origin of the river

Andrea, age 4

Recently I designed and led an end-of-the-year ceremony for the faculty & staff of the Louise S. McGehee School here in New Orleans. The ceremony centered around Yoga-inspired practices (movement, meditation, breath-work, music, art, singing & ritual) focusing on Renewal & Release. This theme was informed by many things, including the dualistic qualities of water – flowing/stagnant, creative/destructive, nurturing/overpowering, etc. Through the process of planning for this ceremony I also began to consider the many ways that water qualities show up in my life and work. My career path is much like a river- sometimes rushing, sometime easeful, but always flowing towards some unseen destination, trusting the unseen slope of land leading it to the sea (akin to what John O’Donohue describes in his poem In Praise of Water) I’ve poured my heart & mind into so many paths/interests/skills along the way- documentary & video art production, performance (dance, video), teaching (art, Yoga, Early Childhood Ed.), non-profit administration, visual art, digital media- and they may seem disjointed and “floundering” when viewed on paper or viewed from the outside…but when considered as tributaries these elements form a powerful, intentional river.

Something that keeps all of these elements connected is holding an image of my inner child in mind – doing this helps me to recall and act upon what brought joy then and what brings joy now. My interest in creating, sharing stories, learning alongside people of all ages, building experiences and experimenting is just as strong now as it was when I was a young child. This connection to joyful sources strengthens my confidence in the unique process of creating a river of experience and action. It encourages me to invite others to take part in my river- be it through watching it go by, wading through it, rafting down it, boating across it or merging paths.

What informs your river of work? What is your inner child telling you…and are you listening?

Mindfulness & Yoga Workshops for Early Childhood Educators

Photo by Fiona Art on Pexels.com

Not only do I love participating in Yoga & Reggio-inspired learning experiences with children, but I also value sharing my skills and experiences with these approaches with fellow educators and caregivers. Taking some time during my semester break to focus on growing the audience for one of my favorite workshops, “Mindfulness & Yoga for Early Childhood Educators”, and sharing widely in hopes of making some new connections. The workshop offers practical, research-based tools for fostering Supportive Relationships & Wellness in Early Childhood Programs. It features content inspired by my work as an Early Childhood Educator and Children’s Yoga Instructor (i.e. theories & ideas I’ve actually put into practice in both in-person and virtual contexts). I’m certified to provide professional development hours for Early Childhood Educators in Louisiana through the Louisiana Pathways Career Development System and set up to provide all required paperwork for verifying PD hours. Now booking for the Summer and Fall, let’s connect!


This training can be realized as interactive virtual (Zoom) & in-person (available beginning Fall 2021) . Either iteration of the workshop includes:

  • Overview & embodied explorations of Mindfulness & Yoga practices
  • Neuroscientific benefits of Mindfulness & Yoga practices for children & adults
  • Developmentally-appropriate Mindfulness & Yoga practices for young children
  • Ideas for incorporating Mindfulness into the design & implementation of early childhood environments and routines

The Role of the Teacher in Early Childhood Education

A teacher, in any educational context, is a compassionate learning partner who skillfully engages in dynamic practices that enrich lives. The image of the teacher as a person who holds power above children and families is one that we need to discard permanently in order to advocate for a strong image of the child and innovative practices in Early Childhood Education. I believe the role of the teacher is rooted in love, respect, creativity and a desire to facilitate authentic connections between people and concepts. These include emotional, intellectual and creative connections between participants (children, educators & families) and technology, materials, the community and nature.  It is a dynamic, deeply reflective role informed by an image of the child as capable and competent.

At one time I’d say “I may teach three year olds, but that doesn’t mean I have the intellect of a three year old” in defense of my work as an Early Childhood Educator. I now see this phrase as a disservice to efforts around advocating for an image of the child as a capable, competent protagonist in their learning experiences. Young children are brilliant and this brilliance should only serve to elevate the role of Early Childhood Educators and support a strong image of the child.

As Malaguzzi states, the role of the teacher is “complex, multifaceted, and necessarily fluid, responsive to the changing times and needs of children, families and society.” (p.148) In my circle of family and friends, I find the role of the teacher is largely regarded as a knowledgeable guide who embodies compassion and love. These considerations are inspiring, yet I believe many people -policymakers in particular- devalue the role of the teacher because they devalue women and children. Early Childhood Educators are typically women and among the lowest paid of all educators; this indicates that the role is perceived as passive, unskilled and unimportant. In a recent New York Times article about how the pandemic illuminated the need for childcare it was noted that  “mainstream economists, mostly men, had argued that child care or other care work was something women did purely out of love, impossible to think about as an economic issue….“It’s women’s natural inclination or moral duty to do it,” Dr. Folbre said”. While this article doesn’t exactly make the argument that the role of the teachers is one of value, beyond providing a service that enables more women to work, it at least makes the case for one of the reasons why early childhood education is important. I’m hopeful this realization, along with President Biden’s efforts to provide universal preschool and affordable childcare, will help to bring more attention to the voices of those working to elevate the field of ECE.

I’m inspired by the phrases used by Reggio-inspired educators to describe the role of the teacher. As stated by Fraswer and Gestwicki, and quoted by Edwards, the role includes “co-constructor of knowledge, creator of environments as third teachers, exchanger of understanding, supporter of the competent child, documenter & researcher, partner with parents, listener, provocateur and negotiator of meaning.”(p.149) I also see the role as one that embodies intentional, mindful ways of being with the world and ourselves; these elements are some of the most powerful since they are necessary for every aspect of life.

I think the challenges with regard to how the role of the teacher is perceived largely have to do with issues of how women and children are perceived and thus valued. Society should view the role of the teacher as one worthy of respect and one that is connected to and influences the world beyond the classroom. I agree with Rinaldi’s statement regarding society’s “moral obligation to invest in education”(p.153) and I believe teachers should “take the attitude of researcher and listener” (p. 183) and commit to the practices of observation, documentation, reflection and constructive criticism of our ways of working so we can not only do what’s best for participants in our contexts, but also the entire field of Early Childhood Education. Considering how the role of the teacher relates to contemporary society, I agree with Gambetti that “We have a responsibility to continue moving forward and to evolve by keeping in step with a changing society.” “We owe this to children, ourselves, our community and society.” (p. 180)

There’s work to be done in elevating the image of the Early Childhood Educator, but I’m hopeful the field will experience positive changes as more people engage with innovative ECE practices, self reflection, and authentic connection with caregivers and fellow educators.

Children’s Yoga

“It’s not about being good at something. It’s about being good to yourself.”

Class links

“It’s not about being good at something. It’s about being good to yourself.”

Guiding children and teens in developing an understanding and appreciation of Yoga practices is an absolute privilege. I am grateful for the technological tools that make connection to people, ideas and practices like these possible.

children, digital media & innovation in education

The chapters exploring the Atelier and use of digital media with young children in The Hundred Languages of Children are some of my favorites. They are rich with inspiring stories, ideas and innovative thinking around possibilities for empowering children in multifaceted explorations of ideas, materials and technology.

“…we have to give closer attention to the processes of learning through the digital media, a subject still little explored with children. The digital experience is much too often exhausted simply in its functional and technical form. However, in addition to its technical aspect, if it is also used in creative and imaginative ways, it reveals a high level of expressive cognitive, and social potentials as well as great possibilities for evolution.” Vea Vecchi

In the virtual education space of Zoom (via Outschool) I encounter so many child-initiated moments of innovation with digital media. Of course Zoom is a digital tool that largely occupies the functional and technical forms, but I think it is most importantly a tool that affords incredible opportunities for global social connection and ultimately, evolution in the possibilities for shared social learning. Opportunities around using Zoom as an experiential tool for creative exploration are equally exciting. Some examples of child-initiated experimentation in this space include children -especially those in the age 3-8 age group- investigating:

1.) the camera on their Zoom device in ways that include altering the angle & placement, their distance from it & their placement in the frame, modifying the distance between it and objects, turning camera on & off  with intention

2.) the microphone on their Zoom devices including distance from it, volume, capturing the sound of objects and turning microphone on & off  with intention

3.) annotation functions including text, emoji and drawing tools

4.) virtual backgrounds & effects including transforming the video positioning and interacting with virtual elements

The power of the environment as the third teacher, along with my academic and professional background (and ongoing interest) in digital media arts serves as the foundation for how I approach designing virtual learning spaces. I utilize tools such as ManyCam, Prezi, Google Earth & Google Arts & Culture into these experiences to create fantastic spaces that, while somewhat novel, remain rooted in intentional design. As Tiziana Filippini’s points out “educators in Reggio Emilia speak of space as a “container” that favors social interaction, exploration, and learning, but they also see space as having educational “content”- that is, as containing educational messages and being charged with stimuli toward interactive experience and constructive learning.” (Filippini 1990) I’m eagerly embracing opportunities for fostering expressive, cognitive and social learning through digital spaces/ tools like Zoom. I feel very fortunate to be working in this creative laboratory with young children from all over the world at this point in time.

While the future of distance learning is somewhat unclear (like any vision of the future is!), it seems unlikely to completely disappear after things go back to “normal”- especially for homeschoolers & “after school” learning. I acknowledge the fact that there are barriers to access to virtual learning spaces and notable differences between physical and virtual, but I think there are so exciting possibilities for both settings. In addition, there are many valiant efforts being made to provide greater access for all. I’m eager to continue Reggio-informed experimentation and innovation in the virtual space.

reciprocity

Much of the reflective work I’m doing in my Master’s studies centers around uncovering and dismantling White Supremacy culture as it relates to educational systems and working with children. I’m sharing this as a way of hopefully inspiring others to engage in similar reflective work. As a white, middle class woman in the South I grew up immersed in some pretty limiting ways of thinking, especially in school. Up until a few years ago, I had a very foggy idea of just how pervasive and damaging these White Supremacy culture mindsets are. The work of confronting hidden biases and constricted ways of thinking is somewhat uncomfortable, but absolutely necessary. It has also afforded me a better understanding of the many ways that children are capable thought partners in this experience of working towards understanding and unity.

EXCELLENT resource here:

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WHITE SUPREMACY CULTURE

From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001