Wednesday, June 01, 2011

This Is The Way We Will Change The World

As the school year was drawing to a close, the kids at Woodland Park were on a mixing tear. Everything from paints and plants to rocks and sticks had to be mixed up with other things.

You could hardly take a walk in the garden without coming across a stew of herbs in a terra cotta pot.

We were mixing indoors . . .

. . . but it was outdoors where the real action was, because everything in the outdoor classroom was fair game, and I was breaking out vegetable oil, flour, shaving cream, vinegar, powder paint, and just about anything else on our shelves with the idea that since we were moving anyway, I might as well lighten the load. 

Many of these soups, potions, pastes, and concoctions found their way into the children's cubbies to take home to mom and dad, most of which were festering away, forming crusts, bubbling, overflowing, and otherwise looking like something you wouldn't want spilled on your car seats. Frankly, I'm delighted that the kids were bringing home these disgusting messes, and the stories that went with them, rather than the pretty sunflower paintings children might take home from more "traditional" preschools.

Not long ago, my brilliant and wonderful Australian colleagues, Sherry and Donna, from Irresistible Ideas For Play Based Learning posted about making sand playdough. Perfect, I thought, let's mix up some of that and finish the year with it instead of our regular playdough.

We started with their basic recipe:

4 cups clean sand

3 cups flour

1 cup water

1/4 cup oil

Okay, so our sand wasn't so clean. We just scooped it out of our sandpit. And, I'll have to admit, the basic recipe was only a starting point as the kids just kept right on mixing those ingredients, augmented by the chunks of miscellaneous debris that had been included with our sand.

What we wound up with didn't look as stretchy and pliable as what they created Down Under, but it was still a fascinating substance that acted very much like the "moon sand" they sell in stores, although "doughy-er." In fact, many of the kids said they liked it better than the store bought kind. (I know there are recipes out there for home made moon sand using corn starch, and we've tried it, but we like this better.) We stored it in a plastic bag overnight and it got too sticky for us, so we added cinnamon to dry it out a little, giving it a fragrance most of us associated with cookie dough.

It often looked crumbly, but came together into a nice smooth dough with
just a little pressure.

We really enjoyed using our sand play dough with ice cream scoops: it formed
into perfect balls that slid out without sticking.

So, I don't really have a recipe for you other than to start with Sherry and Donna's and add cinnamon, and a little more of everything, and kids.

But, that's not really the point of this post. The point is that Sherry and Donna are as much my colleagues as anyone here in Seattle. The point is that we preschool teachers who are connecting with each other across oceans, international borders, and cultures, are already sharing our best practices and ideas in a way that those politicians and gadfly businesspeople who are trying to take charge of educational policies will never be able to understand.

I'm thinking specifically about this much ballyhooed recent report which discusses how misguided our policy-makers are and that they really need to be looking at the successes of other nations as they seek to reform our educational system. The well-intended authors point to lessons we should learn from Finland and Singapore and China and Canada and Japan. You don't have to tell me that we have a lot to learn from each other, but what gets under my skin is that they still insist on framing their arguments in economic terms, referring to those other nations as our competitors and measuring "success" only in jobs, wages, and GDP. 

These guys are so far behind us preschool teachers it's shocking. Education is about so much more than money. And even after they complete their surveys and studies, until they finally understand this, our educational system will still be there to serve the economy rather than children or our democracies.

We might just think we're sharing playdough recipes via the internet, but what we are really doing is the actual work of educational reform: sharing and mixing. 

Keep sharing and mixing teachers. Keep sharing and mixing parents. This is the way we will change the world.

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Jeanne Zuech said...

Tom - thank you for the fabulous "mixing" and the call to action to keep on mixing :) Loved the children's potions and concoctions with all the good stuff from your center + a big dash of cinnamon. Best of luck for your big move to the new site - looking forward to hearing and seeing all about it!
cheers from Jeanne,

Launa Hall said...

Love it. So true. I think of so many blogger/educators as my mentors and colleagues, even though we haven't met. I can't tell you how many projects/ideas I've rolled out at my school, and my colleagues think I'm so inventive, but really I'm using an idea of one of my mentors on the world wide web. Sharing and mixing!

Unknown said...

Beautiful post! All your posts leave me thinking about a lot, and real thinking is what you inspire in your students. You inspire me to cherish thinking more.

Barbara Zaborowski said...

Teaching is all about plagiarism. I personally only steal from the best. Speaking of which, I'll definitely be stealing you sand play dough recipe (with the cinnamon) for next fall's class.
PS: Love your comment yesterday about the important things at the new school will be the people. Enough things from the old school will be there so that the kids will be comfortable and the new things will be a great adventure. How perfect!

rachelle | tinkerlab said...

Tom, you are bringing tears to my eyes! A politician who creates policies related to education without spending time in schools is like a movie director who directs films via Skype. Nothing can replace the human interaction and learning that happens when we observe children and listen to what they care about. When I saw Sherry and Donna's sand dough recipe, I thought that we'd have to make ours with mucky sand too. Can't wait to try this out. And maybe add some cinnamon/basil/garlic/whatever!!

Rupal Ganatra said...

I love your blog! It is wonderful to see such passionate people working with children. I may be the only fan from E.Africa! :)

Kay said...

To me Tom you have just summed up what advocacy could be about in our field. Sharing and mixing and showing the world how we do it!! What a great blog!!

R.Mao said...

My comments are about this one statement and one statement only: "what gets under my skin is that they still insist on framing their arguments in economic terms. . .measuring "success" only in jobs, wages, and GDP.

I don't think that anyone who takes the time to read this blog will disagree with the statement that education is about more than just economics.

We are amongst the core believers in the cause of education. Us parents, educators and concerned citizens that understand its true value.

However, we are NOT the only voters.

What compels all those other voters then to support our children's education when those people don't have children themselves? Is it purely for altruistic reasons? If that was the case, why did the state of Texas just cut teacher jobs, but at the same time pledge to fund Formula One Racing? Apparently the voters in that state clearly believe that economics are more important than education.* Given what we have just seen recently in our own state, we have reasons to be compelled and concerned about winning the support of everyone.

Education reform is going to take immense support. At the end of the day we need to convince others outside of us core believers "what's in it for them". The economic reasons cited are valid reasons and it is the common denominator that applies to everyone and they are basic common sense principles that we need them to take to the polls and vote in favor of education.


Teacher Tom said...

@r. mao . . . Democracy is more than voting. It's our job as educators, especially early childhood educators, to teach the parents of our students about high quality education. I believe that is what we are doing by moving forward each day with what we know is right, demonstrating what education should be about.

Our Founding Fathers understood that universal public education was not about economics: it was about citizenship. As we increasingly pare education down to "job training" we undermine our democracy, leading to an electorate who will vote for race cars over children.

As far as I'm concerned, these anti-government, neo-liberal business owners should train their own workers instead of relying on tax payers to do it. We have more important things to teach our children.

R. Mao said...

You don't need to convince me to get on your bus. Look over, because I'm happy to be sitting right next to you.

Of course, Democracy is more than voting, but one vote has changed history in the past and may determine a very precarious future for education. Therefore we need all the votes we can get especially in times when what you and I believe in most is being voted against.

I agree that we, the core believers, can move forward today by demonstrating our beliefs in education and in democracy.

Its just all the others, and tomorrow that I am still worried about. . .

Again, I didn't have any disagreements with the other statements in the blog. The one thing I wanted to point out for consideration and dialogue is that I don't think we should underestimate the value of gaining more support outside this core circle for education.

Yes those people won't getting on the bus for the same reasons as you and me, but I'm not ready to exclud 'them' just yet. I'd like to get them on our bus instead letting them think of ways to figuratively blow out our tires or outsource it altogether to India or China.
(them = business AND taxpaying voters who do not currently support education)

They just aren't enlightened ...yet... but we can only hope.

The economic reasons will at minimum get them to consider showing up at the bus stop.

Very Respectfully,

(Maybe we'll even need to assume the "bus" is a vs public transit - because anti-government, neo-liberal business owners and those non-supportive of education tax paying voters aren't known to take metro)

Play for Life said...

Right on Tom ... We could SO teach those politicians a thing or two that's for sure ... IF only we could get them to listen to us!
You're a good friend Tom. We were presenting at a conference this week and spoke to 120 ECE teachers about this very point, that the blogosphere is FULL of people like us all happy and eager to care and share for each other. We told them we wouldn't be here today with out people like you!
BTW ... How's this for timing - tomorrow WE test run your Mom's cooked playdough recipe with the children. As you know we don't cook our playdough so they found it quite funny to think that we were going to cook it on the stove top and I've gotta tell you ... YOU were right ... It's irresistible!
Donna :) :)

Males in Early Childhood said...

The best thing about the internet is how we can network with amazing colleagues we would otherwise never be in touch with. I, myself tried frozen painting after a suggestion by an efriend from Tuscon. It's not jst internationally either. I have been inspired by Sherry & Donna for a while now & although we are in the same country we are still separated by over 500 miles. In turn I hope I inspire others & have a positive influence on my fellow EC educators.

Joie said...

I wish I had found this long before I start teaching preschool. Thanks Tom, now I am arm with more ideas.