Month: August 2012

Less = More

Here at Acorn we have just moved into a brand new beautiful space thanks to a lot of hard work, fundraising, and an incredibly generous gift from the city of Boulder. Along with our new space, comes a playground that is literally an urban oasis. For teachers like me, who would teach outside all day if they could, it’s a dream come true.

So as we were moving toys over from the old school, we took the opportunity to really think about the use of equipment on the playground and what we wanted to see happening out there. The consensus was, that at least to start, we wanted to go minimal and then add if necessary.

But as we’ve been out there for almost 2 weeks, I am now fully embracing the less is more philosophy. We have a small stack of blocks, our kodokids equipment, a stash of musical instruments, a couple bikes, a few bats and balls, some pails and shovels for digging, and in a stroke of genius by our director, we buried sea glass in the sand that has become treasure to hunt for every day.

That’s it. That’s all we have. And you know what? It’s perfect.

In just 2 weeks, I have seen a change in the way the kids are playing, with the toys, with each other, and by themselves. I see more imaginative play, more big body play, like somersaults, rolling on the grass, and wrestling. I see games of tag, and hide-and-seek, balancing, jumping, and running. Not that those weren’t happening on the old playground, but there’s just more of it, for longer time periods.

So I challenge you and your staff to scale down and see what happens. Granted, it was easier for us to make this dramatic shift as we moved onto a stunning new space, and it may take time for your kids to adjust to less equipment, but I would be surprised if you didn’t start to see some more creativity, more gross motor activity, and even more calm behavior. It’s more old-fashioned play, for plays sake. Like when we were kids outside. And all with 80% less stuff.

Letting Go

Every so often I write a post on something a little more personal than play-based learning, although hopefully, my posts on that topic are coming across as sincere and personal too (very passionate about play-based learning as you can tell!). But for this post I wanted to write about how hard it is to let go sometimes – to ideas and practices you may have held for a long time that aren’t working anymore, to pet peeves that are dragging you down, to regrets you may have about your past, or to your own children that are growing up and heading off to kindergarten.

Last week I watched my littlest one walk into her first day of school, backpack down to her knees, giant, nervous smile on her face, and hair perfectly brushed, which was actually her biggest concern. I have had one of my own children at Acorn with me for 8 years until this day, and knowing that time was coming to an end was harder on me than on Sydney for sure. But she is ready and needs to move on.  The Acorn School loved her, and helped me raise her, and now I need to let her go.

All this made me think about how maybe I should work on letting go more in general, especially with the children in my class. We get so attached to these kiddos. They feel like our own sometimes and we become so invested. And I cry just as hard when they graduate as I did when my own left last week. But maybe we should work on letting go more often than just the first day of kindergarten. Maybe we should work on letting go of the little things during the day, like when all the boys insist on wearing their underwear backwards so they can see the superheros better in the front, or when one little girl absolutely will not respond to the request that she put her shoes on because they’re not shoes, they’re “sandals”.

All this letting go is hard, and takes practice, but it’s one of our most important jobs to prepare them to leave us. So break out the tissues, and grab some duct tape for your heart as I like to say, and practice letting go a little bit each day. They’re ready.

Free Range

I’ve come across several articles about this style of parenting and I have to say I am a fan. The term “free-range parenting” was created by Lenore Skenazy, a parent and columnist for the New York Sun, widely criticized for letting her 9-year old son ride the NYC subway by himself. But this parenting method is really about being the opposite of a “helicopter” parent, who hovers above their child, trying to protect them at all times and solve all their problems.

I believe this style of “free-range” parenting can be applied successfully to teaching as well. The premise of this style is to prepare our children to cope with whatever life brings, whether it’s bullies, skinned knees, or sharp scissors. Preparing them by helping them to develop reasoning, self-soothing skills, or courage to tackle their fears, is something we do every day as teachers, and play-based learning is a fabulous way to do that.

Play-based learning is all about learning from mistakes, i.e. Do top-heavy block towers fall?, Do red and blue always make purple? If I use mean words with my friends, will they want to play with me? As teachers in play-based environments, we are by definition not “helicopter” style teachers. “Free-range” does not have to be synonymous with danger or lazy teaching and parenting.  “Free-range” should be synonymous with “free-play” – creative, experimental, imaginative, and empowering.

You know what they say about Assumptions

That they make an…..we all know the rest of the cliche. And even the most seasoned, open-minded teacher still does it occasionally. So last week we had our usual yoga session scheduled and I proceeded to set up an alternate activity for those children that might choose not to participate. (This is not based on cynicism about enthusiasm for yoga, but it’s always good to provide an option for the kids, rather than force mass participation). So I was ready with an outside sensory table activity just in case, and my assumption? That all the boys would trickle outdoors to our little patio, leaving all the girls to peacefully practice their tree poses and listen to the instructor tell a story.

Not so. Assumption completely wrong.

All the girls drifted off leaving 5 very high energy boys to focus completely on Miss Jesse’s yoga story and practice their namaste. Fascinating, right? Fascinating to me anyway. Always is when there is such a dramatic split in gender during an activity, and especially when I was so off in my prediction. Lesson learned: continue to set up an alternate choice, but don’t assume you know who will show up. Plan for ALL the kids, instead of some of the kids. Let go of the assumptions and enjoy the results.