Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Sunday, September 21, 2014
My mind is bending, maybe a good thing. I just read the Washington Post's front page feature about Kelsey Beckham, a biological eighteen year old girl who doesn't feel like she is either girl or boy. As a child of the fifties and sixties I cringe at ambiguity, especially where gender is concerned. Don't get me wrong, friends! I love my gay and bisexual friends. Having been in opera and music for so long, I could hardly avoid the reality of their existence, or the pleasure of their company. But gayness seems much more open and shut than this new concept of a "gender spectrum".
In early childhood courses, when we were allowed to teach human development vis a vis early education (the psych people took over those courses some years ago--a sore subject), we discussed gender identity versus biological sexuality. Little girls and boys are socialized to either one or the other idea of who they are according to their biological sex. The sociological and cultural influences run so deep that who children think they are and what they should and shouldn't like isn't usually questioned by either children or their parents. That is what we taught. We needed to provide opportunities for boys and girls to play with gender-neutral materials and toys. Steer girls to blocks and boys to art. Kicking and screaming if need be. Gender was socialized. Sexual identity was a given. At that time, we didn't talk much about the awesome pressure of the cultural norm, and that it came from all corners of the Ecological System, as Urie Bronfenbrenner called the concentric circles of influence on a child's development. These pressures are powerful.
In reading about this astounding (to me) new field of gender identity, fluidity, expression, etc. I come to the realization that when we work with young children, we must be alert, as always, to how children express themselves, and how we, as teachers, can help them express themselves more fully. We must educate parents to understand that this is important at home, too. Children need encouragement to try out the whole range of the artistic and athletic arts. Our acceptance of each child as an individual needs to include gender fluidity. We need to watch out for boys who avoid art simply because other boys don't want to do art. We need to provide opportunities for girls who secretly want to build with blocks or legos, but don't because the boys stake out the territory first and, by about four, tell girls that only they can do the building. It is not easy! I catch myself steering girls to the dramatic play when they aren't sure what to do.
Last week, while acting out the children's stories, a girl wanted to play a father. Several children objected. I invoked "non-traditional casting" (theater term) and encouraged the girl to play him.
The pressures are great to make children conform. It is so much easier because the children, after age four, are gender Nazis, guarding the purity of the party of one or the other. The parents laughingly (and understandably) go along with the cultural norms. What will the next child, confused about her/his identity, do? How will we, as teachers, respond? Can we make this a world safe for every preference and expression of gender identity? I hope we can.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Gail on the floor :)
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
How do stories and child development intersect?Reading stories to children is often recommended to parents as a way to encourage later literacy. It also promotes healthy emotional development through the sharing of special time with parents. A parent reading provides terrific role-modeling for children--"my Dad/Mom reads! I will, too, when I'm bigger!"
Parents and grandparents telling stories should also be encouraged. Nothing in my early life do I remember more fondly, and with more enjoyment, than the stories my Greek grandfather, a survivor of Turkish genocide, told me about his early life as a boy in Asia Minor. The stories were always about a young boy who braved dangers all alone while running between towns selling goods for his father. Wolves, bulls, bears were all easily defeated by my grandfather's trusty knife. I thought he was the most amazing man who ever lived. In adulthood I learned that a Greek grandfather traditionally has a similar array of stories that he tells to his grandchildren--none of them true! This influenced my teaching practice. I tell stories as well as read them. Some of them are even true!
The story language children hear from adults enriches their literacy. It gives them a structure that lodges inside their hearts and minds, helping them comprehend how a story works, Not only does it have a beginning, middle, end, or who, what, when, where, why. A story has a sense of conflict, and resolution of conflict. These are literacy conventions taught in elementary school. Children also learn about how others solve their problems, how other humans see reality and each other. Stories heard together bind children to each other and create a shared context for future discussions, or future stories.
When children go to kindergarten how many of them have created stories already? I don't mean captions on pictures, or vignettes. I mean progressively more complex and sophisticated stories that interest and entertain their peers? Vivian Paley, the most deservedly revered teacher/researcher/story teller in recent years, wrote about children writing their own stories and then acting them out. I have done this with young children for many years. I ask them to illustrate their stories as well, and we post them for all parents to see when they come to pick them up.
When I read children's stories aloud to the whole group, the look of pride and confidence in the eyes of the author is worth the price of admission. They glow.
Today I experimented with a new (for me) technique. See if you think this would work for you...
We bathroom after both outside times at our center. One of us usually reads to those who are waiting their turn. But each time we go to sit for stories some children scramble to sit in the teachers chair. Today I asked, "I notice that someone always wants to sit in the teacher's chair. Why do you think that happens?" One boy responded, "Maybe we want to tell stories". So I made a list of the children, checking them off one by one, as they came to sit on the teacher's chair and tell a story. Any story, but originals preferred. As each child came to sit and tell a short story, the children listened respectfully, with minimal horsing around (they ARE four). Spontaneously they began to applaud.
Development of social, emotional, and language skills is an important part of this practice. But what is more important to me is the development of a shared sense of community. As they say in Reggio, which I've written about earlier in this blog, everyone is a protagonist. Everyone is their own story, and their stories connect with each other.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
Last week my small group needed to come up with a name. Children come into this with different ideas, many animals, and increasingly, media favorites. One boy wanted us to be the "minions"! A teacher said that "Gail's Minions" would be pretty cool! But I also knew that this boy had told me he was glad to be in my group because I liked drumming, and so did he. So I prompted him: "Remember you said you like to drum? Want us to be the Drummers?" That did it. Everyone wanted to be The Drummers. The next step was to find our descriptive words. One new boy said, over and over, "STAR!" Several girls said, "MOON!" in response. I was overcome. "What a beautiful name!", I said. "The STAR MOON DRUMMERS!" There was instant buy-in. We are the Star Moon Drummers. We have been drumming and scatting rhythm patterns all week.
Rhythm exploration is math. So providing drumming opportunities are an easy sell in educational circles. Rhythm work is social. The children we teach at our center become so much more organized and cooperative when they drum or use our hammock-style xylophone. Social-emotional skills are the backbone of kindergarten readiness.
Rhythm exploration is science. I hung our xylophone out this week. How may ways can you play one? I had never even thought of some of the experiments the children did. How does it sound if you crawl UNDER the xylophone and play it? How does it sound if you tip the beater back and forth, making it play with both ends? And of course, can I make a "glissando" (my term)? Heck, yes!! I did not suggest any of these alternatives, because the children are natural scientists, experimenting, processing data, coming up with new ideas and making observations. Here are some (albeit headless) photos of our children in action;
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Here is a tiny example:
On our daily walk into our building the children had formed a habit of, after picking grass with "pom poms" at the top (their term), and placing the stems of these pom-poms into holes in the cinder block walls on the way to the bathroom. Now, as any preschool teacher can tell you, if you need to walk in a line with fours, and you want them to go to the bathroom before lunch, you need to keep the line moving. No matter how much we admonished them to stop picking the grasses that were growing from the cracks in the sidewalk or along the brick wall outside the school, they stooped quickly and swiped their prizes. Once we entered the building they fondled the soft ends of these treasures...
They were kind of like this, only more scraggly!
And gradually, over days, they began to place them in the little holes along the cinder block walls leading to the bathroom. I realized that part of listening to children, a core Reggio value, was watching them and validating their interests. So during small group time I took them outside to pick grass! They were ecstatic! It was like watching a game show where a person is given the choice of a TV or a trip to Bermuda! Then we took our grasses inside to create what I called an art installation. Because it was! They loved calling it art. They told all of the other children not to touch their art! The next day we went into the classroom and found holes, which led to conversations and questions about what a hole was. If it was square, was it still a hole? Was the top of an empty butter tub a hole? And what made the holes?
Here are some of their ideas on what made holes in the cinder block: