Explore the world of the young child with me, Stephen Spitalny, early childhood consultant and writer. I offer lectures, workshops and mentoring around the world.
I was a kindergarten teacher at the Santa Cruz Waldorf School for 24 years and am a former board member of WECAN (Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America).
A while back I was going to give a speech and was planning to include things real children really said over my years in kindergarten. I never got a chance to give that speech, but here are some things children really said over my years in kindergarten. All of these were things I overheard. I did not initiate these conversations. I had my eyes and ears open, and my mouth was closed, except in those instances when I was directly engaged by the children. I did change the names of the children involved. I hope you enjoy and learn something from these wise people. Let me know.
Social difficulties and solutions
“I knew he wouldn’t listen so I had to push him.”
“I got my loud voice from my mom.”
“They are teasing me, just like I tease my brother.”
When Jack, the largest child in kindergarten, walked in, he went straight over to George, who was building a house to play in. Nothing happened prior to Jack saying, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”
“You used to be a grown-up, and now you are not.”
“Stars are dead people.”
“It’s true. When you see a shooting star it’s a person going up to heaven.”
Sam - “I don’t have any grandparents anymore. They all died.”
Joe - “That’s ok. Someday you’ll see them again. Someday you’ll die and go up to heaven and be with them.”
Sam - “And then I’ll come down again.”
Joe - “When you die you turn into an angel.”
Sam - “No, but the angels help you.”
Charles - “When you die you turn into a spirit. First you turn into a skeleton, and then a spirit.”
“I’m sad Steve. My grandfather died.”
Me - “I’m so sorry. When?”
“Before I was born. The cigarettes did it.”
Jill - “God is here. I talk to god.”
John - “God is in heaven.”
Maya - “God is everywhere.”
Jill - “God is in us.”
Maya - “God is here. We’re sitting on him.”
Julia - “If you go to heaven you have to get nailed to the cross. I know, I saw it on TV.”
Hannah - “It’s not heaven, it’s the spiritual world.”
Michael - “God is in your stomach.”
Roles and vocations
“I’m half Italian and half vegetarian.”
“When you grow do you want to be a mother or a father?”
Marco- “In the olden days the only people on earth were mermaids.”
Emmett - “What are you talking about? They were cavemen. Cowboys and cavemen.”
Daniel - “A lawyer is a guy on TV.”
Peter - “No, a lawyer is a guy who lives in a mobile home park.”
“I woke up in the middle of the night with an ear infection and my dad had to scream at me to stop crying.”
Hannah, shouting - “Go away. Get out of this room you guys. I’m trying to meditate. Quiet you guys.”
“Steve, you should put up a sign that says to lift up the seat to pee.”
“But the children in kindergarten don’t read yet.”
“At kindergarten I play over and over and over.”
Sarah whispered something to the back of Katie’s head.
Sofia, to Sarah - “There are no secrets in kindergarten.”
Sarah - “I didn’t tell it to her ear so it’s not a secret.”
“I don’t want to learn any Spanish because I just talk.”
And two sad ones to end
“Oh good, Eileen [the regular kindergarten teacher who was absent] is not here. Now we can play!”
“When I woke up I thought I was a grown up because I was so serious.” What have you heard lately out of the mouths of babes? Please let me know. And please share this with your friends.
Everyone wants their children to grow up into creative and confident adults, able to solve problems and resolve conflicts. Everyone wants their child’s brain to develop to the fullest potential. I’m going to tell you a secret, though it is a secret that I wish everyone knew. President Obama, are you listening? The way to develop creativity and neural capacity is to give young children ample time for unstructured free, creative play. In spite of worldwide trends in education, it is NOT through regimented testing-oriented academic programs for young children where they are instructed in how to spell and read and more - programs where there is no time for recess or inside play, no time for naps and even no time for rehearsed play performances.
There are many reasons why plentiful time for play is essential in a child’s development. In the youngest children, play is how they grasp the world. Play gives the opportunity to explore the physical world around them and discover the processes and laws of nature. Through creative, unstructured, children can integrate into existence in the physical world. Play activities have an explorative, experimenting element that allows the child to make sense of the world around them.
A most important evolutionary function of play is
finding out what is fun and fair or not-fair on the
field of life. - Jaak Panksepp
Play is also the way to learn about the social world through its improvisational aspects. Young children learn by imitating, and in their play they try out various behaviors they have observed. They learn how to interact with other human beings, and they learn what activities they like and what they don’t like. They also learn what their playmates like and don’t like. This is an essential step toward developing social awareness and is a basis for the eventual possibility of compassion and empathy. Through creative, unstructured, children can integrate into existence in the social world.
If play is strongly regulated and children are made
to direct their play toward a particular goal,
then it is no longer play. The essence of play is
that it is free. - Rudolf Steiner
In the play activity of the young child there is total engagement of all aspects of the child; body, feelings, thinking and doing. Adults have to pretend to be able to engage in play. The adult intellect is engaged in the pretending. The young child completely transforms into something else when truly engaged in play. Play is the ultimate learning opportunity because it provides the essentials for the archetypal learning situation. Play has the intensity of total engagement. It has personal value and relevance for the child since they have created it. It has duration - it lasts for a notable length of time. It has novelty - it is newly created by the child. And play involves all the senses, and movement, and speech. This multi-modality activity involves many parts of the brain. These five elements are the basis for all successful learning situations.
An additional element that has recently been getting a lot of attention is risk. Play that the child perceives as risky and challenging is important in developing self-confidence and a feeling of self-esteem. Joan Almon of the Alliance for Childhood has just finished a book on the subject called "Adventure: The Value of Risk in Children's Play." Read the introduction.
Play gives children a chance to practice what they
are learning...They have to play with what they know
to be true in order to find out more, and then they can
use what they learn in new forms of play.
Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
Dr. Paul MacLean of the U.S. National Institutes of Health ties the process of imaginative development to play. For MacLean, play is the pathway to creativity and high level reasoning. Play helps develop the emotional limbic brain and the frontal lobe of the neocortex which allow for the ultimate expression of human creativity and development.
When you think of play and its effects, consider your new
equation: PLAY = LEARNING. Research has shown that
the more advanced children's pretend play, the better they
do on divergent problem solving tasks.
Robert Bradley of the University of Arkansas
Much of the brain is involved in play and it also seems to activate higher cognitive processes. "There's enormous cognitive involvement in play," says Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado. He points out that play often involves complex assessments of playmates, ideas of reciprocity and the use of specialized signals and rules. He believes that play creates a brain that has greater behavioral flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life. "It's about more connectedness throughout the brain.”
This idea is backed up by the work of neuropsychologist Stephen Siviy of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. Siviy studied how bouts of play affect the brain's levels of a protein called c-FOS, a substance associated with the stimulation and growth of nerve cells. He was surprised by the extent of the activation. "Play just lights everything up," he says. He speculates that by allowing connections between brain areas that might not normally be connected, play may be enhancing creativity.
Now the secret is out.
Please tell everyone that play is the way!
And here are seven ways to foster creativity, imagination and neural development in our young children, and in early childhood programs:
Allow time for free, unstructured play – without intervention and interruption. (The adult eyes are open, mouth is closed a la Helle Heckmann)
Provide suitable play areas/environment where they can explore and get messy.
Provide suitable and simple toys that allow the child to ‘complete’ with their own imagination.
Contact with world of nature and the elements. Let them get messy.
Let the children see you, the adult, doing necessary work around the house thereby providing examples for their play of real human work activity.
Provide artistic activities and supplies that allow the children to freely express what is within them. Let them get messy.
Provide nourishing images from stories you tell and songs you sing with the children.
P.S. Please share this with your friends and let me know what you think. Comments are welcome!