Interpretation addressed to children should not be a
dilution of the presentation to adults, but should follow a
fundamentally different approach. To be at its best it will
require a separate program. – Freeman Tilden
Understanding Young Children
• Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)
• Developmental Stages (Children 6 years and under)
• Constructivism – Learning Theory (Jean Piaget)
• Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Howard Gardner)
• Teaching to the Whole Child
• Learning Through Play
Developmental Stages and DAP
• Concrete thinkers
• No concept of time
• Appearance is reality
• Cannot think logically or abstractly
• Think inanimate objects have human feelings,
thoughts and desires
• Can think of only a few things at one time
Constructivism (Jean Piaget)
• Children construct their
own understandings of
how the world works.
• Develop own theories
about the world based
on prior knowledge and
physical and mental.
Theory of Multiple Intelligences
• People have at least eight different intelligences:
• Logical – Mathematical
• Bodily – Kinesthetic
We tend to plan for this
and neglect the others!
Teaching to the Whole Child
• When planning programs for young children it is
impossible to separate:
Mind, Heart and
Learning Through Play
• Play is the natural
activity of children.
• Relatively free of externally
• Focus on process rather than
• Intrinsically motivated.
• Educators worry children
not learning if they play.
• Free play time has
• More structured adult-
• Considered a waste of
time/frivolous in society.
• 39% drop in frequency of
Planning for Learning
• Teaching vs. Learning
• Appropriate Topics
• Authentic Experiences
• Inquiry-based Learning
• Essentials for Learning
Teaching vs. Learning
• Formal academic
• Overly abstract science
• High stakes testing
• Death of natural history studies
• Little time for hands-on
• Learning objectives with
unrealistic goals and
• Focus on Experience
rather than facts.
• What experience do you want
the children to have?
• Process oriented
• Developmental appropriate
goals and content.
• Simplest components:
• Things you can see, feel, hear or
• Things that can be experienced
• Local topics that children
experience every day.
• Help children connect to where
• No save the Earth
• Use real or as close to real as you can get!
• Authentic experiences are hard to come by:
• 71% children say television is major source of information.
• 1 in 5 children under 2 years and 1 in 3 children ages 3 – 6 years
have a television in their bedroom.
• 27% of 5 – 6 year olds use a computer.
• Need to interact with natural world (touch, dig,
poke, smell, shake and muck about).
• Average American spends 95% of time indoors.
• Allow time for children to
share things with us.
• Focus on children making
or as a group.
• Ask open-ended questions
• Ask questions with no
right or wrong answer.
Essentials for Learning
• Hands-on Learning
• More than touching and manipulation, it means actively
participating in learning process.
• Open-ended Activities
• Encourages children to pose their own questions, test ideas and
• Children may choose between more than one activity and/or have
the choice not to participate.
• Learning Stations, Art and Story Time
• Promote choice, creative thinking and expression.
• Gathering together with a relevant book can help close a session
or generate interest.
• Outdoor Exploration
• Allowing access to places
may be a child’s only chance
in urban environments.
• Increases confidence, comfort
level and coordination in
Quality Early Childhood
• Wonder, creativity and imagination can not be taught.
• Provide pleasant, memorable experiences.
• Emphasize EXPERIENCE vs. TEACHING.
• Engage full use of their senses.
• Keep children actively involved.
• Maintain a warm, accepting atmosphere.
• Focus on the wonder and beauty of nature.
• Demonstrate your own interest and enjoyment.
Early Childhood educators spend 4 or more years of study and research into understanding young children before most become preschool or kindergarten teachers. However, most naturalists and interpreters have degrees in sciences and few are educated with regards to the working minds of young children. This is why many interpreters struggle in programming for young children and why our best intentions often fail miserably. Even parents often struggle to understand their children.
Programming at the early childhood level means more than simplifying the activities and experiences of what is typically offered for school age children.
Connecting children with our interpretive programs requires understanding of their developmental stages and how these may offer limitations and opportunities.
We will explore some of the research behind understanding young children then focus on how to plan for early childhood programming.
DAP is emphasized by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). You need to understand the developmental changes that occur in children and make program choices that emphasize and support both the individual and collective abilities of children (Developmentally Appropriate Practices).
Children think differently than we do!
They are concrete thinkers with little knowledge of cause and effect.
They have no concept of time, what happened in the past, when something will occur in the future often become mixed with the present.
Reality and fantasy are confused. They cannot understand that something that remains the same even through changes. (A PB sandwich cut into 4 is still the same PB sandwich, the exact same size.)
Cannot think abstractly or logically
Inanimate objects have human feelings, thoughts and desires
Can think of only a few things at a time…do not give them a list!
Egocentric – everyone thinks, feels and acts like ME! There is a rigid sense of equality and fairness. Unable to distinguish between intentional and unintentional acts.
People have at least eight different intelligences. Young children do NOT compartmentalize their learning. When a subject is taught in multiple ways it will reach more children than traditional methods. Mixing movement, music, art and nature can have larger impacts.
When planning programs for young children it is impossible to separate cognitive, physical, social and emotional aspects of their development. Mind, heart and body all work together in young children and ALL must be incorporated in programming.
Play is the natural activity of children. It is intrinsically motivated, free of externally imposed rule and focuses on the process not a product. Why do we not offer more play? Most educators worry that when children play they’re not learning. Remember the mind, heart, body mentality. Free play in the US has dropped 25%. In your early childhood programs if it feels like you are rushed and have no time for free play then you need to re-examine the schedule.
We live in an achievement oriented society with intense focus on what should be accomplished for the sake of the future. This leads to a misguided introduction of formal academic instruction at a very early age.
No natural history studies and little hands-on
Learning objectives are concrete statements that describe what the student is expected to know after the lesson. For the 6 and under crowd these are often unrealistic. Instead of setting learning goals for the kids we should set teaching goals for ourselves.
Focus on the experience rather than blurting out facts. Be process oriented and use developmentally appropriate content and goals.
Program topics should be boiled down to simplest components.
Things you can see, hear, touch and taste
First hand experiences
Local topics that help the children connect to where they live so they gain an understanding of place and home.
No save the Earth campaigns.
Rainforests, pollution, environmental issues are not age appropriate.
Do not place our concerns on shoulders and minds of the children. This often leads to simplification of the issues, fear and hopelessness in children just learning their place in nature, and nature will be viewed as a place full of problems, poisons and garbage.
Environmental issues are complex with shades of gray, moral issues and many sides to an argument. Something young children can not grasp.
In today’s age of technology, authentic experiences with real objects and environments can be hard to come by.
The natural world is not just a scene in a movie or a backdrop. It’s something to interact with, to touch, dig, poke, shake, smell and muck about in.
When schools and we as interpreters provide programs that keep children indoors for most of the time we give them the message that nature is not very important or has limited value so you should spend limited time in it.
Inquiry-based programs allow children to make discoveries independently or together in a group. They allow children time to share with us, and we know how they LOVE to share their thoughts. It requires you ask open-ended questions and questions which may have more than one answer. And give the children time to answer.
Touching, manipulating and letting the children actively participate.
Try to have enough equipment to involve all the children at the same time.
Remember, real items take a beating. If it is irreplaceable put it in a clear case. That being said children need to know limits in handling materials and props.
DO NOT handle an item yourself while simultaneously telling kids they can’t touch it.
Open-ended Activities: can be used in more than one way and offer teachable moments. Encourage children to pose their own questions, test ideas and share their experiences.
Choice: Give the children the chance to choose between more than one activity or have the choice NOT to participate. Children learn to make good choices and will have longer attention spans for self-selected activities.
With regards to art, we often substitute a craft project for art and creative expression because they’re cute and look great on the refrigerator. You can have a pattern but let the children personalize.
Story time: Choose stories with active participation, work the story into your walk or hike, do a picture walk where the text is paraphrased or let the children explain what is happening.
Outdoor exploration increases the confidence, comfort level and coordination in children. Remember, mind, heart and body. Allowing children access to outdoor places to play and explore may be a child’s only chance in many of our urban and even suburban locations.
From Ruth Wilson. Children have a unique affinity for the environment that decreases as they grow older. To keep their interest longer there are several important benchmarks to remember!
Wonder, creativity and imagination cannot be taught, they come with experience and discovery.
Provide tools for exploration and begin with simple and familiar experiences allowing kids to be comfortable and feel secure.
Provide pleasant, memorable experiences.
Do NOT touch approach doesn’t work - redirect to things they can pick up, use hand lenses, bring along stuffed animals or watering cans.
Emphasize the children’s experience vs. teaching, allow them to share and do rather than just listen and watch.
Engage full use of their senses.
Keep children actively involved.
Create a learning environment that is inviting and responsive.
Observe carefully, listen closely and answer simply.
Maintain a warm, accepting atmosphere.
Do not obsess if children get wet or dirty and REMIND parents (can always bring a change of clothes)
Adjust yourself to the children’s pace and interests.
Focus on the beauty and wonder of nature. Encourage discover, learning and respect for nature.
Demonstrate your own personal interest in and enjoyment of nature. - As educators we have influence on children.
Your enthusiasm rubs off. When you get excited about a discovery the children get excited too. When you learn from a mistake the children learn a lesson.