Things That Are Not Taught About Creativity

I ran into an article about ideas and beliefs that we are not taught about creative thinking. It really spoke to me because there are so few people who truly view themselves as creative. I used to be one of them, but through finding what I love to do, who I am, and how to express who I am through what I love to do, I found my creative self. I want to help others find their creative selves, as well. The article cites twelve points, and my next twelve blog posts will cover each point as it relates to the field of Early Childhood Education.

POINT ONE: YOU ARE CREATIVE

As I said above, there are so many people out there that feel that they aren’t creative. It simply isn’t the case. The article points out that creative people believe that they are creative, and people that don’t believe that they are creative don’t feel the need to put forth the effort to be creative.

I think that there may be a little more to it than that. Yes, creativity does involve an attitude – a certain way of thinking about yourself and your surroundings. But some people feel trapped by circumstances. In early childhood education, I know a lot of teachers that want to be creative, but feel like they can’t. Maybe they feel that the administration won’t go for their ideas. Maybe they just aren’t sure where to start. But part of being creative means taking the risks that are associated with it. Talking to the other people that have an affect on what goes on in your classroom can go a long way. Starting small and work your way up to the big ideas.

One of the factors involved in showing creativity as a teacher in Early Childhood Education is to ensure that our creative ideas do not endanger the safety of the children in the classroom. As teachers, it is our job to come up with creative ways to teach children, as well as keep them safe. Administrators are also responsible for the safety of the children, and are ultimately the ones who answer to the parents. Because of this relationship, it is a good idea to be in communication with your administrator about your ideas. I know that I have had several ideas that, while they were wonderful, wouldn’t have been as wonderful in the execution. I tend to think big, and because of this it is vital that I have a sounding board, someone who will listen to the idea and find the issues with it that need to be ironed out before the execution. An administrator can be that sounding board, because in most cases they have been in a classroom environment before. Because of their responsibilities to the center, the staff, and the parents, they are uniquely positioned to be a vital resource when it comes to ideas about what will work and what won’t. Administrators also tend to respect those who come up with new ideas, and who are not afraid to take risks associated with executing new ideas.

The bottom line is that everyone is creative. If you don’t feel creative where you are, you may be in the wrong place. If you feel that you have road blocks when it comes to showing your creativity, you need to examine what you think those road blocks are and work on getting them out of the way. I am a firm believer that a person cannot be truly happy unless they are unleashing their creative potential in the field that they love. Because of this, it is vital to make sure that you are doing something that you feel is worth your time. It brings to my mind the Holstee Manifesto. Check it out when you get a chance.

 

Twelve Things You Were Not Taught About Creativity by Michael Michalko

 

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Is Early Childhood Education a Dead End Job?

This semester I am taking two courses on administration. They are required for my major, but I have been eyeing an administration job for a couple of months now – something that I once said that I would never do. Never say never. You never know where life will take you.

Anyway, I ran into an interesting thought while completing a homework assignment for the course. Apparently, childcare is viewed as a dead-end job by many people. The whole idea of it is funny to me, because I have never viewed it that way. Sure, the job doesn’t pay very much, but it really is one of those jobs that you have to love in order to do it effectively. I’m sure that if you don’t love it, it can be one of the most miserable jobs in the world, especially since it really doesn’t pay.

However, the main reason why I am surprised at this view is because there is so much that goes into the idea of teaching children and education in general:

  • The psychology of how children learn and how people think is intimately tied to Early Childhood Education. If an educator does not understand the basic principles of learning and thinking, it is very hard to be effective in the classroom.
  • Psychology is also involved when it comes to classroom management and the way that children behave. Not understanding the basics of what makes us act the way that we do can make it very hard to maintain control of a classroom of that many children.
  • Philosophy is necessary when a teacher needs to define their beliefs about teaching and learning. Basic knowledge about the nature of man and how one views man in general is key to how we treat children while we are teaching them.
  • Knowledge of child development is necessary so that we don’t overstimulate, over-challenge, or under-challenge children. This fits right into the psychology category, as well.
  • In some cases, a basic knowledge of interior design is needed to be able to create workable spaces for children to learn in. I have seen many, many spaces that have been inspirational to me, and have studied what other people have done that they say works – and what they say doesn’t.

The list of the knowledge requirements for being an effective teacher goes on and on, and there is so much to explore and learn in the quest to be an effective teacher that I have never viewed the field or the job as dead-end. But, as I said at the beginning of this post, it is something that you have to have an active interest in and love doing before doing the work that is required to learn the aspects of education becomes enjoyable.

Finding Ways to Extend Observations

During the past week I have discussed a lot about observations. One thing that I have found when talking to educators is that they are not quite sure what to do with their observations once they have made them. Here is a list of ways that I use observations:

1. Complete Developmental Assessments

During an observation, I am completely in tune with a child. I am following his actions, his language, and his social interactions. These aspects of observation can come in handy when completing developmental assessments, and it doesn’t require you to ask a child to try to perform a task out of the context of play or life. We have all heard of, seen, or experienced test anxiety. Asking a child to perform out of context can bring test anxiety to life, but in a classroom that uses observation as a tool, children can experience this anxiety less because we can see the development happening in and throughout the classroom.

2. Develop Learning Projects and Activities

This is where the creativity of the teacher can really shine through. By using the amazing amount of information that has been gathered through observation, teachers can sit down and plan extended learning projects and basic activities to expand children’s knowledge. There are many wonderful resources to help with this, as well. Pinterest is where I get a lot of ideas for the classroom, as well as different educational blogs and sites. The early childhood online community is a treasure trove of ideas, information, and inspiration. Many of the blogs I read are listed in the “What I’m Reading” section on the right.

3. Define an Effective Classroom Environment

The interests and ideas of the children are always changing. Therefore, the environment that they learn in should always be changing as well. I have never viewed classroom design as a static process for this reason.

There are many aspects of the classroom that can be affected by observing children. The first is the overall layout of the classroom. If the furniture arrangement allows for too much high-energy movement, it may be time for a change. Likewise, if an area of the classroom sees a lot of attention but is cluttered and cramped, it may be necessary to either expand the area or move it to a more accessible area of the classroom.

One of the most dynamic aspects of the classroom should be the materials that the children interact with. Providing new materials on a regular basis can allow the children to be continuously exploring their environment because it never grows old. I have read stories of teachers who found curious objects, trays, or items in thrift stores and added them to the classroom environment simply because they were curious about how the children would interact with it.

Maria Montessori maintained that children should be surrounded by materials that are aesthetically pleasing (Lillard, 2007). The reason for this is that children are drawn to them, as most people are to beautiful objects. Different textures, weights, and beautiful colors are calming to a child. Have you ever picked up a “worry stone” at a tourist gift shop? The smooth texture and features of the stone are supposed to have a calming effect to those who use them. One item that I have always loved to hold in my hand is a glass sphere. The smoothness of the sphere, along with the weight of the glass, never fails to trigger a calm in me. Usually I wonder how someone goes about making a glass sphere like that, or wonder about why it is so heavy. If a child’s environment can trigger these kinds of questions, true learning can begin.

Six Ways Observations Can Enhance Teaching

Observations can go a long way in the classroom. From watching a child explore a new concept to discovering how children interact with other socially, observation can be an indispensable tool when it comes to teaching skills in the classroom.

1. Observations Can Be Used To Plan New Classroom Activities

Through observing children, we can find out different concepts and ideas that they are interested in. Just as the boy inspired me to begin looking into pulley and pendulum activities, different activities and conversations around the classroom can be the basis for new activities and projects. I once had a couple of boys in my classroom who were obsessed with sliding trucks down the slide on the playground. This observation led to a long term project about ramps, roads, and bridges. Children obsessed with parties can wrap presents, bake a cake, and do other activities related to parties. The key is to find an interest and brainstorm ways to expand on that interest.

2. Observations Can Be Used To Teach Social Skills

Perhaps, through your observation, you witness one child take a toy from another child, who then retaliates by hitting the child. From this observation you can conclude several things. First, the child that took the toy needs to be made aware of how his action made the other child feel, and that this feeling prompted the child to hit. The child who took the toy also needs to be taught the words to use to ask another child if they can share or take turns. The child who hit needs to be taught the words that they should use to let a child know that they do not like it when they take their toy.

There are many different learning opportunities that present themselves when children interact socially, because children have not learned the necessary language needed to productively deal with others. Add to this the fact that most young children are egocentric in their thinking, and the atmosphere is ripe for the teaching of social skills.

3. Observations Can Be Used To Expand On the Use of Materials

I have a couple of boys in my class that like to put hollow blocks on their arms and pretend they are robots. I have another who stacks them end-to-end and pretends that it is a microphone. I have yet another who stacks a couple end-to-end and places a wide block on top as a TV. We have expanded on a few of these uses, including setting up a theater complete with a popcorn stand.

Children seem to have the creativity in them to use different materials in any number of ways. Observing the ways that they use the available materials can provide inspiration for other materials that may extend their play, or an activity that may expand their knowledge about the topic they are expressing interest in. Observations of the way children use materials can also help identify where they are developmentally.

4. Observations Can Highlight Children’s Thinking

There are several ways in which children’s thinking becomes obvious during observations. The first is the dialogue: What are the children saying while they play? Recording the dialogue (whether audio, video, or written) can help you determine their frame of reference in relation to the activity, and their misunderstandings or misconceptions about what they are thinking about. Recording these and reflecting back on them later can help you come up with activities or projects that will provide a new frame of reference or clear up any misunderstandings that are present.

Another way observations highlight children’s thinking is when abstract ideas are seen as themes during play. Children like to explore ideas that may be difficult for them to comprehend, like life and death, good vs. evil, caregiving, and other vague ideas. Sometimes they reenact a scenario that may have happened at home or at school that they either do not understand or did not like the outcome. By observing children and then reflecting on the observations, we can spot themes, misunderstandings, and the points of reference of children. This can allow us to help children explore these topics deeper.

5. Observations Can Explain Children’s Behavior

Have you ever caught yourself saying, “He did it for no reason!” to explain the behavior of a child? Children always have reasons for their behavior, but they may not have the language to articulate their reason, or they may not have the skills or knowledge necessary to do something differently. By observing the child we can gain clues that can help us figure out why the child is behaving as they are, which can help us figure out how to teach him more productive behavior.

6. Observations Can Tell Us About a Child’s Development

From language skills, motor skills, social skills, and others, observations help us understand not only where a child is developmentally, but help us determine how we can meet the child where they are in their development and provide appropriately challenging activities and projects.

Are there any other ways that you use observations? Tell us in the comments below! We love learning new things from other people!

observations six

The Key to Respect

respectIn one of the classes that I am taking this semester, the question was asked: “What do you think are necessary attitudes for being an effective teacher?” I wrote that the biggest, most important attitude a teacher should have in the classroom is one of respect, followed by patience and flexibility. I received this response:

“I also think that respect is important but I also think that you need to be in control and not be ran over. I have seen an incident where an aide asked a child to sit down and stop playing and the child said, ‘What about my rights as a kid? Adults think they are so much better.’ There are children the respect can be given because it is earned. I wish they were all that way.”

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that response is going to rub me the wrong way. But it brings up an important distinction that I believe needs to be made, especially in the world of discipline.

Respect, as defined by dictionary.com, is “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability.” This is not to be confused with assertiveness, which dictionary.com defines as “being confidently aggressive or self-assured; positive.”

Respect is showing someone that you value them as a person. It means valuing them enough to try to make an emotional connection with them. It means valuing their emotions enough to try to find the root cause of any altercation so that the issue can be completely resolved in the minds of both children, whether they were the initial aggressor or not. It means valuing their intelligence enough to know that any request that has as its reason: “because I said so” or “because I am the teacher” is going to rub children the wrong way because it means that their actions are determined solely by your whims. It puts children in the position of being beneath the teacher, rather than working with the teacher. Children are below teachers in stature and development, but that doesn’t  mean that they should be put in the position where they feel they are being subjected to our arbitrary whims. When we respect and value children, we give them real meaning for what we are asking them to do:

“It’s time to clean up because it is time to go outside (or lunch time, or time for mommy to come).”

“Use your walking feet in the classroom because running inside is not safe. You will trip and fall and bump your head.”

It is not hard to find real meaning for the things we ask children not to do (or to do). When we find the reason, we need to use it – especially in those cases where reason becomes reality: someone ran in the classroom, tripped, and bumped their head. Then we can refer back to our reason: “This is why we don’t run in the classroom – because we will trip and fall and bump our heads. It hurts, doesn’t it?” Pointing out that it hurts when we don’t follow directions will highlight that aspect of it, but even highlighting it needs to be done in a respectful manner. Anyone would be turned off by an “I told you so” tone. When we point out the infraction in a matter-of-fact way, we are showing the child respect and bringing their attention to the fact that they would have been safer had they followed directions. But most people are stubborn in that they tend to learn more from experience than from advice.

Our classrooms should be based on reason, if for no other reason than we are teaching children to think. Using sound reasons for why children should behave a certain way shows them that we uphold them as thinking human beings. It does not insult their intelligence, but gives them a foundation on which to make connections and see a bigger picture for themselves.

For more information about classroom management tips and a new way of looking at discipline, click here and here.

Do SCLANS Promote Creativity?

I have been wanting to write about SCLANS for a very long time, but haven’t really had the opportunity.

What are SCLANS?

SCLANS stands for:

Shapes

Colors

Letters

And

Numbers

with an ‘s’ to make it plural

SCLANS are the toys that teach this academic knowledge with the help of lights, buttons, and music. They are the toys that everyone clamors for their child to have when they are young, but drive peiple nuts while they are being used.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with SCLANS, but in my personal experience they don’t tend to hold a child’s interest for very long. Button pushing is a relatively easy skill, after all. Some toys have pieces that move differently, and these pieces can prove challenging until mastered, but even that doesn’t take long, and when the skill is learned the interest is gone.

We have talked about creativity being about finding your element, connecting dots, and experiencing many different areas of life in order to find an area that truly inspires you. But then we provide these toys to our infants and toddlers in the hopes that they will learn something from them.

So what do they learn? If they push a button on the toy, it does something. Basic cause and effect. They will probably learn some songs and some basic motor skills. I haven’t seen the data on whether or not children retain any shape or color knowledge from those toys. I tend to doubt it because learning these things from a toy removes the knowledge from the context of the world around them. This means that understanding becomes limited, at best. In a previous post I spoke of my lack of understanding when it comes to math. I fully believe that if those advanced math classes had been taught to me in the context of the real world, my understanding and appreciation would have been greater. And isn’t that what we are talking about when it comes to creativity – learning through life experiences?

I teach colors in my class through the children using the color and manipulating it. We talk about the colors of crayons, paint, markers, paper they are cutting, scissors they are cutting with, and toys they are building with. We talk about letters when I am writing their names or something that they have said. We learn about numbers through counting and matching amounts with numerals. The point is, we mix the learning with life. We move ourselves, we interact with objects; we don’t just sit around pushing buttons on toys. Through our interactions we have learned not only the academic knowledge, but social skills, vocabulary, fine and gross motor skills, and many different creative ways to use the information we have learned. This also promotes independence, self-confidence, and a love of learning.

Learning in ways that require more work than just pushing a button is all-inclusive and can result in enhanced skills in many areas. For this reason, I do not allow SCLANS in my classroom. My job is to focus on more than simply academic knowledge. My job is to focus on the development of the whole child, and to increase their confidence and independence in areas other than button pushing, song singing, and academic knowledge.

Documenting Children’s Learning

If there is one thing that I have become passionate about in the past year or so, it is documenting the learning that goes on in my classroom. Not only have I found it to be a wonderful way to see just what the children are learning when involved in different classroom activities, but I have found it to be absolutely crucial when it comes to figuring out how to use or augment the curriculum to enhance and further the development of the children involved.

For example, a little over a month ago (its probably been two months now) the children and I went outside to collect leaves for a project. One of the kids happened to look up and noticed the leaves that were falling off of the trees. Through asking open-ended questions I found out that most of the children in the class did not have the term “falling” in their expressive vocabulary (although it was present in their receptive vocabulary). Through documenting the children’s discovery and understanding of falling, as well as their ability to use the word as part of their vocabulary, I was able to come up with several different activities to enhance their understanding of falling, as well as giving the children more opportunities to use the word as they talk about falling.

By documenting all of this information through pictures, quotes from the children, and my own observations, I am able to see the changes in the children’s understanding and development through time. Additionally, the added documentation will lead to more activities that will lead to more discoveries.

I have often tried to explain to different teachers, as well as to parents, that – to me – documentation serves three purposes: it provides a timeline for development and a springboard for new activities for teachers; it provides the child with a set of “instructions” for how to revisit a project on their own; and it provides evidence of learning to the parent.

The idea that the child can look at documentation and use it to initiate a self-directed activity is an important one. If a child is genuinely interested in a project, they will use the documentation to help them explore a project again and perhaps expand on the knowledge that they have already gained from the project. I have seen this in my classroom, where my children are currently experimenting with ramps and bridges. Each time that we revisit the project (or the children revisit it themselves), their understanding of why objects act the way they do on a ramp or a bridge deepens.

I recently posted an article about observing during easel painting, in which I wrote detailed notes about what the children did, as well as what they said, while painting on an easel. This exercise was very eye-opening for me as I observed how the children interacted with the paint and the brushes, as well as how they articulated their thoughts about what they were doing. This information was priceless to me as I tracked their development, and the observations of the interactions led to more ideas for projects that would allow the children to explore with different materials in the same way that they explored with the paint.

For more information about documentation:

30 Days of Documentation – Yo Yo Reggio

A Fun Project

Our fall season started this past week, and my class marked the occasion by beginning a unit on transportation. Please understand that when I say we started a new unit, it doesn’t mean that we focused on nothing but cars, trucks, trains, and planes all day every day for a week. This is how our exploration went down:

On Monday I introduced some laminated strips of black construction paper that we were going to use to make roads for the little plastic cars that I had just added to the block area. We made roads for about fifteen minutes on Monday, and the pieces of road went largely unused for the remainder of the week. That is, they went unused until Friday, when two of the children got them out and proceeded to put them together into a road.

They worked together for a while, but they became frustrated when they ran their cars on the road and it wouldn’t stay together. So we got out the masking tape and they worked to tape the strips to the carpet. Several other kids had joined them by this time, and we all had a wonderful time taping the strips to the carpet. It was amazing to watch the kids concentrate on holding the tape without letting it touch itself, concentrate on trying to untangle the tape if it got stuck to itself, and concentrate on putting the tape on just the right spot on the strips.

I took lots of pictures and am planning to do a very thorough documentation of the experience, as well as any similar experiences that come along in the future (because of the company I work for I do not post pictures on my blog, in case anyone was wondering). But as I was taking the pictures and reveling in how involved and focused the children were, it occurred to me that two of the participants will be moving to a different classroom in a few days. I will not be able to follow their progress in this activity any more; I don’t even know if they will be doing this activity in their new classroom.

I remember reading during my investigations into Reggio Emilia that teachers there stay with the same class the entire time they are at the school. Children move from classroom to classroom every year, but the teachers go with them. This has so many positives, because teachers know so much about a certain child’s learning style and how they approach a project. The teachers learn about the temperament of the whole class, as well as the individual children. They are familiar with the interests of the children, as well as how they have progressed developmentally. If children have to have different teachers every single year, those teachers have to become familiar with new children all over again. Children also have to get used to new teaching styles, which can be a shock if the style is very different from the classroom they were in previously.

It hurts my heart that I will not be able to follow the development of those two children, and I know that they will probably not experience the joy of the project that we had just worked on again. We have so much fun revisiting projects in my classroom and expanding on them any way that we can, and I saw aspects of their development that I hadn’t really paid attention to before. It has caused me to approach observation and documentation with renewed and increased vigor, and to plan projects intentionally. I can only hope that those two children will receive the same care and vigilance on the part of the teachers in their new classroom.

A Word About Motivation in the Classroom

Since recently doing research on past and present studies on child psychology, child development, and the way children learn, I have been extremely interested in what motivates children to learn. Actually, I have been interested in it longer than that; I have watched as children in my own class have seemed bored or listless, fighting over the same toys for lack of anything better to do, and have seemed bored or talkative during circle times.

I have completely changed my approach to each of these areas, making each optional for the children rather than mandatory. I have even made art optional and more child-directed; I set out the supplies and stand as a guide and the children can come do their art however they wish. Since I have three-year-olds in my class, more guidance is required than would be for a six-year-old or even a four-year-old class, but when the children sit down to do their art now, they are engaged because they made the choice to do art. Just yesterday I sat and watched a boy cut paper with scissors for over an hour, watching the way his hands worked the scissors and trying to figure out the best and most effective way to cut the paper. It is moments like these that make my job worth it – the moments of watching a child explore and discover and show in many ways the fact that they are learning, even if they don’t have a teacher there to tell them what to do all of the time.

So after that experience, added to the research I have recently been doing, I was delighted to come across this blog post talking about motivation. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did!