to predict, they can be very creative and very silly!  The playfulness leads them to connect with both the teacher and the books, and it gives them ample opportunities to practice their growing language skills.

Research demonstrates how vital this “lap reading” is for young children.  The emotional connection the kids make to both the adult and the story sets the stage for a lifelong love of reading.  Physical contact, conversation, and listening to a human voice all help the brain learn about how language and stories work, help kids learn critical thinking skills, and build a foundation of the joy of reading.

Our kids need to hear our voices and sit on our laps and choose from good books to best become fantastic readers in the future.  How many hours a preschooler is read to (by a person!) is one of the best predictors of future success in reading because they develop a relationship and interact with both the adult and the literature.  So, if you have a preschooler in your life, go find and couch and a book and cuddle up for some reading time.  It’s one of the best investments you can make!

Social Games!

There are many categories of games that can happen in an early childhood setting.  There are board games, card games, academic games, and large motor games to name just a few.  Our kids this year have actively sought out and enjoyed what I sometimes call “social games.”  These are games that foster relationships between adults and children as well as among the children.  One of the foundational elements to learning, after a sense of safety, is a sense of belonging.  Games help grow and develop that sense of belonging.

A few months ago we had taco salad for lunch.  In the transition between lunch and rest time, when the kids need to go to the bathroom, find books to look at, and play, I was trying to inhale my lunch while orchestrating the transition.  At some point we began playing “Taco Monster,” a game that was created in the spur of the moment.  I became the Taco Monster, chasing the kids amongst peals of laughter and excitement.  I pretended to try to eat them as I searched for cheese, guacamole, salsa, chips, and hamburger.  One child’s favorite color was green so he called “I’ll be the guacamole!” and we continued until lights out.

 

The interesting thing is that Taco Monster became a much requested game (we played it just today).  The game offers experiences of suspense as I chase them around, relationship building with the adult as I joke with them and let them escape or outsmart me, and friendship development as they save each other and share space in hiding spots or bases.  It also capitalizes on that ever present resource kids have in abundance: energy!  It gets them moving and affirms the value of meaningful movement.

 

There are a myriad of variations on the chase game and on hide-and-seek games.  We play games like the Belly Button Snatcher, Monster Momma, Runaway Chickens, and Old Mother Cat.  When I have moments of feeling like I am not connected enough to the kids, these games help us reconnect.  I think the kids request them for the same reason, to connect, to develop relationship, to belong (although they can’t verbalize it as such).

 

If we, as adults, listen to what they request and respond with presence (and energy – we can all use a bit more exercise anyway, couldn’t we?), we can foster that sense of belonging that is so foundational to everything else.  And each of our children will be different in what they need.  Some will request cuddling with a book, others wrestling on the living room floor; still others need a little kitchen science to re-connect.  One challenging aspect is if what they want and what comes naturally to us as parents isn’t the same activity.  It’s one of the balancing acts of parenthood – to help our children become who they are while sharing ourselves with them. ..

 

And is it possible to be completely present at every moment?  Of course not.  As much as I wish otherwise, I am only human.   However, we do remember to have an attitude of play and playfulness as we help form these wonderful and brilliant young children…

My first post!

Hello!  I am Katy Korte, the director of the Kirksville Child Development Center.  My co-teacher, Kate, and I are hoping to use this blog to share stories from our child-directed, playful classroom.  Given the time, space, materials, and boundaries that young children need to explore and learn, these kids are simply brilliant!  My newsletters to parents over the years have always included a “Classroom Happenings” section where we describe the projects the kids have created and about what they are learning during those (creative, messy, intense, cooperative, self-directed, pack-with-learning) experiences.  I hope to share those stories and articles from other sources with as many people as we can.  Everyone knows (I hope!) that “kids need to play,” but what does that actually look and feel and sound and taste and smell like?

Here is an excerpt from a recent newsletter (and my experiment as I figure out how to post to a blog!).  It speaks loudly of the idea of facilitating play rather than doing direct instruction with young children (much, much more on this later!).

One project that developed last week comes to mind.  After the kids clear the spots after lunch, their main job is to go to the bathroom first and then they can have play time until the lights are turned out.  I used to ask them to go to their cots and look at books, but the invitation to interact and the last burst of energy are just too much to resist.  Instead we leave the tumbling room for book space, and the rest of the building is for playing.  And so, the story…

A couple of kids started to build a platform with the big blocks.  As the space grew, it gained attention from more kids, and soon many were getting blocks from the corner and bringing them to the platform.  Well, the 2 original kids had different ideas in mind about where to put the blocks and were giving the others different directions.  One such disagreement was whether a ramp should go up and then down, or down and then up.  Soon the trampoline was incorporated and the group was calling it a bridge that they walked around in a circle.  The disagreement led to the same block being placed in one spot, then moved, then grabbed a placed back, then moved again, then pulled back and forth.  I was right there reminding them to listen to each other and state what their ideas were, suggesting they find a way they could use both their ideas.  There was yelling and grabbing and pulling and stomping.  At one point I was holding the block until they could agree about where to put it.  In the meantime other kids continued to build and jump and climb.

And then it shifted…

When you have really creative and determined kids who have different ideas about how a project should go, it can get intense.  It is very admirable to stick to your idea and not want it changed.  We often find an “alone spot” for kids who just want to be alone and not have others’ ideas or needs be in their space for a time.  And then there are other times when you can see them choose — choose, at age 4 or 5 — that playing with others can be more fun than sticking to your guns — WOW!  When the project is more important than their one idea, when they are willing to compromise and negotiate and even mentor others to help and even, even to encourage those younger kids to bring their own ideas…

And so the bridge project that could easily ended in hurt feelings and anger (don’t get me wrong, these happen, too) instead became a project that included every single kid.  It grew into a bridge not only of every big block in the building, but carpet squares and blankets and foam blocks until there was a bridge that went all the way around the building so that the kids could navigate without stepping on the floor.  They encouraged each other, shared the space, took turns going around the circle, and had a blast.  What a great kid community!

And they even did pretty good when it was time to go to sleep soon thereafter…

An additional note about the above project is that, although Kate and I plan lots of really engaging projects, the ones the kids come up with themselves, are usually more engaging.  We continue to watch and listen and facilitate play rather than dictating it.