I wonder…

Posted By on Mar 16, 2020 |

So, all day cares in Chester County are closed for at least two weeks to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and families are wondering how to educate their little ones at home. Is there an equivalent to the online/distance learning that other schools & universities are planning?

Certainly, there are online resources for activities for early childhood education and I’ll post a few another time. (If you are really craving a media source today, just watch old episodes of Mr. Rogers with your preschooler. He spent a lot of time researching early childhood development and in my opinion there is no other show for preschoolers like his.) Today, I want to empower you to teach your child just by being you.

Children are naturally curious and ask tons of questions. Many adults have been trained through schooling and work not to ‘waste’ time on pondering and reflection, but to quickly find the answer and act on the information and move on. Being able to tap into our own curiosity, and disciplining ourselves to take the time to guide our children’s discovery, is a new skill for some grown-ups. We all have these traits inside of us, but the best teachers are the ones who take the time to intentionally respond with curiosity.

What does this look like? Several models of early childhood education talk about a plan-do-review cycle. It’s kind of like how we’re taught to give a lesson, or write an article or a speech — say what you’re going to say, say it, then sum up what you’ve said. One of the reasons we include on our daily sheets a child’s favorite activity is not just to let parents know what the child did or give a talking point for dinnertime. It’s to help children review their day, reflect on what they have learned and how they learned it. And remember all the fun they had doing so.

Other models add observation and reflection to the learning cycle. Observe-plan-do-observe-reflect-adjust the plan-observe, etc. This leads to emergent curriculum, which takes cues off what children are already interested in and ready to do. For example, our nursery school teacher recently asked her students what they are wondering about. Here’s the list hanging on the wall in their room:

Babies, how they cry and show them we love them
The moon, space travel, & cars
Blue herons & the zoo
Library and books
Paint more — more colors
Tattoos, dragons, wizard

So, this is how the teacher has responded so far:

Expanded the dramatic play area to include a doll high chair, doll baby carriers, dolls, blankets and diapers
Brought more play animals into the room, placed next to the blocks to encourage creation of a zoo
Placed not just one but two bins of books at child level
Added an easel and led an activity mixing paint colors
Found & read books about dragons

What might this look like at home? Ask your child what he/she is wondering today. This is something we do frequently at Oak Lane, kind of like our Morning Meeting questions. Then offer some ideas for exploration, maybe even find a quick video online. For example, if your child has been coloring and wants to know how crayons are made, Google to find a short video, watch it together, then discuss it (academic learning/cognition). Follow up by finding all your broken crayons, taking the paper off (a great fine motor skill activity), melting them (solid to liquid to solid = science), and putting them in molds to create new crayons (art/creativity). Make up a silly song about crayons with your child to a familiar tune (music). (Off the top of my head — Twinkle, Twinkle, broken crayon, break you up and melt you down — something like that. Your child will think of the most ridiculous rhymes — and non-rhymes.) Then write a story about your experience — your child can dictate the words for you to write (literacy) — and illustrate the story with your new crayons. That’s several educational domains experienced by just having fun with a parent.

Parents, you can do this. Really. You know your child better than anyone else. Your child loves you more than anyone else.

You know how your child asks a million questions? Here’s a story about how you can encourage discovery.

The dad of one of our babies was outside in the rain, visible from our preschool window. Here’s how the dialogue went:

Child: “What’s he doing?”
Teacher: “What do you see?”
Child: “The baby buggy.”
Teacher: “What else?”
Child: “The wheels — they look brand new.”
Teacher: “Anything else?”
Child: “Tools! What’s that noise? Oh yeah, a power tool!”
Teacher: “So, what do you think is happening?
Child: “He’s fixing the wheels of the buggy.”

Did the teacher actually give the child the answer? She could have, in about two seconds. Instead, she asked questions to lead the child into self-discovery, to challenge the child to observe and think. The whole interaction took about 20 minutes of observation and discovery, waiting to see if an assumption was correct, keeping up answering a question with a question.

I know a lot of parents are working from home this week. I know that 20 minutes to answer a two-second question feels like a really, really long time when you have a list of things to prepare and do. But this is how kids learn. And, what they’re learning is how to think. How to observe. How to reflect. This is Quaker education at a preschool level.