My friend Ashleen, who often helps me in our larger projects and field trips, watched for a spell then ventured, "I watch things like this and I think about what you pictured when you planned this. How did you picture this turning out?"
It's a really great question. My answer was, "not like this." I typically don't have much of a picture of how things should turn out. I have ideas about what the kids could potentially gain when setting out materials - fine motor skills, color identification and mixing, chemical reactions, mixtures, turn taking, conservation of resources, language and vocabulary development as they talk about what's happening and negotiate sharing of materials, scientific inquiry, critical thinking and problem solving skills, managing emotions as their experiments don't pan out how they expected or their neighbor spills their cup of vinegar or their hands become gritty, sensory development through all the sights and smells and textures.... I have ideas about what I might like for them to gain but ultimately, the experience is theirs. I want them to guide it, to own it, to show me what the materials can do - what THEY want to happen. I don't have a plan book with objectives and expected outcomes and plans to test my daily learning goals.
Some dear friends of mine, parents of one of my Sprouts Playschool "alumni," referred to my teaching style as "early childhood education as midwifery," That's about right. I'm not here to deliver information to my students. I'm here to guide them on their journey. I'm here to empower them to find their own answers, to cheer them on as their own talents and strengths emerge. I'm here to help them through the difficult times and to provide all the materials and resources they may need. But ultimately, I trust them to do it on their own.
In today's educational climate, there isn't much room for this kind of thinking. We want everything to be quantifiable, easily assessed, neatly packed into boxes and marked on checksheets. I wonder how many of the people who have decided that this is how children, especially very young ones, should be "taught" have spent very much time with young children.
Bev Bos tells us that "If it hasn't been in the hands, the body and the heart, it can't be in the brain." The is especially true for young children, but it's true for adults, as well. We learn through doing. We learn through finding our own way. We learn when the problems we solve have personal meaning to us, and when we succeed, through our own struggles and sheer will, to find the solutions ourselves.
This is often messy. It's often risky. It's often difficult or impossible to obtain data points or check a box in a list.
This is how we know that it's valuable.
This is how we know that it's meaningful.
This is how we know that they are learning...
... in their hands, their bodies, and their hearts.