The Business of Studying Children’s Interests

My name is Gigi Schroeder Yu.  Currently, I am a professional development provider for Christina Kent Early Learning Center (CKECC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Over the next few months I am hoping to share with you some of my experiences working with teachers and young children as we study the use of visual arts as representations of young children’s ideas and interests.

CKECC is a non-profit early childhood center that is open full time/year round for working low-income families.  The mission of CKECC is to provide children of low income working families with quality childcare, early education, and nutritional services in a safe and nurturing environment.  Our staff of thirteen teachers creates an exceptional educational environment for the 65 children ages two to five years who attend our program.

The teachers at Christina Kent Childcare and I are interested in exploring children’s interests and how these interests relate to learning.  My role at CKEC is to meet with teams of teachers to study documentation collected from the classrooms and discuss what we observe as children’s interests.  The weekly meetings follow a protocol that is influenced by the documentation practices of the Reggio Emilia approach and Descriptive Inquiry, developed by Patricia Carini at the Prospect School.

During these meetings, the teachers and I discuss documentation such as photographs, children’s drawings, paintings, 3D constructions, observational notes, and recorded conversations that they collect from their work with children in the classroom.  As a group, we use the documentation to determine children’s interests; classroom activities are then collaboratively planned that will enhance the children’s interests.  By implementing this strategy in which children’s interests are the inspiration for classroom experiences we plan, in a very purposeful way, the environment and materials made available to the children.

Most recently, we have been discussing how our children’s literacy skills progress through their interests.  This “ownership of literacy” (Kathryn Au, 1997) encourages children to further their literacy learning because the experiences are so personally meaningful to them.  On one particular adventure teachers Crystal and Lorinda took children on a walk through the community to discover how letters were being used.  Many of the children discovered how signs are filled with letters and they tell us what to do or where to go.  One child decided to create an image of a parking garage with an “Exit” sign.  She used a Sharpie marker and watercolor paint to illustrate her definition of the parking garage sign, “right there where the cars go in and out.”

The business of studying children’s interests is not easy, for teachers or myself.  We are literally on a journey that knows no end.  There are no boxes of tricks to follow this week’s theme nor do we see a predetermined end to our projects.  We must trust ourselves, the teachers, children, and myself, that we are capable of so many things together.  We need to trust that young children already possess what is necessary for their success in life.

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