NAEYC Conference in New York City
Children’s Interactions and Children’s Media
By Andrea Hart, Teacher
Nancy Balaban, Betsy Grob, and Carla Poole, all of Bank Street College of Education, led discussions of children’s interactions which we viewed in short video clips of children and teachers at Bank Street Lab School. They showed a clip of child-environment, child-child, or child-teacher interaction then opened a discussion on what we, the viewers, observed in this interaction. After about ten minutes of discussion, they repeated the process with a new clip. These clips, which at first glance seemed to depict simple interactions, took on great meaning and complexity because of the wide-ranging observations and insights of the many viewers, early-childhood teachers from across the country. This session proved that in observing children’s interactions we can find great depths of things to learn.
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The theme of a session by Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor of education at Lesley University, and Diane Levin, professor of education at Wheelock College, is evident in its title: “The Commercial Culture of Childhood: How Disney and Other Media Giants Shape Young Lives.” In an eye-opening if somewhat overdrawn presentation, Carlsson-Paige and Levin discussed Disney as the most notable of many corporations that are making mass consumers of young children. Disney is undoubtedly the main storyteller for children, and unfortunately it has capitalized on this role to sell mass quantities of merchandise to children: figurines, costumes, backpacks, shoes, and even dinnerware represent the characters in Disney movies. (It was the prevalence of Disney-wear among children at Bing that drew me to this session — it is in their clothes as well as in the storylines of their play.) Disney advertises their merchandise repeatedly to children through their television stations, radio stations, and magazines, and it even places several minutes of commercials at the beginning of all its videos. Children do not have the skills to see through or resist these ads and want each item advertised.
The problem with Disney’s ubiquity, Carlsson-Paige and Levin stressed, is that videos and merchandise, by reinforcing each other, keep children constantly thinking about and reenacting the same storylines. (The appropriateness of the storylines is another matter.) With so many attractive and familiar props on their bodies, toy shelves, and dinner tables, children are less likely to make their own props, to move the storylines in new directions, to create their own storylines, to engage in their own storylines.
By Jenny Ludlow, Teacher
Sara Coppeto and others from Bank Street College gave an in-depth look at ways to integrate illustration investigation, or the exploration of book illustrations and other works of art, into an early-childhood classroom. Coppeto experimented with different ways of encouraging children to explore and immerse themselves in illustrations. The approaches she devised — exploring the physical characteristics of a work, making personal connections, and using and introducing descriptive vocabulary about the work — derived from Howard Gardner’s ideas about multiple intelligences and children’s different “entry points” for learning. Providing a child with the opportunity to explore an area, in this case an illustration, from many different viewpoints increases the likelihood of accessing the child’s entry point.
Most examples given during the session came from the book A Year with Grandma Moses, which follows the changing seasons throughout a year. Children were encouraged to discuss the illustrations both as a large group and in more intimate peer groups. Although the specific lesson plans suited an older age group than Bing’s, the principles of observation, expression, and drawing personal connections can most certainly be applied to all ages.
Leave No Child Behind — A Cutting Edge Session!
By Jennifer Winters, Assistant Director
Marian Wright Edelman is the founding director of the Children’s Defense Fund, Washington, D.C. “The mission of the fund is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.”
Edelman began her talk with these powerful quotes:
“Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children…I continue to struggle against this universe in which children suffer and die.”
Albert Camus speaking at a Dominican Monastery in 1948
“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Protestant theologian
Marian urged those attending her session to be advocates for protecting children and truly leave no child behind. She pointed out that while the Bush administration adopted the CDF slogan “Leave No Child Behind” during their campaign, they have not lived up to that promise. She went on to give some grim statistics.
• An American child is reported abused or neglected every 11 seconds; 581,000 children are in our foster care system — 127,000 are waiting for adoptive families.
• An American child is born into poverty every 43 seconds; one in five children is poor during the first three years of life — the greatest time of brain development.
• An American child is born without health insurance every minute — 90 percent of our nine million uninsured childrenlive in working families.
• An American child or teen is killed by gunfire every 2 hours and 40 minutes — nine every day; 87,000 children and teenshave been killed by guns since 1979. It is safer to be an on-duty police officer than a child under 10 in America.
• Millions of American children start school not ready to learn, and millions more lack safe, affordable, quality child care and early childhood education when their parents work.
• A majority of American fourth graders can’t read or do math at a proficient level.
• Seven million children are home alone on a regular basis without adult supervision often after school when they are at greatest risk for getting into trouble.
• Nearly 12 million children are poor, and millions are hungry, at risk of hunger, living in worst case housing, or homeless. Almost 80 percent of poor children live in working households.
While these statistics are disturbing, Edelman pointed out that they are facts…not acts of God. Thus, it is up to us to change them: “we have the power, the money, the know-how, the experience, and the vision.”
The Importance of Outdoor Environments
By Nancy Verdtzabella, Teacher
On Friday afternoon I attended a very crowded presentation by Mary Rifkin on outdoor environments for children. Rifkin is an educator at the University of Maryland as well as a specialist in outdoor environments. Her presentation began with a song by her good friend Tom Hunter, who is also an advocate of children and teachers. He greeted the crowd with one of his many refreshing songs about nature. This particular song was enticing to the crowd and had us eager to hear what she had to say.
Rifkin talked about the simplicity of nature, yet how rich it is for children. Slides were shown from a school in Connecticut where the “playground” is the woods behind the school building. Although a fancy playground with state-of-the-art structures can seem impressive, a natural environment is all that is needed for a child to develop healthy muscles. In order to climb a tree, a variety of muscles are used. And since tree climbing is less predictable than a man-made climbing structure, the amount of muscles used usually increases. Muscle development also occurs when climbing hills, walking/running on uneven ground, and when bending down to explore the life below a child’s feet.
Mary encouraged outdoor exploration regardless of the weather. “There is no bad weather, just bad clothes.” It was suggested that a box of boots and raincoats, gloves, etc be available so that all children can investigate all the outdoors has to offer.
The activities that can take place outside are endless. For starters, easels and art materials can be brought outdoors (adult artists do it all the time), as well as magnifying glasses and binoculars. There is also insect exploration, bark rubbings, leaf collecting, seed planting, flower picking, harvesting fruit and vegetables, water puddle exploration, singing, reading, picnicking, tree climbing, ball kicking, bird watching, etc. The reality is that the natural outdoors can bring lifelong enjoyment and learning to young children as well as adults.
In conclusion Rifkin stressed the importance of caring (and allowing the children to contribute as well) for the preservation of our precious outdoor environment so that future generations can also benefit from its gifts. Her last words were “You can’t expect a child to grow where nothing else does”.
Listening to Experts
By Svetlana Stanislavskaya, Head Teacher
In a session on “The Role of Atelierista in an American Context,” Lella Gandini of Reggio Children, Patricia Hunter-McGrath of Evergreen Community School in Santa Monica, Louise Cadwell of the College School in St. Louis, and others discussed viewing one’s entire school as an atelier where children can experiment and have their art documented, interpreted, and displayed. One school provided children with 150 pounds of clay to explore and use for months, first inside and then outside the classroom.
To be successful in integrating the visual arts, the speakers maintained, teachers need the guidance of experts in arts education to acquire the knowledge and skills for working with the arts and to experience a wide range of art materials, methods, and processes.
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Nancy Close of the Yale Child Study Center discussed “Listening to Children: Talking about Sensitive and Difficult Issues.” A specialist in working with young children, Close stressed that children who feel comfortable talking and asking about any topic also feel understood, and the possibilities for communication are endless. Two- to five-year-olds may need particular help talking about fears, siblings, birth, angry and aggressive feelings, disappointments, wishes, self-esteem, and reactions to death, separation, and loss.
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“Building a Foundation for Science and Mathematics: The Development of ‘Logico-Mathematical Knowledge’” was the topic of Constance Kamii, professor of early-childhood education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Kamii studied under Jean Piaget for a dozen years and developed a preschool curriculum based on Piaget’s theory, especially in science, mathematics, and the sociomoral realm.
Kamii emphasized that it is important to differentiate between two kinds of mathematical knowledge identified by Piaget. The first, social knowledge, is transmitted socially through person-to-person teaching, books, or other media. For instance, the symbol 5 is taught as representing a collection of five items or the fifth item in a sequence. Children cannot construct such knowledge on their own. In contrast, the second kind of knowledge, logico-mathematical, cannot be transmitted but must be constructed by children themselves. Logico-mathematical thought is abstract, dealing with relationships and problem solving. For instance, children come to see a set of five items as open to partition in various ways: one and four, two and three, two and two and one, and so on.
Both kinds of knowledge are important, but the first tends to be emphasized over the second, perhaps because the first is better understood or because basic skills are seen as having priority over higher-order thinking. Understanding the differences helps teachers decide when it is appropriate or necessary to “tell” young children and when it is appropriate or necessary to “let them puzzle it out.” For example, if children are engaged in working with a light bulb, a battery, and a wire, trying to get the bulb to light, the teacher leaves them alone and lets them work. If the children seem frustrated or disengaged, the teacher might approach with a gentle “Tell me what you have tried.” After listening carefully and echoing for clarification, the teacher might ask, “What do you plan to do next?” or “What else could you try?” He or she might even offer to stay and “help,” but the help might involve only holding a wire or bulb as directed by the children.
What the teacher does not do in this situation is to show the children how to connect the bulb and battery to light the bulb. This approach robs the children of the opportunity to puzzle the solution out for themselves and own it. It takes what is fundamental logico-mathematical knowledge and treats it as social knowledge. It also risks teaching the children that they are not good at science and cannot figure it out on their own.
Many of us learned mathematics as if it were social rather than a logico-mathematical knowledge. We memorized someone else’s tricks and short cuts for specific types of problems and felt insecure when required to puzzle out a story problem (a real-life application) on our own. We were not given the opportunity to think for ourselves, developing our own logico-mathematical thinking. Instead of mathematical sense, we may have learned mathematical insecurity or even phobia.
At root, Kamii said, mathematics is the science of relationships. The young child’s world, like the teacher’s and caregiver’s, is a world of relationships, so mathematics is present in every situation. It could be argued that teachers and caregivers are “teaching” mathematics in any social interaction with a child, whether they are aware of it or not.