These are a few of the methods used as building blocks to guide our day.
Play is at the heart of everything we do. Most often, this looks like a child entering a space, assessing the materials provided and deciding what they are drawn to. The materials are thoughtfully arranged as an invitation to play, and with clear boundaries in place such as "keeping our bodies safe", the child's imagination kicks into high gear. Though most often the materials provided are open-ended, sometimes materials are set out with a specific goal in mind. These goals however are merely suggestions offered if the need for a suggestion arises. The child is free to innovate, and there is value to be had in each discovery and experience.
Reggio Emilia inspired Spaces
Reggio Emilia is an approach that fosters children as self-directed learners capable of constructing their own learning through the mentorship of an adult guide. With the child and adult collaborating as co-learners, the Environment is considered to be the third teacher. Our space is prepared with intention and respected for it's potential to inspire and evolve as children's learning does. Our indoor and outdoor spaces are designed with the eye of the child in mind. Materials are easily accessible, uncluttered and inviting. Kate at An Everyday Story does a wonderful job of further detailing this beautiful approach.
Discovery of Languages
At the risk of making this sound too simple, our approach to language and literacy development really does come down to Reading, Reading, and More Reading! Books are incorporated into play activities and offered in every space, indoor and out. At least once a week, circle times are conducted in Spanish, songs are paired with sign-language, and the language of music is emphasized as a background soundtrack to our play. We study and talk about non-verbal language, and children learn that there are many ways to communicate and be heard. We seek out books with words in a variety of languages and books that offer a rich experience of vocabulary. Our philosophy is that if a child can say or understand "tyrannosaurus rex" in a meaningful way, they can say or understand "enormous", "spectacular" or "interesting" in a meaningful way as well.
This type of learning is a celebration of a child's wonder and natural curiosity as a means to learning and growing. The child is encouraged to develop questions they are hungry to answer. How do squirrels survive in the cold? Do skeletons really exist? Do trees stay awake all day and all night? Answers aren't readily provided by adults - rather, children learn the process of hypothesizing, sharing thoughts, and comparing ideas as a way to deepen their discovery. Why do we think this happening? How can we find out more? What do I already know? This approach toward the scientific method is combined with careful documentation of children's words, empowering children and fostering a life-long love for learning by conveying the message that what children think and what they have to say are important.
Social and Emotional Coaching
This coaching method combines empathy and guidance to help children develop skills in emotional regulation and conflict resolution. Reasonable boundaries are set to help children determine the difference between acceptable and unacceptable actions. The adult verbally recognizes the child's feelings and helps identify the possible reasons behind them, then suggests strategies to help manage feelings and behavior. As the children's skills develop and they are able to put the coaching practices in place with confidence, they are given more and more space to solve problems independently with an observant adult nearby to provide guidance if necessary. In our world, we regard conflict as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and others and we use that knowledge to better cope with life's ups and downs.
As often as possible, we encourage creativity through experiences that focus on the process of creation rather than the finished product. While many times this can result in work that is visually stunning, equally so are the times when the result is no tangible "artwork" to take home and display. Instead the takeaway is the experience of exploration, creation, and being present in the moment. Techniques can be suggested to give children ideas to explore with, but with process art there are no step-by-step instructions and there is no sample for children to follow. There is no right or wrong way to explore and create and the art is unique and original. Above all, the art is entirely the children’s own.
Click here for an exciting example of process art that will be featured in Austin's Pease Park beginning Spring 2018!
Children's Yoga and Mindfulness
Children's Yoga is not exactly like the yoga that adults typically practice, though they ultimately have the same goal: to enhance body awareness through movement and breathing. In Children's Yoga we do this through use of imagination, playful yoga poses, and creative breathing techniques to support emotional regulation. Mindfulness is most simply defined as being aware or conscious of something. We call this a 'noticing' mind. Teaching mindfulness to children can help improve their abilities to focus, calm down when upset, and make better decisions. I completed my certification through Austin's own The Little Yoga House, a wonderfully unique yoga studio dedicated to children and families, which I can't recommend enough!