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Pre-schoolers, parents
come together for

CO-TEACH OUT-REACH PROJECT

From left: Stacie Butterfield, Chris Daday, Sheila Devins, and George Bailey gather after Preschool/Co-Teach Workshop.

by Beth Hutchinson
For the Pathfinder

Twenty-one preschoolers and fifteen mothers and fathers gathered for an hour of creative interaction last Thursday morning in response to an invitation from the Seeley Lake Elementary Preschool and the U of M Division of Educational Research and Service (DERS).

Packed into that hour were numerous opportunities for both children and adults to learn more about ways to interact beneficially with each other. Two facets were given special emphasis-- how parents could most effectively support their child's needs and ways to learn and what inexpensive materials could be used in the process.

As they collaborated with their children exploring fun ways to develop pre-pencil and communication skills, parents had the opportunity to chat with DERS Project Director George Bailey, Assistant Director of Programs Chris Daday and Supervising Special Education Preschool Teacher Stacia Butterfield.

Bailey, Daday and Butterfield frequently travel around the state to represent CO-TEACH OUTREACH, a project which provides training for rural professionals and paraprofessionals who teach preschoolers. So successful has this model been that Bailey and Butterfield have been invited to share it with Department of Defense schools in Germany, Korea and Japan over the next few months.

Introducing himself and his staff in the beginning of the session, Bailey expressed enthusiasm for unique way Seeley Lake preschool teacher Sheila Devins and the DERS team had structured the morning's program. "Usually," Bailey said, "we talk the game to a group of educators. This time we are able to share the interaction directly with parents. I know we are going to get a lot of valuable feedback for the UM staff."

Over the next forty-five minutes, children threaded pasta necklaces, made paste and glued pasta onto black paper, crayoned on recycled paper sacks, molded colorful homemade clay and rearranged blocks constructed from milk cartons. They were encouraged to voice their needs and explain their ideas to their parent partners, while at the same time their parents were urged to set aside their personal visions of what a "proper" necklace or drawing should look like.

Devins and the UM visitors moved around the work area modeling appropriate adult interaction and calling attention to the diverse interpretations young children need to be free to make to a particular assignment. While Jeremy Praeter quickly assembled a full necklace and went on to use it as a prop as he pretended to be an Indian, Wyatt Wiemer threaded a few items, stopped to reflect a while, threaded a few more and then got up to test the pendulum qualities of his construction.

Parents sometimes found it a bit difficult to separate from their own visions of "reality" and were caught giving direction rather than support. At one point while several parents wondered aloud whether it was all right for the children to mix the different colors of clay, Tiffany Prater, unhampered by their concerns, uninhibitedly assembled a delightful patchwork like work. It featured various colors of clay laid over a blue base and embellished with pasta accents. Her creative response led other children to want to mix media and renewed their interest in the project.

Participants got to see that no one is immune from getting adult/child wires crossed. For a moment even Devins found herself inadvertantly snagged in the adult mind set when, as the session was drawing to a close and some children were still enthralled in their play, she caught herself saying, "No pasta in the clay". Devin's modeling how to catch, to laugh and to modify her inadvertant slip may have been one of the most vital moments of the hour.

"Of course pasta in the clay is okay," affirmed Devins. Turning her attention to the adults, Devins continued, "Oh, I feel so embarrassed. See what happens to us when we are trying to do so many things at once."

Adult agendas are not always apparent to children. Unintended messages that have broad lifetime implications may be received by children. For some child, "No pasta in the clay," could translate into "Don't be a risk-taker, don't explore, don't be creative..." A confident pro, Devins used her human slip to take advantage of a genuine teachable moment with the other adults.

As the event concluded, the DERS team urged the parents to develop a set of cues for situations that involve transitions. They pointed out that the child's idea of "finished" may vary with the adult's and that power struggles can be avoided if cues are learned and used consistently.

Most importantly they stressed that parents need to suspend their expectations regarding PRODUCT when children are interested in PROCESS.

Bailey praised Devins for focusing on process and for being so open and accessible. "Seeley Lake is very fortunate to have Sheila," he said. We have felt closer to the participants today than during other experiences and hope to build on this model. We are also hoping to build a lasting relationship with Sheila as well as this preschool program."

Expanding on the idea that all behavior is caused and that there is a reason for the way each child acts and feels, he urged parents, "See yourselves through your kids. If you see something you don't like, it's not too late to change... often... yourself (and the way you are handling things)."

Community members Cheryl Evans and Theresa Hahn assisted in preparing for and facilitating the program. CO-TEACH packets and a short video covering the UM project may be obtained by calling Devins at the elementary school (677-2265).

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