Journals from the Atelier

Teacher Profile #4: Homa Miazad

We say in our society that we value children but taking a closer look at our social rules and institutional policies that relate to children, one can see that we prefer children to be invisible. The value of early childhood educators in our society is a reflection of our value and our image of children as a society.

Hometown:  I was originally born in Kabul Afghanistan and lived there the first nine years of my life. My family migrated to United States in 1980 when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. My family sought political asylum and was accepted by United States. I grew up in New York where I became a Fashion Designer. I married my husband in 1994 and had our first child in 1998. This was a turning point in my life that eventually led me to change careers from the fashion industry to early childhood education.

Current Location:  I have lived and continue to reside in Oregon for about seventeen years.

Job Title:  Sr.Child Development Specialist and Mentor Teacher

Degrees/EducationBachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design, from Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC; Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction in ECE, from PSU

Age: 47

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have children?

About 17 years. Yes, I have two girls 18 and 12.

What is the story of what first drew you to work with children?

When my daughter Nadia turned three we enrolled her in preschool. I couldn’t bear to be apart from her and decided to volunteer in her class. I absolutely loved being with my daughter and around children. I began to read and study about child development. The school hired me to be the lead teacher; they thought I was a natural. Both my mom and dad were educators and I began to feel the same passion and decided to continue in their footsteps. I began my educational journey by acquiring my CDA and taking classes at PSU.

Continue reading “Teacher Profile #4: Homa Miazad”

Teacher Profile #3: Laurie Todd

What we do is transformative . The RIE motto of ‘authentic infant, competent child’ feels like such a gift – to be allowed to develop oneself without pressure from adults to always be bigger, better and faster, to have one’s competence recognized and fostered, to be able to fail without shame and to learn from those failures – all these things allow children to develop the resilience to carry them through the hard times that every life brings.

 

 

I opened Laurie’s House in September of 1993, I don’t call it a school – even though we learn a lot here!

Hometown–  First 8 years Fairbanks Alaska, then 9 years in Mt. Vernon, Washington then on to Portland for college.

Current Location–  Portland, Oregon

Job Title–  Early Childhood Educator, Family Child Care Provider/owner

Degrees/Education–  4 years History and Political Science at Lewis & Clark – pre-law – left one class short of graduating. I left because I had come out in my Junior year and was angry about many things – among them the fact that I’d spent all of my 21 years doing what other people wanted me to do. I needed time to learn who I was and read only what I wanted to read! It was a confusing and liberating time in my life.

2 years at PSU with a BA in History and Secondary Education

1 year in the Masters in History program at PSU – I was focusing on the history of child rearing

2 years for my MA in Human Development from Pacific Oaks

Age– 59

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have your own children?

I’ve been working with children for 30 years. I helped raise a friend’s daughter, but have no children of my own.

What is the story of what first drew you to work with children?

A long and serendipitous one – I had been reading Ivan Illich and John Holt’s writing on radical education, the Secondary Ed. program at PSU in the mid-80’s felt dehumanizing to me. It validated my sense that Illich’s line  “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is” was correct and that schools as institutions generally didn’t allow much room for self- discovery and questioning.

I figured ECE was more of the same but with younger children, and I was an out lesbian so I didn’t see it as a possible career. A friend had been fired from an ECE job for being a lesbian, and with anti-gay ballot measures popping up that would have restricted our ability to be licensed, I couldn’t imagine myself in this field.

Then as I was about to start grad. school and needed a part time job a friend told me that her daughter’s preschool (Childpeace Montessori) needed subs and since I was “good with children” I should apply. I thought “job from hell”, but I needed money – after my first day of work they hired me on as regular afternoon staff, and later in their new infant room. I had some good experiences there. Then friends asked me to do part time child-care for their baby – they were reading RIE and I loved it. We attended a workshop Pacific Oaks had Magda Gerber do here in Portland. At that time the college had an outreach program here, and they were offering their social and political foundations class the next semester. I saw that in addition to sexism and racism, which had barely been mentioned in my PSU classes, they were talking about classism and homophobia. I decided to take the class that Louise Derman-Sparks and Katie Kissinger were teaching, and soon realized that I’d found my people and my passion.

Is this your calling? If not, why do you do it?

Yes, my calling and my passion. I feel very lucky to have stumbled into it, having spent my 20’s searching for my right work.

Do you feel fulfilled in this work? How so?

 Yes, mostly, but sometimes there’s a nagging voice in my head that with my education I should be doing more. Some days with babies feel very long, but I like the way I am pushed to my edge and get to work through so much of my own stuff as I am with them. Early on in my learning with infants I examined that period in my own life and saw  mistakes my parents made; learning about early development and working with babies has given me the opportunity to understand and heal some of those places. I’ve always been interested in social and emotional development, and getting to spend the first three years with a variety of interesting people has deepened my understanding and appreciation of how our emotional self is formed.

I continue to grow in my ability to be patient and present with discomfort – my own and that of others. When I am not as patient, present, or gentle as I strive to be I have learned to repair the emotional wound, and forgive myself.

Tell us about the trajectory of your career. Who was helpful along the way? How do you feel like having your own children (if you have any) influenced your career decisions/aspirations/understanding/etc?

 Everyone at PO was wonderfully helpful –  some, along with friends and family, even lent me money to begin my program. Nan Narboe, whose baby I first took care of and who introduced me to RIE has been a great support and teacher along the way. She and my massage therapist have been like wise older sisters, or supervisors to me, and when I get stuck I still call them for help. My practicum students have given me the opportunity to do my best teaching; we sit on the kitchen floor and debrief – exploring different perspectives on what we and the children are doing.

 At PO I didn’t know what I was going to do with this degree, but when I started my thesis I realized that I didn’t see anyone doing RIE in a family child care environment and knew that was what I wanted. Maureen Moreland was using RIE in the program she directed at Parent Child Services, and I think there were others who had studied some RIE, but there weren’t many of us.

I taught one class a semester in the distance learning program at PO for 15 years, but after the reign of the evil college president, and when my partner became disabled, I stopped. I’ve done some teaching and workshops locally, PCC, OAEYC, and now BAB.

As my partner’s mobility impairment has increased we’ve had to make a number of expensive changes to our house and landscape. I didn’t want to move because I’ve put so much into creating this environment and making it work. Some of the changes have been great for the children; everyone loves our ramp and running up and down it at the end of the day as parents watch and visit has become a wonderful part of our culture here. We moved the sandbox to make a raised garden bed for Terri, and the new location along with the hard surface pavers we had to put in have all been positive changes.

I was lucky to have spent time learning about accessibility issues at Pacific Oaks, so I felt more prepared for some of the changes than I would have otherwise been. The children certainly benefit from having a person in their lives who uses a power wheelchair, and it’s added to our conversations about how to make the world work for everybody. As someone who’s pushed strollers a lot, curb cut activism has always been a part of my work with children!

On the downside, more of the responsibility for maintaining our home has fallen on me, as Terri has been able to do less. That’s made the time crunch we all feel, a bit tighter for me.  We’ve had to rearrange some furniture in ways that make it easier for her to move through the space, but don’t serve the child care function as well.

Tell us what your hopes for the future are. Where do you hope to be in ten years? Twenty?

 I want my body to hold up until I retire in six and a half years – yoga and other self-care are more important as I age. I want there to be more good options for infant care and I feel a responsibility (as well as financial need) to continue to provide care for two more cohorts. After I retire I want to study English and Math because I didn’t the first time through, and volunteer or do a bit of consulting, teaching, or sub work if that feels right.

What is the bigger picture for you? How do you see the work of early childhood education acting on the world?

 What we do is transformative – a couple of my first babies are out in the world now doing great work, and they’re starting from a stronger foundation than many in my generation had. We’re planting seeds to keep the good in the world going, and nurturing resilience so these children will have the inner strength to deal with what’s not good in the world. The RIE motto of  ‘authentic infant, competent child’ feels like such a gift – to be allowed to develop oneself without pressure from adults to always be bigger, better and faster, to have one’s competence recognized and fostered, to be able to fail without shame and to learn from those failures – all these things allow children to develop the resilience to carry them through the hard times that every life brings.

What is on your plate for this school year? Teaching, researching, presenting, etc.

I’m in the last year of cohort #8 and enjoying the ease of our final year together. My professional growth is to keep pushing myself to support children in areas that are uncomfortable for me – art and messy sensory activities – I’ve gotten better over the years, but this will never be my strength. My interest in social and emotional development continues to be my strength, and my curiosity about who each child is helps me guide them as they develop a sense of self and their place in the world.

How has your teaching evolved over the years? As early childhood education becomes a more honored part of our culture, how do you think this has influenced your work with children or teachers?

 Years of practice have made me more patient. I am also better able to accept and appreciate the differences in our practices – we don’t all have to be teaching the same way to be good, nor should we. I’m really interested in how differences in time, place, and culture impact the way we raise children.

 What is your advice to young/burgeoning teachers?

 Know yourself and keep learning. 

How do you help yourself relax/unwind after a long day of working with children? What helps you feel healthy and taken care of?

 Meditation, yoga, reading, listening to music and singing, walking, good podcasts

 Non-educational practices/hobbies that are important to you.

 Knitting and the things above.

Can you talk about a sacrifice or setback that you have tackled as an early childhood educator over the years?

 Dealing with paperwork and QRIS – as a person with an aversion to standardized, institutionalized education, QRIS really challenged me. I ended up having someone else finish my portfolio for me, because I couldn’t see how much of  what I was being asked related to my small in home infant program. Having had conversations with a number of people in different roles I understand the complexity of trying to improve early childhood education, but I hate it when I see good small programs struggling under rules and language that don’t fit who they are.

Last book that you read that really inspired your thinking around your work?

 Emily Plank’s ‘Discovering the Culture of Childhood’

Final thoughts: Hope, belief, love of the profession?

 I hope for the authentic self of all children to be supported and honored. It thrills me that there is so much good information about child development easily available now. Janet Lansbury is doing a wonderful job spreading Magda Gerber’s work, and the number of FB groups and web pages I see promoting play based learning, early brain development, and the need for children to live childhood at their own pace, inspire me. I am gratified to see the work being done to dismantle oppressive systems especially as they relate to early childhood. There is lots of good work to be done, and lots of good people doing it.

 

 

 

Teacher Profile #2: Michelle Lewis Barnes

I think early childhood is a field from which we can make the largest impact on the social and emotional wellness of our population. Whether it be directly through our work with young children on a daily basis, or with their parents — we have this intensely valuable inroad we cannot ignore.

Hometown – I grew up in Hubbard, a small town about 30 minutes south of Portland.

Current Location – I own and operate three small early childhood settings here in Portland, OR. Busy Bee Preschool, Sunflowers Preschool, and The Nest Playschool.

Job Title – I’ve never quite settled on the perfect title for what I do. Owner? Director? I make most of my work about supporting my teachers, and (not so) occasionally getting out of their way when their ideas are far more valid than any of mine.

Degrees/Education – I meandered my way through my education over many years. I started out at the University of Oregon after high school, starting out in the journalism program. I transferred to Portland State University, changing majors a few time. Life intervened, and after getting married and having children, I took a “break”. 20 years later, I decided that I had to get back to it, and finished up my B.S. in Social Sciences, mainly so I could pursue my not-so-newfound passion for early childhood education, and I just finished up my M.Ed. from Champlain College last year.

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have your own children?

I’ve been working with children since my first daughter was born — it was 17 years ago this month that I skidded out of the emotional meltdown that was my maternity leave to give notice to my employer, knowing only one thing: I had decided that hell or high water, I was going to figure out how to stay home with her. I quickly found myself researching how to open a family child care home. Many years later, I am now the mother to five children: my 11 year old daughter, 14 year old son, 17 year old daughter, and two stepsons: 17 and 18 years old.

Continue reading “Teacher Profile #2: Michelle Lewis Barnes”

Art Is Life…

Upon returning from the Women’s March on Washington, DC, I continue to be inspired by the idea that making art is a form of resistance and struggle. In a throng of five hundred + thousand, and in the midst of other marches around the states and the world, we marched in solidarity for collective liberty and progressive values.

The march itself was art. Not only were there many expressions of dissent in signs and placards, but the flock and swell of color and sound and movement was entrancing. We are art.

If art is an expression of Self, and a gift to Other, then it is a way for us to build community and understanding between people who think, feel, and interact in different ways. It is a means for us to connect to the experiences that surround us, but that most of the time we are blind to.

The day after the march I visited the National Gallery of Art for the first time. It has been a LOT of years since I have made the time to visit a museum by myself, to take in color, light, texture, scent, without children or a partner of any sort. Beauty is important food.

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It got me thinking a lot about creation and destruction and the whipping spiral of polarity.

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And the difference between art as an act of creation and art as an act of replication.

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This from my time in Reggio Emilia last Spring:

As we were asking questions at the Matriri di Sesso preschool today, a colleague gave the example of a child who was drawing a flower from a still life at the table. The child drew the flower like you would expect a child to draw a flower.
The idea of a flower: stem, some petals, a leaf or two…
The teacher continued to encourage the child to look closely, and after a couple of typical drawings, the child drew a picture that represented a realistic aesthetic of the flower. The colleague then asked how much time in Reggio Emilia the children spend creating art that is typical, and how much teachers push children to create art that is representational.
The atelierista answered in this way:
“I personally believe in the importance of stereotypes, especially for children.  But then it is also important for children to break stereotypes, especially as it pertains to uncovering difference.”
By stereotype, he meant the typical flower drawing. By breaking stereotypes, I believe he meant looking closely at the differences between what we think we know, and what is actually there.
What stunned me was the layer of understanding that I gained about the connection between art-making and anti-bias work.
How does supplying a diversity of materials and experiences, and asking children to be both fantastical and on the other hand precise, create both stereotypes and the breaking of stereotypes? In relationship to the flower drawing, how does this experience have the potential to open our brains and spirits, and lift us out of rigid thinking, and especially in terms of anti-bias education?
When we offer children the experience of looking closely in art, how do they translate that to ideas of difference within people?  Does it help them to be curious?  Does it help them to negate the idea that we are all the same?
What are the ways that artistic expression, poeticism, and the 100 languages specifically and pointedly feed into us- as human beings- being able to executively break down barriers within ourselves and between us and Other?

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While at the NGA in DC, I spent some time taking photos. At first, when in the gallery, I felt self-conscious taking pictures. I felt like a tourist, someone who was not interacting “correctly” with the art. And then in re-interpreting my attempts at picture-taking, I created some art of my own.

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What we are really fighting for is beauty and the freedom to experience things in an independent and unique way. What we are fighting for is the right to be. Art allows us the freedom to express our experience. Of stereotype. Of essence.

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I want to revisit these ideas with our teachers. How do we approach art-making with children at our school? Why is it important to engage children in a deeper and more complex experience of art? How does art help us to understand difference? To remain in dialogue, not just with the world around us, but with each other? How does art-making contribute to the very act of being human?

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Children know that art is life. How can we- as fellow craftspeople, marvels, viruosos, dancers, soloists, ensemblists, thespians, writers, poets, photographers, builders and dreamers- join them?

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Teacher Profile #1: Angela Molloy Murphy

My hopes lie in the transformative powers of education and the potential of our youngest citizens, to overcome great obstacles and manifest a radically just and equitable society for themselves and their children.

Hometown – Phoenix, Arizona. I left as soon as I could because the conservative atmosphere was stifling. I have been in Portland for 23 years.

Current Location – Rowanberry School, Portland, OR, USA

Degrees/Education – I have a Masters Degree in Education from PSU from before there was an Early Childhood specialization, but I took every ECE class they offered, so my advisor Christine Chaille told me I should say I have a MEd with an emphasis in ECE, for whatever it’s worth. I also went through their GTEP program and became licensed to teach K-8. This fall I started the Educational Leadership Doctorate, Curriculum & Instruction, EdD program at PSU and I can already tell it is going to be a totally transformational experience.

The program is intense. I am one who procrastinated all the way through my master’s program, never putting more than a few hours into even the most important papers I wrote, so this has been a shock. The jump from the Masters to the doctoral program is like the jump from kindergarten to high school…I just couldn’t have imagined it despite people trying to prepare me. The bad news…the first two years will be busy, stressful, intense. The good news, I learned more in a term than I have in the last many years put together because I need that structure to force me to work.

Age 46

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have your own children?

I have been working with young children for 24 years; for the last 20 years straight. I started teaching preschool and working as a nanny when I was a teenager, occasionally taking breaks to work at jobs that made more money. By my mid 20’s I had surrendered to the idea that working with young children was my calling, and I had to be creative and figure out a way to make a decent living at it. I have a 15 year old and a 10 year old of my own.

Tell us what your hopes for the future are. Where do you hope to be in ten years? Twenty?

I’m not sure what the future holds for me. I would like to eventually get more into teacher education but hope to always work with young children in some capacity.

What is on your plate for this school year?

Teaching, researching, presenting, etc. This year I am teaching alone for the first time ever and really loving it. I am a natural collaborator and love working with a partner, but as a reflective practitioner I started wondering if I might be using teaching in partnership to avoid stepping into my own power as a teacher and a director. It turns out, of course, that I was. So that’s something I’m exploring.

I am also enjoying the tiny class size that comes with teaching alone which has been a lovely surprise. I started the EdD program this fall so there is a lot that has come with that…new ideas, new conferences, new connections… it feels like my whole world has just blown up in a good way. I am planning on returning to Reggio Emilia, Italy in the Spring. I’m guessing that I’ll be ready to do more presenting next year…right now I’m just trying to catch my breath.

Non-educational practices/hobbies that are important to you.

Spending time with my family, reading and writing, photography, watching TV and movies, being outdoors, playing and listening to music, going to see live music. Just generally trying to pursue an artistic life. Also being gentle with myself when I just need to do something useless or do nothing at all.

Can you talk about a sacrifice or setback that you have tackled as an early childhood educator over the years?

It has been difficult for me to deal with the disrespect that people have for preschool, preschool teachers, and for young children in general. Even in the field of education, early education is undervalued. When I was young I think it hurt my ego. Now I have a better sense of my own self-worth, so I am offended for other reasons. I am disturbed by the mainstream view of young children as incompetent…as a “person in the making” rather than a whole person who has so much to offer to their community and to society. These days I try to take that feeling of indignation and pour it into elevating our culture’s image of the child beyond being simply consumers of products and technology.

Last book that you read that really inspired your thinking around your work?

Definitely Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I read it when I was very young, but revisiting it with more experience and maturity made it an entirely different read. Also, considering the potential for the incoming administration to use schools as a tool of oppression and subjugation, this book feels like a timely and urgent call to action. I think educators have been given a charge that we each have to respond to in our own way, or in multiple ways, to help education achieve its potential of emancipating people…raising them up. For me, my work with children all comes from and goes back to critical pedagogy.

Final thoughts: Hope, belief, love of the profession?

I guess my final thoughts are about hope. I campaigned hard for Bernie during this election season, and even though the election had a tragic outcome, the experience of working with wildly different people from all generations, unified by nothing but hope; it reconnected me to the ideals and activism of my youth in a profound way.  As they say in Rogue 1, “rebellions are built on hope.”  I think our work as educators of (and with) young children is also deeply rooted in hope…I also think it has the potential to function a lot like a rebellion, but that’s another story for another day! My hopes lie in the transformative powers of education and the potential of our youngest citizens, to overcome great obstacles and manifest a radically just and equitable society for themselves and their children.

 

 

No Really, It’s That Big…

As we enter into this huge transition, into a our new US (which for some is the old US), we must view this time as a transition for emotional awareness as well. In my mind, the lack of awareness around this issue is a looming contributor to the choice that we just made as a nation. As educators and parents, we have the wherewithall to help children become accustomed to feelings as part of their bodies, others’ bodies, and the greater collective body.

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The past year has come with a heap of transition for our school. In September we began our second school year at Elm House, our program that includes children who are twelve months to three years old. There have been many tears. Children being dropped off at a new place can be challenging and full of emotion for both the children and their primary caregivers.  One of our Elm House teachers, Mage Baltes,  wrote a heartfelt and helpful piece on saying goodbye.

The idea of tears and feelings has of course come up at the beginning of the past six years in the preschool as well. And of course it comes up for each of us throughout our lives… We say goodbye to loved ones as they die. We say goodbye to those who live far away. We transition from being children to adults and we must say goodbye to our parents in a new and potentially frightening way. Or we might encounter the pain of saying a curt goodbye to those that we wish we could have loved differently.  The transitions in our worlds sometime feel painful. And unrelenting.

A preschool parent recently borrowed a book from our shelves called Tears and Tantrums by Aletha J Solter. She commented: “It was helpful in reminding me that crying, even rage, is a beneficial, inevitable release for children.” Her comment reminded me of another beautiful piece written by Mage called Connect Through Crying.

Personally, I have been trying to do more crying in my day-to-day life. A few months back I found myself cut off from my emotional self, unable to release the huge emotions that I am processing about the world (my children, other people’s children, the teachers that I care about and mentor, my impact, how to do better, be better, do more, grow more, the struggles of others, children in jail, public servants killing people, and a narcisstic misogynist running for POTUS, and now elected as POTUS- to name a few). Since, with support and love from those I trust most, I have been able to tap in to my emotions again.

This is important stuff. As adults, we are becoming more disconnected from our emotional and spiritual selves. Which makes it challenging to tap into the emotional and spiritual lives of Other.

But why is teaching children about emotions important? And is it just kind of important? Does it help just them? Does it extend into the later parts of their lives? How does it help to heal us as adults? These are some questions that I have been asking during this time.

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At our school, coaching around emotional awareness has become part and parcel of our learning processes. We say things such as, “You are feeling so sad right now. I understand. Sometimes I feel sad also.” And we will, as Mage explains in their piece, simply hold children and sit with them and honor their emotions. Afterwards we might say, “It looks like your feelings have changed. Now you feel happy!” These practices provide a process of metacognition for children- or thinking about their thinking (or feelings in this case).

Many times, we see parents out and about whose children are upset, and they are trying to help that child “get over” their emotions. I am sure all parents and educators can understand this- sometimes we want the emotion to simply go away! We want to stop feeling embarrassed by either a) our perception of how others might be viewing us at that moment (too lenient, not ‘in control’ of our kids, overly empathic, etc) OR b) our actual feelings of remorse or judgment about how our kid is ‘acting’.

Here’s what we also see and experience out in the world. Children who experience their emotions, feel connected to a parent or caregiver during that emotion, and then move past it- safely, securely, and while being loved by someone else. And I might add, with CLEAR boundaries about what is acceptable and what is not in terms of behavior.

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Let’s zoom out for a minute and look at each picture.

In the first totally understandable and reasonable situation, we have a child who is upset about something. Everybody gets upset. In this situation, this child is receiving information that leads them to believe that their emotions are not necessary. That their emotions are not worthy of time. And that their emotions are not interesting. However, when we as adults approach a child’s emotions in this way, the emotion does not simply ‘go away’. The child does not simply ‘get over’ these emotions. They are stored and reacted to within their bodies.

Zoom out more. How does this impact their relationships with others? If I can put myself in their shoes… I am receiving the information that emotions are not necessary, worthy, or interesting. If I turn that around and treat others the same way, my parents get upset with me for not caring or having empathy for others! How confusing. 

Zoom out even further… Into the future… We have children running around who are unable to effectively slow down, listen, and have empathy for the emotions of others (or themselves). The unprocessed emotions are acted out over and over again.

In the second situation, a child is able to process their emotions, in the moment. They know that someone is listening. They might feel gentle arms around them. They might see a face that mirrors their own emotions. They might hear words of understanding. “I hear you. I can understand why you are sad. You fell down and that hurt. Sometimes I feel that way too when I fall. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”

In wondering about how these moments impact a child’s relationship with others, let’s think again about ourselves. When we feel rejected in our emotional capacity, are we able to reach out to others? I can think of many times that my emotional life was rejected when I was younger. My reaction was usually to run and hide. In time that led to emotional build up, intensified emotional pain, self-mutilation, alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity and unhealthy risk-taking. How we treat young people and their emotional lives is important, not just in the moment, but as they build their futures. As we are thinking about children who are able to process their emotions, we might think of them as beacons of hope. They will be more willing to help others, to communicate their needs, to be in the moment, and to focus on what is happening in front of them. 

If we can commit to these processes in ourselves and our children, we may look far into the future.  These children are adults. Let us envision them as our future counselors, teachers, healers, leaders, and business owners. When these leaders in our community are able to live their full emotional lives, everyone benefits. 

As we enter into this huge transition, into a our new US (which for some is the old US), we must view this time as a transition for emotional awareness as well. In my mind, the lack of awareness around this issue is a looming contributor to the choice that we just made as a nation. As educators and parents, we have the wherewithall to help children become accustomed to feelings as part of their bodies, others’ bodies, and the greater collective body. This is happening on a mirco level, with the relationships that families members have with each other. And when we teach our children to extend this knowledge to others, to treat others as a communal family, we have the opportunity to extend it to the macro level, allowing it to blossom out to more and more people. Empathy, concern, compassion, relating, forgiveness, and the offering of information are all part and parcel of this work.

When children learn how to feel, we all benefit.

Thanks for reading!    -Sarah Lu

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Matters of Opportunity… Does Opportunity Matter?

It is interesting to think about where our emphasis lies as co-learners (and by this I mean as adults who work with children, in place of the word teacher).  Does it lie in skills acquirement- physical, cognitive, etc?  Or does it lie in depth of connection?  Are we fundamentally learning, along with young children, to operate on the surfaces of reality? Or is our job to learn, alongside children, the many different layers of being alive?

 

These are some questions that I jotted down in a moment of deep frustration as we attended last year’s conference with the Oregon Association for the Education of Young Children. I was reflecting on a juxtaposition that I had encountered at the conference for the previous day. The Opal School was presenting this year. They hold many workshops and a symposium at their school each year, but it was the first time that they had chosen to present a workshop at the OAEYC conference.  Because I have been to many an Opal School Symposium in years past, I decided that I would not attend their workshop at the OAEYC conference. However, I found myself in a workshop that I could not sit through, and for the first time I purposefully left a workshop halfway through.  From there, I went to the Opal School presentation. There I was satisfied with stories of children’s learning that captivated my heart, and reflections by teachers who were invested in their children, their journeys, and the poetry of their work. This difference was intriguing to me- one workshop that I could not stand to sit through, and another that captured my heart and mind.

I wrote: It seems that we have become so culturally obsessed with the fragmentation of everything in our paths, and that our job as teachers who are creative and “deep thinkers” (more on this later), is to resist fragmentation of our selves and our communities. And especially the fragmentation of the growth of our children. 

(Today I would add that it is our job as Feminisists, Progressives, and Activists…. to return our world to a balanced and loving state.)

These two moments of reflection led me to question what we are really doing as teachers. When we use the term co-learner in the field of Reggio-inspired learning, what do we mean?  If we are co-learners, then we are learning alongside children… and the implications for society are two-fold, not only afecting the children but ourselves as well:

1- If we are teaching children to live on the surfaces of reality, then we too, are being trained by ourselves to live on that surface. We are training not only our children but ourselves, to disconnect. If we are disconnected, then we do not care.

2- Likewise, if we are teaching and learning in this way, children do not care.

Think about those outcomes…

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Vea Vecchi, one of Reggio Emilia’s great thinkers and atelieristas, offers the following:

Each discipline- or rather language- is made up of rationality, imagination, emotion, and aesthetics. Cultures which rigidly separate these qualities and processes of thinking inevitably tend to subtract part of the processes from the various disciplines or languages. They recognize the rational part of an engineer, the imaginative part of an architect, the cognitive part of a mathematician, the expressive part of an artist and so on, in simple categories.

In this act of fragmentation and exclusion of some of the processes which, I repeat, belong to our species’ way of thinking and constitute a biological inheritance that is probably ancestral, cultural resources are effectively diminished and there is a consequent impoverishment in the overall quality of concepts and thinking.

Rationality without feeling and emptahy, like imagination without cognition and rationality, build up partial, incomplete human knowledge. 

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At the conference I also noticed the apparent difference in the quality of the minds and thoughts of the educators who were present.  The threads ran deep and wide.

I am struck by the general carelessness of many educators’ approaches to young children and the work that we do. Or perhaps it is the lack of time that we allow for reflection, so that all of our time is spent trying to get somewhere, and then where are we? Are we so rushed that we cannot slow down to express, question, become?  

How much of carelessness is the result of not being cared for? I had a conversation about these matters with a friend recently and she brought up the idea that some of us are “deep thinkers”. Some of us are poetic. Some of us are musical. Some of us are… fill in the blanks. Which leaves the assumption that, well, some of us are not. This is a comforting thought, if you are one of those “deep thinkers”.  But as I was speaking with her I questioned this. What if it’s just a matter of opportunity? What if that line of thinking (some have got it, some don’t) is a systemic way of maintaining the status quo- of maintaining this patriarchal, animus-oriented collective pysche? What if we as a world, have so much unlocked potential, that to experience it might be world-changing?

I mean, at the risk of sounding too optimistic, what if it’s about opportunity?

I see teachers who, when posed with the idea that a young child may have “rights”, roll their eyes. I gather that these people have never felt that same respect as a child or as an adult, and that perhaps the poetic voice inside them has never been given any length of rope. 

Children have the right to play, to explore, and to learn by doing. They have the right to become deep thinkers… no quotes.

Children need what we rarely give them in school – time for Messing About. – John Holt
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Have we lived in a time before when Art equated to life? It is happening now inside certain educational philosophies, inside certain communities. I am hopeful that this is the way the world is turning. The education of people is so much bigger than lines on paper or the unfortunately fragmented thinking that happens in so many schools.

The atelier, that creative mind-set or the phycial studio, is a small fraction of our classroom. AND, our whole classroom is the atelier, is the studio, is that frame of mind. We are works in progress, as is our world. Play teaches us that we have choice, opportunity.

The atelier is a small fraction of our world. AND, our whole world is the atelier, is that mind-set, is the studio. Children, people, need choice, need opportunity, to play, to think, to Mess About. Many children do not have this opportunity. Much of our thinking becomes fragmented early on in life. Let’s think about who that helps.

We have great power as teachers, parents, caregivers- to learn alongside with children about our individual voices, our collective voice, and our right to become poets.

Perhaps with this lens, we can feel fulfilled again as a collective. Perhaps we can breathe through the fear of not having enough. Perhaps we can gain the opportunity that we all deserve- to be free, to play, to create, and to be whole.