Men in Early Childhood Education: My Interview With Kindergarten Teacher Peter Dargatz by Mike Prochaska

Men in Early Childhood Education: My Interview With Kindergarten Teacher Peter Dargatz

Peter Dargatz is a fellow Midwesterner and kindergarten teacher. He works at Woodside Elementary in the Hamilton School District in Sussex, Wis., and actually created a nature kindergarten program. Even though he’s a Milwaukee Brewers fan, it was nice to meet another man in the ECE field across the border in Wisconsin!

Q. How did you get into Early Childhood Education?

“After six years teaching fourth grade, my administrator asked if I was interested in switching to a different grade. We had always talked about how I loved early learners, so with the opportunity to move to kindergarten, I jumped at the chance.”

Q. What do men bring to the classroom? 

“Unfortunately, when people think of single-parent families, they think of the father being absent so in many cases, young children might not be exposed to a positive male figure in their lives. A male teacher can fill this role but also do so much more. When it gets down to it, it’s what inside that counts so I feel the gender of the teacher is irrelevant, though societal expectations and unfortunate misconceptions can interfere with that belief.”

Q. Why is play important for children?

“There are way too many reasons to dig into just one blog post. Play is work for children and offers foundational skills that promote the whole child. Whether it is socially, physically, emotionally or academically, play is crucial for whole child development.”

Q. What about outside play, is it important?

“Outside play, especially play in nature, includes all the benefits of indoor play with additional benefits such as risk assessment environmental awareness, and physiological advantages.”

Q. What’s your favorite memory working with kids?

“Every day offers new opportunities, so it is hard to pinpoint specific memories. I know it’s cheesy, but it’s true. What I love is seeing kids ‘come out of their shell’ over time and do things they initially might have never been successful with or in some cases, even attempted.”

Q. What’s your favorite book to read to your classroom?

“I love reading ‘Little Tree’ by Loren Long. It connects so well with my teaching philosophy. I also write picture books, so I love sharing my own stories and co-constructing stories with my own students. They LOVE reading and illustrating stories we created together. Some are quite good.”

Q. What’s your favorite activities to do with kids? 

“Observing them in nature play, jumping in to guide and deepen their learning while they explore, and watching them share their discoveries with each other. I also love messy art projects, free choice time, and singing and dancing. We’re the loud classroom and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Q. What about roughhousing with kids?

“To an extent, it is allowed, especially in nature. Research shows how beneficial it can be, but current societal and school expectations frown on it unless it is monitored closely.”

Q. What are your feelings on risky play?

Risky play offers amazing learning opportunities. Understanding and identifying the differences between risks versus hazards is essential. Risk is great and, in my opinion, needed, but often, it is hindered by the traditional educational model. Kids want to be right and see wrong as failure even though wrong is learning and risk is growing. Kids can be great risk assessors if you give them the opportunity.”

Q. Anything inspiring to tell anyone thinking of going into this field?

“Find your passion and let it lead you. If you’re passionate, you’ll be happy and you’ll be inspiring to the students you serve.”

Be sure to check out Peter's Facebook page and his blog, Tales From the Trails, where he provides updates from his nature kindergarten classroom, the Tyke Hike program.

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