Tag Archives: PLAY

The Trouble With Toys

Lately I have been thinking about toys. Our childhood spaces are filled with toys, and we continually receive catalogues imploring us to buy more toys. Toys are ubiquitous in our business, but do we pay attention to them? Do we think about the corporate influence and marketization of toys?Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 4.31.54 PM

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 4.26.20 PMConsider the big box stores, the ‘pink’ isle filled with dolls and tea sets, and the ‘black’ isle filled with action figures and remote control vehicles. There is an isle for babies, an isle for toddlers, a ‘learning’ isle, a ‘outdoor isle’ and an ‘arts isle’…..and more.  All these categories of toys sends three very strong messages:

  • Each activity a child engages in requires a different kind of toy
  • Boys and girls require different kinds of toys
  • Children of different ages require different kinds of toys

Do we believe this?

An educator in a multi age drop in centre was considering toys, particularly baby toys. She saw adults directing babies and toddlers to the ‘baby toys’ steering them away from the ‘preschool toys’. So she did an experiment: she removed the baby toys and in their place put an overhead projector. And voila! The overhead projector became a baby toy.

 What do you believe about toys?

Kid Solutions

IMG_5268 copyThree boys are playing soccer. There are rules, but I can’t quite follow them. Three hoops on the grass serve as goals, and so does the fence. It seems one must run to the fence, and then to the hoops…..but I might have it all wrong. Teams are nebulous, fluid, as is the score.

Eventually two of the boys are wrestling in the grass. One is on top of the other and shouts to the third “I’ve got him! Score now!”

But quickly there are tears, one of the wrestlers is hurt. Whether it is hurt pride, hurt feelings, or physical hurt isn’t clear. A teacher responds, asking one of the wrestlers what can be done to make the hurt wrestler feel better. The wrestler thinks for a bit and says “I could tell him a joke?!”

Which he does. The hurt wrester immediately feels better, and the soccer game continues.

 Kid solutions are sometimes so much better than adult solutions.

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An Unapologetic Rant

IMG_4661 copyAre you ready for a rant? Every once in a while a topic comes up that simply won’t be addressed in a ‘nice’ ECE way. Sometimes a rant is needed. So here we go….I want to rant about “the pressure”.

As Danielle and I travel the province talking with ECE’s, parents, teachers, child care consultants and administrators they tell us how they are expected to ‘prepare’ children for academic success. They are told they must teach 3 year olds how to write their name, 4 year olds how to count to 100, and 5 year olds how to read. They tell us of children being labelled  as behaviour problems and removed from kindergarten because they can’t sit for long periods of time and do ‘work’. We hear of kindergarten prep classes in preschools that teach letters and numbers and science. We are told of 3 and 4 year olds being referred for extra support, and the support workers being required to teach academic skills. We hear the frustration and the sadness in their voices.

These educators feel they are working against what they believe. They want to spend time with children investigating, exploring and listening. They value play, they value taking on a role of co-learner alongside children, delving into the questions children bring. They want to step back and observe, to find out what children know and to expand their thinking together. But they can’t. These educators feel powerless. They feel alone.

But here’s the thing: they are not alone. When Danielle and I begin a dialogue on values and reflective practice, Bang! a story will emerge. And as soon as one person opens up, a second person will tell another story. Soon the entire group is engaged, sharing their frustration.

When we begin to speak out, we find we are not alone.

So here comes the rant part (in case the rest of this wasn’t rant-ish enough!)

WE MUST BEGIN TO SPEAK OUT. We must begin conversations, we must begin to articulate our values and beliefs. We must begin to push back against ‘the pressure’.

We must begin conversations with anyone who will listen, and especially those who won’t. We must find allies and speak out together. We must tell our colleagues, our administrators, our families that children do not need to be prepared for school. School should be prepared for children.

We must tell everyone that children are strong, capable, and full of ideas and theories. Our job is not to provide all the questions and all the answers, our job is to “think with” children and find out what questions they have.

WE MUST BEGIN NOW. The 3 year old who can’t sit still and cut with scissors will thank you. The anxious parent who’s  4 year old can’t read her name will thank you. And the educators who are daily working with the impossible stress of ‘conforming’ will thank you.

And if you can’t figure out how to begin the conversation quote this:

“The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” ? Ken Robinson

Or this:

“(The educator)  needs to be attentive to ‘creating possibilities rather than pursuing predefined goals’, assuming ‘responsibility to choose, experiment, discuss, reflect and change, focusing on the organisation of opportunities rather than the anxiety of pursuing outcomes, and maintaining in her work the pleasure of amazement and wonder.”  Peter Moss

The pleasure of amazement and wonder……now that’s worth ranting about.

Potatoes and Rhythm

“A lot of my work is like picking potatoes; you have to get into the rhythm of it. It is different than patience. It is not thinking.It is working with the rhythm.” —Andy Goldsworthy

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Aya and Seth are building a lake with clay. They build a solid base, then shallow walls, and then slowly add water. They carefully arrange trees in the centre. But the water finds small cracks and seeps out, sending a stream down the edge of the table onto the floor. Aya and Seth place a bowl to catch the stream, and furiously patch the cracks. The flow of conversation is much like to flow of water, continuous and purposeful, but rhythmic as well. The movement of their hands and bodies follows the same rhythm, moving between repairing cracks, checking the water flow, adding more clay.

Aya and Seth worked on their lake for an hour and here is what did not happen:

• no one told them to clean up the water on the floor

• no one commented on ‘the mess’

• no one chided them for using too much clay

• no one objected to their requests for more water

• no one told them they needed to let someone else have a turn


They were given the opportunity to work with the rhythm.






Musing on Play

My good friend Sarah and I had lunch today and as always we had a lively discussion about children, their interests, theories and competencies. We talked about play, what it is, what it is not, and what is our role as educators….we talked about values and how they influence what we do, and nuances, and relationships….(yes pretty much an entire 2 hours of conversation, ECE nerds or what?!)

 As I drove home I continued to muse, What IS play? What IS our role?

 In Reggio and elsewhere there is much talk of the pedagogy of listening, an idea, a hope, a way of being.  I began to wonder, how does the pedagogy of listening relate to play? What does it mean to us in our programs?

I think if we are listening to children (not just the words they say, but also to what they say without words) we will think differently. If we are listening we cannot tell them what to do in play. If we are listening we cannot create play spaces, decide on projects, create art areas and tell children what and how play in them. If we are listening, we will be doing ‘with’ rather than ‘for’.

The pedagogy of listening invites us, compels us, to be in a relationship with children, a relationship that embraces complexity, democracy and acceptance.

Listening… is a way of thinking and seeing ourselves in relationship with others and the world Carlina Rinaldi

So perhaps our role is about: “creating a context in which children’s curiosity, theories and research are legitimated and listened to, a context in which children feel comfortable and confident, and at the same time, to be able to widen and extend children’s horizons by creating complexity in the child’s environment and by introducing new theories, concepts, languages and materials, as tools for children’s theorizing and meaning making” (Dahlberg & Moss 2005 p. 103-104)

Thanks for the lunch conversation Sarah. Inspiring as usual.