DISCLAIMER: This post is lengthy and focuses specifically on Early Childhood Education topics. It includes my personal reflections on different PD topics that I have explored as part of a conference. If this does not interest/apply to you, please feel free to find some of my more general education posts – no hard feelings 🙂
I think this may be one of the fastest back-to-back posts I’ve done on my blog. I stumbled across Fairy Dust Teaching somewhere on social media (I can’t remember if I first followed her on Facebook or Twitter), and I was constantly inspired by the many posts she had about Early Childhood Education.
When I saw that Fairy Dust Teaching had an online, Winter Conference, where videos with presenters were posted for participants to engage with in their own time (PD in your pyjamas, if you will), I was instantly intrigued. I decided to sign up for the conference, with intentions of watching the videos over the February break. Well, in the true whirlwind fashion of a teacher’s life, I didn’t get to the PD over the break, but decided to put away some time today to start watching through the videos. Boy, am I glad I did!
Please enjoy some of my thoughts, musings, and reflections on some of the sessions. I would love if you had any comments to leave in response to any of the topics in this post.
Session #1: LOOSE PARTS TO PROMOTE STEAM
If there is such a thing as a celebrity in the ECE world, these ladies are it! Loose parts has become a HUGE buzzword in the early years, and I’m sure that most Pre-K/K educators have seen or looked at one of these books in their travels. Miriam Beloglovsky and Lisa Daly, who wrote the Loose Parts books 1, 2, and 3, were giving an interview-style presentation on how loose parts can promote STEAM education.
After some wonderful PD this summer, I decided to incorporate a permanent loose parts centre in my own classroom this school year. While this centre has changed locations periodically and the objects found there have been swapped out several times, I have seen consistent play and exploration happening with my students at this centre/with the materials found there. Most often, students will be exploring Encapsulating/Enveloping (putting objects into another container or carrier to transport around –> think putting objects into a purse, box, crate, etc.) and Mixing (putting a variety of loose parts in a large container to mix together –> think creating soups and potions).
The biggest takeaway from this session for me was the role of the educator to relinquish control and the urge to direct the play or jump in to assist (something that I am still working on in my own practice each day). As an organized person, it is often difficult for me to let students create a mess. The part I have to remind myself, though, is that I cannot restrain my students to play in the way that I, an adult, think is appropriate. This session made me reflect on how my actions truly showcase my view of children and their learning. Do I genuinely believe that students are capable, confident, creative if I shut down their play or immediately swoop in to help them? I will definitely be focusing on allowing students the freedom to experiment, problem solve, and get messy when I head back to my classroom!
The other great phrase that was used in this session was “look for the verb, not the noun,” or really pay attention to what big concept or topic the child is interested in exploring, rather than being caught up in the object they’re playing with.
The example that was given was a student playing with purple gems on a lazy susan and spinning them around and around and around. The teacher thought that the student was interested in the colour purple, rather than realizing that their true interest was motion and rotation.
This was a big “Aha!” for me, as, just the other day in my classroom, one of my students had taken all of the loose parts into our upstairs “fort” area and dumped them out on the floor (Hello, alarm bells going off! Mess! Mess! Mess! Must clean!). When I approached, I immediately asked her to clean up, and sort the objects back out into their respective containers. Now, I feel quite guilty about my reaction, and I wish I would have taken a few moments to simply observe what the student was doing with the items to truly understand the intentions of her play and what direction it may have been going – such a missed opportunity to understand this child’s learning better. This is a great reminder for me to step back, watch, and think about what a child is doing before I step in in the future.
The final thing the presenters discussed that I want to incorporate into my classroom is swapping out commercialized, closed-ended objects in the classroom for loose parts that can be transformed into anything the mind can imagine. Lisa discussed how all of the play, plastic food has been exchanged for loose parts such as beads, gems, stones, etc. and dress up clothes have been swapped out for scarves, sashes, and fabrics. I would like to start slowly switching out some of these items and see what the students’ reactions will be (I actually don’t think they will mind at all, as they already use many of our loose parts to make stews and soups and pretend they are foods).
I think this photo sums this idea up quite nicely:
Session #2: THE THIRD TEACHER: REFLECTIVE PRACTICE
This session, a powerpoint collection of wonderful photos, quotes, and key points by Rosalba Bortolotti, discussed the importance of the third teacher.
For anyone unfamiliar, the third teacher is a widely known practice in ECE, with the 3 main teachers in an early years program being as follows: the teacher, other children/classmates, and the environment. The classroom space, in and of itself, can be a teacher to the children in the classroom, by inspiring learning and collaboration.
Having studied Reggio Emilia approach in-depth throughout my university career, I am quite familiar with this idea of the environment being a key component of early years learning. The environment should be flexible, responsive, with frequent modifications that are created by adults and children together.
If you are familiar with my Instagram or Twitter accounts, you’ll often see new furniture configurations and learning opportunities I have set up in my space. I often reference the joy that these new transformations bring me, and discuss how much I enjoy changing up my room or the materials offered within it in order to respond to student interests and spark new learning. It is such a pleasure to know that part of my job to plan for and facilitate learning in Pre-K is to simply design an environment that inspires play and exploration.
This presentation was a re-affirmation that my environment has many of the criteria for a quality early learning program. However, as a reflective practitioner, there are always improvements to be made and questions to consider. Some of the questions I came out of this presentation with are:
-What messages is my environment sending to others (parents, staff, etc.)? What thoughts do they have about the quality of education and care that are given to their child in my classroom?
-What enhancements can I make to my outdoor learning space so that it more efficiently addresses student learning and exploration? (In the fall, our outdoor learning space had a large valley filled in and three large, dead trees torn out, and is now filled with gravel/dirt that is not aesthetically pleasing. I am looking to beautify this space so it can be used more meaningfully in the future)
-What are the main purchases or additions I can make to the classroom to make it more aesthetically pleasing and calming? (I would like to add more soft lighting in our classroom, such as lamps – although finding a place to plug in in our classroom is a struggle)
-How can I involve children more in the changes/transformations that occur in the classroom? How can I bring them into this process and give them responsibility and control?
Overall, this session gave me many ideas and questions to consider further in order to make my third teacher as effective as it can be for my students. It also left me with an itch to get into my classroom and switch some things up again. I love my ever-changing classroom. ❤
Session #3: Natural Learning
The third (and final) session I will be posting about today (as there are still 7 more sessions for me to watch) was put on by Suzanne Axelsson, an early childhood educator in Sweden. She discussed all of the benefits of including nature experiences for early learners, as well as what components need to be present in order to be most effective. Suzanne was absolutely astounding to listen to, and I recommend you check her out on some of her social media handles below (maybe you’re even interested in joining in on her annual event, International Fairy Tea Party, happening in September).
The 7 components for her Natural Learning program were:
Her presentation included a wealth of knowledge, photographs of joyful learning moments captured, and a ton of stories from her experiences.
A few standout moments for me:
- How social emotional skills of responsibility, self-regulation, comfort-giving, and collaboration were implicitly taught and infused throughout her practice. Suzanne told many stories of how her students showed empathy, compassion, and teamwork in their outdoor adventures. She also explained how she built some of these skills bit by bit through daily interactions and modelling. It was fascinating to see how these little people became caring and involved members of their learning community. This sense of belonging is something I strive for in my own practice.
- How “risk” involves more than just the physical risk of getting hurt. Suzanne explained that there is an element of “social risk” (someone being mean to you or hurting your feelings) as well. I see this as very relevant to some of the learners we have in our classrooms today, who may struggle with this type of risk more than any other, especially with the rise of mental health struggles such as anxiety, depression, and trauma (which, yes, unfortunately, begin showing up in early childhood for some). It was a perspective that I have never heard of before, but will definitely consider if I see a child who is reluctant or struggling to engage with others – perhaps they are avoiding social risk. This also involves me, as an educator, explicitly teaching and modelling what to do in these social situations if someone DOES hurt your feelings.
- The idea of children doing the reflecting. Reflection is so prevalent in education, that it often becomes used to the point of being comical (i.e., “as a teacher, I reflect on my lesson and then reflect on my reflection – an inception of reflections”). While it is true that teachers must be reflective in their practice, I often forget to include students in this critical process. If we are to give students responsibility and ownership of their learning, they, too, have to be involved in the reflective process. Suzanne touched briefly on how documentation, such as photographs, can be a vehicle for this reflection. This is something that I am interested in exploring more in my own practice in the future.
Well, I think that is enough for today. Thank you for coming along with me as I delved into some PD topics of interest in regards to ECE.
What professional or personal goals have you set for yourself this school year?
What buzz worthy topics are you exploring in your own practice?
How do you like to engage in professional development?
Until next time,