Tuesday, November 19, 2013

what I learned from daycare...

In a previous post, I mentioned that I'm taking a human growth and development class at the community college for my teaching certification renewal. The idea of re-taking a class that I've essentially taken (under a different name) irks me, but I'm doing my best to remain positive about this experience.

As part of the course, I had to do 15 hours of field work observing in a childcare center or school. I strategically picked a local Reggio Emilia inspired school so that I might actually make the best of my time time. Today, I spend my day observing and assisting in the Reggio-inspired Preschool and this is what I've learned...

1. less is more - their shelves are sparsely filled with natural objects, a few carefully selected plastic toys and other mostly open ended items. Although there was barely enough play food and plates to share between two kids, four kids successfully played in the kitchen... there were only about 30 magna tiles, but six children played. Five cars were enough for five kids... this leads me to think that too many choices certainly doesn't help... but rather hinders the children's play. I'll come back to this idea later...

2. time is precious - during their 'project time' the class schedule had 45-60 minutes blocked off for learning. While the teachers really only 'taught' for the first 15-20 minutes, the rest of the kids' time was spent engaged in play activities that supported their learning from the first 15 minutes -- or even their learning from the previous day. This long period of time gave the children plenty of opportunity to become engrossed in their activities.

3. planning is key - not that I don't plan... it's just not one of my strengths. I pride myself in being able to go off the cuff and change the plan on a moment's notice, based on what my students need at the time. The Reggio teachers spent considerable time planning and prepping the learning environment, and once that prep was completed, the environment essentially did the teaching for them. It's not that I didn't know this, but watching it actually happen was pretty amazing.

With these broad take a-ways... I'm left contemplating how this could work with my students who have so many special needs. The idea of self directed activities for 45-60 minutes makes me cringe, as it's difficult for some of my students to engage in self-directed play for 10 minutes, much less an hour! Limiting toy choices to just enough cars for each child to have one (or even two) would cause a serious coup in my classroom! And frankly, many of my students just don't have the communication skills to negotiate the type of play I witnessed today. Lastly, while I do plan, I find myself in a situation where things need changed at a moments' notice...

Reggio Emilia in special education is a topic that I've long been contemplating. Having the opportunity to observe it in action, ask questions and take my own mental notes was great! I'm determined to figure out how to make it really work for students with special needs. It seems like it could have such amazing benefits, but some of the big ideas just don't fit with the needs and abilities of my students right now... I'm sure that this is a topic that I'll be back to soon enough.



Any thoughts?

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