Different Aspects of Nature: Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum Course

Graduate students, enrolled in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) are assigned readings and discussion topics to influence their daily classroom work. They use these readings and discussions to influence the experiences they offer in the classroom, outdoors, and in the community, then submit reflections that integrate their practical and academic research. Graduate students’ reflections are read, and feedback is offered by course instructors and classroom mentors. In this way, graduate students are offered space for theory to inform practice and practice to inform theory.

For the Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum (DAC) course, graduate students,, observe students, document their observations using a variety of tools, reflect on their documentation with colleagues, and develop and implement curriculum plans throughout the semester. To read an in-depth description of this course, refer to this blog post: Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum Course. Part IV of the DAC course asks graduate students to examine ways to extend the curriculum outdoors and into the community.

The following post is taken from a paper written by Meghna Gopal, graduate student in the 2017-2018 cohort, for the DAC course, Part IV.


In a world where violence appears to be on the rise, and media outlets are casting a negative outlook on the future, fear has begun to control the actions of society. In many cases, it seems that people are so focused on the negativity existing in the cultural environment, they are unable to enjoy themselves and take advantage of all the good life still has to offer. Unfortunately, this type of mentality is especially impactful on our youngest citizens. Parents seem hesitant to allow their children to play outside for extended periods of time or to wander too far out of their sight. Thus, many children are now spending more waking hours inside of their homes, as opposed to exploring the outdoors.

In addition, the rapid growth of technology and emphasis on standardized testing in schools have played a role in limiting children’s contact with nature. It is common to see young children staring at a digital screen for hours on end or having their recess compromised for more instructional time in the classroom to prepare for state testing. Given this, it is no wonder that a large percentage of children are suffering from sensory-related issues. Spending time outdoors gives children opportunities to freely release their energy, foster creativity, and enhance self-control. (Natural Learning Initiative, 2012). For this reason, it is crucial for both educators and parents to provide opportunities for young children to actively connect with and learn more about the natural world.

In my own classroom, I was considering ways I could create a palpable experience for the children to further discover the different aspects of nature. How could I bring the learning that was happening indoors into the outside environment? Over the past couple of months, the children have been extremely interested in the exploration of clay. My mentor teacher and I have designed various provocations involving clay, paired with other materials that could be incorporated into the experience. On one occasion the children explored natural materials, including pine cones, wood, shells, and rocks, with the clay. While the children seemed to enjoy deepening their understanding of the versatility of clay, they also actively engaged with the natural materials, pressing the materials into the clay to make imprints. Given their attraction to the natural materials during that particular experience, I decided to recreate the same provocation, but in an outdoor setting. I thought that the learning could be more meaningful if the children engaged with the natural materials while in a natural setting.

I chose to set up the provocation on a table located in the garden. The children often view this outdoor space as a peaceful escape from the action of the other outdoor classrooms. I felt that the calm atmosphere would offer them the chance to focus and fully participate in extending their learning.

To prepare for the provocation, I laid out clay boards on the table. I cut slabs of clay and placed one on each board. I also gathered a variety of natural materials, including pine cones, rocks, fall leaves, and sticks, that could be found in the garden. I placed the materials in the center of the table, as well as on the clay boards. I was curious to see how the children would interact with the materials in an outdoor environment, and whether or not they would draw inspiration from the previous provocation.

On a Friday morning, four children were invited to explore the materials that had been arranged in the garden. Almost immediately, they each picked up a stick and began poking the clay to create holes. One child also used the stick to create lines in the clay. The children made imprints with the rocks and pine cones, as they had done in the earlier experience.

Maya discovered that the pine cone could also be rolled back and forth on the clay to produce a pattern.

Moving the pine cone in this manner inspired her to explore rolling the clay itself. She folded her clay slab in half and began rolling it back and forth across the board. Two of the other children took notice of what she was doing, prompting them to also experiment with moving their clay in a back-and-forth motion. It is noted that toddlers tend to mimic the actions of their fellow peers, as well as adults (Colorado Early Learning and Development Guidelines, n.d.).

Perhaps, the highlight of the provocation was the creation of clay birthday cakes. Maya positioned a pine cone and a stick on her clay piece and started singing “Happy Birthday” to herself. Once she had finished singing, she pretended to blow out the candle, which she had represented with the stick. Not surprisingly, this resulted in the other children also wanting to construct cakes. They started shaping their clay and gathering the natural materials they wanted to use in bringing their creation to life. After the cakes had been made, they took turns singing “Happy Birthday” and pretending to blow out the candles. They each sang “Happy Birthday” to Maya, and not to themselves as she had done. Perhaps, this was their way of acknowledging that Maya was the one who had inspired them to create their own cakes. Or maybe they were following her lead and singing for her as she had done. Either way, it seemed as though Maya was able to celebrate her birthday a few months early with clay cakes.

It was certainly interesting to see how different each child’s representation of a cake was. While Maya’s cake was fairly simple, with just a stick and pine cone, Anna wrapped her clay around a pine cone and added leaves on top, possibly as decoration. Both Anders and Eli used a single pine cone for their piece of decoration. Eli had lines on his cake that he had drawn earlier with a stick, adding a little more intricacy to his creation.

Juniper, an older sibling who joined the experience, neatly arranged each material on her clay piece. She placed a big and small pine cone toward the center of the clay and added rocks and leaves in the spaces around the pine cones.

According to the Colorado Early Learning and Development Guidelines (n.d.), toddlers “use abstract things to represent other things in pretend play” (p.78). In this experience, the children were using their imaginations to depict the clay as cake. They also most likely used the natural materials to signify decorations, using the sticks for candles.

Looking back on this provocation, I was impressed by the children’s creative utilization of the natural materials presented to them. They were able to guide the exploration of these materials in ways that gave purpose and meaning to their learning. When the children were using the pine cones, rocks, and sticks to produce clay imprints, it is possible that they were connecting to a previous experience in which they also made patterns in the clay with similar materials. When Maya rolled the pine cone back and forth in the clay, she broadened her awareness of how the pine cone can be used with the clay.

I noticed that the children were far more engaged with the natural materials than they have been in the past. While they had explored the imprints that could be made with the various materials in a prior experience, they seemed more interested in the versatility of the clay itself. Their actions primarily consisted of squishing, flattening, and rolling the clay into the desired object. Thus, I concluded the natural materials simply did not yield as many possibilities as the clay. The hard surfaces of materials like pine cones and rocks prevented them from being easily manipulated into different shapes or objects. However, after observing how the children interacted with these same materials out in the garden, I have been reconsidering this earlier assumption. What was it about the experience that made the natural materials more attractive to the children? Did the outdoor setting play a role? Perhaps, the children were inspired by their surroundings.. In the movie, Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten, it is mentioned that nature has positive effects on a child’s creativity. The large spaces give children more freedom and opportunities to express themselves (Richter & Molomot, 2013). For this reason, being outside could have helped the children be more creative in their use of the natural materials, incorporating them into the making of the clay birthday cakes. The environment is often referred to as the third teacher and often greatly influences the learning that occurs during a particular experience.

In planning for future provocations, I want to continue integrating the outdoors . Given that nature plays such a big role in ensuring the healthy development of a young child (Natural Learning Initiative, 2012), it is important for children to have plenty of opportunities to fully understand and appreciate what it has to offer. Perhaps, I could present the same provocation to a different group of children or even in a whole group setting. Would the children be as interested in the natural materials as the first group was? How does a large group differ from a small group in terms of how the children interact with the materials?

In addition, I could offer the same provocation, but in a different outdoor space. How would materials in that space contribute to the children’s explorations? Natural materials could also be used with forms of media other than clay. For instance, a painting provocation in the garden could offer the children the experience of exploring how paint and natural materials interact, as well as the possibility of expanding their own interpretations of them on paper.

Additionally, I could take the children on a nature walk through the school neighborhood. We could collect various objects that we find along the way and add them to our classroom to produce a more natural look. Seeing these objects on a daily basis may also provoke the children to talk about their experiences on the walk.

Moreover, I would like to find a way to involve parents in the children’s learning. Maybe, we could organize an event at a local park where families could explore different classroom provocations in a community setting. Materials of interest to the children, such as clay, paper, and drawing utensils could be set up with more natural ones found in the park. How might the children extend their learning beyond the school environment? How might their families learn alongside them? Bringing the learning into this type of space would offer the children the opportunity to make connections between their experiences at school and in the community, helping them gain a deeper understanding of the world in which they live.

I feel it is imperative to expose young children to the outdoors. Nature allows children to process thinking and learning in ways that the inside classroom simply cannot. As mentioned earlier, the children in my class were able to more readily connect with the natural materials and use them to enhance their clay experience, something they had not quite done when engaging with the same materials inside. For this reason, I think educators and parents need to take into consideration the many benefits of nature to a child’s learning and development, and spend more time exploring the outdoors with children. In today’s society, it is becoming easier for our youngest citizens to lose touch with the natural world. Rather than let that happen, we should help them in cultivating a respect and love for the beauty and wonder that is nature, which will hopefully be passed onto future generations of children.

References

Colorado Early Learning & Development Guidelines (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cde.state.co.us/early/eldgs

Natural Learning Initiative (2012). Benefits of connecting children with nature: Why naturalize outdoor environments. Retrieved from https://naturalearning.org/sites/default/files/Benefits%20of%20Connecting%20Children%20with%20Nature_InfoSheet.pdf

Richter, R. (Producer), & Molomot, L. (Director). (2013). School’s out: Lessons from a forest kindergarten (Motion Picture). United States: Bullfrog Films

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A Change in Plans

Boulder Journey School classroom teachers, mentors and interns, compose blog posts for the families in each classroom 3 – 5 times weekly. These blog posts offer reflections on daily experiences, question possibilities for future research, and form connections between home-life and school-life.

The following reflections are from a classroom blog post shared with families, composed by Cassie Sorrells, Boulder Journey School mentor teacher in a toddler classroom.


 

I had big plans for today, plans that I put in place almost a week ago when I filled out our Weekly Planning Document.

The planning document is a shared document that is filled out by all classroom teachers and directors. The document is printed and posted for families in the classroom. After the planned experiences, teachers reflect on the document and use their reflections to plan the following week’s experiences.

 Today I planned to invite a group of friends to take pictures with an old digital camera. I was so excited to see the fine motor skills they used to manipulate the camera, to watch what objects they chose to photograph, and to see how they behaved socially when they viewed the photos together later. I was planning to project the images in the classroom, inviting my friends to revisit the experience.

But my friends didn’t want to explore the curriculum ideas that I had in mind for today.

​They wanted to run outside, play, and enjoy the beautiful weather.

​So I listened. I put away my agenda. And we had the most incredible day.

I’ll put the digital camera experience back on the planning document for a later date. It was a good idea – just not the best idea for today.


 

How often do we allow our adult agendas to take precedence over organic moments of learning?

How often do we honor our vulnerability and allow ourselves to reflect on moments that confused us, surprised us, shook us from our plans?

Resiliency and Humility are part of the professional qualities that we seek to support our graduate students in developing throughout their 12 month teaching and learning experience. The ability to recognize when our intended path must diverge, and to continue learning and growing with the new path is a quality that is useful in the classroom and beyond.

An Evening of Discussion on Children’s Rights

November 20th is Universal Children’s Day, a day to honor the rights of children. It is also the date in 1989 when the UN General assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Boulder Journey School (BJS) collaborates regularly with Hawkins Centers of Learning to hold evening workshops, open to the community as well as all members of the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP). To learn about and register for upcoming workshops, click here.

This month, in honor of Universal Children’s Day, we held An Evening of Discussion About Children’s Rights.


“I think it is a topic a lot of people don’t think about, including myself. I know people and children are the same, but I think we don’t know how to offer children the space to exercise their rights.” – Kourtney, Denver Public School educator

On Tuesday, November 14, educators from Boulder and Denver gathered in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Room to view The Voices of Children, a short documentary composed of children sharing their lives and experiences through a series of “listening sessions”. The viewing and subsequent dialogue were facilitated by Sam Hall, Member of The Voices of Children Production Team.

The Voices of Children documentary project was initiated by the World Forum Foundation Working Group on Children’s Rights, formed at the 2011 World Forum on Early Childhood Care and Education, in Hawaii, USA. The following year, in Moss, Norway, members of the Working Group, Voices of Children committee, defined their primary goal and the means to achieve it. The goal was to articulate the rights of children worldwide, from the child’s perspective, rather than from the viewpoint of the adult. One means of accomplishing this unique goal was the creation of a video documentary that would capture children’s voices directly, without filtering them through adult interpretations. – From The Voices of Children Documentary Project Background Information Sheet 

 

Following the viewing of the documentary, we engaged in dialogue around the rights of children in our personal contexts and how these contribute to our understanding of children’s contexts around the world.

One of the big questions we examined was the grey area between honoring a child’s right to protection, and honoring a child’s right to participate.

When we protect a child from realities that may seem scary, are we prohibiting them from offering their viewpoints, their understandings, and their solutions to the community?

When we offer children experiences that require their voices, does this take away from the protection of their childhoods?

As a group, we discussed that the answers to these questions lie deeply embedded in the cultural contexts in which the children live.

In the film, we saw children stirring steaming vats of food to be served for meals, cutting branches with machetes, and digging with pickaxes. This is in contrast to the protected experiences many of us from Colorado engage in with children. Three girls from Kenya, who appear to be between the ages of seven and ten, explain to the camera, “The reason kids rush to help and do some of the work, the reason we don’t just sit like this, it is because children cannot just sit while the elderly people work. We can help with everything.”

Photo by The Voices of Children documentary team.

 

Taylor, a Denver-based Early Childhood Education teacher and BJSTEP alumna reflected, “Anyone who works with children knows they don’t want to just sit around. There is a connection between work and feeling a sense of pride. Offering children the opportunity to do meaningful work, not work that we just make up, but work that they can see why it is important, why it matters, helps children in the long run develop a sense of pride in their contributions to the community.”

Elizabeth, a Fort Collins-based educator and BJSTEP alumna built on this reflection, “Do the children who were cooking and contributing feel a stronger sense of ‘I’m a citizen’ than children who are offered arbitrary experiences, such as a teacher ‘letting’ a child clean up all the red blocks?”

We wondered whether children who have to do work feel more a part of the community because they are responsible for the well-being of the community.

We reflected that affluent cultures tend to value protection over participation. Does that shift in values strip children of their sense of self and community, and their sense of responsibility to the communities in which they reside?

We wondered how we, steeped as we are in our own cultures and contexts, might actively seek to move beyond our own biases. There may not be universal answers to these questions. We must seek to listen, just as the documentary team listened to children, to help us honor the rights of children in the contexts and cultures in which they live.

We cannot afford to ignore situations because they make us uncomfortable.

As we drew to a close on the night of the viewing, filled with questions, wondering whether we had said the right things, asked the right questions, or listened intently enough, Gwen, a Boulder-based educator shared, “With all the discussion, I feel that I want answers. I don’t like the questions. I want answers. And what I’ve taken from tonight is that the conversation is where the answers come from. It is valuable just to have the conversation even if it is uncomfortable. I appreciate that.”

 


If you are interested in screening The Voices of Children, please contact Sam Hall at sam.hall@boulderjourneyschool.com for more information. Be sure to include your name, city and country, so we can direct your request to the correct team member.

Mandalas in the Classroom: How PD Influences Classroom Work

Boulder Journey School classroom teachers, mentors, and interns compose blog posts for the families in each classroom 3 – 5 times weekly. These blog posts offer reflections on daily experiences, question possibilities for future research, and form connections between home-life and school-life.

In a previous blog post, we shared educators’ experiences in a workshop on mandalas. Here we explore classroom work inspired by that workshop.

The following reflections are from a classroom blog post shared with families, composed by Kirsten Zimbelman, Boulder Journey School mentor teacher.

 


Last night I had the opportunity to co-present a workshop on mandalas and their role in mindfulness practice in early learning. We worked with educators from several schools to discuss ways in which we could incorporate this kind of intentional work into our days with young children. Today, we decided to bring our research into our classroom.

Mandalas are best known for their use in the eastern religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. The word mandala is a Sanskrit word, and the literal translation means circle. However, if you break the word into parts its translation can change. Man is the Sanskrit word for mind, while the word da in Sanskrit can be translated as maintenance. So mandala can also mean maintaining the mind.

What does this have to do with preschool? Well, according to research, mindfulness has been linked to children being more positive, having better moods, and increasing their ability to focus. It has also been shown to help children build empathy and connections with peers by helping them process their own feelings. These are both crucial pieces of toddlers’ development, as they, like all of us, are developing their understanding of how their actions affect one another.

We began by looking at images of mandalas composed of natural materials and found various items. We also looked at a mandala built by teachers in our studio.

We discussed the shape of the mandalas as well as the materials used to make the ones in the images.

We offered the children materials such as leaves of varying colors, shapes, and sizes and a collection of man-made loose parts.

We intentionally selected circular boards to offer as a base or frame for the children’s work.

We observed forty uninterrupted minutes of children busily working on their own or collective mandalas.

Tuck, age 2, selected a frame and grape leaves for his work.

Linnea, age 3, added leaves to her composition.

Yana, age 2, and Tuck worked together to build a mixed media mandala.

Throughout the morning, several mandalas were built. Then, in the true spirit of the art, they were wiped clean to begin again.

During their work the children were always in motion; however, the motion was one of focus and intentionality. While we have not yet introduced the word ‘mindfulness’, or the language that accompanies conversations about mindfulness among adults, the children remained focused and engaged throughout the time spent in this endeavor.

“The Mandala is an archetypal image whose occurrence is attested throughout the ages. It signifies the wholeness of the self” ( C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1957, pp. 401 – 402).

In what ways do you observe your children being mindful?

The Art of Mandalas: Mindfulness in the Classroom

Boulder Journey School collaborates regularly with Hawkins Centers of Learning to hold evening workshops, open to the community. To learn about and register for upcoming workshops, click here.

The topic of each workshop varies; however each experience offers time and space to engage in the three phases of Messing About, as proposed by David Hawkins.


In October, 2017, we focused our workshop on mandalas and how the creation of mandalas is tied to the practice of mindfulness. We viewed the construction and deconstruction of a sand mandala from Werner Herzog’s documentary on Buddhism, Wheel of Time.

Participants reflected on the tension they felt as they watched the monks destroy the intricate design. As a group, we reflected on the relationship with work when we intentionally create temporary work. How does temporary work offer us the mindset to focus on the process rather than the product? What are the experiences of temporary artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Christo?

Together we dove into the traditional definition of a mandala. We took meaning from an interview with the Venerable Khenpo Rinpoche, who explained that ‘mandala’ is made of two words: man, which means mind, and da, which means maintaining. A mandala is a tool for maintaining the mind.

Additionally, the word mandala is sanskrit for circle, which signifies completion.

The Venerable Khenpo Rinpoche explained that everything is circular and completed within the mind – the mind is the source of everything, which when expanded, offers itself as the house of the deity. For this reason, the mandala should be luxurious, “the house of the deity is not a poor house” (The Meaning of Mandala, 2013).

Mandala created by a participant in the workshop.

Although we do not typically associate Buddhist monks with luxuries, this interpretation of mandala offers a space to recognize the luxuries within our own thoughts and creations.

Turning to Western interpretation of mandalas, we explored Carl Jung’s use and subsequent popularization of the mandala in psychology. Jung spent time drawing mandalas every day. He reflected,

“Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is:

And that is the self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious, but which cannot tolerate self-deceptions.

My mandalas were cryptograms concerning the state of the self which were presented to me anew each day” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1957, p. 239).

Mandalas created by a participant in the workshop

 

What is mindfulness? And how are mandalas related?

So why are we, educators, studying mandalas? What role do they play in our lives with children?

Susan Buchalter suggests that the practice of meditation and mindfulness can be aided through the creation of mandalas. She suggests that mandalas offer a tangible focus point for the mind, and as such can be a tool for quieting thoughts during meditation (Mandala Symbolism and Techniques: Innovative Approaches for Professionals, 2013).

And why do we feel it is important to engage in mindfulness?

Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, shares the following benefits to mindfulness,

“There is a role in mindfulness in parenting [teaching]. Parents need to be conscientious, intentional, and caring in what they do. They need to be present moment to moment, tracking experiences, letting go of judgements, and really being kind and compassionate, having self-compassion…. They also need to be creative, so they aren’t coming to premature conclusions about who a child is and be open to the unfolding of a child” (On The Importance of Mindfulness, 2009).

To explore for ourselves the connections between mandalas and mindfulness, we offered participants the space to participate in the creation of mandalas. We wondered how, in this short timeframe, could we tap into the mindset outlined by Siegel.

Following their experiences creating, the participants reflected on their flow, their concentration, their enchantment with the materials, their personal pride in their work, and their meandering paths of creation.

As facilitators, one thing we noticed was how busy the room was as participants worked. There was never a time that all people were sitting still or quiet. At least one person was always up, looking at other people’s work, or gathering more materials, or even moving to a different space to work.

When we brought this reflection to the group there was some surprise. That had not been felt by the participants, and it clearly had not been a distraction. We thought about the classroom – how busy it can seem to someone not in flow – a teacher or a visitor – and how drastically different that can feel to the child who is deeply engrossed. Would we have ripped that thread of concentration if we had told our participants they were not allowed to move or talk with their neighbors? Do we rip that thread of concentration with children when we ask them to sit still?


 

This workshop, as with most of our Hawkins-inspired professional development, was intended to offer teachers insight into learners through participation in their own learning, rather than to offer teachers specific activities to take into their classrooms.

Look for a future blog post exploring possibilities for incorporating mandala work with young children in the classroom.

Can You Feel the Beat? Technology in Preschool

This blog post examines classroom work stemming from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) Fall course, Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum. Intern Teachers observe students, document their observations using a variety of tools, reflect on their documentation with colleagues, and develop and implement curriculum plans throughout the semester. Read more about the course here.

Learn more about applying to join the BJSTEP today!

The following reflections were offered by Mollie Lyne, a graduate student in the 2017-2018 BJSTEP cohort.


 

“Technology use in formal early childhood education (ECE) settings, such as preschools and child-care centers, may help shrink the digital divide in terms of both access and use for children in low-income families.”

Throughout studies in early childhood, technology has been a big uncertain topic within many generations. Often, the following question is asked:

 

Should we allow technology in the classroom?

At Boulder Journey School we say yes!

Technology can be found everywhere.

​In the year 2017, we have everything from television programming at gas stations, digital readers on the bus, cameras in our cars, and iPads at the library. We are in the digital world, and we need to find ways for children to engage with it, to form healthy relationships with technology.

 

The 3-year-old children in Room 13 have been fascinated with music lately.

We have experienced it through the computer, on our record player, through the iPad at nap time, with a visitor bringing a guitar, with Sam, a teacher from another classroom, playing his ukulele outside, and through sharing our favorite songs.

 I wondered how to offer a new form of music experiences to these children who are so widely experienced in music. This wondering let me to my roommate Jefferson.

 Jeff is originally from Washington D.C. and moved to Boulder a couple years ago. In his free time he DJs at local venues and enjoys laying down new beats.  

Question:

What would it look like for the children to experience Jeff’s turntable?

Answer:

Ask Jeff to present to the class how music can be manipulated and moved to create sounds that we have never heard before.

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When we offer children the environment to engage with technology and explore it in their own time and space, a whole new understanding arises.

It is important for children to have the connection to technology to have a sense of how it works and in what ways we can manipulate and play.

When Jeff arrived, he did just that for us!

He showed us what buttons we could push.

When we pushed them the music moved.

 

“Woah, it squeaked!” -Nico

“I can hear the noises.” -Micah

“Can I push this one?”- Alexis

 

We spun the disk.

We pressed the on / off button.

We hit other buttons over and over again.

We twisted the knobs.

Then…

We listened.

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We watched.

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We tested.

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We asked questions.

 

“Where does the music come from?”

“Why do you need headphones?”

“Why do you turn it all the time?”

“How can you make the music do that?”

 

We danced.

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We were inspired.

 

We explored.

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As a community we want to keep asking about technology in the classroom to help us comprehend the affordances of various technologies.

 

“Technology has great potential for supporting the learning needs of all young children ….”

-​ Using Technology in Reggio Emilia-Inspired Programs, Linda M. Mitchell

 


 

How do you embrace and explore technology with young children in your context? What technologies are you excited to use?

Reading for Racial Justice

During the 2017-2018 school year, educators, including mentor teachers and graduate students, and families, are participating in a research group examining the goals of Anti-Bias Education. Click here to read more about this group.

“Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? … I see children looking at me.”

Many of us have been taught, directly or indirectly, that this book is a lovely example of inclusive, non-bias, “colorblind” literature – sure to support children from diverse racial backgrounds in feeling comfortable and welcome – as there are children who appear Black, Asian, Latinx, and White all pictured happily together.

Marissa Tafura visited Boulder Journey School in October to join our community of educators and families in better understanding Reading for Racial Justice. She prompted us to examine the true message that we are portraying when we say we are “colorblind”. Marissa pointed out that we have been, “socialized to think that naming race is racist.” However, rather than being inclusive, an attitude of “not seeing race” erases diverse perspectives and someone’s experience in the world. She pointed out that just as we typically acknowledge someone’s gender, it’s similarly important that we acknowledge a person’s racial identity as central to who they are.

Marissa works with Empowering Kids Colorado and Showing Up For Racial Justice to encourage active participation in anti-bias practices that support racial justice. She shared that her own background, a white woman growing up in a culture that encouraged silence on topics of race, has shaped her own perspective on the topic. She reminded us that acting for racial justice is messy, and that we must be open to embracing our mistakes on the topic and learning from them. It is okay to ask our kids, “I didn’t like the way I phrased that, can we revisit the topic?”

As a community, we reflected that, while we are growing more comfortable engaging children when they bring a topic or question to us, we are less sure how to initiate conversations. Marissa shared tips for examining the books we offer as entry points into new conversations about race.

According to statistics compiled in 2015, 73.3% of children’s books published that year featured White protagonists, 12.5% featured non-living protagonists, 7.6% feature African and African-American protagonists, 3.3% feature Asian Pacific and Asian Pacific-American protagonists, 2.4% feature Latinx protagonists, and .9% feature Native American and First Nation protagonists. A great place to start is checking to see whether racial diversity is present in the books offered to children.

Marissa reminded us that the presence of racial diversity is not enough, however. We must also check to see whether there is racial diversity among the authors of the books we offer.

Additionally, books should be diverse in the stories they tell. It is crucial to have more than just stories of oppression or over-coming oppression; they should also tell stories of normalized life as a person of color, stories of activism, and stories of contribution from people of color.

It is also important to name race, including Whiteness, so that children can become practiced in identifying racial constructs.

So, when reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, a book that is all about naming differences that we see in animals, when we come to the last page, let’s discuss the races of the children who are “looking at me”.

What strategies do you use to support anti-bias in your classrooms or at home?

 

Resources from Marissa

 

http://www.empoweringkidscolorado.com/resources/

http://www.empoweringkidscolorado.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/children_colorblind.pdf

https://www.safetypinbox.com/kids