Visiting Spaces: A Professional Development Experience

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. 

To learn more about the Boulder Journey School Study Tour Program, click here. We host tours such as this one through the year.
To subscribe to the Videatives, Inc. blog, Videatives Views, click here and receive a free video analysis monthly.

 

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Tea Time at Aspen Grove: A Community Ritual – Story from a Practicum Site

Tea Time at Aspen Grove: A Community Ritual

Aspen Grove is a small preschool, located in Nederland, CO, a former mining town tucked into the mountains just to the west of Boulder.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?

References

https://www.naeyc.org/yc/files/yc/file/201209/Rock-n-Roll_YC0912.pdf

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?

Small World Play: The Benefits of Miniature Fantasy Lands

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.

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“[Fantasy] is the mother of all possibilities where, like all psychological opposites, the inner and outer worlds are joined together in a living union.”

Carl Jung

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.

The ‘World Technique’ in play therapy was developed by Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld in 1929. The goal of this methodology was to offer children an avenue to explore and communicate their thoughts and feeling through non-verbal strategies. (http://www.creativecounseling101.com/sandtray-therapy-class-history-of-sandtray-therapy-student-1.html)

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.

(http://www.creativecounseling101.com/sandtray-therapy-class-history-of-sandtray-therapy-student-1.html)

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.

 

Camden and Olivia Use a Tool

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?

A Farm Tale: Story From a Practicum Site – Boulder JCC

The Jay and Rose Phillips Early Childhood Center at the Boulder JCC has been a Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program Partner School for the past three years. As a practicum site, the school hosts graduate students and mentor teachers. One of the resources the school incorporates into their curriculum is the Milk and Honey Farm, located adjacent to the Boulder JCC building.

Milk and Honey Farm at the J is a 2+ acre educational sustainable farm that brings the greater community together via experiential programs and activities designed to ignite wonder and discovery, grounded in vast Jewish heritage, tradition, and values. It provides a place for individuals to connect on the simplest level with soil, plants, animals, and people, for the health and well-being of themselves and the larger community.

-Boulder JCC

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On this particular day in February, a class of 2-3 year-old children was invited to visit the geodesic dome greenhouse to explore and participate in planting. They explored the plants that were already growing, as well as the fish in the aquaponic pool.

Aquaponics (/ˈækwəˈpɒnᵻks/) refers to any system that combines conventional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.

-Wikipedia

The class was introduced to the baby parsley plants, started from seed by the resident farmer. They observed the leaves and root structures of the tiny plants. They discussed the process of starting seeds in trays, like the one pictured, and then transferring them to soil so the roots can spread out and the plants can grow to maturity. As the conversation unfolded, teachers documented the experience, so it could be revisited and reflected upon at a later time.

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The parsley itself is culturally significant. Parsley is one of several symbolic foods that is traditionally offered on the Passover Seder plate. Passover takes place near April each year, so these parsley plants were ready for harvest in time for the holiday. 

The Boulder JCC is part of the JCC Network of North America.  The JCC is an inclusive organization, open to members, teachers, and students of all backgrounds and cultures.A strong part of the ECC’s philosophical approach to early childhood education is the Sheva Framework. Described in detail below, the Sheva framework represents an expression of the Jewish tradition that is reflective of the inquiry and inclusiveness held by all in this community.

The art of inquiry within Judaism is a time-honored tradition. Teachers and students are on a continuous cycle of asking questions, researching answers, and co-constructing knowledge together.

The following seven values of the Sheva Framework help us to focus our intentions and serve as Jewish ‘lenses’ through which we see our curriculum and the life of our school community.

MASA/JOURNEY
מסע

Reflection, Return & Renewal
In order to move forward in a meaningful way, we must reflect upon the past.  Our travels are more important than the destination.

TZELEM ELOKIM/DIVINE IMAGE
צלם אלוקים
Dignity & Potential of Each Person
The image of the child as capable and competent is a core Reggio philosophy value.  We view children, families and colleagues with dignity. This is a lens of accountability, empathy and self-worth.

BRIT/COVENANT
ברית
Belonging & Commitment – Community
A bound and trusted relationship allows us to unite with others in pursuit of a shared vision.  It enables us to grow, take risks, and share with honesty.

DRASH/INTERPRETATION
דרש
The spirit of inquiry within human nature is the drive that aides in reflection and growth.  To question, to debate, to interpret, and to communicate are all essential components of the Jewish tradition.

HITORERUT/AWAKENING
התעוררות
When we as adults take the time to slow down, we become more aware of the miracles that exist in every moment, allowing gratitude to flow freely through us.  Young children are more apt to wonder, naturally embracing life with exuberance.

TIKKUN OLAM/REPAIR OF THE WORLD
תיקון עולם
Repairing the world is done with a spirit of generosity and a partnership with families and children to continuously make a difference in our community.  There is a sense of responsibility to perform social “acts of kindness” every day.

KEDUSHA/HOLINESS
קדושה
We envision holiness in terms of sacred time, spaces and intentions.  We find holiness at distinct times in the Jewish calendar, such as Shabbat and holidays.  We also unearth holiness in our daily experiences as we observe the interactions of children, listen to their voices, and discover life together.

-Boulder JCC

By creating opportunities for children to experience the life cycle from planting to eating, the children can develop ownership and care for their food in a rich and complex way. The values expressed in the Sheva framework offer a powerful lens through which to think about the significance of experiences such as this.

As the spring weather takes hold and a new outdoor growth cycle begins in all the spaces of Milk and Honey Farm, the school will continue to explore ways the children can explore and research the farm-to-table cycle.

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  • How do the cultures reflected in your school impact the experiences offered to children?
  • What resources exist in or around your school community that can offer possibilities?
  • What kinds of opportunities can you offer children to build close relationships with the food they eat?

 

The Dynamic of a Band: Story from a Practicum Site – Boulder Journey School

“In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge.” – Lella Gandini, “Education and Caring Spaces”

At the beginning of the school year, the children in Room 14 at Boulder Journey School expressed a strong interest in performance and music. The teachers observed the children frequently discussing and engaging in play around performance and instrument design, especially in the outdoor classroom. According to Erin, the mentor teacher in Room 14, “It started with two children using materials to represent different instruments. There was a wooden platform outside that they made into a stage, where they performed.”emergenceofguitarsviashovels

The children used shovels or flat, long “loose parts” to represent guitars; they would play them together in groups. Microphones were represented as fairly tall objects that either stood on their own or could be propped. Erin recalled, “They used tall stable objects, such as shelves to balance sticks or tubes to be hands-free and reach their mouths.”

 

In addition to their interest in representing instruments, the children showed a strong interest in using their instruments to perform songs for others. Erin recalls that many children shared an interest in songs by Jeff and Paige, a local children’s group. They sang these with and to one another. They also sang pop culture hits, and made up their own songs. Ultimately the children’s’ shared interest in music and performance sparked a year-long investigation into the concepts of music, performance, and instrument design.

As an assignment for the Teacher Education Program (TEP), the teachers reflected on the incorporation of technology as an essential learning tool into the classroom. One goal of the TEP is to seamlessly weave together current theory with classroom practices. As the graduate students learned about the changing role of technology in the early childhood classroom, they also engaged in dialogue with their mentor teacher to uncover the ways this assignment would fit with the current work taking place in the classroom. Building on these conversations, the children were offered videos and projections of professional live performances to act as references in their understanding of guitars and microphones. The children were then asked to reflect on and share their observations of the videos and photos.  

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 2.14.28 PMAlongside their digital investigation of professional performances, the teachers worked to deepen children’s understanding and interest in performance and instrument creation through adaptations of the classroom environment. While the children started the year performing their songs outside on a wooden platform “stage”, over time the children and teachers worked together to create a performance stage with open ended materials for instrument design and exploration within the classroom. The performance area is an example of a responsive environment, one which develops in relation to the children’s interests.

guitarstrapstapeThe children also added new elements to their instrument creation. Wire, fabric, and string were used to represent the straps, plugs, and wires of guitars, banjos, and other string instruments. Room 14 teachers continued to observe the children’s interest in music, and offered new materials and provocations to spark further exploration. Teachers introduced tape to the children and supported individual and collective exploration of the properties of tape over several weeks. As the children developed their understanding of the properties of a variety of materials, including tape, teachers presented a question to the class: “Is there a way you can make microphones stand up so you can play your guitar and sing at the same time?”

The children also offered a challenge to themselves: to make a more accurate looking guitar that had a strap so you could let go of the guitar.

 

Over the course of several weeks, the teachers and children in room 14 explored and worked with multiple materials to create their own microphones and guitars. As they worked, they became more aware and intentional about the physical elements of design.

guitarprototype“With trial and error, a design was created that fit the criteria of the children,” recalls their teacher. For example, the children designed a shovel with a wire going through the hand hold and wrapped around the neck as their first prototype for a guitar. Over time, this design was adapted, and the final prototype for a guitar was established as a long piece of wood with tape used to depict frets, binder clips to hold lanyard, and wire to plug into the amp.

TEP mentor and intern teachers worked to scaffold and deepen the process of learning by revisiting and reflecting on the instrument prototypes with children. Teachers presented children with complex materials and questions that encouraged them to engage in the reflective process of critical thinking and learning.

In the children’s process of designing a microphone prototype through open-ended exploration, they considered four main elements: design, height, functionality, and stability.  While many children engaged in an independent process of design, they also tested different designs out with one another, as well as with older children in prekindergarten Room 12, who have an expertise in design and construction work.

Currently there are a few prototypes for microphones. Most involve tape, wire, tubes, and cut pool noodles, with a large container with a weight in it to act as the base of the microphone. Erin noted, “The class now seems to have a fairly strong idea of the elements that they need for each microphone. The challenge of stability is now the biggest obstacle in their path.”

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“Our microphones keep tipping over.” – Adam, age 3.5 

As the children continue to explore the concepts of stability and functionality through their design process, they also express a passion for innovation and creativity. In addition to the elements of design, room 14 continues to explore and incorporate the various social aspects of performance into their classroom culture.

microphoneprototypeErin recognizes that the goals of the class have evolved, “We have started to look into the

different elements of performance, including dance and music, and consider the children’s interests relating to these elements. The dynamic of a band is really interesting to them right now. The social negotiation of who is going to take on what role in the band is very interesting.”

As the children continue to delve into the social aspects of performance, the teachers in room 14 hope to continue to support children’s social-emotional, cognitive, and physical learning around the art of music, instrument design, and performance.


Gandini, L. 1998. “Education and Caring Spaces” in Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. The Hundred Languages of Children. Greenwich, CT: Ablex.