All posts by Mr. Jay

Jason Hamzy is an artist, educator, and co-owner/operator of Little Schoolhouse in the Woods outdoor preschool. He has been running Little Schoolhouse with his wife, Lee for four years. In that time, he has completed his teaching degree, earning a Bachelor's Interdisciplinary Studies Pre-K through 5th. In spite of all that he learned in college, Jason is amazed at how much he has learned from his wife, Lee. Her experience of more than a decade of working with children, in a Waldorf setting, and at home, has shown him what true dedication to the education of the whole child is all about. The kids call him Mr. Jay, and he hopes that he is fortunate enough to hear that name for many more years.

Boundaries: Setting Limits With Love

Boundaries

Boundaries help children feel safe. Children often act out when they do not know what is expected of them. They spend a lot of time exploring and pushing the boundaries we set for them. This is a natural and normal process. As adults, it is our job to set limits and to clearly communicate them to our children.

Calm and Clear: The Captains of the Ship

It isn’t necessary to enforce these boundaries with punitive measures or “consequences”, either. Simply stating and consistently standing firm on the principals we set forth is all that is necessary. Repetition and consistency foster the security children crave. As adults, we must exercise patience in this process because it is a process. It isn’t a lesson that happens once, and then it’s over. We must often set limits and communicate them clearly many times before they are understood. Being matter-of-fact about these limits is important, too. This isn’t an emotional struggle, it is a safety issue.

“Hold my hand in the parking lot. I will keep you safe.” We are the adults, it is important to maintain a calm, firm hand on the rudder. We are in charge, and we know what is best. When we lose our cool and shout or punish, it shows a lack of control, and then who is steering the ship? “I see that you don’t want to hold my hand right now, so I will carry you. I love you and will keep you safe.”

The only time I find it necessary to enforce rules with punitive measures isn’t even actually punitive. It is an issue of safety. If a child is physically going to harm themselves or others, I may have to say, “You know you may not throw the blocks. I cannot let you hurt your friends. It is time to play elsewhere,” then I assist that child in finding another place to play. We should avoid getting frustrated or angry. Being firm shows confidence and lets children know that we are serious. We do not need to shout or threaten to be effective leaders. And, yes, it is okay to acknowledge a child is upset or distressed, but we mustn’t allow that to distress and upset us.

The Importance of Free-play

I am a big proponent of free-play. Children benefit from time to do what they want in a safe environment. Free-play does not mean anarchy, it means freedom to play and explore the world around them without interference from adults or danger. Our job is to keep them safe, not tell them how to play. Through this kind of play, children develop a healthy sense of independence.

Start Early. Hug often.

Boundaries are erected when the limits are clearly communicated. You don’t need a fence, you need to be clear and consistent with your expectations. It is harder to place limits once a child knows that there are none. I once heard this analogy: Our children need warm, tight hugs when they are younger, and, as boundaries are expanded, we can loosen those hugs. Once a child has unlimited freedom, it is nearly impossible to reign in those limits. We must have clear, consistent, and reasonable boundaries and expectations from children at an early age. As they mature and show competence in different areas, we may loosen restrictions and broaden boundaries appropriately. If we give children total freedom from the beginning, they don’t feel safe, and will not understand when we place new restrictions on them.

Mr. Jay is an outdoor educator with Little Schoolhouse in the Woods. He learned everything he knows about early childhood education from his wife and co-teacher, Ms. Lee (Follow her at https://www.facebook.com/littleschoolhouseinthewoods/). Mr. Jay holds a Bachelor’s degree in Early Education, PK-3, with a 4th and 5th grade endorsement.

Fostering perseverance in early childhood

Are we truly helping children when we do things for them? It depends on where the child is developmentally. According to Vygotsky, a prominent education theorist, children learn best when tasks aren’t too hard or too easy, known as the zone of proximal development (1978). The amount of help from adults and peers can be referred to as scaffolding (Wood et al. ,1976). Scaffolding refers to the assistance a person needs when learning a new task or concept. This assistance is removed when no longer needed. Being tuned into an individual child’s developmental readiness is a key factor for knowing when and how much scaffolding is needed for a particular skill.

It is important to focus on building a growth mindset through praise of effort, not achievement. Children will grow up and be able to put their shoes on by themselves. Our goal isn’t only to teach children how to accomplish the task, but to encourage them to develop a sense of perseverance. We do not praise children for putting their shoes on, we praise their effort.

Watching a child struggle to solve a problem on their own without interfering can be difficult to do. If you have been truly present with your child, and connected with them in a real way, it will be easier to let go and allow them to play by themselves or to work at mastering a task such as putting on their own socks. I know that I often want to swoop in and hand them that thing they are struggling to reach, or to switch their shoes so that they are on the right feet, but true learning comes from trial and error. That means they try, and sometimes, they fail. It is through the mistakes that children learn what to adjust for the next time. Because there will be a next time. That is when fostering perseverance pays off.

Here are some tips to promote perseverance:

  • Allow children the time and opportunity to dress themselves.
  • Let children solve puzzles and build block towers, train tracks, etc. all by themselves.
  • Know your child and only assist when necessary and as little as possible. Don’t immediately do something for a child when you see them struggle.
  • Allow children to drink out of regular cups and glasses. Sippy cups may avoid spills, but that is how children learn.
  • Stay calm and patient. Not only does this model the behavior we want from our children, but it lets them know we have confidence in their abilities to master tasks.

Building self-confidence and endurance in early childhood is a foundation for happiness later in life. In order to develop these characteristics, children need time and space to practice doing things for themselves. Life is hectic, and we are often on deadlines and schedules, rushing from one place or activity to another. Whenever possible, calmly, patiently allow a child to struggle. Avoid getting emotional or impatient, and just observe. If necessary, offer advice or a hand in moving forward, but as much as possible, allow children the opportunity to accomplish their tasks on their own. In the end, they will be better off by having struggled and built up their perseverance.

 

 

References:

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Child Psychiatry, 17, 89−100.

Scheduling Time For Unscheduled Play

“When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.” ~Fred Rogers.

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” Kay Redfield Jamison (professor of psychiatry)

Sand Area and Play Kitchen
Children enjoy the combination of the play kitchen with the sand area

Life is busy. There are endless deadlines, obligations, appointments, work, school, and social commitments. Packing the kids up from one place, rushing to another, finding time to eat, getting the kids ready for bed, waking up in the morning and doing it all over again. This is normal. Especially if you have more than one child. Managing busy schedules can be very challenging for parents, but even more so for children. Children are strong and resilient, but have a need for down time. Not the kind that they get in the car, either. In fact, sometimes you have to just schedule time for doing nothing.

In fact, if you want to see the relationship with your child truly blossom, just sit with them. We don’t have to always read a book, or be doing something. Sometimes, just sitting and staring at the clouds can be a bonding experience. Just sit and let them play in the sandbox. Kick a ball back and forth. It is the simplest act for a child to play, but as an adult, it can be difficult sometimes. The decision to consciously and intentionally NOT impose our own ideas of what we should do, and allowing young children the freedom to decide what to do, can be the most beneficial decision we make as parents, educators, and caregivers . This is the heart of child centered, play-based education. The spontaneous and self-determined play that a young child engages in, is probably the most important time they spend. Free time promotes resilience, creativity, and problem solving skills. So, schedule time for unscheduled play time. Your kids will thrive, and you will see a positive difference in them.

Listen to what Temple University psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and others have to say here

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Natural Playscapes for Thriving Children

by Mr. Jay

Children love to play outdoors! Having a fun, inviting outdoor play space is a necessity when working with children. I’ve been lucky enough to have some space to build a natural playscape, and it has been one of my greatest pleasures since I started working with children. Visioning, building, and then seeing the children enjoy the space has been truly rewarding.

Outdoor Natural Play Scapes
An outdoor play sink is a great way for children to play with water, sand, mud,etc.

 

A used kitchen sink, some 2X4 lumber, and a lot of imaginative play!
A used kitchen sink, some 2X4 lumber, and a lot of imaginative play!

Daily, I get to see the therapeutic value of play, (read what Janet Lansbury has to say about it here) and I witness children benefitting from open ended, simple, and natural materials. Mud, sand, water, wood chips, sticks, and rocks are favorite ingredients for countless kid’s recipes and games. I am grateful to  have had the privilege of fostering an environment where children are free to play as they like.

Sunken tree stumps create the border for this natural sand play area.
Sunken tree stumps create the border for this natural sand play area.

Several years ago, a large tree fell on our property. Suddenly, the expression “windfall” made perfect sense! Here was all the material I needed to make seats, benches, a sandbox, and more! So, after the investment of a quality chainsaw, and several weeks of hard work, I was able to build a playspace that I enjoyed watching the children play in, almost as much as they enjoyed playing in it! After sinking a number of stumps into the ground in a circle, we then filled the middle with sand, creating a wonderful sand play area. The problem was how to keep it clean, dry, and critters out of it. Well, a 10’X12′ tarp, bungees, and stakes solved that problem.

This is a great way to tarp your sand play area!
This is a great way to tarp your sand play area!
The sand stays clean and dry under a tarp!
The sand stays clean and dry under a tarp!

Over time, I’ve added a couple more elements, and it just keeps improving! Of course, I have more ideas than time, but the process is what is so very enjoyable. At this point in the essay, I’d like to pause and note that I could not have done any of this without Ms. Lee! 90% of all of the ideas were hers, and mostly, I just used the power tools. She helped me move huge stumps, and had an active, physical hand in all of the work. She has such an incredible vision that I often worked to help her build something (like the play sink), that I wasn’t sure how it would look, and it turned out quite nice, plus, the children absolutely love it! They use it almost daily, year round! Boy, was I ever wrong to think that a used kitchen sink in the yard would look like trash. The children have so much fun, and it looks quite nice.

Here, you can see the Little Schoolhouse in the Woods in back, left side, the play kitchen, and the sand play area, as well as the woods!
Here, you can see the Little Schoolhouse in the Woods in the back, the play kitchen, and the sand play area, as well as the woods!

The play kitchen with the sink, combined with the sand play area, is a year round favorite for the kids. I hope you are able to find some inspiration and build your own natural play space for children, too!

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This is the Early Education Movement That Will Have You Questioning Academic Preschools!

Winter Forest Sunset
A February sunset in Mt. Airy Forest

by Mr. Jay

Get ready for early education to shift paradigms, away from standardized content, towards student centered, play based curriculum. While Common Core and state standards are becoming a fixture in public education, and the focus is on testing, student centered learning and connections to the natural world through play-based curriculum are in danger of being left out of early education. While the need to have standards is important to assess the quality of education, homogenizing curriculum isn’t the answer. In fact, individualizing and customizing education is what will ultimately raise the overall quality of education. Plus, there is plenty of research to support the idea that children’s cognitive development benefits from free play and adult led play. Parents want highly qualified teachers and solid pedagogy, and they don’t want to see their children get left behind. Well, how about no child left inside?

Outdoor Classroom and Playground
There is no better classroom, or playground than the natural environment!

Consider the foundation for learning to be the rock on which your child’s education is built. Early childhood programs are no longer a babysitter for while you’re at work, but a comprehensive educational environment in which children become students of life! It is vital that children’s early school experiences are full of joy and foster a lifelong love of learning. Outdoor education embraces a student led approach, valuing free play and organized play as a fundamental approach to early education.

 

Joyful Outdoor Collaboration
Children enjoy a game, collaborating, imagining, sharing, and having fun!

When we expect our children to learn to read and do math before they are ready, we deprive them of the opportunities to experience the world in their own way and in their own time. Save academics for first grade, and let preschoolers develop social skills and explore the world in an experimental, hands-on approach. Allow children time to play outside and in the woods as much as possible, engaging their curiosity, enriching their experiences, and exploring their world.

If you still feel you need a reason to ditch academic preschools, here are four from Janet Lansbury.

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What is a Forest School?

by Mr. Jay

Forest schools, or waldkindergartens, as they are called in Europe, are early childhood preschool/kindergartens, where a majority of the activities take place in an outdoor setting, preferably, in the woods. Of course, each one is different, and there are many factors to take into account. An accessible woodland suitable for exploring and playing, along with a suitable shelter for extreme weather, is important. The children should become comfortable with an outdoor approach to education by introducing them to the woods gradually. A park or private lot near the woods, where children can be educated and play in familiar surroundings becomes the base. From here, the relationship with the Forest School teachers can build trust as the children develop self confidence in the outdoors. When they are ready, the teacher(s) can lead a group to familiarize themselves with the trail into the woods. These initial outings allow the children to explore the woodlands while establishing physical and behavioral boundaries. Once the safety procedures, hygiene, and routines are in place, a child-led approach to projects can take place.

nature explorers
Ms. Lee leads some nature explorers!

First, the basic needs of the children should be met (Maslow’s Pyramid of Hierarchical Needs). The children should be dressed properly in order to keep warm and dry in all types of weather. Healthy snacks and/or meals should be available, as well as plenty of water or warm drinks. Of course, the safety of the children, both physically and emotionally, is of utmost importance. Once these are taken care of, the learning and fun can begin!

 

Creek Explorers
Chilly morning creek explorers!

Circle time is the highlight of the day, with hand and finger gestures accompanying simple songs. Snacks and meals can be a pleasure, when eaten outdoors with friends. Learning about plants, trees, birds, and animals can be so much fun, too! Children learn to recognize evidence of animals: tracks, scat, or food remains. They learn to identify fossils. Social skills are strengthened, physical skills are honed, and mental skills are built up. Learner-led, play-based, and nature-immersion are the foundations of a Forest School.

Snowy sunset
A panorama of sunset in Mt. Airy Forest with snow on the ground.

Of course, if you’d like to learn more about Little Schoolhouse in the Woods, or find out how to contact them, you can click here.

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Hello world!

Welcome to Ms. Lee’s Little Schoolhouse in the Woods! We are so pleased you’ve come to learn more about us and our Nature School and Childcare! Stay tuned, we are under construction, and will be adding lots of photos and links to stuff that inspires us as we educate children in the scenic beauty of Mt. Airy Forest!

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