The Early Childhood Education Book That Changed My Life

child led learning curriculum nature preschool play play based learning professional development Jan 09, 2020

Rewind 10 years ago.  I was teaching preschool at a traditional preschool complete with circle time, calendar and teacher directed centers.  I thought I was doing what was best for children, teaching at them and filling their time with activities that I thought they could learn from.  My days were filled with "sit down, crisscross applesauce, hands in your lap" and "Shirley, are you paying attention?  Eyes on me." I had headaches when I would leave and spent hours looking for transition activities and attention grabbing songs and strategies to get kids to LEARN and PAY ATTENTION.  I was worn out directing the children in what I thought was play.  Then, I went to a conference.  I saw Lisa (Ooey Gooey Lady) Murphy as a keynote in a local ECE conference.  I took notes furiously, started following her on Facebook and then the rest of my life took a huge turn.

Lisa told her Facebook world to read a book called "Let Them Play: An Early Learning (UN)Curriculum" by Jeff A. Johnson and Denita Dinger.  I ordered one and read it and underlined everything and re-read it.  

I was struck with the big A-HA that children learn from play.  But my definition of play didn't align with what the real definition of play is.  I thought play was games and fun things I planned that I made the children do.  GAH.  I don't even like to write about it now. I have seen the other, magical side of play and I would NEVER go back.  I have learned that REAL PLAY is child initiated, child led and they can start and stop playing the play whenever they want.  Teacher led circle times and teacher led games that children are forced to participate in are NOT play.  I learned that I don't need a boxed curriculum to prove the children in my care are learning.  I just needed play.  

Since reading that book, I quit that job, worked for two years to open my own non-profit nature and play based preschool (we are in our 6th school year), have studied a gazillion early childhood books, listened to a bazillion podcasts (even recorded one myself for a few years) and have created the most magical space for children in my community.  My goals for the children in my care are that they are respected as individuals, form relationships with their teachers/caregivers, are given time and space to play freely and uninterrupted, and given lots of time outdoors each day.  

I am just a girl (I don't really think I'm grown up yet) that was passionate about play and nature and I CREATED A PRESCHOOL that serves more than 65 kids a year.  And is growing!  If I can figure it out, so can you.  You can figure out how to implement change to give children the childhood they deserve.  And if you need my help, or just giant nudge forward, look me up on Instagram @learning.wild or email me.  I'd love to hear from you!

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