Friday, March 25, 2016

STICKY! Babies learn about "sticky" from a sensory experience

When the ball of tape stays stuck to her hand, she develops a new theory.
 For decades early childhood educators have understood that children learn through experience.  Even for adults, this is true.  We realize that we learn more through the internship than the years of schooling leading up to it.  We know we can't learn to swim until we get in the water and try.

In 1938, educational philosopher/researcher John Dewey said:

“The scientific method is the only authentic means at our command for getting at the significance of our everyday experiences of the world in which we live...scientific method provides a working pattern of the way in which and conditions under which experiences are used to lead ever onward and outward.”

For infants and toddlers, every concept is a new one that must be explored and experienced with all of the senses-- much like a scientist would do. And like a scientist, young children use these experience to create theories in their minds about the nature of objects and the world around them.

We can talk about the concept of "sticky" with children (and yes, "sticky" is a concept, not just a word) but until they experience it, over and over and over again, it is meaningless.

For young children, they can experience sticky when they eat pancakes for breakfast, and get syrup on their hands.  Notice them experiencing it-- pressing their hands together and then pulling them apart; making a fist, and then opening their hands; squeezing their fingers together and then spreading them apart.  We're quick to clean their hands-- because as adults, we usually experience sticky as gross and unpleasant. 

 Children can also experience sticky with tape, as they did in the Maple Room classroom this morning.  They experienced it with their hands, as they balled up the tape and tried to set it down; they experienced it by trying to peel it off the table; they experienced it by trying (unsuccessfully) to shake it off of their shoes.  And as they experienced it, they built and reshaped theories in their minds, building new neural pathways all the while.

A young toddler knows that if she opens her hand, a ball drops to the floor and she assumes the same is true for every object. That's her theory based on her previous experiences.  When the ball of tape instead stays stuck to her hand, she has to modify that theory to include what happens to objects that are sticky. Sometimes sticky objects don't fall.

At the YCCF, we offer children a variety of experiences, including sensory ones, because we know that this is how the natural way that they learn about the world. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

"You're using the green play dough to make shapes!" The power of self and parallel talk with children

Young children have many huge achievements in their first few years of life, and one of the biggest is moving from only being able to express themselves through crying, to using words, and to eventually be able to use full sentences to ask questions and to talk about the things they see in the world, their experiences, their thoughts and their ideas. 

We marvel everyday at the ever expanding language that our toddlers use, and we intentionally engage in activities that support that expanding language.  One of the ways we do that is to engage in "self talk," and another related way is called, "parallel talk." 

Self talk is when we, as adults, describe what we're doing as we're doing it.  "I'm using the play dough to make a long snake!  My hand is flat as I roll, roll, roll the play dough."

Parallel talk is when an adult describes a child's actions.  "You are pounding on the play dough with the hammer. You're smooshing it flat!"

How do self and parallel talk help children learn language?  Some young toddlers have not yet made the connection between the words we say and the actions, thoughts and processes that they describe.  This kind of intentional talk helps young children make that connection.  Additionally, adults can add vocabulary words during self and parallel talk that children don't know yet.  If children are playing with the musical instruments and we describe their play for them ("You are shaking that maraca very hard! The sound is loud!") children learn new words (maraca) and new concepts (loud vs. quiet.) 

As children get older and start to use words on their own, we can also use parallel talk to repeat and extend their own talk. When a child says picks up a bucket in the sandbox and says, "bucket," we can say, "I see you have the green bucket."  This extension of the child's single word utterance gives them new information (the bucket is green), but it also models a full sentence for the child.  Repetition and extension can also be used to softly model proper grammar for the child.  When a two-year-old runs on the playground and loudly exclaims, "I winned," we don't need to correct them, but we can model proper usage by exclaiming, "You won!  I see that you won!"  Eventually, the child will learn the proper past tense of tricky words.

In preschool, children already have large vocabularies, and we can use these techniques to further expand them.  When a child builds a tall block tower and tells us about it-- "I built a tall tower!" we can expand on that by stating, "Your tower *is* tall!  It's gargantuan!"

The bigger a child's vocabulary is when they get to elementary school, the easier it will be for them to learn to read, so self and parallel talk, as well as repetition and expansion of their language, are vital.

You can give these techniques a try at home as well! Let us know how it goes!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Writing Children's Words

If you spend time in our preschool classrooms, you may notice teachers writing down children's words on their artwork, in the form of stories, or up on flip-charts.  This is an intentional activity that teachers engage in with their students, and in fact is required by Indiana's quality rating system, Paths to Quality.

But why do teachers do this with children who mostly can't read the words the teachers are writing?  What do children get out of it?

Children aren't born with any understanding of written language.  Children's brains are hard-wired to learn oral language and they can do so simply by being talked to and being surrounded by and included in back-and-forth conversations with parents, caregivers and teachers. The written word is a different story, however.  Unless we have specific and effective interactions with children about written letters and words, those mysterious squiggles and their meanings may remain mysterious to children. 

Very often, when we think of teaching children about written language, we first think of teaching them letters, letter names and their associated sounds.  Before we do, though, there are a number of other foundational concepts children have to understand.  First, children need to learn that written language is simply a coding of oral language.  One of the easiest ways for children to gain this knowledge is for adults to "code" children's oral language by writing it down for them to see.  In this way they understand that when they say, "I'm a rhinoceros balancing 4 balls on my head," it can be written down as a sentence, which is made of up words, which are made up of letters, which have a variety of sounds.  They might also notice that those sentences have funny marks we call punctuation. 

Eventually, through repetition, children come to understand that words and sentences are written from left to right, include a combination of specific shapes we call letters (which they begin to recognize) and depending on how we interact with them during the experience of writing, they begin to recognize that certain letters are used for certain words they know ("Hey! That letter starts my name!"), connect the letters sounds with the letters, and learn all of it in a way that is meaningful and interesting to them.

But most importantly, they learn that writing is another way that they can meaningfully communicate their ideas!

How can you help at home?  When your child is drawing or telling you a story you can simply ask them, "Would you like me to write down your ideas?" If your child is talking about things she'd like to get at the grocery store you can suggest that you make a list together.  It's ok to make a big deal of sounding out the words as you write them down or ask your older preschooler for some help figuring out what letter starts the word "Muh, muh, milk" for your list.  Above all, keep it light and fun and enjoyable for you both. 

Pretty soon, you'll be writing books together!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Building- No Instructions Necessary

At the YCCF, we know children love to build-- so we give them many opportunities to do so.  We offer blocks of all shapes and sizes, sticks and "tree cookies," small manipulative building toys like Lego, as well as other building options like the Magna-Tiles pictured here.

There's one thing we DON'T offer them, though:  instructions.

So many building toys come with directions included-- many are now sold as sets that you can really only make one thing from (often a movie-themed item, like Star Wars Lego toys.) But do children really need instructions to build?  And what opportunities might be opened up for them if they were given building materials without instruction on what and how to build?

At the YCCF, our philosophy of curriculum includes increasing children's critical thinking and cognitive flexibility, as well as engaging children actively instead of passively.  In addition, we hope to strengthen children's sense of competence and enjoyment of learning.  We know from research that giving children open-ended options best supports these goals, among others.

When building without instructions, children have to form an idea in their mind of what they want to build, and then figure out how to make it work.  If they run out of squares, they may figure out how to put two triangles together to make the same shape.  If their tall building won't stand up, they will need to figure out how to stabilize it.  These opportunities don't come when following pre-written instructions.  In addition, children's engagement and therefore, attention span, is heightened when building from their own imaginations.

IM Pei didn't use instructions.
And besides, I'm guessing that famous architects Frank Lloyd Wright and I.M. Pei never were given instructions for what to build as kids. 

How can you help at home?  Look for building toys that are open-ended. While building sets sold in stores are often of the instructions-only kind, you can find open-ended toys online, or at places locally like Learning Treasures or The Green Nursery.  You can offer your child a bin of clean recyclables to build with, too.  Boxes and cans with no sharp edges work beautifully!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

YCCF Guest Blogger, Sara (@nature novice)! Take 1: Beanblossom Bottoms

This week I'm thrilled to introduce you to guest blogger, Sara, a YCCF parent! 
There is so much research that tells us that getting children (and adults!) into nature is good for the mind, the body and the soul.  But sometimes....... we're just not that comfortable with nature ourselves.  We're thrilled to bring Sycamore Land Trust's Environmental Education Director, Shane Gibson to the YCCF next week for a family meadow and woodland exploration event. Maybe with just a little bit of guidance, we can all become more comfortable in the woods!
#BabyBusby & I started our #NatureNovice adventure in April 2015.  Nothing beats an experience in the great outdoors with your 2-year old only to realize that, despite the 35+ years that separate you in age, you’re neck-to-neck when it comes to nature maturity - or, in this case, immaturity.  

Ready or not, Mother Nature … Here come the Busbys!

24 Hours Before Nature Novice Adventure #1 … 

Baby Busby and I began our outdoor adventure on April 11, 2015, at a “Li’l” Hikers event organized by Sycamore Land Trust.  On April 10, I received an email sharing how recent rains had created a very wet ground and some puddles at  Beanblossom Bottoms. Rubber boots were encouraged.

Beanblossom Bottoms, a nature preserve located in Ellettsville, Indiana, is part of a wetland. I had never before trekked through wetlands, but wet ground and puddles sounded like everything I imagined wetlands to be.  The day of our event, I received a second email telling me, “We will be playing in water more than we will be hiking, so bring rubber boots… the trails are flooded.”
I should take a minute here to share that I swim like a fish but don’t enjoy swimming with the fish.  I don’t enjoy lakes unless I’m on top of the water cruising on a boat.  Flooded wetlands caught my attention, because it seemed like standing water in the woods equalled a mini lake with lots of trees thrown into the mix. 
It was this notion that sprung me into action and, 25 minutes before Baby Busby and I needed to depart for our playdate with nature, I was sprinting through the mall in a fruitless effort to find rubber boots for toddlers.  In 15 minutes, I visited five stores and came up with a big zero.  
It looked like both Busbys were about to wade through a kiddie-sized lake…

Beanblossom Bottoms Preserve, Meet the Busbys 

Water greeted Baby Busby and I when we arrived at Beanblossom Bottoms.   Even the parking lot was under 4″ of water in places.  My hiking boots were soaked clear through by the time I walked - or waded - around the car to get Baby Busby from her carseat.  Not that I minded; I may not be a nature girl, but I don’t mind dirty.  Baby Busby, on the other hand, wasn’t into the water — literally or physically.  

David Rupp, of IndiGo Birding Nature Tours, served as both our guide and instructor.  Rupp taught the Li’l Hikers about the different sounds made by different frogs.  We had an opportunity to touch the amphibians - “Pass” said both Baby Busby & I - and learned the differences between amphibians and reptiles.  We learned and listened to the different sounds made by different types of frogs - Did you know that a chorus frog sounds like the noise you make when you run your fingers down a comb?  

Sometime half-way through the instructor’s lesson, a creature darted underneath the plank on which Rupp was giving his lesson, which was 18″ away from where I stood holding Baby Busby.

“Did anyone see that?!” our leader excitedly asked. “A mouse just darted underneath us! I think it’s still under us!” 

Confession #1: I shamelessly admit that my proudest moment of this entire adventure is that I managed to squelch the screech that I unconsciously make every time I see a creature.  
As our guide wrapped up his lesson, he distributed nets and other paraphernalia for the children, aged 18 months through 12 years, waded into the water. Baby Busby and I brought up the rear.  We watched an 8-year old boy, also not in rubber boots, as he searched for and discovered bugs and amphibians in the water that was now mid-way up my calves.
I soon saw one of the older children return to our spot, which was a mere 20 feet from the parking lot.  Upon seeing us, she advised against venturing off the trail into the wetlands’ woods.  We then watched her hold onto the Sycamore Land Trust trail map sign before pulling off her knee-high rubber boots empty each one.  
“The water is pretty deep when you get off the trail,” as she explained.
Baby Busby and I lasted about 50 minutes in the water before we wrapped up our first Nature Novice adventure.  I stood in four inches of water as secured her carseat.  As I shut her car door to squish my way to the drivers side, something in the water caught my attention.  A few feet away, I saw something that initially looked like a long skinny leaf.  Upon a (slightly) closer look, I thought it might be a snake.  
“Aadi!” I called to our new friend. “Look! What’s this?”
Aadi wasn’t sure, but he was excited and enthusiastically called out, “David, come look at this! It might be a snake!”
“It’s a leach!” David said while dipping his hand into the water to pick up the critter. “Look how it latches on and starts sucking on me right away!”
Exit the Busbys, stage right…

author: @naturenovice


Monday, June 1, 2015

Time for Independence (and NOISE!) with Toddlers

Toddlers playing music (banging!) with spoons, rocks and bark.
There's not much toddlers enjoy more than banging on things and making noise!  Whether it is banging hands on the table, banging spoons against pots and pans, banging two blocks together or even banging the door closed, if it can make an interesting noise, toddlers will figure it out!

At the YCCF, we understand that toddlers need to bang and make noise, so we work to find creative solutions to allow them to do so.  One of those ways is depicted here-- a simple piece of plywood with pots, pans and colanders from Goodwill attached.  It's outdoors-- so they can bang all they want! 

Why do toddlers need to bang? Developmentally, toddlers are busy learning that they are separate individuals who are able to make things happen because they want them to happen.  (Or prevent things from happening, as you know if you've tried to get your toddler to do something she didn't want to do.)  While it is extremely frustrating at times, (OK, often!) it is vitally important for toddlers to learn that they can choose to make an impact on the world.  If they don't, we run the risk of instilling in them self-doubt instead of autonomy.  Children in the toddler years choose to show their independence not only by making a joyful (loud) noise, but also by refusing to wear the nice shirt you picked out, wanting to walk instead of be carried, refusing the nice broccoli you chose for dinner or insisting that their shoes belong on the wrong feet (right where they put them.)

How do we support this learning at school? Sometimes, toddlers want to do things that we can't allow because it puts them in danger or is unhealthy (like refusing to have a dirty diaper changed.) Whenever we can allow them to make their own choices, though, we do.  So when toddlers want to bang and make noise, which is often, we learn to make the most of it! In the photo above, not only are children banging, making noise and having fun, but they're also engaged in scientific inquiry.  "What noise does the pot make if I bang with the wooden spoon?  What noise does it make if I bang with a rock?  How about this bark?"  Children learn that their actions have different outcomes, based on how hard they bang or how soft or what they use.  This increased understanding of their ability to control themselves and impact the world also moves them toward a really important toddler milestone-- toilet training! (Toilet training is all about toddler autonomy.)

How can you support this learning at home? Besides letting them bang away (stock up on the ibuprofen), consider other ways you can give your toddler choices at home.  If they insist on wearing their pajamas to the store, maybe that's OK.  If it's not, offer them two different choices of shirts to wear:  "Do you want to wear the red shirt with the yellow stripes, or the black shirt with the white polka dots?" Offering that simple choice (don't give too many options!) may fulfill your toddler's desire to be in charge.  If banging on the metal pots with the metal spoon is just unbearable at your house, your toddler may be just as happy banging on your plastic colander with a plastic ladle.  Ultimately, finding some safe ways for your toddler to make some small "noise" in the world (literally and figuratively,) you can help your toddler grow into the autonomous, confident child you hope she'll be.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Infants as scientists

 While visiting the infant room recently, I had the opportunity to watch as an older infant explored the water as it came out of the sink faucet.  He touched the metal of the faucet itself; he attempted to grab the stream of water.  He allowed the water to run over his hands and his arms while he observed carefully.

For our youngest children, one of their biggest jobs is to understand how the world works on a basic, physical level.  The metal faucet has certain properties-- it is hard, it is cold.  Touching it doesn't make it change shape. The water stream, on the other hand, has a different set of properties.  It is cold (sometimes!), but it isn't hard.  It changes shape when I put my hand under it.  I can't grab hold of it like I can with my toy ball or the metal faucet.  When I put my hand on it, water sprays on me and I experience the feeling of being wet. 

This exploration is key to children's cognitive development.  In their minds, they are fitting the world like puzzle pieces into what they already know, and when a puzzle piece doesn't "fit" with what they already know, they create a new concept in their minds, plus all of the neural connections that go with it.  Child development theorist Jean Piaget called these dual concepts "accommodation" and "assimilation."  In these photographs, the infant may already have a concept, or "scheme," as Piaget called it, for water.  But perhaps he hasn't had as much opportunity to explore water coming out of a faucet.  Through exploration, he may determine that this is indeed the same water he's familiar with from the bathtub, and just "assimilate" these new properties of water into his already created concept of what it is (a thing to drink, a thing to bathe in.)  If he didn't already have this concept, he would have to change his view of the world (accommodation) to fit this puzzle piece into his world.

How can you extend this learning at home?  Observe your child as he observes the world around him.  What catches his interest?  Is she really just waving her hand in the air, or is she raptly watching as the sunlight coming through the window dances on her hand while she feels its warmth on her face?  Is he stopping on your walk because he doesn't want to walk anymore, or is he working hard to understand how the grass feels on his ankles? Children who are allowed to explore their world naturally build neural connections in the brain.  The only thing you have to do is let them!