The Link Between Dispositions and Effective Learning

Recently I asked a group of four year olds, “What is one of your strongest skills?”  The children answered with confidence – “Dancing”, “Finding things”, “Playing the trumpet”, ”Solving problems.”  The children seemed to understand that the reference to “skills” was beyond the idea of rote mastery, and related more to DISPOSITIONS of learning – resourcefulness, creativity, cooperation, inventiveness, curiosity, independence, resilience, and persistence.

Strong teachers guide children’s learning in ways that support this type of development.  During an investigation of babies (a hot topic of interest in the Inventors Class), the teachers asked, “What do babies and big kids do differently?” baby projectOn the roof during a recent snow, the children sprayed colored water on snow mounds and ice creating breathtaking masterpieces.snowart  A group of two year olds lined up chairs and together took a “plane ride” to Chicago!  Sara offers a variety of open-ended art materials in the studio each day for “messing about”.studio choice The Pre-K children peer out the window “looking for clues” about the weather.  All of these activities demonstrate how McKendree teachers encourage dispositions to explore, create, make predictions and check outcomes, and develop divergent and imaginative thinking.

When programs focus primarily on facts and figures, these important dispositions often are ignored. Rather, attention to outcomes beyond subject knowledge are shown to sustain the development of young minds. McKendree teachers collect learning stories, paired with reflections that interpret a child’s competencies and dispositions toward learning, to tell each child’s unique story.  Documentation lines our hallways and classrooms that make this learning visible.  Additionally, teachers create and maintain a digital portfolio for children – a collection of observations, stories, and meaningful moments that illustrate important dispositions to learning.


Professional Development in Community

Growing Teachers and Building  Memories

After over a year of planning, saving, and dreaming about McKendree’s team of early educators attending the largest early childhood conference in the country, it was time.  Time to load the rented van with our excited staff for an unparalleled  professional learning and growing experience.  naeycWe arrived ready to experience something big in Atlanta at the National Association for the Education of Young Children Conference.  Over the course of three days, staff selected sessions from over the 600 available.  Topics included Arts, Curriculum Theories & Approaches, Family Engagement & Support, Language & Literacy, Professionalism, Leadership & Ethics, Program Administration & Financial Management, Social/Emotional Development, Research, Technology, and more.

One of Lauren’s favorite sessions was, “How to Use Documentation for Curriculum Development, Assessment, and Advocacy”.  She reported that she “learned new ideas and got a better understanding.”  Danielle loved “Take It Apart: Creating an Environment of Authentic Inquiry and Learning Across All Domains”.  This session gave her ideas for promoting self directed learning with real tools.  “The children will be so engaged and full of questions.” she predicted.    Heather especially enjoyed, “Growth  Mindset and Pedagogical Leadership” a session led by our colleagues at UT to help teachers revise, reimagine and redefine their practices in a climate of innovation and change.  And Cindy was challenged by “Connecting with Millennial Parents” and “Kale Salad, Laundromats, and Obama”, a session examining cultural competency.

Although the rich learning sessions were an important part of the staff development and growth, time together to share meals, laughter, and experiences was also valuable.

For instance, one evening a group went to dinner and Cindy accidentally left her jacket at the restaurant.  She texted those who were still exploring the city and asked if they would pick up the jacket on the way back to the hotel.the jacket  They complied, with a twist. The jacket ended up accompanying them for an evening out in downtown Atlanta.  This crazy group texted photos of the the “adventures” of the jacket encountering wet paint, at city sites, performing karaoke, and meeting new friends.

The Adventures of Cindy’s Jacket is now a legend, born from the team’s shared experiences.


Time Well Spent: A Day on the Roof

Teachers, Heather Marshall and Lindsey Hyde, share their reflections of a full day spent with young toddlers in the city!


(Heather) An Idea: After visiting a center in Knoxville that has a similar philosophy to ours, I was intrigued that each of their younger classes would often spend an entire day outdoors. I followed up by doing my own research into the benefits of outdoor play — fostering physical and social development and experiencing the environment — then pondered whether our outdoor space would offer the same type of benefits to the children. It finally came down to the realization that we would just have to try it to see how it worked out.

roof pumpkin(Lindsey) Prep: To prepare for our day outside, we made a list of everything we would possibly need that wasn’t already on the roof and gathered most of it in a box, then brought it up the day before. The prep box included activity materials, paper supplies for lunch, separate bags for each child’s sheets and blanket, and mats for nap. We also began telling the children about what we had planned to help them realize that the day would be a little different.

(Heather) Up to the roof: As we made our way to the roof we could tell that the children knew something was happening. We carried up our final supplies including morning snack. A couple of children were a bit distressed thinking that snack was going away, but the smiles came back as soon as we sat down to eat at the picnic table. As the children finished and cleaned up they began their typical play on the roof and we set up the activities.


(Lindsey) Leaves: One of our activities was a leaf pile for the children to play in and investigate. We had to bring in leaves because there are very few on the roof. When I opened the first bag of leaves and dumped its contents, Cassidy and Vin came over to check out what I was doing. They helped me dump a couple more bags, then started shuffling through the pile hesitantly. As they grew bolder and louder in their exploration, Paul came to join them, then Patrick, and Aziza, and so on until it was an out-and-out party in the leaves! Eventually the kids brought in tools to manipulate the leaves, including gardening tools and even a construction hat. This center remained busy the entire day.

(Heather) Other Activities: We planned several other activities including hammering golf tees into a pumpkin which was a big hit. It was a task that demanded their full attention but was also something with which they could be as powerful as they wanted. Various nature items were on other tables, and as always the dirt and sand were popular. What was even more exciting was that as the day progressed they created challenges of their own, climbing to great heights and hiding in tight places.

(Lindsey) Lunch: Lunch felt a little chaotic, in terms of getting everyone cleaned up and seated with cups, napkins and spoons, but all kids were fed with the right lunches, and that’s all that matters!

nap on roof(Heather) Nap: Wow! This was it!! The big test of the day. Would the children sleep outside? This was the only concern that we had heard from a couple of parents. We set up under the darker sunshade; the sun was in that area of the roof so it was actually very pleasant as far as the temperature was concerned. Guess what? It went as smoothly as any other naptime. The children saw their mats and laid down and went right off to sleep. Even through all the construction noise they slept well. The only glitch was that the children’s sheets and blankets got extremely dirty but a good washing fixed that right up.


(Lindsey) Final Thoughts: I thought this was a great day! The whole process was a learning experience for all involved; there are some things we could have done differently to make it go smoother, but I would love to try this again with modifications. I believe getting to sleep on the roof was perhaps one of the best benefits for the toddlers, so hopefully we can work that out for another nice-weather day!

(Heather) Final Thoughts: What an amazing day! The thing that made the biggest impression on me was that the children’s play began to change the longer we were on the roof. It progressed from very typical, what we see them do daily, into an in-depth, attention-rich, bolder play. Over and over again we saw evidence of them taking more risks, exploring areas that they don’t normally explore and experimenting in those areas. This was all possible because they had the time to do so. The biggest benefit from a day like this, in my opinion, was TIME.


At the Heart of Children and Art

Supporting Creative Art Experiences for Young Children

Painting by Ruby Stafford, age 4, as part of a Butterfly Study

Ruby's Butterfly

One of our values at McKendree is the opportunity for children to engage in creative art experiences.  We believe that every child is born an artist and that expressive activities such as painting, drawing, sculpting, and collage are ways through which children can explore and communicate their understanding of ideas and the world.

All of our classrooms provide creative art experiences for children.  Our older babies might begin their artistic development by making simple marks with chalk, markers, or paint.  The toddler’s scribbles are evidence of increasing motor control and the capacity to intentionally create.  By age 3, shapes emerge in children’s drawings, often followed by the distinctive “mandala”, a circle within a circle.  Suns, radials, and combinations of shapes, as one unit, typically emerge by age 4.  Between 4 and 5, children often begin to draw people.  These are beautifully illustrated by the monthly displayed self-portraits created by the children in our Researchers and Constructivists classrooms.

The developmental changes in children’s art and drawing is only part of story. The plot thickens when we see the child as capable and trust her to experiment with a variety of materials in a way that honors the creative process.  Our classroom teachers support this practice in the classroom and in the studio.

Delightfully, in our desire to extend these experiences, we plan to add an Atelierista to our program later this year.  The Atelierista or Studio Teacher’s role is different from that of the classroom teacher.  She will add another perspective to the learning that takes place through art.  The Atelier or Studio is not just an isolated space for arts and crafts but rather is a laboratory for thinking and making connections through the use of creative materials.  The Atelierista’s role will be to guide the children to be more active, more adventurous, more reflective, and more creative in the Atelier.

Cindy recently attended a wonderful day-long professional development workshop called, “It’s a Messy Job: A Crash Course on the Role of the Atelierista” in preparation for our shift to deepen McKendree’s practice of supporting creative work.  Our studio’s materials are growing and much of the children’s work already reflects our increasing value of art.    It is with joy and wondrous anticipation that we embark on our continued journey to extend children’s learning.

Emergent Curriculm

What Happens When We Begin With The Child?

 Discovering a Grasshopper on the Roof

Recently at a local early childhood conference, Heather Marshall and Danielle Ficili presented an Introduction to Emergent Curriculum Workshop to their peers.  The room was packed with early care teachers eager to learn about our child-led and teacher-framed model of respecting children’s ideas, interests, questions, and lines of inquiry.   Heather and Danielle offered rich examples of the purposeful work of our McKendree children, bringing to life the philosophies touted by important theorists: Dewey, Piaget and Vygotsky.  They described the principles and practices that support child-centered curriculum:

  • Observe the children
  • Provision the environment
  • Sustain the play
  • Enrich the play
  • Represent and re-represent the experience

These principles become evident as one tours our center.  In the hallways and classrooms there are photos and narratives (documentation) that “tell the story” of children’s learning.  Investigations sometimes begin slowly and emerge as children explore – for example:  the months’ long Worm Project in the Discoverers Class. Other times, projects begin serendipitously – for example, the Researchers’ new investigation on insects was spurred by the discovery of a beautiful grasshopper on the roof last week.

Often the project topic is not the real story; themes — about movement, power, sensory exploration, transformation, and other developmental schemas (those repetitive patterns and urges in children’s play) — become the driving force in the changing curriculum.  The recent explosion of interest in “sticky things” in the Explorers class is a great illustration of the transforming schema. Young children in the sensorimotor phase of learning are creating cognitive structures by exploring, discovering new textures, and acquiring new language to describe these new experiences.

Currently, you will find the Constructivitists (our Pre-K Class) researching Zen Gardens.  The children in the Investigators Class are building an interest in dinosaurs — not as a subject of study but more as a representation of “powerful and strong” animals.  And, even the older babies are actively engaged in exploration of paint and water.  These rich experiences are part of a curriculum designed especially for the children, by the children themselves.