(This quarter, I’m taking Psych147, Development in Early Childhood. The main part of the class is spending some time every week at Bing Nursery School playing with children. As part of the class, we write journal entries every week about our experiences, and given the haphazard form of them, they seem perfectly appropriate for this blog. Names are of course knocked out, but hopefully you can follow. I’ll try to catch up till now over the next few days as we’re already 4 weeks in.)
Within psychology, I’m particularly interested in cognition and how people are capable of making inductive leaps. Although adults’ abilities are impressive, I find children’s to be more interesting. Through their development, children are simultaneously very good and very bad at cognitive tasks, often on tasks with ostensibly similar demands. I took this course hoping to understand what the characteristics of children’s cognitive development are and how learning occurs and is encouraged in schools.
Within a single session, I couldn’t really see the trajectory of development for the children, but I was generally impressed by how curious and perceptive they were. At the beginning of class, J. was playing with the hen and eggs, and he asked me, “Are there chickens inside these eggs?” I was initially uncertain about how to answer his question because I was uncertain about what the correct answer was. I was uncertain about whether I could communicate the full truth (that no, these plastic eggs don’t have chickens, but the eggs they represent would) in a way that he would understand, especially the distinction between the actual nature of the object versus its fictional, symbolic intent. I told him that no, the eggs were made of plastic, and he seemed satisfied with that response. I later heard twice the eggs referred to as plastic, and although I can’t verify that children transmitted the knowledge from my statement between each other, it’s certainly possible that they did this on their own.
In retrospect, the nature of the question should have revealed what exactly he knew and understood. First, his question clearly indicates that he knew that typical eggs do have chickens inside of them. More significantly, however, he was also aware of the fact that these eggs were somehow not of the normal variety and didn’t have the same internal characteristics. Even if the symbolic nature of the eggs was lost on him, it seems more clear to me now that he understood enough distinctions to follow any of my likely responses. Understanding and being capable of functioning within these fictional worlds seems to be critical at Bing. The “About Bing” handout states that “PLAY… provides the medium through which the children may imitate, explore, test ideas, acquire information, and draw conclusions” (1). J. certainly used this opportunity to acquire information from an adult (me) who should understand what his thought process was through his play.
Considering my own childhood, I was certainly capable of understanding play and fiction. In pre-kindergarten, my favorite activity was playing at the workbench area where various plastic tools were available. A large part of my fondness for it was that the station was only big enough for 2 people, and I could play at it with just my best friend Michael. We were certainly not capable of creating anything real at the workbench, simply swinging around toy hammers and pushing around other pieces. Although it was intended to imitate some sort of work area, I was certainly aware that I wasn’t using a real hammer and that it didn’t have the same characteristics and capabilities of a real one.
At some point during my session in the classroom, I met O. and followed her through several different activities, including crafts, the swing, and almost looking at worms. I was immediately struck by how quickly she seemed to attach herself and bring me through her activities, grabbing my hand when she was done with the first and pulling me outside. At first, I was uncertain about doing this as my role hadn’t been fully fleshed out. Until then, I had witnessed the other teachers primarily supervising the children. Although they interacted with the individual children, they were also responsible for particular areas of the room and needed to have a broad sense of what was happening in the entire classroom. Following around a single student might be contrary to typical behavior of adults in the classroom, but I also saw it as an opportunity to bond with her individually. As I followed her around, I primarily remained patient, responsive, and interactive, but also more passive in following, not leading. In effect, I was her playmate for a short while. She seemed to like the attention I was giving her and the chance to demonstrate what she knew, such as “pumping” on the swings. When we went out to find worms, however, she found other children to play with, and after coming to a decision on that, she ran off with them, and I thought it best to let her go.
Bing seems to offer a very different experience than I had in pre-kindergarten. Bing seems designed to have a very open design for unstructured play, which naturally requires more teachers to supervise children in whatever activities they chose. My own experience was that pre-kindergarten was highly structured, with a schedule, set areas, and control over the movement of students. The flipside is that we had little more supervision than a single teacher with maybe one assistant since we were often engaged in something specific.
Overall, I had a great experience during my first week. The time went by very quickly, and I found that there wasn’t much downtime overall. The children were genuinely open to my presence, and I was comfortable interacting with them because they came so willingly to interact with me. Although I was uncertain about what role I should have in their classroom experience, I was mostly comfortable engaging them in their various activities and having them think critically about their actions.