Friday, June 1, 2012

Practicing Pretend: First Week in Child Care

I've now worked at the day care for one week (technically four days, because Monday was a holiday). It was tough at first, getting into the swing of things, and the morning before my second day, I thought to myself, Just WHAT have I gotten myself into? Thankfully, every day since has been progressively easier. It really is a less stressful job than that of a public school teacher, I've found. Yes, every job has its perks as well as troubles, but I'm absolutely enjoying this atmosphere. I'm still in training, but I look forward to getting a "classroom" of my own. Aside from the 30 minutes today I stepped into an "older-kids" room (I'm not sure if it was considered a "Kindergarten class" or a "School-age class"), I've still only worked with the toddlers, but I'm actually liking it more than I expected to, and I'm sure that's because of ratios. The toddler room is kept at a 1:5 teacher-child ratio, while the pre-K rooms are 1:8, Kindergarten rooms are 1:12, and school-age rooms are a big 1:20. After my student teaching, I definitely like to keep to as few children as possible so I can focus and stay devoted to them. But it certainly is a change to get used to caring for such little ones.

If I have the opportunity, there are a few things I'd like to implement when I have a room that primarily I will be in charge of:
1 - In Montessori fashion, get less toys on the shelves. With less to distract, children will be able to focus easily on the thing in front of them. Plus, it's less for a little one to be responsible for--less for a little one to need to clean up.
2 - In Montessori/Waldorf fashion, include no toys that beep or make noises or music. The more that a toy does for a child, the less the child has to do for herself. With simpler toys, a child is left to exercise her creativity in order to play.
3 - In Vivian Gussin Paley fashion (and Teacher Tom after her), allow ample story telling, recording of children's own stories, and reading aloud and reenacting of those stories.
4 - Ample singing (even in, gasp!, foreign languages), word play, and nursery rhymes to promote phonemic awareness.
5 - Frequent hand washing, particularly after coming in from playing elsewhere or eating, or after potty training, to promote proper hygiene.
6 - I'm lucky enough to work at a facility that encourages daily teeth brushing, but it's best not to brush right after eating. I'll save our brushing until after nap time.
7 - Time-outs reserved solely for when a child actively defies the teacher. I debated this one for a while. I didn't want to include time-outs at all because it's more effective to simply discuss behavior and use it as a learning opportunity. However, it has happened this week that toddlers have said, "No," to a request I'd given, and, for the safety of the child, I simply cannot allow that to develop into a habit. As tough as it is to admit, I truly DO need children to follow directions. I will keep their best interests at heart and never ask them to do anything unnecessary, but when a child decides to disobey, I'll need to follow through with a 2-minute time-out.

Until that time, I still have some more training to do!

Recently, the toddlers have been interested in picture books around the end of the day and have been allowing me to read to them for about an hour each day. It keeps their focus well actually, and what's great about having two adults in the room is that when they grow restless, the little ones can find something else to occupy themselves with while I keep reading to the ones that are still interested. Most of the time they come back after about ten minutes, anyway.

Today we practiced proper Pretend etiquette, which I'm proud of. We had the plastic food out, and many of the toddlers were putting the toys in their mouths. I know that they're one- and two-years old, but most of them have runny noses, and one went home yesterday with a 102 temp after nap. With that in mind, I sprung into action. One at a time, starting with the current offenders and then moving to the rest whenever the issue arose again, I began a game/discussion/lesson of how to pretend without putting toys into mouths.

My words went something like this:
While gently pulling the hand that's holding the toy away from the face, "[Child's name], no, we can't put the food in our mouth. Just pretend that you're eating that [food item]. Watch me." Then I'd demonstrate the procedure of miming eating, either with the toy they were playing with or another that's in front of me. "See? I'm pretending to eat the [food item], but I'm not really putting it in my mouth. It's just pretend. Now you try it." Next I'd hand over the toy I was using to demonstrate. If they continued to play by putting the toy in their mouth, I'd start over, but if they followed my lead at that point, I'd say, "That's right! I like the way you're pretending to eat the [food item], but you're not really putting it in your mouth."

A couple of them picked up on it very quickly while others needed more practice. The youngest (I believe she's 20 months?) didn't seem comprehend the "game" at all, but I was glad to keep showing her, anyway. The second youngest, however, occasionally after our lesson, held a purple, plastic fork in the air for me to "eat" from. Perhaps as a reminder to himself of what to do with said fork?

One boy preferred to ignore the plastic food all together and focus on the epitome of pretend food, the invisible kind. He brought me a red plastic bowl and proclaimed it to be french fries, while shaking a small, red, plastic bottle of "ketchup" over it, and when I'd "eaten" it all, he'd run back to the play kitchen to bring me more, ad nauseum. But honestly, I was glad to play, knowing the repetition was building his creativity and confidence.

Little ones certainly demand a lot of patience, I'm learning! And I'm happy to say that I'm able to provide them with it.

Edit (7/14/12):
After more thought, I've come up with some other things I would do to a daycare classroom. Reggio Emilia schools create spaces using the philosophy, "The environment is the third teacher," emphasizing the importance creating a classroom in which children can thrive. That being said I'd like to:

-Remove the rocking chair. I'm continually telling children not to play on it. It creates too much of a hazard of squished fingers or toes. The rocking chair is mainly for rocking inconsolable children, but I don't find it necessary. For a couple of weeks when I had a 14-month-old that cried during nap, I picked him up and stood with him, swaying slightly, to quiet him. But I'd like to use that method sparingly, as well, as to not build a dependence on that type of behavior. The rocking chair is the only adult-sized chair in the room, but that's okay, because I would add...

-Floor pillows of many shapes, sizes, and colors. They can be used as large, soft toys or for seating.

-Remove all meaningless wall decorations and replace them with rotating artwork made by the children, including large, communal pieces on butcher paper.

-Remove all cartoon-y toys so that only realistic toys are present. Young children have a difficult time determinging fantasy from reality (another Montessori philosophy), and I don't want to contribute to that. For example, leave the stuffed toys fashioned after koalas, birds, and cats, but remove Barney (that's not what dinosaurs looked like) and Elmo (is he considered a monster?).

And just for clarification to number 2 above, the noise-makers I was referring to were all electronic. Instruments, like bells, drums, or guitars made out of empty boxes and rubber bands (although probably not the latter for the young infants), are fine by me.