Empathy in Infant-Aged Children: Advanced Developmentally Appropriate Course

In the Spring semester, Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) graduate students enroll in ECED 5104: Advanced Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum (ADAC). Throughout the semester, the graduate students engage in curriculum development through action research in order to better understand learning and teaching, documentation as a form of assessment, and partnering with students around the development of a contextually meaningful curriculum. Through this process, they also encounter opportunities to make an impact beyond their classroom walls.

To read more about the ADAC course, view this post.

Join Kayla Chung, 2017-2018 BJSTEP graduate student for an exploration related to her work in the ADAC course.


My practicum experience this year is in the older infant classroom working with children ages 9-16 months. In the ADAC course, I am actively learning how a contextually-emergent curriculum is developed in close collaboration with the children, my co-teachers, my instructors, and my colleagues. The primary means of creating a contextually-emergent curriculum in the infant room is through an Action Research Project. The question I have chosen to research is:

How do relationships support the development of empathy in infant-aged children?

Within this question, there have been two sub-questions that have helped guide my thinking in the classroom with the children:

  1. How do objects/materials support the development of empathy with the infants?
  2. How do relationships within the classroom, the school, the families, and the community support the development of empathy with infants?

Before I could begin my work of implementing experiences, observing, documenting and analyzing documentation, and planning for more experiences, it was necessary for me to understand how empathy is defined and expressed by citizens of the relationship groups I was researching. I sought to understand the perspectives from the children, my co-teachers and colleagues, the families, and the community surrounding these individuals.


 

“Listening means being open to differences, recognizing the value of another’s point of view and interpretation. Thus, listening becomes not only a pedagogical strategy but also a way of thinking and looking at others.”

-Carlina Rinaldi, President, Foundation Reggio Children – Loris Malaguzzi Center

The Families’ perspectives:

I asked the families of our classroom to share their meanings of empathy and how they have seen empathy expressed by their children. I appreciate their ideas, as they have opened my eyes to the special and unique identities that are represented by each family unit. It was important for me to display their responses in the classroom to have these identities felt and known. I also felt that unity was important to represent in our classroom, and highlighted some of the common attributes that were present in all of the responses – Empathy is:

Reflection Understanding See & Feel Care Connect

Each infant joined the classroom with their individual history of experiences and ways of understanding the world, especially within the social realm of relationships. In understanding how the families in our classroom see and experience empathy, I am better equipped to understand how their perceptions have shaped their children’s ideas and actions related to empathy. Just as each infant is learning and being shaped by their experiences with the many relationships they have now, they are gaining the necessary foundation for who they will become later.


I hope that you will continue down this journey with me, and I look forward to sharing more with you about the discoveries I am making with the children, families, co-teachers/colleagues, and the global community.

Please feel free to reach out through the comments section below this post, as well as sharing your own definitions and ways you’ve seen empathy expressed!

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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.

The Child’s Right to Risk: Reflections from the 2017 Boulder Journey School Summer Conference

Boulder Journey School (BJS) hosts an annual two-day conference to support participatory exploration of topics related to quality and innovation in education. The conference welcomes participants from around the world to visit, engage, participate, and explore. Below is a reflection by Paige Laeyendecker, 2016 – 2017 Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) graduate student.

As a first time participant in the Boulder Journey School Summer Conference, I was both excited to meet with educators from around the country and nervous to share the work from my classroom. Once the conference was in full swing, all my nervousness disappeared. I grew energized by all of the participants sharing their stories. The excitement in the building was palpable.

Over the course of the two days, the conversations surrounding environments, physics, bridging nature and technology, and children’s rights, among others, were so rich and deeply inspiring.

The topic I found to have the greatest impact on me were the many discussions, presentations, and debates around risk. Risk is a very hot topic in the field of education, and many of us were eager to hear and discuss the different perspectives around this controversial topic. In our society today, we have developed an intense fear when it comes to children and the communities of which they are an essential part. I’ll be the first to admit that this fear of the unknown is powerful, especially when working with the children who you love so much.

Granted, safety is and should be top priority when working with children of any age, but do we go too far? Are we keeping children too protected, and is that impacting the way that children are growing and learning?

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As part of my role as a BJSTEP graduate student, I was asked to facilitate a small group discussion around risk. I soon discovered that my colleagues’ thoughts around this topic added layers and layers to what I was prepared to share. Joining us from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, some of the participants shared their concerns around the different levels of risk taking in different areas of the world and even just our country.

What do safety concerns and risk evaluations look like in areas with low socio-economic statuses? How does the conversation change when a family does not have access to health insurance? I was left speechless.

Following this extremely insightful and eye-opening discussion, our discussion group heard a presentation from Meagan Arango, a mentor teacher at Boulder Journey School. Meagan has engaged in advocacy for the rights of children, specifically in taking risks. One major point that Meagan made was the distinction between a risk and a hazard.


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A two-year-old child examines the climbing wall. She stays close to the ground while, together with her teacher, she determines whether climbing is a risk or a hazard.

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A three-year-old child takes the risk of going high on the climbing wall. He has enough experience working in this space to know what the hazards are and where his personal limits lie.

 

 

 

 


Meagan explained that a hazard is something harmful about which we do not have the knowledge to make a safe judgement. When we offer our children experience in assessing their environments and strategies for identifying the hazards around them, we provide opportunities to learn about taking risks and pushing boundaries; we support their confidence to explore their limits and to break through them.

When we look at risk through this point of view, it solidifies my belief that risk is a right of all children no matter their different cultural and societal backgrounds. One of our jobs as adults is to guide children through the difficult decision making tasks of assessing risk. This is a life long learning practice that begins at the earliest of ages.

Being able to work through this complex topic with so many educators from so many different perspectives was an experience I will never forget. It is now our responsibility to extend these discussions through the rest of our careers and lives with children.

How do you feel about the children’s right to risk? How can we keep this discussion going?

Talking About Race

In the 2016-2017 school year, educators, families and graduate students participated in a research group examining the goals of Anti-Bias Education. Click here to read more about this group.

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Marissa Tafura, photo from https://www.rmpjc.org/about-us?lightbox=dataItem-iyuwsnvz1

As part of their continuing conversation, Marissa Tafura from Empowering Kids met with educators from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP) to discuss the importance of engaging in conversations about race. Marissa focuses on equipping teachers and families with the tools they require to enter into dialogue with young children.

 

 

 

We reflected on the following questions:

 

 

How often do teachers and parents talk with children about race?

  • Marissa recommends using very descriptive colors to name race and to make it personal by referencing someone you know who identifies with that race. Be sure to model that it is okay to notice and talk about race, while recognizing that those conversations may look different in public and private spaces.

 

How can we challenge the normalization of whiteness and diversify materials offered in classrooms and homes?

  • Marissa recommends sharing why some images or narratives make you uncomfortable. For example, “I don’t like that the only brown skinned person in the book is the one opening the gate to the zoo.”

 

How do we name race as an important part of one’s identity?

  • Marissa made the comparison to how we talk about gender and accept that gender identity is important to our self concept. She encouraged us to do the same with race and not shy away from it.

 

How can we raise children who are able to identify injustices and take action?

  • Marissa recommends empowering children. She suggests that adults should include narratives that challenge the idea that people of color are always victims.

 

 

Marissa recommended the following website on teaching tolerance: http://www.tolerance.org/  She also recommended this article: http://www.wdsnyc.org/file/documents/CHILDREN-ARE-NOT-COLORBLIND.pdf

We look forward to continuing our work with Marissa and plan to schedule a meeting for Boulder Journey School parents as a next step. You can learn more about the importance of talking with children about race by visiting this blog: http://family-garden.org/talk-kids-race/

 

Here are some additional resources:

Book Lists

30 Asian & Asian-American Children’s Books

Spreadsheet of Books

10 Books That Empower Kids to Stand Up and Speak Out

Best Multicultural Books for Children

50 Indian Books Every Parent Must Read to Their Child

28 Books That Affirm Black Boys

Building a Diverse Anti-Bias Library for Young Children (multiple resources)

Children’s Books That Tackle Race & Ethnicity

Multicultural Book Lists for Children: 60+ Book Lists, including 10 Amazing Multicultural Picture Books About Helping Others, Multicultural Adoption Books for Kids,

Best World Religion Books for Kids

40 LGBTQ-Friendly Picture Books for Ages 0-5

Books Featuring Children of Color Where Race is Not the Point of the Story

Children’s Books Featuring Kids of Color Being Themselves. Because that’s enough.

Indigenous and First Nations Kids Books

Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books

5 Things to Keep in Mind When Gifting Books to Children of Color

A Book Subscription Box Created for Black Children

Talking to Kids About Police Brutality: A Community Resource List

 

Thinking about Families’ Voices in the Classroom

On a cold evening in January, in the cozy Teacher Education Room of Boulder Journey School, educators from Boulder and Denver gathered for an evening of discussion, centered around how we support families in participating as active protagonists in the classroom community.

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Maureen Condon, Boulder Journey School mentor teacher, shared work from her toddler class. As a class of children who were all brand new to school, it was imperative for the teachers to find the threads that would support their transition and carry the children into their citizenship at the school. Observations of the children, followed by subsequent dialogue with families, led to the class adopting baby dolls for each child in the class. This adoption sparked a year of partnership and collaboration that carried this class through multiple layers of investigation. To read more about the baby doll investigation, read Care, Community, and a Collection of Babydolls.

Following Maureen’s presentation, participants were asked to reflect on their own strategies for engaging families in partnership. The group shared specific strategies:

“Using text messaging can cut through the clutter of emails.”

“We use SeeSaw. The microphone app allows ELL children to speak native language to their parents who don’t speak English.”

Participants were also asked to uncover strategies to support increasing reciprocity among families:

“Creating a culture of openness that encourages dialogue is the foundation for thinking of strategies.”

“Creating a welcoming culture increases dialogue.”

“Creating a culture of openness and welcoming supports families in voicing their concerns as well as their joys.”

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Participants from schools in Denver share reflections on the strategies available to support family collaboration.

Meagan Arango, Boulder Journey School mentor teacher, shared a story of investigating risk with a class of preschool-age children. She shared her personal reflections about how risky it felt for her to even brooch the topic with the families in her class. Would it reflect negatively on her as a teacher? Would it suggest that she didn’t care about the children’s safety?

Through communication and carefully documented experiences, Meagan and her co-teachers, graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP), offered experiences that changed her image of children.

With the support of the families, I was able to tackle a topic that felt too dangerous to research on my own. Because of that research, my image of the child was transformed, as I discovered how my fears had stymied my faith in their ability to assess risk. Because of the ongoing dialogue we maintained, I believe the families benefitted from these discoveries as much as I did. – Meagan 

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In addition to Boulder Journey School Mentors,  BJSTEP graduate students and alumni, and teachers from schools in the surrounding area, we were joined by educators from across the United States and Canada via Twitter. Read a recap of the Twitter conversation on Storify.

We hold professional development workshops monthly. They are open to everyone who can attend. Current BJSTEP members are always welcome to the evening workshops for free, while alumni attend for a 50% discount. We work hard to keep the workshops affordable for all members of our community at a $20 registration fee. Learn more about the Messing About workshop series.