CAEYC Conference 2001
By Courtni Holst, Teacher
This past March more than twenty Bing staff members traveled to San Diego for the annual conference of the California Association for the Educa-tion of Young Children. In three days we attended sessions on topics as diverse as discipline and play, and several Bing teachers led presentations themselves.
The nonprofit CAEYC, founded in 1953, aims to serve the needs and rights of children from birth to age eight, primarily by providing educational services and resources to adults working with young children. A vital political and professional advocate in the state of California, the organization encourages the study of children, the improvement of their education and well-being, and the education and professional development of their teachers.
To this admittedly biased attendee, the highlights of the conference were the presentations led by Bing teachers (see next page). But a number of other sessions were also intriguing and dynamic. Bev Bos, a teacher and director of the Roseville Community School for over thirty years, asked “How Do Our Children Grow?” in a workshop presented with her son-in-law, Michael Leeman. Well known for making children the center of their own learning experiences, Bos stressed the importance of a natural, “brain compatible” environment for children to play in—plenty of water, sand, gardening, uneven surfaces; tools the children can use to discover, explore, and manipulate; and provisions for both visual learners and hands-on learners. Bos almost seemed to be describing the Bing environment, where children have a sense of belonging as well as rich surroundings in which to wonder, explore, discover, and experience.
Also directly relevant to education at Bing was the session “Understanding Child Discipline in Diverse Cultures.” The presenters—Judith Bernhard of Ryerson Polytechnic University in Canada, Lillian Hensel-Wrinkle of Storyteller Children’s Center in Santa Barbara, and Diana Ballesteros of Sisco Family Center—explained that the “norm” of discipline in the United States is far from universal. Giving examples of disciplinary approaches in other cultures, the presenters showed how discipline, like all other aspects of child development, is inseparable from family values and larger cultural norms. When working with children from diverse cultural backgrounds, teachers need to talk with parents about their conception of their parenting role and their approach to discipline. Such dialogue enables teachers to meet families’ needs no matter what their cultural backgrounds are.
In another workshop emphasizing cultural diversity, participants brainstormed how adults can break out of their familiar cultural perspectives. In “Play as Practice for Paradox,” Janet Gonzales-Mena, an early childhood consultant, and Elizabeth Jones of Pacific Oaks College reminded participants that children may resolve a conflict through “pretend” play, switching their frames of reference, gaining control by sharing it in the “pretend” realm, and thus removing the conflict. Similarly, adults can develop strategies for tolerating ambiguity and assuming the alternative frames of reference needed for problem solving, such as preventing the dominant culture from dominating in cross-cultural encounters. One participant suggested thinking of potential conflict situations as Venn diagrams in which people or groups have many differences but also share at least one characteristic. Focusing on the shared characteristics instead of the differences emphasizes the positive reasons for coming together and can lead effectively to compromise.
As in years past, the CAEYC conference provided attendees with many opportunities to discover their experiences and ideas. For the Bing participants, the conference broadened our perspectives and reaffirmed that our teaching does indeed enrich the children’s lives.
The CAEYC conference offered dynamic presentations by four groups of Bing teachers. In-Depth Investigations: Indoors, Outdoors, and in the Community.
Three classroom projects demonstrate Bing’s emergent curriculum, in which teachers take the lead from children’s interests and then involve parents and members of the community.
Tom Limbert and Nandini Bhattacharjya described Center PM’s clothing project, which arose after the children watched a girl cut out a paper dress and tape it to her self-portrait. Parents talked about what they wore to work, one family brought in a sewing machine, another displayed a baby’s clothing, and another brought in socks to sort by color, size, and shape. Workers in a fabric boutique demonstrated a spinning wheel and a loom.
As Mark Mabry and Jane Farish explained, “All About the West Room Hens” started when West AM’s hens laid their first egg. The children explored what one could do with an egg and researched hens: Can hens fly? Do they have ears? An expert from the community brought in another type of hen for the children to see and compare with their own hens. Finally the class made a book about hens for the children to take home.
Jennifer Winters and Carolee Fucigna began East AM’s project on experiencing art with the idea that children can benefit from art not only by creating it but also by encountering it. The children rode Stanford’s Marguerite bus to visit the Rodin Sculpture Garden on campus. There they circled, stared at, and even climbed the sculptures to explore size, shape, texture, and action. At the garden the children worked with clay, and back in the classroom many took more care with representation in clay. In the yard they played freeze tag in apparent imitation of the sculptures. Art, the children learned, can be experienced in many ways.
Performing Stories with the Language of Music:
Kitti Pecka and Nandini Bhattacharjya led an inspiring workshop on music in the nursery school curriculum. Kitti first stressed that early exposure to music not only builds the musical intelligence of children but also introduces them to language and poetry of superior quality, links the right and left sides of the brain, enhances mathematical and spatial intelligence, and contributes to overall academic performance. Nandini then showed video clips and slides demonstrating how the environment can be set up to encourage children’s musical participation, whether making drums for use in a singing parade or exploring instruments laid out on carpet squares and then incorporating the instruments into a book or flannel board story or song. Finally, Kitti invited workshop participants to use instruments as children would, to make animal sounds throughout a reading of Play with Me by Marie Ets.
Exploring Found Materials with Young Children:
In an interactive session, Nancy Howe, Jennifer Winters, Parul Roy, and Betsy Koning involved participants in learning about and working with paper tubes, buttons, ribbons, scraps of fabric, and other everyday objects. Video clips and slides showed children’s enthusiastic discovery of new uses for everyday objects, from props for block building or dramatic play to elements for collage and woodworking to seed ideas for stories. Provided with a bag of found materials, each participant then had a chance to experience the objects’ potential for manipulation and creativity.
Reflecting upon and Responding to Challenging Play:
Mark Mabry and Carolee Fucigna explored children’s play that teachers tend to find challenging, such as play that is rough and tumble, dominated, exclusionary, or gun centered. Teachers view certain types of play as challenging for various reasons, ranging from their own cultural values to concerns for classroom safety, the tone of the group, or the feelings of individual children. When responding to challenging play, teachers need to understand their own reactions but also to look closely at the children’s intentions. Many times children engaged in challenging play seek to feel powerful. With this knowledge, teachers can provide other options for addressing this need, such as blockbuilding, digging, and other activities involving large muscle movement.