Miller Fellow Blog
A Crystal in the Creek
“We found a crystal, we found a crystal!” a little girl jumps up and down on the creek shore. Colorful pebbles shake beneath her feet as she lands with a thud. Her smile is wide; stretching ear to ear. She points to a large, winding tree root sticking out of the mud. A glimmering, pink rock is squeezed between the two roots. The girl presented the crystal to me as if it were on display at a museum. She was very proud of the discovery.
At the same time, a little boy chipped away at the crystal with another rock. “Ooooff,” he sighed, “we are going to get this crystal out.” They were determined. Throughout the trip this team of young geologists found different ways of extracting the crystal.
The first was to hit it with another rock, and the second was to pull it out with a stick twice their height, shaped like a pair of pliers. They worked all afternoon, reporting their progress to their peers as they cycled through different tools. Despite their determination, the crystal stayed put. Soon, it came time for the duo to make another plan. They decided to continue extracting the crystal during their next visit.
Agraria- the local outdoor ecological and educational center, has become a familiar place for kindergarten this year. They’ve gotten to know the land: exploring the maze and Jacoby Creek, making it a special place for them. A place they want to come back to. The crystal is another reason to come back. Both the little girl and boy decided that on their next visit they would continue with their work. Having a longstanding project at Agraria, not only bonds the children to the land in meaningful ways, but it demonstrates the importance of child directed play. The children found the crystal for themselves and imbued its retrieval with a sense of purpose. They’re looking forward to the next time they can work on extracting the glistening crystal from the creek.
Happy 100th Day of the 100th Year
The First 100 Days of the 100th Year
Happy Hundredth day of our 100th school year!
That’s right, along with warmth and budding flowers, March 11th marks the 100th day of our 20-21' school year. Happy birthday to our little school, it's the year we become a centenarian!
Despite the challenges of the global pandemic- our teachers, children, and community have consistently supported each other in the preservation of childhood. Even when every thing changed, our community found opportunity in the limitations, and delight in our perserverance. Everyday this year we've come together to learn from one another. We've learned all kinds of skills and have continued to grow from play, practice, and principle based education. Everyday is an day of dedicated learning through play. From color and shape days in the nursery, to the YG’s morning meetings, kindergarten trips, and other special events like The Enchanted Forest, for the past 100 days (and years) we've come together to learn all kinds of skills and to grow from play, practice, and principle based education. For the past 100 days our teachers and community members have been dedicated to upholding the integrity and magic of the democratic, child-led, learning at the heart of our mission.
This year started differently than any other in our history. Needless to say, nurturing childhood and education during a pandemic has been a first in our hundred years as a school. The pandemic has only amplified our commitment to our core principles. As our community adapted to learning together in new ways- both virtually and under unprecedented regulations, our dedication to mutual trust, choices and consequences, and collaboration was heightened. The children were very patience and supportive as they adapted to wearing masks, and played at a distance. They taught us all about empathy and teamwork. The dedication and creativity of our teachers and staff, as well as the children, and their families, seemed to make the unthinkable possible: The Antioch School, online? This year our community established fun and engaging, child-led learning environments online. As a low tech school, this hasn't been done before. This same dedication and creativity empowered all of us to be playful and curious in our new approaches to learning together as we rise above the circumstances.
In the fall, the children prepared to start school under state regulations requiring safety precautions including: face masks and social distancing measures. Nonetheless, the children were supported in their play and exploration. They continued inventing games, sharing stories, and learning in the natural world as is our tradition. They continued being children, learning about themselves and the world in vivid and joyful ways.
What is Child Directed Play?
What is Child Directed Play?
Child directed play is an important part of learning at The Antioch School. Providing the environment for children to direct their play-both individually and in groups, affords them opportunities to explore the world in an authentic way, outside of adult direction. When children direct their own play they make exciting and original connections. Instead of being told what to see, they learn to see for themselves. In this post, we’ll define child directed play, explore its benefits, and provide examples of the ways it works at The Antioch School.
What is child directed play?
Child directed play can be defined as the freedom for children to pursue their own interests and agendas during playtime. To indulge and grow their imaginations. At The Antioch School, this means the children are encouraged to gravitate towards their unique interests and to take leadership roles as they play. While they are free to ask for support, the children find their own interests without being prompted by adults. Oftentimes, children are bombarded with directions from adults who tell them what to do, or influence their ideas about what to play, or how. At The Antioch School, child directed play means the children decide- both individually and in groups, what they are going to play, and how, without adult interference.
Why is child directed play important?
Child directed play is important because it allows children the agency to direct and guide their learning. It gives them the freedom of choice . Where does the game go from here? How will these block pieces interact? Do I want to play with the blocks more, or move on? These are some examples of questions children might ask themselves when they are directing their own play. Being able to answer these questions and direct themselves enhances each child’s capacity to be self reliant, because they’re not waiting on the direction of an adult. According to the Seattle Learning Center, this can even boost a child’s self esteem. When young learners direct their own play, they are able to learn more about their interests based on what they gravitate towards, not what an adult directs them to. By defining the parameters of their games the children have the space to make authentic, unique connections, and to learn more about themselves.
Child directed play and the role of the teacher:
The teacher has a very important role acting as the facilitator for children navigating individual and group play. Through careful observation, the teacher notes each child's development throughout the year in order to support them in their learning. “My role as a teacher,” describes kindergarten teacher: Lindie Keeton, “is to observe each child’s development, interests, and needs so that I can provide materials, support, and encouragement at the appropriate times.” In this way, the teacher establishes a safe and exciting learning environment, a container for the children to dream up their own rules, worlds, and games. The teacher holds a supportive role bolstering each child’s agency. They are a fundamental pillar in supporting the children as they explore, play, and learn for themselves.
Child directed play and the 7 principles of child centered learning:
The principles of child centered learning are the pillars of our community, upholding child directed play. The principles include: play and curiosity, self discovery, the whole child, choice and consequences, taking reasonable risks, and empathy, caring, and mutual trust. The principles are affirmative in that they offer a broad guide to informing group and individual play. The children are free to direct their play within the guidelines of the principles. Children are encouraged to take reasonable risks, and to be curious. They are supported in conflict resolution as the need arises and play is mitigated only in so far as it is in line with the principles.
A few examples of child directed play this year:
Child directed play takes many forms.This means that child directed play will look slightly different based on age differences and between individual vs. group play.
The playground is an exciting world for the nursery children. It’s a place where spontaneous games are invented and established. It is always captivating to watch the children develop games themselves, establishing the rules, and roles as they go along. Last week, I observed a few nursery children invent a game on the slide. The main goal was to wobble up the slide holding a blue ball, get as far up as possible, then quickly stand upright to throw it through the opening at the top of the slide where it meets the staircase. All of the children who wanted to join in had a lot of fun working together and taking turns. This child directed group game became an exciting triathlon of sorts.
The idea for the Kindergarten group to hike at Agraria started in the Glenn. When examining the group, and picking up rocks, a little girl decided she wanted to make a rock collection. She asked Lindie if she could keep the small, damp rocks cradled in her hand. But because the Glenn is a nature preserve, Lindie explained “the rocks couldn’t leave the park.” Hmmm, this little girl gave Lindie an idea! While it was not possible for the children to collect rocks at the Glenn, they could collect rocks at Agraria. So Lindie set up a day to hike and camp out at the ecological and educational center. The muddy creek bank, farm, and maze were so enchanting that the first trip turned into two more because the children enjoyed it so much they wanted to keep coming back. Children make things happen, and this is an example of it. From one little girl's idea to collect rocks, Lindie was able to make the arrangements, and now Agraria is a special place for the whole group.
A group of Older Group boys stand on a series of wobbly logs, trying to keep their feet steady. Their movements are minuscule, but they are moving, slowly, inching around one another one at a time. The logs are loose, but the boys bend their knees, leaning into the motion as they sway. They brace themselves, working hard to stand up straight. The objective is simple: stay on the log and help each other across. One of the boys wearing red sneakers slipped on the damp bark with green moss growing from it. The group of boys gasp in unison- a sharp inhale. The tension is released when they all jump down to the ground. “Man down,” a boy in a green t-shirt calls. The team stops, they reassess, it’s time to start over. The older group also makes up games using logs, rocks, tree branches, or whatever’s on the playground. This balancing game was fun and collaborative challenge. It also required teamwork and cooperation, as every child supported each other in getting across the logs.
Facilitating child directed play:
Child directed play is an important part of every child’s development, and-at The Antioch School, it also informs the unique development of every group, too. Through child directed play, the children have the opportunity to choose their activities and to create complex games that are meaningful to them. When directing their play, every game is guided by every child’s unique sense of wonder. These games are imbued with an authentic creativity unable to be recreated by adult instruction.
Yesterday the kindergarten group went camping at Agraria. Agraria is a local ecological and outdoor educational center spanning 128 acres of land. There are a lot of fun things to admire and explore at Agraria. There are chickens on the small farm, a grass maze, and even a rocky creek. The group set up camp at the main shelter, gathering around a pink cobb stove for snacks and read-a-loud. With the camp as home base, the kindergarten admired the historic wooden barn standing tall and painted white near the entrance.
From the main camp, Lindie, MJ, and the group of children set out to explore the land. Agraria specializes in stewarding connections between students and the outdoors through experiential ecology classes. This trip allowed the children to play in the wilderness, on the farm, and in the creekbed, turning the outdoors into an ecologically diverse classroom.
Setting off into the grounds is always so exciting! The children jumped and skipped along, picking up on the possibilities. Learning outside lends itself to all kinds of lessons.
The farm comes first as you walk down the hill. Inside of the garden, the beds were beginning to wilt with the impending cold of fall. A group of dark grey chickens speckled white clabbered around the fence, and burrowed into the dirt.
“They’re laying eggs,” observed a little boy in a red shirt with a firetruck on it. He was pointing at two chickens standing in a pit, scooping dirt out with their yellow, scaly feet.
“They’re laying eggs!” first one, then two, then three children sang out in unison. Their high pitched laughter rang across the field. Lindie explained that the chickens were taking a mud bath. According to bestfarmanimals.com, chickens bathe in dirt to release excess oils and to kill parasites. And they have so much fun doing it!
Playing in the mud is fun as well as educational.The group waded through the shallow, rocky bed of Jacoby Creek learning about, and playing with, the soil. Mud caked the bottoms of our rain boots before being washed away by the creek water. After a day of examining the soil, making mud pies, and stacking wet rocks to make castles, we learned that playing in the mud is not only fun for chickens, but it’s great for children, too.
Responsibility, Collaboration, and Other Lessons Children Learn from Evil Chickens.
Responsibility, Collaboration, and Other Lessons Children Learn from Evil Chickens.
“The chicken is evil,” laughed a little boy in the younger group. The small cohort of masked children finished playing a game of sharks and minnows, and were all breathing heavily. Their shrills and laughter still echoed in the large field behind the school building.
Now, it was time for chicken care.
“The chicken is not evil,” a little girl piped in, adjusting the mask on her face with her hand. “The chicken is not evil,” she repeated, giggling. The children swayed and jumped where they stood, releasing the jitters from running around so much. “I guess we’ll see today,” said a second girl, “because we’re on chicken duty.”
Responsibility is an important part of teaching children self reliance and decision making skills. In the YG, feeding our chicken: Easter, is one example of responsibility that implicitly teaches children time management and working in collaboration. The children feed the chicken in groups of two or three after freetime- when the cohort plays a mid-morning game together.
The children were excited to be on chicken duty today. They were excited to debunk the myth and prove the class was wrong- that Easter is a friendly chicken after all.
“Doing chicken care helps the chicken,” the youngest child decided as she walked with the group of three to the chicken coop. “Maybe it’ll help her not be so evil”. The group smiled, encouraging one another as they walked through the wire gate.
“Let me show you how evil this chicken is,” the young boy walked to the gate, opened it, and then jumped back when Easter popped her head out. The two girls were holding the door to the pen open for me when Easter made a leap out of the coop and dashed for the gate to the garden.
“Oh, no!” they called, “the chicken got out.” I stood back and watched the children work together to get the chicken back into it’s pen. “Here evil chicken,” the girls cooed. Easter pecked at the dirt. They approached the frantic Easter calmly, patiently leading her back to the coop together as their friend poured her feed onto the ground. The chicken clucked, walking on it’s scaly hind legs back into the pen and began pecking at the feed. It made high pitched gurgling sounds as it ate.
When children work together to accomplish tasks they are learning a myriad of lessons. According to a 2002 study by the University of Minnesota, “young adults who started doing chores at 3 or 4 years old are more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, be successful in academics and in their careers, and are more self-sufficient than those who did not.”
Of course, there is responsibility, and how to collaborate with others, but -in identifying the importance of caring for Easter, the children were also learning about empathy and compassion.
If taking care of Easter would make her happier, then ultimately she would be less evil.