Teaching Kids How to Play

Teaching PlayIt seems to so counter-intuitive to us adults that children need to be “taught” how to play. After all, they are kids! It is what they do! Think about it though, we call play “the work of children,” how many of you knew exactly what to do the first day on the job?

There is so much that goes into even the simplest looking “play,” whether it is zooming cars along the rug or building with Legos. They have to come up with the plan and keep it in their head, they have to coordinate their body to do what they want it to do and solve obstacles on the fly. If there are other kids (or adults!) involved it adds another layer of social awareness and interaction that all has to be maintained while also keeping up the play scenario! Phew, exhausting just to think about it!

Children need to be coached on how to navigate these play scenarios, and one of the most effective ways is modeling it for them. Tonight, I “taught” my son how to play grocery store. We made a list together and then I asked him to get the items and put them in his basket. We rang them up on the cash register and then he started coming up with ideas of what he wanted to make in his kitchen.

He has gone with us to the store hundreds of times, so that modeling combined with what we did tonight gives him a formula that he can take and riff on himself. When you play with your kids, or give them ideas on what to do next, or do it yourself while they watch you…you are modeling play for them.

With children who are learning to play together the most important thing they need is language and ideas for how to be part of a group. This could be as simple as how to join a group of kids who are playing (or how to stop playing together when they are done!).  Watch a preschool teacher and you will realize that “breaking up fights” is really more about giving them the language to express themselves then solving the issue for them.


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“Engaging Young Children in Museums”- New Book!

I’ve talked a lot about the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC) on this blog. It was my first “classroom teaching” gig and gave me a chance every day to try out ways that the museum could benefit young children.

Sharon Shaffer, the founding director of SEEC, has a new book out called “Engaging Young Children in Museums.” I was lucky enough to be given a copy and just finished reading it. I can’t call this a true “review” because I know Sharon personally (she was still director when I was teaching there) and I am quoted briefly in the book/supplied an image for it. However, I can tell you a little about it and let you decide for yourself!

I will say that this is a dense little book. It comes in at under 200 pages but is packed with information. It does a pretty comprehensive take on the history of children in museums and also education theory/teaching methods. If you were a museum educator without a lot of background in early childhood education, this would be a good reference to have. I will say, I’d take it slow and work your way through pieces of it or you’ll get overwhelmed.

I also like the conversation it starts about helping docents and other educators become more comfortable with the audience, and there are some concrete ideas and good template documents at the back for planning purposes.

I would be interested to get some feedback from someone with out an early childhood background to see how clear the information was to them and if the suggestions could be easily implemented. If anyone has read it, let me know your thoughts!

You can purchase the book directly from Left Coast Press and it is also available on Amazon etc.

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Articles in “Teaching Young Children”

Teaching Young Children ArticlesPublishing on the web has been exciting…but I will admit there is something very satisfying about seeing your words “in print!”

I have had two articles come out in “Teaching Young Children” (a NAEYC publication) and luckily they are offering both for free on the web!

First was “Locally Sourced Culture,” which aimed to be a very concrete guide for educators looking to build community partnerships.

The second was “The Science of Superheroes,” which was a collaboration with my former co-teacher. This one was all about a lesson set on superheroes we did with our 3 year old class. It started as a way to address the superhero play happening in the classroom, but broadened to include a lot of fun science lessons!

Hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think!

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“Museums and Early Childhood Education”-NAEA Google Hangout

NAEA Google HangoutSince starting Cabinet of Curiosities I’ve had a lot of “firsts.”  I’ve been published, started teaching science classes, been a guest lecturer and given docent trainings. This month, I had another new adventure…moderating a Google Hangout on young children in museums!

The National Arts Educators Association has a Museum Education division that does a variety of “Peer2Peer” professional development opportunities, including monthly Google Hangouts on a variety of topics. This month we got to spend the whole hour talking about how museums can engage and teach young children and support their caregivers.

It was an awesome group of educators, we planned meticulously and…if I do say so myself….it shows. The conversation was great and there were some really thoughtful questions from the “audience.”

Luckily, for those of you that missed it, you can still watch! The entire Google Hangout is archived here and the message board is still active if you want to post questions. There is also a list of resources that we pulled together and will be adding to.

Let me know if you watched it and found it useful! We’d love to do more Hangouts around this theme, so keep us posted on what you’d like to discuss!

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Raising “Socio-Economically” Aware Kids

Wouldn’t it be nice if raising/educating children was mostly about the straight-forward stuff? Potty training, sleep schedules, even the “3 Rs” are not easy, but they have clear goals. What trips me up most about being a Mom-to-a-toddler (and was true when I taught 3 year olds) is the “hidden curriculum.”

That is the stuff that isn’t written on a lesson plan, but is almost more critical.  Helping them learn to engage with peers, interact with adults, stand up and be true to themselves, find and engage in their passions (responsibly).

Moving a step beyond that and you have the skills that you have to lay groundwork for now, but won’t be “finished” well….ever.  I’ve talked about teaching respect to a toddler, that is a big one, but there are others that I feel even less prepared for.

Teaching children about race, racism and respect for others is a constant that needs to begin early. It is a myth that children don’t “see” race when they are little. Children begin sorting and classifying their world as babies and show racial preference at a young age. Parents should “step in” and lay groundwork for tolerance at a young age, because children will form their own opinions.

As a white Mom, raising a white son in a neighborhood that is not incredibly diverse, I feel unprepared for this topic. However, there seem to be a lot of resources to guide me. The book “Nurture Shock,” various educator resources on anti-bias classrooms and articles with strategies for raising children who are racially conscious and teaching tolerance. There is even an entire exhibit that looks at the concept of race and what it means culturally and biologically. I’m not “ready” for these lessons yet, but I feel like I have the tools I need.

No, where I really get stuck is on raising a child who is aware of socio-economic differences.  Sure, I will get him involved in volunteering (even at 2 he loves “helping”) and learning to take care of others is a key part. However, that just teaches him that he is in a position to help others.

Just like you wouldn’t want to teach a child that “insert name of minority group” needs you to “save” them, you don’t want a child to only think of interacting with others in terms of “helping.” What I want to know is how do I really help him learn that people…are people…no matter what their economic status is.

This is a topic that I haven’t found any helpful guides on and am drawing a blank when thinking on my own. Maybe there are some helpful voices on the internet that can point me in the right direction?


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The Kindness of “Big Kids”

The Kindness of Big KidsThis blog is about museums and early childhood education, but sometimes I veer a little off course. Today is one of those days, because I am just so overwhelmed by an act of kindness that I got to see.

We got a snow storm last night so the hill across from our house was busy with kids sledding all day long. After nap, I bundled my 2 1/2 year old up and we trudged out with his little inflatable tube. He saw all the kids and immediately asked to go sledding “with the big kids.” We worked our way over to the hill and he watched them doing tricks and zooming down the hills as fast as they could.

When there was a break in the action he plopped down and I gave him a push. The sled slid lazily down the hill, almost stopping mid-way, before making it to the bottom. He jumped up and grabbed my hand to climb back up the hill.

When we got to the top, one of the “big kids” (maybe about 10 years old?) detached himself from the group and came over. He squatted down and smiled at my son and said “Hey! Do you want to ride with me on my sled? It goes faster?” I think Ace was so overwhelmed at being talked to by the “big kid” that all he could do was nod and be led over to the sled.

For the next half hour, his new best buddy rode down with him multiple times on the sled. He was careful to steer it safely but went fast enough to please the heart of a toddler. He also chatted with Ace and talked to him just like he was one of the “big kids.”

As I watched, Ace seemed to stand up a little taller. He wanted to walk up the hill “by self!” and when they tumbled on a particular fast run he grinned through a face covered in snow. He copied everything the “big kid” said and listened carefully to all directions.

I was also really impressed with the other kids at the hill. Although they didn’t interact as directly with us, they made sure Ace got his fair turns on the hill and were careful to steer around him as he worked his way back up. They also didn’t seem to care that a “grown-up” was hanging around and gave me plenty of tips on the type of sled to get that would go faster!

Although this is mostly a story of kindness that made a Mom’s heart melt, it also reinforced one of those “hidden curriculum” items that all parents, teachers and caregivers are constantly striving to teach.  These are the things like working together, kindness and respect that just make our world run better. In this case, it wasn’t just kindness to others but a special kind of awareness of what another person needs and a willingness to move at their pace to get them there.

I am very grateful to the “big kid” at the hill today. He gave my son confidence to try something new, a sense of pride in being like “the big kids” and the happiness that comes when someone is kind to you…for no reason at all.

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Using Food for Play with Young Children

Using Food for Play

As a follow up to my post on “Process vs. Product” centered art, I was thinking about using food in art and play with young children.

When I say “using food” I don’t mean having them help cook, exploring different tastes or food based science experiments….that I am all for! Instead, I mean things like a sensory bin full of rice or making potato and apple prints for an art exploration.

When you have infants and young toddlers (who still put a lot in their mouth!) it can give caregivers peace of mind to have safe objects for children to explore. For the very youngest children I am more comfortable with food based items being a first introduction to art and sensory materials. However, as they get older, I have trouble with the idea that food is a plaything and disposable.

For me personally, the main reason is because there are so many people in the world who don’t have enough to eat. The thought of pouring pounds of rice into a bucket and telling kids it is “for play” just doesn’t sit well with me.

Also, the choice of materials can send a message about what food is “important” and what is “for play,” which is not something that an educator who is teaching tolerance would want to have happen.

Finally, blurring the lines between edible and non-edible makes it harder for children to distinguish what is OK to eat and what isn’t, and can make them feel free to waste/play with food that they ARE supposed to be eating.

This is something I come back to as I play with my toddler and teach art and science workshops for young children. There doesn’t feel like a clear cut answer, just a pretty solid opinion.

If you search “Using food for play in early childhood education” you will find a lot of interesting and thoughtful posts on the topic. I would love to hear your opinions and if you have any examples of food being used thoughtfully in play.

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