Structuring School Opportunities

This cluster offers experiences that I know are transformative for children around ages three, four and five. These have been developed in cooperation with the many people who have walked with me towards the discovery of what seems both satisfying and beneficial.

Stewardship of Play

A socially co-constructed conceptualization of play uncovers the true foundation of education. Here is a way people learn about the provisions of conditions for play to flourish, what everybody seems to be seeking. If we can’t be good stewards of play, what are we doing?

Clean-up Time

Uugg. I used to dread that hardest part of the day: the tense transition at the end of free play when the room was a mess and children were ready for something new. I knew from experience that this was the perfect time to go crazy laughing and running around enjoying the mutual connection in being “naughty.” It took me years to even consider that if I were a child in my room, crazy was what I would most like to do, too.

I sought a solution that worked. Having a race could work for a day or two; putting most of the materials away myself felt like coddling them; distractions into putting things away didn’t seem an authentic way to be, either. I finally “got it” after watching videotape of clean-up time and trying with the other teachers to answer this question: “What do we want children to learn in clean-up time?”

The answer was really very simple. We want to use this unique opportunity of a shared goal to build an interdependent, competent, cooperative community, happy with itself.

Mathematics and Design

The Mathematics and Design pages step the reader through three essentials: selected materials, coordinated opportunities, and the synergy of one’s friends. When I learned to structure math for young children with design included as one whole idea, I first understood what “curriculum” means. Over that first year with the pieces in place, I saw all children enjoy their own cleverness in a community of designer peers. In twelve pages I offer what I have learned about activities for free play and group time, especially designed for children who have had little experience with this stuff at home. I include a video of a four-year-old demonstrating the skills and concepts of arithmetic that I enthusiastically recommend for anyone wants to understand mathematics education for young children.

Small Group Activities

These are guides for leading small group experiences with a focused intention to creating a planned, routine opportunity for each and every child to learn a new language, make their first friends, and find an adult outside of their family experience who listens and cares for them. Again, this is directed towards those children who have not had these experiences, one of the essential aspects of early education that I especially care about.

A Pedagogy for Ourselves

We don’t really change other human beings; they do what they do, but we can always learn to act more skillfully when in a leadership role in a school or care setting. Experience helps. Unfortunately, the systems we have for educating early childhood educators rarely address building skills with children. Usually, the understanding and performance ability required of a leader—what to do and what to attend to—is rarely addressed.

This page examines touch-points of influence, where children get to be all they can possibly be, because we carefully and precisely create open and supportive opportunities for them to become their best selves. The points are organized by the kind of setting: independent, large group, small group, and one-to-one times. Many would agree with Bev Bos that social competence is the most essential outcome of a group experience in the preschool years. By age 6 or 7 all children ought to be fully courageous, personally confident, and proactively altruistic in a cooperative, democratic community.

A Structure for Openness

As the educator in charge, I found it hard to think what I was supposed to create over the days and weeks ahead. How does one think beyond what to do tomorrow, especially when one is the leader? Here is another one-page chart that provides a menu of alternatives for structuring opportunities along the way that actually energize the community. “I felt warm and amazingly successful. I felt I was immediately part of a shared experience.”

Step-chart Activities

These occasional experiences in making something useful that is first demonstrated by the adult has a far-reaching impact both in tool skill and in group interdependence. In large group time the leader demonstrates, step-by-step with a visual chart, how to make something they think all of the children might like to make—within their ZPD. After the demonstration, the leader simply sets the materials out in free play for the children to choose to do if they wish. It’s a three step process, Demonstration—Do—Review, where fellow children become the go-to resource for help.

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