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Gail Multop @gailmult

Gail Multop @gailmult

Gail teaches Early Childhood Education as an Adjunct Associate Professor for Northern Virginia Community College, one of the largest community college systems in the country. She is a popular trainer in the DC area, leading workshops on such topics as Engaging, Arts-Based and Outdoor Learning, and Guiding Behavior. She is a member of the Virginia Community College Peer Group which collaborates with the Virginia Department of Social Services to train and license childcare professionals throughout the state. Her blog on BAM's EdWords is referenced in several arts websites, and is used in Early Childhood courses throughout Virginia. She is also a member of NAREA, the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. You can contact her for more information about Professional Development opportunities. 


Gail lives and works in Northern Virginia. Her special interests include arts-integration, play, Reggio Emilia, music and yoga. 

Jobs for kids! What a thought! It conjures up images of assembly lines with children chained, or at least velcroed to their seats. Not a pleasant, or even, legal image. Children are beautiful, full of life and fun. They are creative people with amazing minds. Why should parents and teachers yoke them to responsibilities aside from cleaning up their own messes, which they aren’t usually enamored with?

Many parents, including those I’ve met in conferences, are mind-blown by the idea. “We make her clean up her toys. What else should she do? She likes to play.” Yes, the children like to play and, in fact, that is how they learn to learn, learn to think, and learn to work with others. This is, or should be, a big part of early childhood. It is, in fact, crucial. But another thread in the fabric of learning needs to be a child’s meaning to the group beyond the personal. A child who feels that his or her meaningful contributions to either family or classroom are needed will have a greater sense of self-worth than those who are raised only to be future Yale grads, for instance (no offense to Yale grads—my favorite director of all time is one). I once recommended to the parents of a young girl that she have a job that was meaningful to the rest of the family. Something that, if she didn’t do it, would interrupt the flow of the family’s life as a community. “She picks up her toys. What else can she do?” It turned out that this girl, the youngest of three, sister to two older boys, hungered for work to do that was as beneficial to the family as that of her brothers. The parents decided she could fill the napkin holder. That was a start!

I like the image of woven fabric, because each thread is important to the whole. In the family, each child is as important to the fabric of the family as the parents are. The classroom, or center is also a piece of fabric, interwoven with threads that have different colors and textures, but that each give strength and beauty to the whole. Teachers, children, administrators, and parents are all part of this beautiful fabric. Most good centers have job boards (you don’t?! Get with it!). These daily jobs are like trophies to the children. Jobs are rotated each day or week, and each child has a job that is important. A job chart can be constructed many ways. 

Jobs are posted for children to make them feel included and important. Becky Bailey, of Conscious Discipline, has been instrumental in encouraging teachers to use job charts for creating a classroom family. In my experience, this is a powerful strategy for encouraging children to contribute, many of whom might otherwise feel disconnected, leading to acting out and attention-seeking behavior.

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Young children are the mensches of the world. (in Yiddish, a Mensch is a Good Person. Someone who does the honorable thing.) They don't know that their future depends upon teachers who understand child development. but they believe that adults are their guideposts, their role models, their wise ones. If an adult gives them a worksheet to do in the name of learning, they will gamely attempt it, especially if that adult gushes over their “good” result. If they are asked to make a spider from a paper plate and pipe cleaners, one that looks just like their teacher’s, they will, maybe grudgingly, maybe happily, try to do just that. Their teacher may say, “No, the pipe cleaner should be here, not there,” preserving their status as experts on bug-making. You can always depend on children to try to please, even as they secretly internalize the message that they themselves are deficient in some way. They don't know that their arts activities should be for them, not for their teachers.

My college students say that parents are worried about their threes being ready for kindergarten. Threes! The parents want their children to work on letter recognition and phonics. They do not understand child development. This is an agonizing frustration for teachers who understand that a child develops as a whole, in all developmental domains. That they mustn’t be educated as if they are loosely organized piles of parts labeled "Letters," "Numbers," and "Good Handwriting." If those parents decide their children need “academics, ”they might choose to go elsewhere, perhaps to a center that (cynically?) offers excellent preparation for grade school. The mensch/child will go on to please another set of narrowly focused adults.

Parents need to know that learning is best done in the broad context of real life. A program that creates an environment where children can play over reasonably long periods of time, experimenting, building, drawing, and generally feeding their insatiable appetite for novel experience, is a program where children learn what will help them in the future. Doing this under the supervision of expert adults who know how to observe, take note, document, and provide materials is also a necessary component. These adults also must be in love with children, and be willing to mentor to their families. Letters, numbers and handwriting happen, in these excellent programs, because children really do want to learn them in context. They are useful tools in the pursuit of creating, exploring, and then representing what they have accomplished. If their amazing teachers document this learning, demonstrating that learning is, indeed, happening, parents will relax, and, perhaps, be persuaded to be involved in the program rather than fighting it.

Parents, many of us have been where you are now, wanting the best for our precious children. Don’t let programs take advantage of their good will and eagerness to please. Don’t be misled. Educate yourself about what really works in early childhood education, and choose what gives your child the opportunity to create meaningful experiences with their peers. Consult your own child within. Ask that child if a program seems exciting and creative. Then go with that insight. Your little mensch will thank you.

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When we talk about children’s challenging behavior, there are several conversational roads we take. The first, more old-fashioned and “mindless", instead of "mindful” (Ellen J. Langer) road we take is this: “He’s spoiled. His father does everything for him. They don’t’ discipline him at home.” This is a comment from a very young ECE student about a two-and-a-half year old in her classroom. “We have talked to the parents and they have him in therapy.” Not knowing all the ins and outs of the relationship of the family and center, all I could say was, “He’s two and a half? He hits, and won’t share? Hmmm. Sounds sort of two-ish to me. But has he been screened for vision and hearing? Those issues often make a big difference in behavior."

My response, on the fly, was born of experience. I once had a four who would refuse to look at puzzles and letters. His Dad was frantic that he wouldn’t be ready for kindergarten, and coached the tearful boy at home every night. (Imagine!) I asked about his vision, because his drawing was disconnected, heads and arms floating away from the bodies like helium balloons. The father was military, so they had only visited a military pediatrician. “Let’s wait six months,” they heard, time after time. I consulted with a friend whose daughter had difficulty with her eyes. The mom (who wasn’t, thank God, in the military) took her child to a terrific pediatric ophthalmologist. I recommended that the parents “got out of the service” to get more expert help. They got permission, and the boy was diagnosed with farsightedness! This boy couldn’t see up close, hence no puzzles, no letters. But lots of anxiety due to not being able to perform for his Dad. Did I mention his social skills were poor at school, and he cried in frustration over small things? Do you think his social skills improved after he got glasses? If you think no, you do not yet get the connection between the body and mind in a young child.

Another road that parents and teachers take is to label a child as having a disability without systematic observation by a teacher or other professional. Years after the boy with farsightedness, I had a four-year-old girl in my group with intense behavioral issues (pinching teachers HARD and not letting go, hitting other children). Her mother asked me almost every day, “Do you think she has ADHD?”. That is another quick judgment that parents and teachers make when they face a child who is having trouble fitting in, socially. Noting that I wasn’t qualified to judge, and, indeed, would be practicing medicine without a license to diagnose (which I tell my students, often—don’t diagnose), I suggested we go through the Child Find process to make sure we weren’t missing anything. In this case, the child passed her tests with flying colors, but the Child Find committee wisely recommended parenting classes at a reputable agency run by the school system. No more two hours of television before school. No more self-chosen bedtimes. The girl’s behavior improved.

Every child is an individual. Looking at them as problems isn’t helpful, though, heaven knows, it is terribly easy to do considering the mad pace of the average child care center. Without support from a teaching team with years of experience, a young teacher might flounder in the weeds, or continue to think that a two-year-old who hits is spoiled. End of story.

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After fourteen years of teaching child care professionals and teachers about preschool learners, one of my college students, with sweet, enthusiastic innocence, told me that her threes understood the word “hypothesis.” That in her center, they teach a “word a week” to the children. And their philosophy? Their motivation? “We have to get them ready for being four.” I suggested that the children are learning to be three. Why push them?

Her program is called an Academy. That says a lot. A Facebook friend, who owns a center, confessed that using the word “Academy” in her school’s title was a marketing decision. She is uncomfortable with it because her program is a process-oriented, creative program where children learn organically—through play experiences, with teachers as guides. But she bit the bullet and chose that word—Academy—to bring parents in.

“Academies” ask two-year-olds to glue noodles to a paper plate, then ask the teacher to glue on the letter “N. They display these almost identical pieces on a bulletin board in the classroom so parents will think their toddlers are learning something (they’re not). They call this academics. Many parents believe that an early academic start (mimicking public school) is good for their children. You can’t blame them. They so want to believe they are giving their children a jump start. All they know is from their own experience, and they don’t remember school any further back than early elementary school. These are the biases they base their choices on. These biases don’t come from developmental theorists, or from the hallowed history of child care and early education. They certainly don’t come from today’s leaders in the educational field. They come from the cultural memory of the industrial age. Ken Robinson calls this a mechanistic approach to education. This approach is outmoded.

We want to prepare young children by allowing them to grow organically, and learn through curiosity, imagination, and creativity. These three qualities are immensely important. They won’t perpetuate the mechanistic, industrial world view of the 19th and 20th century, but will prepare a generation to become the talented, productive, individual human beings that we will need in the future. How can we educate parents to demand the best for their children? By educating them about what the best is.

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Teachers, do you know the Mozart Rondo in A minor? Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1? Perhaps you, like many Americans, prefer to stick with what you know when you play music for children. It is certainly understandable. When I started teaching, I mostly played this music in my classroom because my undergraduate degree was in music. I knew “classical” music through and through. I was trained to identify Beethoven in two bars. I still can! So why should you, as a teacher, use music you are less familiar with? After all, the children won’t like it, will they? Not so, of course. Young children love music, and do not discriminate, as adults do, on the basis of genre. Just as they do not on the basis of race or culture. Music penetrates their undefended hearts.

Let me say that I myself had a learning curve once I began teaching young children. Multi-cultural classrooms enticed me into multi-cultural musical genres. Other genres caught my attention on iTunes and I introduced those as well. In my years of teaching preschool, I played all of these musical gems in the background during centers. Placing instruments or scarves near my boom box, children could participate in the artists’ music making. During Vivaldi’s concerto, Summer, the storm sequence (presto), two little boys spontaneously invented a partner dance that reflected the energy of the piece. Jittering their bodies in place, making claws with their hands as they looked at each other, they expressed the feelings of the music as they experienced it. This is called creative movement and meets a national dance standard for pre-k. The way the children danced was play-based because it was spontaneously chosen. They started and stopped at will. So using classical music created an opportunity for play-based learning. 

I have taught college students that there is no end to the possibilities of playing music for young children, and they have proved my point by bringing in anecdotes such as this one, involving behavior management: A teacher was substituting in a classroom of threes. The children were “off the wall”.  I had taught her about how music from the Baroque period, especially, created a more purposeful and balanced atmosphere for children during play due to its steady beat (Baroque composers believed in keeping the beat steady in each movement. The beat is called the tactus). So, at her wit’s end, she put on Vivaldi. The mood in her classroom shifted to one of calm, and the children stayed longer at their chosen activities.

This, of course, is anecdotal information, but there is ample research available to prove the point. For me, no proof is needed. When I played the opening from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana for a class of teachers, and told them children could benefit from this music, they looked at me in horror. “It will scare them!”, they said. So I took it to the voters, my preschoolers, as an experiment. I played the opening of the piece and they, sitting in a circle on the floor, began pounding their heels into the carpet, ecstatic smiles on their faces. I gave them feeling words to choose from to express their response. Only two words resonated: Happy, and excited. Needless to say, they wanted to stand and dance.

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