Crit Ex for the youngest learners

Author: tcc854

Posted by Alythea

I am teaching a creative thinking course for three-year-old kids and I use a very laid back, inquisitive style when working with the children.  We do the same three big activities every class:

  1. Mix/make some kind of clay or dough, then we decorate it in some way or another.
  2. Create our own smoothies using small cups of blended fruit.
  3. Take photographs and analyze photos taken the week before.


We also explore several different types of materials (eg. wooden blocks, marbles, geometric shapes, animal figurines) and see how they might be combined.  I have seen some incredible things during this unstructured play time.

The children are invited to share their thoughts along the way (which is not always easy for a three-year-old!) and we pay very close attention to the words that are spoken.  We also make sure all the students are heard when they speak.  We often repeat things to the entire class, and/or we wait for a student to come up with an idea before pursuing it.

After class, I put together a quick narrative (+pictures) in the form of a blog.  The parents are welcome to share what their children have been saying over the course of the week and/or any mysteries they find.

The children LOVE this.  I have run this with ‘challenging’ students and found they really relish having control over what they’re doing.

It is critical exploration and we should not shy away from this style to teach even the youngest kids.

Anyone else out there working with the youngest ones?


You should look what what is being done in Reggio Emilia in Italy. See ‘The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach Advance Reflections’ Ablex Publishing Corporation, and/or ‘Working in the Reggio Way: A beginners Guide for American Teachers’ Redleaf Press.

Sasha Sagan

I teach older toddlers (two years turning three) in a full-time children’s center. I use CE methods in a few ways…

My co-teachers and I have agreed upon our core pedagogy: a constructivist, social model for learning. We’re all inspired by Reggio Emilia, and I’ve brought Eleanor’s work to the table as well.

I set out open-ended provocations in Hawkins fashion, and do my best to follow individual children’s explorations– although in the course of a day that can be difficult. I then do my best to write up what I’ve noticed for teachers, children, and families.

Whenever we encounter natural phenomena (my favorite being a red-tailed hawk eating a squirrel up in a tree) or look at picture books together, I ask what they notice. How I push on the conversation from there depends on their answers. My goal at two is more to keep them thinking and engaged (the same way Eleanor does her best to keep learners on a problem), and to build the skills of a socratic seminar (listening to each other, disagreeing comfortably, rooting our ideas in our noticings, etc.). One of my proudest moments this year was a child hearing an inaccurate statement about a picture book, cheerfully saying “Yeah, but…” and pointing and explaining to correct his peer.

Because it can be hard to really push a single thought session at two years old, I try to extend children’s thinking in the long term by asking them again later (or their peers), and by keeping the sources of their questions available: providing photos, reusing provocations, etc.

We use the Reggio idea of the hundred languages of creative expression, and repeatedly invite children to reimagine their ideas new media (speaking, drawing, sculpting, dancing, etc.)

@tcc854: I’m curious about your “creative thinking course”. How often do you meet, and for how long? How did your students get into the course? How do you communicate with families about your approach?

In cahoots,


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