How do I continue to update my practice and refresh my ideas?
It can be very isolating being an Early Childhood Educator who has chosen to operate her own in-home child care. One might have organizations that meet monthly in their local area and annual conferences, but how do you keep yourself refreshed daily? Over the years, I have been fortunate to develop a small personal network with different child care providers in my area that I can call on at any time for support, as sounding boards and resources. There is also a very active local group that draws from a wider community, so I get exposure to more diverse perspective on issues, concerns and solutions. With the growth of online training I have also been able to broaden the issues I can gain knowledge on. For me the biggest change has been in the growth of online communities that are all about sharing. It has been incredible to connect with others working with children from all over the world. It has been professionally stimulating becoming involved in in-depth discussions online with peers. It is both reaffirming and inspiring.
How to balance time being involved with an online community and social media……
As I stepped into the online community time management was a concern. Learning something new though often takes additional time at the beginning, so I set aside time where I could focus on what skills I needed to acquire to “see a return” on the time spent. As I became more knowledgable and thus comfortable with sites and what each offered me, I have found that I actually spend less time in the development of lessons and researching current trends and issues. Having these online communities means rather than being one person trying to find all the information for herself, there are hundreds gathering their resources and sharing. I am getting exposure to resources I never would have found on my own. I have taken shared ideas and developed alternative organizational methods that have not only cut time in lesson development, but freed up space by going paperless. My computer has become my go to teaching manual, my lesson plan book, my filing cabinet and my staff room. As this change occurred it was a real eye opener to see the time saved by accessing online files verses paper notes, tagged teaching books or even storage boxes labeled by theme or month. As I stated, initially, I did have to spend time getting everything in place or in an order that worked for me, which is often the case whenever you start something new. Once there I find my time better spent. I can accomplish so much more in the same amount of time. I also find I am continuing to challenge myself to explore new ideas and new tools. That is a great side benefit.
The biggest change came with Pinterest. I am a visual person and immediately loved how it was set up as virtual bulletin boards. I liked the freedom to organize my boards in an order that made sense to me. That I could group/title/theme boards as I wished. It was wonderful to be able to take all those neat ideas I was finding online and gather them in one place. Again gaining from the larger community. A little time investment for a large return.
For many on Pinterest the question is:”Do you use anything or do these pins just sit there?”
I’m a user. Just as I gathered tags in books and paper clippings in file folders, I gather pins. I am continually using ideas gathered here. If I am not using them as detailed, then I am adapting to meet the needs of the children here. I find it such an easy resource tool that it is the first place I go when an idea is needed.
An example of how the value of my online connections improve my teaching:
I try to develop my lessons around the interests of the children, but also around what they need developmentally. During a morning discussion, I had a mom tell me about how her son had developed this sudden interest in killer whales. To take advantage of this information, during rest time I went online to my Pinterest board: Ocean Theme and checked to see if I had anything on Orcas. I did – a photo of a classroom bulletin board with sharks and orcas on it. From that I was able to check to see if there was more information, but the lesson was on sharks. However, I was able to get a close look at the orca and figure out how we could make it. I then went searching for any paper activities online. Found a coloring page and with Google Docs I made a dot to dot. Found a general information site that I will use the length, years of life etc. for working with number awareness and comparisons. This took me less than an hour and provided materials that allowed me to teach to an interest over multiple days including multiple educational domains. I know I could not have developed these lessons that quickly without using technology and social media.