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Tribune Star (Sept 2002)

Education Consultant Makes Class Hands-On Experience

Tribune Star Terre Haute and Wabash Valley
By Matt Miller/Tribune-Star

Read the original article at tribstar.com

Lisa Murphy has learned much from things that go ‘squishy plop’

By Matt Miller/Tribune-Star

September 15, 2002

Since she was 3 years old, Lisa Murphy knew she wanted to be Miss Mary.

Miss Mary let her play in the clay and the sand. She had “one of those magical, magical yards” with slides and ropes on trees and a ladder that doubled as a swing. She would ask, not order.

Miss Mary was the kind of preschool teacher or daycare provider that Murphy, an early childhood education consultant, urged other educators to emulate.

Getting messy and touching and smelling and doing things hands-on are all vital for preschool-aged kids, Murphy explained at her “Ooey Gooey® Squishy Plop” workshop Saturday at Indiana Theater. It was sponsored by Community Coordinated Child Care and Step Ahead Councils.

“When you’re 35 years old, sliding down the slide headfirst butt naked into a mud puddle doesn’t cut the mustard,” she said.

The self-proclaimed “Ooey Gooey Lady” also stressed that educators should remind themselves why they love to teach little kids.

“It takes a level of passion and dedication and commitment that only you can control,” she said. “You can never ever ever ever realize the impact of what you do. When you have that fire in your belly, you know why you’re doing this.”

That usually doesn’t mean ordering children around with a whistle, a stopwatch and a commanding, booming voice. In her first teaching job, she worked under a woman like that, who still had laminated lesson plans from the 1970s. Murphy called her “Laminated Lady.”

Laminated Lady, for example, made the kids walk through the halls with their hands on their heads, elbows out.

“That’s how they walk in jail,” Murphy said. “You shouldn’t do that. I realized that’s not why I became a teacher.”

Instead, Murphy offered techniques that let kids explore the world around them and learn from it.

Giving child-centered education rests on four main points, Murphy said. First, kids must be able to take time to explore and experience. They want to spin around in the frozen foods section of the grocery store or inspect the bug crawling across the sidewalk. They learn from such experiences, she said.

“You enjoy doing things, too,” she told the audience, “and it takes time to do them.”

Childcare providers, she said, should be facilitators, making it easier for kids to experience the sights, sounds, tastes and touches that shape their young lives. They should ask kids what they want to try and if they want to try it again.

“Laminated Lady was not a facilitator,” Murphy said. “She was the keeper of the stuff.”

Kids shouldn’t have unnecessary amounts of rules, either, she said. More focus should be devoted to the reason individual children act the way they do, not a black-and-white rules system that tells them they were wrong.

“A rules sheet is easier … but they don’t need that,” Murphy said.

Finally, kids should have plenty of time to play outdoors, she said. Murphy said 40 percent of U.S. schools have abolished recess time. She disagreed with one superintendent’s comment that test scores are not improved on the monkey bars.

“That’s how their body is getting ready for reading and writing,” she said.

Melissa Fagg, a daycare provider who is studying early childhood education at Indiana State University, said those experiences are what kids take with them.

“We all have those kids she’s describing,” Fagg said. “I want to be memorable. I want to be hands-on. I want them to get more than the academics.”

Carol Bush found better ways to relate to the kids in her family daycare in Bedford.

“I’m getting a little stilted in communicating,” she said. “She’s giving me better ways of doing what I do. … I do identify with her.”

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