Learning and the Brain Conference – Professional Development Notes from Ana Pena

I was so excited to once again attend the Brain Conference in San Francisco this last weekend. Since I have returned to teaching Kindergarten for the first time in almost 20 years, I wanted to know what I could learn from this conference to support my student’s learning and to understand their world.

One keynote speaker, early childhood expert Erika Christakis titled her talk “The Science Of Being Little: The Power of Play, Creativity, and Exploration in Young Children”. She gave alarming statistics on early childhood educational programs that have become too academic resulting in stressed children who lack the joy of learning and who are doing poorly. She presented evidence for the  importance of play in the early years and how we as adults need to change our lenses to view play as a child’s way of learning.

Christakis suggested that we must learn to identify the learning that is going on during “play.” For example, when a child is building with his peers and has made a fort, what learning is going on?  The children are employing their imagination, creativity, problem-solving skills, engineering, using their language skills  as they describe what they have made and using their social skills to engage with each other constructively. So much in just playing with blocks!  She called for a return to a learning environment at home and school that better reflects children’s developmental needs. Let child have time to explore instead of going from one structured after-school class to another. Let them engage their imagination and get bored, because boredom can be a friend to the imagination. We just need to give our children time to fully engage in an activity and believe in their intelligence. We may need to coach them at the beginning, but with practice it will bear fruit.

As she spoke, I was reminded of our kindergarten students, who are allowed to play with mud, sand, water, and build fairy gardens with natural items from their environment. All that learning going on!  Just yesterday I was invited to see a new house/casa for a snail. The children planned what needed to be placed in the environment and were careful to use plants and flowers that were not plucked, naming their home and hypothesizing what will become of the snail.

As their Spanish teacher, I have decided to engage in their play and honor their way of learning and making meaning of their world.