Earn a Master's Degree from University of Colorado Denver in Education and Human Development and an Early Childhood Teaching License in one year, while teaching in a paid practicum under the supervision of a Mentor.
“Our best source of professional development is observing one another and questioning our practices. To do this, we have to create a space that is safe. We make sure to ask questions of all of the teachers, new and long-standing.” – Alison Maher, Education Director
When we invite people into our space, it changes the dynamics. We are always striving to offer the best possible experiences for the children in our classrooms. When visitors arrive, we must also consider how to offer the best possible experiences for children in classrooms around the world.
In September 2017, teachers, administrators, and professors from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia visited Boulder Journey School. In collaboration with Videatives, Inc., we hosted the visitors as part of an international study tour, organized by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The tour was designed to examine early childhood programs and initiatives in international contexts to inform the National Early Childhood Curriculum in the Saudi Arabian Kingdom.
Our visitors spent two days observing in classrooms, taking notes on the interactions between children, mentor teachers, and graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program. They unpacked their observations during afternoon dialogues that included presentations and remarks by Boulder Journey School and Videatives, Inc. educators.
One visitor shared that her takeaways from the experience included the understanding that, “the environment is very important. A mindful teacher is even more important.”
Through visits such as these, we grow not only as educators, but also as advocates for quality in early childhood education worldwide.
Delegates from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Early Learning Curriculum Project with NAEYC representatives, and educators from Boulder Journey School and Videatives, Inc.
Aspen Grove is a small preschool, located in Nederland, CO, a former mining town tucked into the mountains just to the west of Boulder.
One 2016-2017 graduate student teacher and one mentor in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program are members of a community of teachers and children who participate in a daily ritual called “Tea Time.”
During Tea Time, all members of the school community gather around the fireplace, located in the center of the school. Each person is offered a small cup of herbal tea, and a candle is lit. Children participate in all aspects of the preparation, including heating the water, choosing the tea flavor, and choosing books to read together. While the tea is enjoyed, everyone chats and stories are read. As the children finish their tea and feel ready for nap, they excuse themselves to find their mats.
Rituals can be defined as special actions that help us navigate emotionally important events or transitions in our lives as well as enhance aspects of our daily routines to deepen our connections and relationships. (Gillespie & Petersen, 2012, p.76)
This daily ritual is an important part of Aspen Grove’s culture, and supports the children’s cognitive, physical, and social development in complex ways. The taste and scent of the tea, along with the physical warmth, serve as signals that it’s time to relax for nap. The children’s natural rhythms are respected, as they are empowered to head to the nap room when they are ready. In addition, the social aspects of this ritual deepen the school community members’ connections with one another.
So often transitions are viewed as times to simply “get through”; this story can serve as a reminder to us all to celebrate the opportunities for learning, development, and community-building that are present in every moment throughout a day.
Tea Time is a reminder of the special nature of transition times.
What are the rituals that are unique to your classrooms and school?
How are they indicative of the cultural identity of your school community?
What are ways to build upon and share these unique moments that make your school special?
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?
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.
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.
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?
Six times a year, Boulder Journey School collaborates with Hawkins Centers of Learning to hold evening workshops, open to the community. 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.
“[Fantasy] is the mother of all possibilities where, like all psychological opposites, the inner and outer worlds are joined together in a living union.”
As part of our Professional Development series, Messing About with Teaching, we invited educators to explore the history of small world play, as well as to spend time engaging with miniature fantasy lands.
As participants entered the room, they were greeted by hundreds of miniatures, ranging from medieval characters to marine creatures. Amidst these figures were a series of loose parts and trays that could act as landscapes. In some settings, the figurines and landscapes were a logical pairing; in others, they were incongruous.
The participants examined the tables and chose which sets to sit near.
“Each of us have such different spaces. You look at some of these different classes or visit and think, ‘Oh I wish I had that.’ But you work with what you have, and the children work with what they have. How you set things up highlights what you have already. And I think that was a really big learning experience for me.” – participant reflection
To begin the evening, we explored the history of Small World Play – a practice rooted in psychotherapy and inspired by science fiction writer, H.G. Wells.
Her outstanding contributions sprang from her recognition that play is an important activity in children’s development and that language is often an unsatisfactory medium for children to express their experiences. She consequently invented non-verbal techniques that enabled them to convey their thoughts and feelings without resort to words. – The Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld Trust
Lowenfeld herself was inspired by the book Floor Games by H.G. Wells (1911), in which the author of The Time Machine explored fantasy lands with his own children.
Lowenfeld’s work has extended into classrooms, where teachers and children create and use these settings and figures to explore intra- and interpersonal relationships, as well as to explore the world on a manageable scale. Careful observation of children, and as we discovered during the workshop, ourselves at play with these small worlds offer myriad insights into personalities and learning styles.
Participants “shop” for figurines to use in their play.
Consider this dialogue excerpt from the reflection session at the end of play*:
Kathy and Steve know each other, but in a very limited capacity. Andrea, Brian, and Emily all work closely together, Andrea and Brian as co-teachers, Emily as their Pedagogical Support. Nina and the rest of the participants in her group all teach at the same school.
Alex (facilitator): How did you react to the spaces that you had?
Kathy: I’m very introverted, so to avoid that, I stepped away. I really like ledges and small spaces, so I wanted to take my figures over to the small space.
Steve: I was worried that I had co-opted your space. But it turns out we are of a very similar mindset.
Andrea: It’s interesting that you thought about that. I didn’t even consider infringing on someone else’s space. I just built, and he started building this way, and I was like, well, that’s the edge.
And, I don’t like to work in small spaces. I would have preferred to work on the floor, but I didn’t feel there was adequate space for it.
Brian: It felt like it was a small space, but I embraced it. I mirrored [Andrea’s]. It’s kind of how we work in the classroom; we’ll mirror each other. I mirrored this, and I just worked with my space. Emily’s phone ended up in my way, so instead of just moving it, it became a wall to my space. I felt like the space was too small, so I shifted the scope of my idea. I used the phone and built around it.
Andrea: Whereas, if Emily’s phone had ended up in my space, I would move it to a different space and define, “Here’s your space.”
Emily: And Brian would just work around it.
Nina: The way our table was set up, with the mirrors on each side, it didn’t even occur to us to split up or to change the setting in any way. There was this big piece in the middle that anchored us and drew us to play together.
*participants’ names have been changed
Through our work with these materials, and with each other, we gained understandings of the learning process. Following this workshop, we found ourselves watching children’s work with figures and playscapes through a new lens.
Do you offer spaces for small world play in your context? Share those experiences in the comments.
Each Spring, the entire class of graduate students in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program travels to Reggio Emilia, Italy to attend the US Students and Professors Study Group. Below is a reflection from Cassie Sorrells and Kacy Grady, 2016-2017 graduate students.
The week began on Sunday afternoon with a gathering at the International Centre Loris Malaguzzi to meet fellow conference participants. The nearly 200 conference participants represented teachers, administrators, researchers, artists, and even an actor. It was eye-opening to see how the Reggio philosophy drew professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds and regions of the world. We toured the city, hosted by several kind volunteers from the organization, Friends of Reggio Children. Reggio Emilia is a beautiful Italian city; modern-day avenues form a hexagon around the old city, in the footprint where the medieval city walls once stood. The colorful buildings have been rebuilt and re-appropriated many times within the centuries since their founding, so that what was once a nunnery, today may serve as a local police station.
Part of the conference was dedicated to offering us hands-on experiences in several “Atelier” settings within the International Centre. One of the ateliers focused on Living Organisms and Life Cycles. During this experience, the atelierista illustrated the beauty in living things throughout every stage of their lives and how everything can be repurposed. There were beautiful displays of living organisms for us to observe and reflect on: decomposing foods (fruits, vegetables, bread) and plants of all varieties. We were invited to create a piece of artwork based on our reflections on the Atelier.
Another Atelier, Border Crossings, focused on the learning that occurs at the intersection of nature and technology. We were instructed to explore the area outside of the Centre, and return with images and materials that reflected that natural space. We used infrared cameras, projectors, light, plastic, and metal objects to create an artistic interplay among the materials of these seemingly disparate realms. Our first attempts were quite goal-oriented, and we abruptly found ourselves at a creative standstill. The atelierista offered us some insight: “As adults,” he said, “we often approach a project with a goal in mind. But it is the process, the creation that is the goal.” As we shifted our mindset to one that more accurately mirrored that of children, we found that our creation blossomed.
That afternoon we began our visits to the schools, an experience that everyone had been very much looking forward to. Participants were given the opportunity to visit several different contexts, each of which offered a unique example of the Reggio Emilia Approach in action. We gathered in small groups at the bus station, located near the International Center, and took buses to our school sites.
Salvador Allende, an infant/toddler facility, located on the outskirts of Reggio Emilia, is characterized by its extensive outdoor park. Upon first glance, Allende’s classrooms seemed strikingly bare. The typical Reggio use of vertical space was noticeably absent, and the only materials found seemed to be those being used for an investigation. Upon reflection and through conversations with the teachers, it became clear that this intentional simplicity encouraged deeper investigation. The simplicity of the classrooms was mirrored in the outdoor space. We were immediately struck not only by the natural beauty of the rolling landscape, but also by the total lack of man-made materials. This lack of materials, while creating an ostensibly simple landscape, did not detract from the complexity of experiences possible in the environment. One member of our group actually began crying as she observed the stunning willow tree, the free-roaming rabbits and ducks, and the unassuming swings made out of rope. Allende was a powerful reminder that the natural world can be a phenomenal provocation for learning, without our assistance or intervention.
Iqbal Masih Preschool is located on the same property as the recycled materials facility, REmida. REmida promotes the idea that waste materials can be resources, and feeds these materials into many of the preschools in Reggio. The Centre collects, exhibits, and offers alternative and reclaimed materials, obtained from unsold stock and rejects or discarded materials from industrial and handicraft production, with the aim of reinventing their use and meaning (REmida, 2012). It was inspiring to see the ways in which recycled materials can be offered as provocations. We reflected deeply on the idea that materials have multiple functions, and that every child can find a different use for the same material. This is a refreshing idea in a world that promotes the possession of single-use plastic toys.
(Photos provided by Sam Prince, who visited the Centre, and by Google Images)
Our four days at the International Centre were followed by two full days to explore Italy in any way we chose. Most of our cohort chose to branch off into small groups, exploring Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence, and Milan. These days of travel were an incredible way to end an already life-changing experience. They provided an opportunity to further cement the strong bonds we had formed with our classmates during the course of the trip. Our group of six chose to explore Milan. We ate, drank wine, and explored this huge metropolis that is such a contrast to the sleepy town of Reggio Emilia. Although we were technically finished with the school related component of our trip, our conversations (typically held at dinner over incredible spreads of pasta) tended to spiral back to the themes and experiences we had gleaned from the study tour.
The personal and professional impact of this experience is evident in the way our classroom practices have changed since we returned. Not only have we been able to draw upon the many examples of quality work seen in Reggio as inspiration for our daily provocations, we have also been reoriented towards the philosophy underlying our work. We have started circulating conversations around the idea of clearing out our playgrounds of all toys and “unnatural” materials, offering a space with only natural material provocations. In addition to its impact on our immediate practices in the classroom, spending a week in the company of such innovative and inspirational early childhood educators reminded us that the work we are doing is part of a larger movement towards a future in which children are seen and valued as true citizens of our world. We could not be more grateful for this experience.
As a school, we use video documentation to guide our work with children. One crucial piece of working with video is revisiting the video, analyzing it to pull out questions for further research or to reach new understandings of children’s and teachers’ motivations. We practice analyzing videos with interns and mentors.
Below is a video and write-up that we have shared with Videatives, an organization with whom we partner.
Camden and Olivia Use a Tool
Camden and Olivia, both 3, are on their third day of school. Both are brand new to an already established class of children. While using the outdoor classroom, they have discovered a tool is needed to move the handle of the zip-line to the rider’s position.
Olivia, who is next for a turn to ride, is actively cheering Camden’s efforts.
Camden is using a tool that is appropriate for the job, however tripped up, literally, by an extra material on the ground.
At 0:44, Camden realizes the white tube lying on the ground is playing some part in his setbacks. At 0:54, the white tube does not act as he is expecting, and he throws it to the ground, his face conveying that he is on the verge of frustration and giving up. He makes a brief moment of eye contact with the teacher (behind the video camera).
Consider: According to the Zone of Proximal Development, this would be an ideal moment for scaffolding from the teacher. In this instance, the teacher chose to remain silent – ultimately a decision that paid off for Camden. Did the eye contact act as the teacher’s scaffolding (did it communicate, ‘I’m here, I’m present, you can do this’)? How could the teacher’s interaction here have altered Camden’s next steps? As a first experience at this school, how will this interaction shape Camden’s sense of self-efficacy within the school community?
At 1:00, Camden revisits his initial strategy with the longer black tube. He is successful, now that the white tube is gone. At this point, the teacher joins in with a cheer.
Consider: How did Olivia’s encouragements act as scaffolding? Did the teacher’s voice become stronger because she added it as a collaborative celebration rather than a top-down instruction? Also consider: When Camden switched to using the white tube, was his motivation that he recognized the white tube was a key ingredient in some way and did not recognize that its role was merely to be moved?
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.
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/