Wine & cheese….

I wanted to call this blog post “chalk & cheese”…… because my visit to Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School  today was kind of just that!  My first impression was that the program that Lesley runs could not even be considered anything at all akin to what WE do. I did wonder for just a little bit, if I had wandered into an alternate universe….. because it was not at all what I expected.  The Takoma Park I thought I knew from Facebook posts, and what I first hit, were so different.  And I’ll say a little more about the place I “knew” later!

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But as I reflect more and more – I think “wine & cheese” is a FAR better fit.  Because wine and cheese compliment one another perfectly.  Like a match made in heaven!  I’ve never been to a co-op school before….. we don’t have them in Australia.  All I really know about how they run, is from Teacher Tom and also from Lesley’s blog!  It has shown me how little of a sense of place we can get from a blog or from posts.  I think what I expected to see, was a version of how we operate within our service – only with children coming and going for short times.

Suffice to say – the time within the school is quite scheduled….. but upon reflection – is there really any other way to do blocks of time like that?  And still benefit children in a profound way?  Possibly not I’d say.  Once I’d gotten over my initial shock factor – I settled in to just being there and allowing my little mind to open wide up.  And it was then that I found that balance of how things need to be so different.

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I also have to say, I was spellbound with Lesley’s communications with the children.  Her command of space.  Her eloquence….. the way she so gently nods her head with a sly smile to show her agreement.  Her obvious passion and exuberance for working with children.  I even saw her mannerisms reflected in children as they asked “whaaaaaat?!”  Each time I heard that – it brought a smile to my face.

 

What I did connect most with in my time, was the outdoor play!  Probably because it was my familiar space.  Walking out into that playground, was like stepping into a surreal world.  It portrayed itself just like the posts I am used to.  And there, in the back, was the blue shed.  The one that has really caught my attention of late with children climbing to the roof.  Was I really standing in this same space?  A BIG “pinch me” moment happened within.  And just looking around at the incredible spaces that children have created over time – that so many of us have followed.  It was like magically stepping into the pages of a favourite book.  Now THIS was just exactly what I had expected.  I also asked myself why this was so?  Ah yes – it’s what I know.

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But now I have a different knowing.  Lesley Romanoff – she is DA BOMB!  Her thinking challenged me immediately.  And this, I know, is what it is all about.  I watched her in the second session facilitate drama play with children…… and just WOW!  This is special.  Yes, it’s so much more scripted than what I am used to.  But I also saw how she scaffolded the children – and how once her work was done, she just sat back and watched the play unfold.  I definitely have more to learn from this marvellous teacher.

Tomorrow the children are having their forest day.  I was a little sad that I won’t be seeing this – but at the end of the day after a long chat, I ventured down to the “forest space”.  I saw and stood on the tree crossing the creek!  I saw the site of the “blue house” (sans the blue tarp roof).  More stepping into a book moments.  I walked over the space with Lesley as she did her checks for tomorrow.  And then I went back to the great lady’s house for a coffee.  I’m still pinching myself right now.  And I think I’ll continue to for quite some time when I look at those photos.

And again – finally – my thanks goes to the wonderful families and children, for sharing their lives and spaces with me.  And my thanks to Lesley for welcoming me with such open arms, into her service and her home.  A virtual stranger from a distant country – who now feels like a close friend.

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My discovery of Discovery….

 

I have spent my past FIVE days immersed fully and completely in what I love  (and still have two to go before I set myself into a regular tourist of the USA) – the world of Early Childhood.  The first day, with Michael Leeman,  I have written about, and the last (for today) I am about to within this post.  I am yet to be able to separate and put words to my experience at the Play Empowers Rally (conference) for those three in-between days.  I’m struggling with where to even begin.

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But today – I’m ready to talk about that!  Today I spent my wonderful and memorable day with Kisha Reid at Discovery Early Learning Centre in Poolesville, Maryland.  Yesterday I thought myself blessed beyond fortune to have visited the spaces along with no less than the likes of Teacher Tom, Dan Hodgins, Amy Ahola and a whole tribe of other special people who were too plentiful for me to list all of!  But today – THIS day even topped that.  Because this day the centre was filled with even MORE important people……. the people who make these spaces what they are……. the children.

Action abounded from the moment I walked in the front door.  There right in front of me, were a couple of children jumping onto mats on the floor, and others in the art area – which I will describe in a moment.  But first – my greeting….

Child:  Hello, what’s your name?
Me:  Hi, my name is Trisha, what’s yours.
Child:  Ellen.
Kisha:  Ask Trisha where she’s from.
Ellen:  My Dad is from Australia!  (I think she might have been clued in!)  I’m making a beehive (as she proffers forward her work of art).

Then….. straight back to the task at hand.  No time for extended conversation….. there is much more important work to be done – as should definitely be the case!  It was here that I watched children freely exploring with paint.  It was just bee-hives in the beginning….. but then it became more about the paint than the product.  Containers of paint began to have their final squirts squeezed out – and lovely piles of different colours emerged.  Then came the mixing…… stirring, stirring until all the colours merged.  “It’s black!” was the first exclamation.  Then after adding some more light colours – yellow and white – an acceptable shade of purple was reached.  On the opposite side of the table, one solitary child was exploring with his own colours on a much smaller scale.  He had poured a few different colours into a pallet.  I watched as he looked at the paint on his hands and then rub his palms together to mix them all.  He looked at me and said, “When you mix all the colours, you get brown.”  And then nodded as I asked, “Is that right?”

I spent several hours today at Discovery II.  I could sure give an almost blow by blow account of ‘what’ happened.  But you know what?  That doesn’t give any justice whatsoever to what happened.  And the stuff that happened – whilst magical – is stuff that happens in spaces all over the globe every day.  True – not at all spaces – but at many.  I watched as things happened that would have made so many others I know cringe….. and the photos that Kisha has graciously allowed me to post will convey all that.  It was also difficult for me to select just a few.  I hope that I have done justice to her with the ones I did select!

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What REALLY happened, was that I saw a group of children living their childhood.  I witnessed play in its purest form.  I saw the adults in the space truly honour that.  There really is not a thing more important that this.  After spending three days listening to a group of world class speakers and early childhood advocates – I saw almost everything they voiced, breathed through the lives of children in my hours at Discovery.

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I saw a wonderfully and thoughtfully created space – both indoors and out – that screamed childhood in it’s most authentic form.  I witnessed the love between children and adults, and the coming together in the space.  I saw a true sense of belonging (and gasp – NO belonging tree in sight!).  And I felt…… well, I felt like I belonged also.  An outsider, an intruder, an unknown……. and yet I was just there……. as much a part of what was going on as anybody else.  And it was in that moment – in the realisation of that – that I knew just what special places the Discovery ELCs are.  These centres have been born through the heart and soul of an amazing woman, that I feel blessed now to consider a friend – not just a book of face ‘friend’….. but a special person with whom my own heart connects to fiercely.

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I thank Kisha, her staff, the children and their families – for allowing me into their ‘home’, and to spend time with them.  And I’m sure the many early childhood people I know, who are hanging on every word I send home to Australia also say thank you for your willingness to have your very special lives shared.

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We have work to do!

For the past few days, I’ve been in the United States of America.  My number one purpose for being here – to attend the very first Play Empowers (PEP) Rally.  This is a conference I’ve been booked into for months and months now.  And for so long, it felt such an incredibly long time away.

Those who know me, also know the reason I so desperately wanted to attend this conference – to meet a woman who had a profound effect on my work with children – Bev Bos.  And you will also know how devastated I was a couple of months ago, when she unexpectedly passed from this life.

But today – I got to spend half of my day with a very special group of people, who knew Bev well – at another event that Bev had been scheduled to attend, in Maryland.  Obviously she was not here – but her legacy was lifted up, as her son-in-law Michael Leeman presented solely.  To say that I was almost as star struck in his presence would be fairly accurate.

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Michael spent the day unleashing some of Bev’s most profound work.  He spoke about a child’s most deep need to play – to FREE play….. to not catch ‘childhood amnesia’ and forget this most important intrinsically wired necessity of being a child.  He outlined the seven essential elements of play.  We looked at Real Play Vs. Artificial Play.  Michael spoke about the “Conditions for Growing Wiser” (which Bev considered a summary of her life’s work).  And he spoke of creativity, art, music, singing and storytelling.

Throughout the morning, were scattered songs, games, and laughter.  A coming together of such power…… a reminder of the importance of play – not just in childhood, but as we continue through our lives.  I would ask myself “What the heck are we doing on this earth?”.  In fact, I’ve been asking that a lot lately.  Have we stepped so far beyond the purpose of living, that we just don’t get it any more?  Are we really here to be living a life where we work to live?  Where fun is considered frivolous?  With every day in my life that passes – I feel more and more that it is time for a very big directional change – GLOBALLY!

But back to today…….  I also filled a need in myself today.  I was able to pay tribute in a way that was so special.  Today I wrote my tribute to Bev Bos, in a book which will be gifted to her Preschool – Roseville Community Preschool, and where others sent small jars of sand – I placed a couple of small rocks (being unable to bring sand through customs).  How humbled I feel, that these small parts from me, will find themselves to the home of the great lady herself.

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I have come away so filled with a sense of what it must have been like to be in the presence of this legend, Bev Bos.  And yet – she was just a woman……  But a woman who cared so deeply about children.  A woman who made it her life work to stand up and fight for play – and what a powerful advocate she was (is!).  Her passing shook the early childhood world……. and so many mourn her loss.  And while I took so much from Michael speaking today, it is the words he spoke first to allay the mourning state, which left probably the greatest impression on me……

“We have work to do.”

Yes.we.do.