Yesterday, a most glorious thing happened.  A small city’s worth of women (and a handful of men) were all given (or took) the day off from work in order to attend the DVAEYC conference.  DVAEYC, pronounced “Dih Vay See”, stands for Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children.  I have no earthly idea who was watching the city’s 3-5 year olds all day.  While I’m not a teacher presently, I do work at a building we call a preschool, so I and all the staff were given the opportunity to attend, teacher or not.  Being a speech-language pathologist, I decided just to soak up as much as possible, try to find some relevant seminars, and enjoy the day away from children (as much as I do enjoy children). 

Way back in February, when more seasoned coworkers were signing up for conference seminars, I deliberated what I should take.  While there were many interesting sounding seminars, everyone urged me to take “Ooey Gooey(TM)” with Lisa Murphy.  Anything trademarked sounded almost too special.  But they also made a point of telling me to go see Lisa Murphy.  As if the seminar itself were not just about making gooey nasty concoctions to put in the sand/water table.  It was, I came to understand, about Lisa Murphy. 

Foolishly, I thought I could fill out my raffle tickets during the slow points in the seminar.  There wasn’t one nanosecond of downtime when Lisa Murphy started.  She had at least 700 people captivated as she talked for a solid 90 minutes not only about making “clean mud” (Ivory soap, grated, added to water and a roll of toilet paper) and coffee grounds-infused play-dough (a scent-sory experience); she also gave us her teaching philosophy.  She told us anecdotes about her years doing home-based daycare and being called the B-word (“babysitter”), having checks bounce, parents asking her to do their laundry (since she was hone all day), and trying to budge in early.  She told us about her center in Rochester, NY.  She gave us her curriculum in 7 simple words: create, move, sing, discuss, observe, read, and play.  Hearing her speak not only confirmed what I am doing as an itinerant SLP in inner-city storefront daycares and church basement preschool; it made my heart sing. 

I’m not even describing the presentation fully, not giving enough credit, not able to articulate how much I was gasping and laughing and, when she told us to breathe (we had all stopped in shock), breathing.  I can tell you she called us on our “bad habits” of taking preschool coffee filter art and turning it into a butterfly.  “Resist the pipecleaner!” she screamed.  “Who is this for?  YOU!  Not the child.”  As she proceeded to squeeze an entire bottle of colored glue onto a paper plate, she called us on our cringing as we calculated how much money would be going down the drain if we let our students do that.  “Dot, dot, not a lot” she said, mimicking a popular glue conservation credo (though not one I’d ever heard).  “Someone in your class needs to squeeze!” she cried.  It builds hand strength for writing.  Give them dish soap bottles in the water table. 

She showed us how to paint with a plunger, a potato masher, and a fly swatter.  Even as we each thought of the child who would start swatting at fellow classmates, she interrupted us brashly.  “Someone in your class needs this!”  All those little boys not being allowed to get their agita out as recess is steadily eliminated need to get physical activity during painting.  And why not?   She squirted shaving cream into a ziploc baggie, added yellow and blue food coloring, sealed it, began squishing it around, and presented it as an alternative for kids who don’t want to touch the cream directly.  Again, she said, “Somone in your class needs this!” 

She implored us no to be bound by the adult-directed world of “Wolves” (administrators, principals, program directors, etc.) or by the schedule saying it was not “Bird Week” when little Brumhilda comes through the door clutching a bird’s nest.  She even included a list of words to use with Wolves so that we are allowed to justify “having a good time playing in Oobleck”.  Somehow, “having a good time playing in Oobleck” doesn’t align with state standards for arts and science.  So, she implored us, here are some words to use when asked, “But what are they learning?” (as if play didn’t have inherent value).  Problem-solving, propulsion, action, amplify, classify, coagulate, experiment, reaction, questioning, and observing.  So that “playing in Oobleck” becomes “exploring the effects of a chemical reaction which forms a Non-Newtonian liquid”.  And that satisfies the wolves. 

In the afternoon, I took a well-run (but certainly not equalled) seminar about new books for preschoolers.  Even as I was enjoying 90 minutes of being read to, I could hear the peals of laughter next door as Lisa Murphy thrilled her audience in a way no one else could while discussing Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory.  I was thoroughly jealous. 

I can recall for you the final anecdote she told us.  Lisa had rigged a 3-way “telephone” out of 3 pieces of hose, 3 tops of water bottles (resembling nothing so much as oxygen masks), and some tape.  She described the various ways kids thought to use the phone, from one child who tied herself to a tree with it and called out, “911!  I need 911!” to the child who tapped the hose and said, “Call waiting” when he wanted to ask for a turn.  Finally, she wrapped the hose around her back, leaving 2 “mouth pieces” in front.  She affixed each to one of her breasts as she talked, leaving us in suspense as she told about little Susie who very quietly was occupying herself in this same posture.  When Lisa asked her what she was doing, Susie answered very matter-of-factly:

“Pumping.”

That we all may live in world where our children attend such institutions of learning and play.   I think I’m in love.

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