Caring Environments for Children

WHAT MEMORIES DO WE WANT OUR CHILDREN TO HAVE IN CLASSROOM SPACES?

For a moment consider the elements within your own home that offer you comfort, security and a sense of belonging?

Classrooms are no different they are places that offer children the opportunity for choices, exploration, relaxation, investigation & discovery. A space that engages families through creating connections. A place that reflects our beliefs about children and what they deserve and supports their development, interactions, and their interests.

What is the role of the Early Learning Teacher?

  • To be intentional in the design of the environment both inside and outside
  • To reflect the children, staff and families in the design of the environment
  • To supply materials and activities that reflect the strengths/needs and interests of the children and deepen their explorations
  • To provide children with relevant, real, hands-on materials
  • To provide long uninterrupted periods of time for children to explore their environment
  • To be playful! 🙂

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The Room Arrangement Provides a Variety of Learning Areas
When arranging the learning areas, consider their function and their mood. We want to offer children choice so look at the classroom – is there enough room for children to engage with materials? Provide enough materials for each area (need enough materials to have deep exploration for group of children). Once children are in the classroom how do they flow through the areas – do pathways/walkways interfere with children’s play? Did you find any possible barriers to play (create an inclusive play environment for all!) Is the lighting appropriate for the space? and of course expect that children will move materials from area to area to extend play?

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Our beliefs about children and how they learn are reflected in the learning environments we create.

The learning environment functions as the “third educator”

What does the environment say to the children? How do the items displayed on the walls enhance and extend children’s thinking? How will we know if the environment is overstimulating, with too many distracting colours and materials? Do we have too many commercial materials that are not of real interest to the children?

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In Kindergarten the classroom environment is thoughtfully designed to invite, provoke, and enhance learning, and to encourage communication, collaboration, and inquiry. The space, with all the objects in it, including the various materials and resources for learning, is created and arranged as the children’s learning process unfolds – it is constantly being negotiated by and with the children.

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Students in my classroom had the opportunity to design their own individual preschool classroom floor plans. This is one of my favorite engaging activities for students since it gives them the opportunity to learn about the different learning areas in the classroom, look through classroom floor plans and identify areas of improvement and in addition discuss their rationale for designing classrooms.

Some of the Questions Students Had While Designing:

  • What is the size of the classroom and what are the interior areas?
  • Do the colors of the walls influence children?
  • What types of homelike furniture is appropriate?
  • Will flooring change throughout the classroom?
  • What is the amount of light I will have in the classroom? Should some areas be near the windows?
  • What areas  are most compatible together?

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*The photographs are not mine, they were simply used for the purpose of reflective learning and dialogue.

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Indigenous + Early Childhood Education

In Canada, Indigenous children are less likely to attend ECE programs compared to non-Indigenous children. This lag in attendance presents an immediate opportunity for policy intervention and a look into what we can do as educators to deepen or awareness, this blog post is just a starting point for the much learning that is ahead of me as I am certain I have much to learn.

As perhaps the most vulnerable segment of Canada’s population, Indigenous children may stand to benefit the most from having access to high-quality early childhood care and education.

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“It represents a history, it represents a home, it represents a dwelling where families came together over the fire.”

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Creating the culturally competent classroom involves the recognition of Indigenous culture and language.

I do understand many educators struggle to identify and use appropriate resources, and to create contexts in which such knowledge can be embedded. Educators with limited connections to Aboriginal peoples and cultures may require support to incorporate Indigenous knowledge respectfully and appropriately in the classroom.

Rather than just an add-on, the histories and cultures of Indigenous people can be integrated into each learning area to bring new perspectives to existing knowledge and practice, and to encourage interesting and innovative ways to incorporate this knowledge.

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Thinking about traditional indigenous child rearing – baby doll in coolamon in home corner
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Coolamon (plural coolamons)
An indigenous container with curved sides, typically used for collecting berries

It is essential to incorporate the unique learning values of Indigenous people in creating successful Indigenous-centred early education programs and policies. Unlike many programs based on western pedagogy, the concept of “holism” is a vital aspect of Indigenous-centred education.

Holism treats learning as a process that is spiritual as well as experiential, that has its foundations in language and culture, that spreads across all stages of life, and that integrates western as well as Indigenous knowledge.

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Lovely way to incorporate indigenous play into the classroom! These could be used for matching or for storytelling!
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Aboriginal story stones live in a basket in Story Corner
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Exploring indigenous symbols at Pied Piper Preschool

Early childhood provides an enormous opportunity to build the roots for native language learning. This is particularly important in the Indigenous context, as the loss of culture and language is greatly felt by Indigenous communities due to a long history of colonization and marginalization. Preservation and continuation of languages and culture is a top priority for Indigenous people, and early childhood is the best time to focus on achieving this goal.

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Here is a beautiful invitation to play and explore. The inclusion of this culturally specific way of communicating open a dialogue of the “many facets of natural language.

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I end by describing my thoughts about learning … All people benefit from a sense of belonging, to their families, culture and communities. It is especially important in the case of parents caring for young children. Parents need to feel supported by family, friends, the community and by ECE’s.

Aboriginal people, through a long history of assimilation and discrimination, may not have this sense of belonging. This may impact their health and sense of worth, and may result in feelings of despair and hopelessness. There are many things that ECE’s can do to foster a sense of belonging in Aboriginal families with young children, connecting parents to the information and supports that they need in a respectful and caring manner, and acknowledging their strengths.

We must ask questions and seek current information about factors that influence Aboriginal children in today’s society and find ways that respect Aboriginal realities in our classrooms.

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*Photographs do not belong to me, I am completely thankful for the beauty and dedication that has gone into allowing users to use these photographs for learning and dialogue.

A Diary of a Mama

I was tucking in Sophia, she reached up and put her arms around my neck gently pressing her cheeks against mine and said, “Mama will you sleep with me?” “Do you have work to do?” — I said “Yes, I have lots of work to do!” (tidy up the house, laundry to do, deadlines, never-ending to do lists, sleep … oh to just lay down, student assignments to grade–all passing thoughts, that seem to occur within seconds of her asking me) she held on tighter, as neither of us said a thing. She quietly then said “Okay, Mama” as I walked out of the room my heart sank. I couldn’t concentrate as I sat staring at my computer, my eyes filled up with tears and I ran back into her bedroom.

Ugh!

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Please keep helping me to see you and to know you. Keep telling me when I hurt your feelings. Keep sharing with me your fears and your insecurities and we will figure it out together.

I’m okay with making mistakes, but I’m never okay with losing your heart. Your heart is what matters to me.

There are times when I wake up in the morning and glance over I see that you’ve grown over night. Your face is more defined, your eyes look older. A part of me is enthusiastic and super eager to know that there is so much ahead of you. Another part is fearful because time is racing and I can’t slow it down. I’m afraid that I haven’t always been awake and noticing, and that somehow I have slept through your magical journey of growing. I wonder, have I enjoyed you enough? Have I given you what you needed? Is your heart still whole?  Is there something that I’m missing in parenting you and I haven’t noticed yet?

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I’m not always good at this. I’m not always as good as I want to be at being your mom. I want to be great; and sometimes I am, but sometimes I’m not.

When I look at you I am SO. PROUD. When I look at you I see good. I see someone who is mighty. I wonder how I have been trusted with such a treasure. Your heart is pure and soft. You are gentle and kind, you are vivacious and fierce.

Everyday I make mistakes.

Sometimes I snap when I should be sensitive and worry less. Sometimes I lecture and give chores when what you needed was a hug and I can tell. Sometimes I completely and utterly miss it. I watch myself miss it, and later I grieve that I didn’t respond differently.

I miss it when I am tired, and you get my leftovers at the end of a long day. I wish that you didn’t, but sometimes you do.

I miss it when I am scared. I am scared of big things and little things. I really thought adults had it all figured out, but I am one now, and it turns out we don’t. Sometimes fear snatches my heart and I can’t seem to think of anything else. I forget to relax and to enjoy you. I forget to smile and to laugh. I’m working on that.

I am forever your biggest cheerleader and your greatest fan.

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STEM in the Early Years… Is it Possible??

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM Education, a term initiated by the National Science Foundation, refers to an educational approach which integrates more than one of these disciplines.

My favorite way of better understanding STEM: STEM really is a philosophy. STEM is a way of thinking about how educators at all levels—including parents—should be helping children integrate knowledge across disciplines, encouraging them to think in a more connected and holistic way.

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Behind the magnifying glass! Exploring outdoors—👧🏻🌾🍃grasshopper with Sophia

STEM/STEAM for infants and toddlers is about providing multisensory experiences: Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling are all important parts of meaningful learning experiences.

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When my daughter Sophia was an infant and toddler, at home we began allowing her to touch leaves, watch spiders, hold sticks, listen to water and take her on nature walks.

Were we doing STEM infancy and toddler-hood?

Yes, I truly believe so. She was investigating the natural world around her, beginning to learn about how it works by testing it with her tiny fingers, watching it change, listening to its sounds, and feeling its textures.

The secret is to tap into their natural and innate curiosity about the living world. By simply allowing them to investigate, by encouraging them to ask questions about the real world, you are engaging children in STEM.

… something I feel that I am continually exploring in my own life as a mother and educator.


Become more intentional about what you are doing.  If you start by reflecting on what you are doing already, you will find you that you are already doing things in STEM and with an increase intention in your language and your ability to support children to predict what might happen next or explore or question, you will already be advancing those ideas of science, technology, engineering, and math.” (Dr. Killins on Bam Radio)

How Adults support STEM for Infants and Toddlers:
  • Provide materials
  • Join infants and toddlers in exploration
  • Connect experiences to what children have done or experienced before
  • Invite children to use their senses and describe their observations
    • How do they feel?
    • What do they look like?
    • How do they smell?
    • How do they taste?
    • How does it sound?

Now that my daughter is much older, we often go on “nature walks” as a family, where we encourage her natural curiosity for exploration. She loves the opportunity to collect, pick up and look at or ask simple questions about almost anything: rocks, fossils, seeds, leaves, sticks, bugs, or whatever seems to be peaking her interest that day. As we collect, observe or discuss with her we are encouraging her to create hypotheses about the things we see, and look at the different designs and shapes that we find in nature, as an initial inquiry into engineering design. I would love to extend her experience by bringing along binoculars, magnifying glasses, and a child’s field microscope to deepen her investigations.

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Collecting with Daddy at Riverwood Conservancy
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STEM Activities for Preschoolers… you’ve probably already done some…

  • Go on a nature walk. Can be a great outdoor STEM activity for preschoolers. Take a reusable bag and encourage children to collect interesting objects (i.e., small round stones, leaves, seed pods, or flowers). Later children can sort their found nature materials into categories, such as color, texture, size, and shape. Skills used: math and science

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  • Cook together. Find a simple recipe for preschoolers. Follow the recipe letting children help measure and mix. Skills used: science, technology, and math
  • Build ramps to test which cars, balls, or marbles go the fastest. Use a board, sheet of cardboard, or small table with one side elevated to make a ramp, this is often easiest in the block area. Roll a variety of objects, two at a time down the ramp to see which is fastest. Record your findings on a chart, or verbally share in the excitement with children. Skills used: engineering and math
  • Play with water. Water is a rich STEM material. At the sensory table (bin with water). Provide tools to experiment with like a turkey baster, empty dish detergent bottles, plastic measuring cups, etc. to fill and compare. Skills used: math and science

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  • Set-up building activities with paper or plastic cups. Give a challenge such as, “How high can you make a tower of cups?” Measure each tower and record their height. Skills used: engineering and math

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According to Dr. Sherri Killins, “What STEM does is give a label to what you are already doing… helping children to explore, observe, ask questions, predict, integrate their learning… its what we’ve always done in early childhood education.”

Some Resources I liked:

Be sure to check out the Children and Nature Network. Their site has a wealth of information on the back-to-nature movement.

The Boston Children’s Museum’s excellent STEM Sprouts Teaching Guide assists preschool educators in focusing and refining the naturally inquisitive behaviors of three-to-five-year-olds in STEM.

Infant: Mini Provocations

Students often ask me for list of infant learning experiences they could use on placements. This post is dedicated to students that are seeking to be inspired, take risks and dive deeper into learning experiences for infants.

“Absolutely everything is something to explore and wonder at when experiencing it for the first time!”

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To get you started, take a look at some of the inspirational work I’ve collected from various childcare programs (Source: Tinker Tots Discovery Atelier). I am in awe at such professionalism, care that has gone into thoughtfully and intentionally planning activities for infants.

I hope that you feel as inspired as I was by the beautiful work of the educators.

In Reggio thinking there is a belief that the environment is the “third teacher” and that it is crucial to provide children with plenty of natural light, space for movement, stimulation and access to open-ended play resources. For babies and young children it is important that these are highly tactile and varied so that they can investigate them using their primary way of interacting with the world; the senses.

I am continually moved to create play spaces for infants inspired by Reggio principles, that encourage independent play, interaction with stimulating materials and curiosity about the world.

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As educators we set out play objects purposefully and deliberately and give children loads of time and space to explore and experiment we are respecting children’s play urges, and giving them the opportunity to grow in self mastery.

So MUCH POTENTIAL FOR: gathering, dumping, transporting, mixing, rolling, posting and more in these simple ideas. All that from cardboard tubes, paper carry bags and tissue boxes! Who’d have thought?

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Safe tastes, hands on exploring and tactile investigating

Play together to increase the opportunities for sharing and communicating as they explore and make this a special bonding time! Remember, infants attention spans are not long at this stage and that is fine. A few minutes of one of these ideas per day is plenty, and come back to revisit them often as repetition is what leads to familiarity and building on learning skills later.

Exploring fabric and textures. A beautiful set-up in an infant 🚼classroom, to promote exploration and 💭problem solving.

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Tip: Rotate often to keep baby interested

Infants tend to focus the most on high contrast images, particularly black on white and white on black, followed by bright, complementary colours.

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So now that you have planned a mini infant provocation … what comes next?

I have put together some of my favourite tips for talking with babies/toddlers and engaging in high-quality back-and-forth interactions.

  •  Move to the child’s level and make eye contact.
  • Mirror the child’s tone. For example, if the child is smiling and happy, use a happy, upbeat tone of voice.
  • Use Parent-ese! Parent-ese is a type of adult speech where an adult talks to a child in an exaggerated, animated, and repetitive way. Babies and toddlers get excited when they are spoken to in fun and interesting ways. Parent-ese captures babies’ attention and can help them learn.
  • Comment! Comment about everything in the baby’s environment, such as their actions and other people’s actions, objects, toys, foods, activities, and daily events.
  • Label! Babies and toddlers are learning to match words with different things in their world. Labeling at every opportunity helps babies and toddlers learn new words and understand their meaning.
  • Point and look at objects when describing them for babies/toddlers. Make sure the baby/toddler looks at who or what you are pointing to.
  • Follow the child’s lead and talk about it! Identify what the child is looking at, playing with, holding, doing, or interested in.
  • Have conversations! Some babies and toddlers may not have words yet, but they still communicate in their own “baby language”. This is usually in the form of babbles, coos, laughter, smiles, looks, and gestures. Talk to them and reply to their “baby language”. That is called a “back-and-forth conversation”- baby style!

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As always, never leave infants unattended when playing with any of these ideas.

Dot Day as Process Art: Why we ❤️ it so much!

International Dot Day is a celebration of creativity inspired by The Dot written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.  It is a day to think about ways in which we can use our special talents to make the world a better place.

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What began as a simple story in a picture book has become so much more. As more and more teachers celebrate International Dot Day with their students, entire classrooms are being transformed as children and teachers alike rediscover the power of creativity in the learning process.

What is process art for kids?

Process ART is a contemporary artistic movement recognized within the world’s art communities. The Guggenheim states “process art emphasizes the ‘process’ of making art”. The MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) points out that “in process art, the means count for more than the ends.”

These definitions apply directly to process art for children! 

Process art is all about the experience the children have while they’re creating. If it has a nice end product, that’s great, but the end product isn’t the focus of process art. Ask yourself the questions below if you’re unsure. If the answer to either is “YES!” then it is not a process art activity.

  • “Will I be upset if the end result doesn’t look a specific way?”
  • “Do I have a preconceived notion about what the end result ‘should’ look like?”

Teacher Reflection: How do you dream of “making your mark” in the world. Whats one small way you can start working on it now?

One other aspect of International Dot Day that has helped it spread across the globe is the interactive, collaborative nature of celebrations. Teachers are encouraged to document and share their International Dot Day celebrations via blogs and social media. In this way, other teachers can be inspired to participate in new and exciting ways in the future.

Some Ideas that can be easily applied to childcare:

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Wonderful opportunity for parental engagement on DOT DAY! 

Encourage children’s creativity through developmentally appropriate art experiences

Tips for leading process-focused art

1. Approach art like open-ended play—for example, provide a variety of materials and see what happens as the child leads the art experience
2. Make art a joyful experience. Let children use more paint, more colors, and make more and more artwork
3. Provide plenty of time for children to carry out their plans and explorations
4. Let children come and go from their art at will
5. Notice and comment on what you see: Look at all the yellow dots you painted
6. Say YES to children’s ideas
7. Offer new and interesting materials
8. Play music in the background
9. Take art materials outside in the natural light
10. Display children’s books with artful illustrations, such as those by Eric Carle, Lois Ehlert, and Javaka Steptoe
11. Let the children choose whether their art goes home or stays in the classroom
12. Remember that it’s the children’s art, not yours

References:

More Than Painting, Preschool and Kindergarten: Exploring the Wonders of Art, by Sally Moomaw and Brenda Hieronymus. This book provides many process art activity ideas.

The Creative Arts: A Process Approach for Teachers and Children, by Linda Carol Edwards. A textbook format that provides a foundation for understanding process in art, music, and drama activities with young children.

A Caring Note: For students starting in the field

 

Dear Future Childcare Professional,

Genuinely express enjoyment, caring, compassion, and interest in the children’s and parents lives. Take the time to really understand children’s individuality.

Parents trust their jewels with your care, provide them with a stimulating environment; they want to know and feel that they are respected, valued, and you will be there for them as well as their children.

Environmental activities, learning through being outdoors, and nature activities are so inspiring; don’t be afraid to try setting up a provocation, feeling embarrassed, or giggling alongside children. There is so much joy looking at children dance in the rain, caring for seedlings freshly planted, or watching nature in its splendor.

Enjoy the newness of each day.
Be like a child and see the world from their eyes…you just maybe surprised what you learn.

Good luck and enjoy your beautiful journey,

Carolina Saenz-Molina

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Class Photo: Taking risks by learning about nature play

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Class Photo: Genuinely, getting to know our parents and building partnerships.

Books + Social |Emotional Awareness a Reflection

Reading children’s books and sharing them with my students and daughter has been one of my favourite past times both at home and in the classroom. I find it very calming and pleasing to share a storybook. After reading various titles, I have come to appreciate the authors careful and intentional story writing, its fascinating to read a story and be so moved by their writing… even as an adult! This blog post is dedicated to three stories I have read and been moved by.

Social-Emotional Intelligence:
the ability to understand ourselves and other people, and in particular to be aware of, understand and use information about the emotional states of ourselves and others with competence. It includes the ability to understand, express and manage our own emotions, and respond to the emotions of others, in ways that are helpful to ourselves and others.

Book: “What I Like about Me”

By Allia Zobel, Miki Sakamoto (Illustrator)

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Kinde Korner “All About ME Provocation!”

During the first month of school, Kinde Korner’s goal as educators is to learn more about the children they will be working with over the year. In addition to completing assessments, interviews, and observations of the children during play, they set up a provocation or invitation to learn “About Me.”

Personal Reflection:

This is one of my favorite books. I enjoyed reading this book to my group of ECA/ECE students. The books central theme is diversity and uniqueness (it is okay to be different since that’s what makes us, who we are). At the end of the book there is a mirror children could use this as a learning experience or an opportunity to facilitate discussion. In my classroom I passed around the book and had my students look in the mirror while sharing what the liked about themselves.

Book: “Only One You”

By Linda Kranz’s (Author and Illustrator)

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Metal Insects “There’s Only One You (2011 art show)”

This book quickly became an art show choice for the educators teaching 3-6 Montessori in Maitland, Florida. Its overflowing beauty instantly captivated them from the beginning with the uniquely painted (rock) fish placed against the vibrant blue seas and picturesque skies. In addition to visual beauty they mentioned how enchanted they felt by the endearing message the story delivered. It carries an uplifting message of hope and goodness and offers simple but invaluable wisdom. The principles in this book are ones they have always tried to nurture in the children.

Personal Reflection:

Only One You, is a beautiful story about the lessons parents share with their children. Adri is a young fish that is ready to begin his own life and his parents want him to take with him the wisdom they have learned. My favorite part is when Adri’s mother says, “We hope you will remember” and the young fish circles back to let them know that he will not forget. The life lessons that children will learn from reading Kranz’s book include the importance of individuality, how you can change paths after making a mistake and the respect that parents deserve.

Book: “Stick and Stone”

By: Beth Ferry

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Diane Kashin Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research 

In one of Diane Kashin’s inspiring  workshops was an invitation to engage in experiences based on the book, Stick and Stone, in her blog post she discusses her reflections on invitations– and why not all of her invitations are responded to – leading her to reflect on which are and why?

Personal Reflection:

Stick and Stone is the perfect picture book for teaching children about using words that uplift versus words that hurt. It communicates how to look out for friends and take a stand and how friendship should be a balance of give and take. The simple language and rhyming words make it easy for young children to understand. Even though there are few words on each page, Stick and Stone introduces vocabulary such as “vanish, wander, explore, and laze” to children. This book exemplifies a story of true friendship, and helping one another. I would use Stick and Stone to start a conversation with my class about how to treat others.

Patterns and Loose Parts

Pattern: When items are in a repeated sequence, they form a pattern.

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Children will recognize and create patterns.

For example, when coloring they may shade a shirt in a “blue-red-blue-red” pattern. As they mature, the patterns will become more complex. When playing with blocks they may be able to put them in a “triangle-circle-square-triangle-circle-square” sequence.

Working on pattern recognition is an important area to practice with children in childcare. The ability to recognize, follow and predict patterns is an important early math skill. Understanding patterns helps children to understand and deal with the chaotic environment around them, as they learn to do things in the correct order.

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The ECE’s role involves posing questions that alert children to patterns which occur naturally in the sequence of the day, such as in the songs sung, the books read, and the games played in outdoors and indoors. This is an ongoing and natural process. Activities should highlight patterns that are visual, kinesthetic, and auditory.

Tip: Experiences with sorting and classifying may help with the learning of patterns. The ability to work with patterns is strengthened by the recognition and identification of attributes such as colour, size, and shape.

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Patterns are everywhere in math!

I have discovered the art of setting out materials in the classroom to be so inviting, and encourages children to explore with all their senses.

Math Language: Repeating pattern, position words (after, between, beside, before, next), attribute vocabulary (colour, size and shape).

Loose Parts = More Complex Play

Architect Simon Nicholson used the term “loose parts” to describe materials with varied properties that can be moved and manipulated in many ways. He theorized that the richness of an environment depends on the opportunity it allows for people to interact with it and make connections.

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The term loose parts relates to any object which was can moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up and taken apart and put back together. Playing with loose parts is a popular activity in preschools and upwards to help children develop their skills in creativity, flexibility and independence.

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Love the open ended nature of these activities. The children can be as creative as they want and all approach it in their own way. Very inviting and so gorgeously place loose parts.

When children are encouraged to use loose parts and try their own ideas, they are driven to learn. They are driven to not only ask their own questions, but also discover their own answers and create new possibilities. A child’s play with loose parts even begins to match their developing skill level (Daly and Beloglovsky, 2015), providing opportunities for divergent and creative problem solving.

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Daly, L., & Beloglovsky, M. (2015) Loose parts: Inspiring play in young children. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press

Thank you to all the Early Childhood Educators and Elementary Teachers who have worked so hard to create activities for children. –credits to the photographs