Sunday, January 24, 2021

Transitions, Grief, and Adult Scaffolding


“David, will you help me build a house?,” CS petitioned, collected some connecting sticks and spheres nearby.  “Sure!  As soon as I’m done helping JA, I’ll help you!”  

“Cody, I am building a house!,” says JA, with a bright smile across his face.  

“I see that, JA! You look like you feel excited about it,” I reply. 

 “Yeah, and David is helping me!,” he says, while admiring the beginnings of CS’s house adjacent to him.  

Episodes such as this one have been scattered throughout the past three weeks, ever since we have moved from the Infant House.  This is not a little transition, and it comes with not a little grief.  To lose the habitation of one’s environment, one which you spend some 25-35 hours a week, only to inhabit a new environment, devoid of many of the relationships you’ve cherished, requires a great deal of energy.

In the midst of this heavy load, children often return to the adults around them for safety, comfort, and play.  Whereas they normally would interact a lot more with one another and provide one another with provocations, their attention turns to their caregivers, who represent strong pillars of their mental and emotional worlds.  In essence, when confronted with loss and the unknown, children return to what is most known, most consistent, most reliable- adults.  

This return has been evident over the past few weeks, as I have noticed a steady increase in how often teachers are invited into play, when their peers may have served that role before.  Within such a dynamic, teachers find more opportunity to scaffold learning as they co-construct ideas with the children more closely.  What that has looked like are guided reflections on the learning that has taken place (by looking at videos and pictures, along with sharing anecdotes), but it has also looked like research, as we explore ideas that we have not yet thought through.  

All of those instances provide fertile ground for adult-child scaffolding to happen.  Sometimes you need scaffolding to construct something new, and sometimes you need it to return to something familiar.  Either way, construction happens, and as a result, emerging understandings come to fruition. They are such resilient learners!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Problem Solving and Truth Telling

December 30, 2020

“Children need simple, truthful, empathetic, but direct responses, especially when they are testing and learning limits. (p.17) -Elevating Childcare/Lansbury

This quote resonates on many levels with me as an educator, guide, community member, and human. When I hear a truth spoken in the world, I feel it intuitively when it resounds in my heart and body. Sometimes hearing a truth even brings tears to my eyes. It is a quiet feeling, yet unshakably strong. I believe children have an innate ability to see, hear, feel, and speak truth in a unique way in comparison to adults. Children contain essences of purity unparalleled and they are operating most often without a filter. This translates to their ability to hear a truth and be able to accept a particular reality pertaining to that “truth”: even if it is not what they might wish.

This relates to a preschool setting where there are a community of learners with differing needs and wants. If each member of the group is able to feel safe and speak their “truth” then a compromise can be attained. I believe it is our job as adults to model the tools (words/actions) necessary to articulate feelings, needs, and wants. As a guide, I strive to help children take a seemingly impossible situation and boil it down to the root or baseline of the problem. Throughout this process a number of resolutions can become available. These undertakings do not exist within the realms of black/ white thinking, rather in the infinite shades and possibilities of grey. There is no single “right or wrong” way to solve a problem. This is even true in mathematics.

I learned in Graduate School math classes that when breaking down a story problem, proportional reasoning made the most sense to me; whereas for others an algebraic equation was a solution. I needed to see pictorially the problem drawn out and the components of the drawing at play. Both ways for solving the problem arrived at the exact same answer. This metaphor translates to the classroom when guiding children through the problem solving process. It is imperative to allow each child to express their authentic self, while simultaneously respecting each others' boundaries. There is always an opportunity to grow as a group in these instances, and learn how to exist peacefully.

It's Just the Beginning...

December 28, 2020

As I sat quietly reading in the office on my first day at the preschool, I was able to begin observing (auditory) the flow of the mid-morning routine after outside time. OP chose a book for Cody to read to the group about mindfulness. It felt inspiring to listen and notice how receptive the children were to putting collective deep breathing into practice. Also it was a great time naturally (after outside play) to come back “into their bodies” before the lunch transition. I noticed how the sounds of the deep breathing exercises brought with it the overall quieting down of sounds from the next room.

Practicing mindfulness and stretching poses can begin to give children powerful and effective tools to utilize when they are beginning to explore self-regulation with their bodies and emotions. I believe these tools can assist us as human beings in general throughout our lives no matter what age or phase of life we are in. Empowering preschool age children to take ownership for their body, mind, and spirit is just the beginning of a profound lifelong journey in traveling the distance from the head to the heart.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Sharing and Caring: An Interview with Tumbleweed Teachers about Meal Time(s)

One of the most difficult realities of the Covid-19 Pandemic has been that families are not able to come into our school.   As you all know, this means that so much of our life together at school is invisible to you unless otherwise posted on Instagram, sent via text/email, and/or through this medium, our weekly Newsletter.  Therefore, we wanted to take a moment to offer a glimpse at a part of our day that wouldn’t otherwise be seen- Meal Time.  For this purpose, I (Cody) interviewed Sam, Hayln, and Shianne, and this is what they shared:

Infant Cohort

Cody: In three words, how would you describe the Infant mealtime(s)?

Sam:  Intentional, respectful & fun!

Cody: Tell us why you chose one of those three words.

Sam: I chose the word respectful because infants' journey with food is such a new process that honoring each child’s approach makes a big difference! Each child may have a different interaction with food & as they have experiences with different whole & natural foods preferences arise! By respecting each child our meal times are very enjoyable to spend together!

Cody: What do you enjoy most about mealtime(s)? Why?

Sam: The process each day! For example Evie’s excitement as she transitioned from the blanket on the floor to sitting at the table in a chair after building those muscles! Watching Bella and Edie use sign language to express what they need. Watching Gideon smile and mimic his friends in his selection of what to eat next! Using positive language around meal time to encourage and demonstrate healthy attitudes and mindset towards food! 

Cody: Is there anything that might surprise some about that time together?

Sam: The children are familiar with the process and we can all sit at the table for up to 45 minutes!  Friends are often motivated by their peers at the table to keep trying and eating more food rather than cleaning up to play! 

Cody:  Is there anything else you’d like to share about mealtime(s)?

Sam: I wish I had had an exposure to conversations about where foods came from, how they grew, or were made into the delicious dishes we had each day, when I was growing up! Having a lush garden to contribute to our meals brings a full circle around how we energize and take care of our bodies! Infants find so much wonder through these conversations!

Toddler Cohort

Cody: In three words, how would you describe your mealtime(s) together?

Hayln: joyful, delicious, exploration

Cody: Tell us why you chose one of those three words.

Hayln: I think exploration is a big one. We try and retry a variety of foods prepared in different ways. We explore how to be with our peers at a table while eating. Lastly, we explore how to share the experience of sharing food and stories and songs. 

Cody: How have you seen mealtime(s) together evolve since infancy?

Hayln: when the group was younger, a lot of our work around mealtimes was the sensory experience of having different textures of food and drinks and what it meant to eat solid foods and drink from cups. Nowadays, with our mealtime routine established, we get to talk about the particulars of food - peels and rinds - and the experience is more centered around sharing a meal together. 

Cody:  What do you enjoy most about that time together?  Why?

Hayln: the best part about meals for me is the sharing of stories and songs in such an intimate space. We are united in the desire to share a meal (this group loves to eat) and lately we've added so much communication about the food or stories about everyone's home time, or even how to say "more" with language or signing. 

Cody: Is there anything that people might find surprising about your mealtime(s)?

Hayln: How much food everyone eats!  As the cook, I prepare a lot of veggies, protein, and grains and I find it surprising when I hear that all or most of the food was consumed at lunch time!

Cody: What else would you like to share?

Hayln: One of the parts that I really enjoy about mealtime is sharing in spoken and signed language. We have been practicing, since infancy, how to use our hands or words to communicate, and lately everyone has been participating with ease!

Preschool Cohort

Cody: In three words, how would you describe the preschool mealtime(s)?

Shianne: Silly, engaged, curious

Cody: Out of those three words, which one do you think encompases Preschool mealtime(s) best?  Why? 

Shianne: Engaged.  I think that’s seen through how we “check-in” in the mornings at the table.  And I think they’re all good at being both a speaker and a listener during that time.  They can switch between these roles well, which makes for some great mealtime conversation!  

Cody: What is your favorite part of that time together? Why?

Shianne: I love when everybody shares about their home life and their experiences.  For example, I like monday mornings when everyone comes in to share what they’ve been doing with their families.  I think it builds community!

Cody: Is there anything that people might find surprising about mealtime(s)?

Shianne: I think children expand their food palette based on their surroundings.  Without it even being spoken verbally, they come to appreciate various foods, as they witness one another enjoying all of what’s available.    

Cody: What else would you like to share?

Shianne: One of the things that the children do before every meal is choose a song to sing together.  Sometimes that song is something that we all know, and sometimes the child who is choosing decides that they want to make up their own words to an existing song.  And sometimes we all make up a new one together!  Because of this, I think that each of them has become more confident in their ability/creativity to come up with something new that we all can enjoy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

On Resilience...

I remember a time when I did not believe in children.  I didn’t believe in their capabilities, their strength(s), and their resilience. Because of this, my image of the child was one of fragility and weakness.  To my credit, I worked at a mental health therapeutic nursery for children who lived in extreme poverty and continually dealt with the often traumatic realities of toxic stress.  However, my view of them was still too small, still lacking, still insufficient.  

And then I began to believe.  I began to believe that children are not made of glass; but rather, courage, strength, and ambition.  I realized they are not made of something to fear.  Instead, they are made of something worth celebrating…

Children are resilient humans.  They are all resilient in a diversity of ways- no matter the child, no matter the context. Skovholt and Trotter-Mathison (2016) define resilience as “the ability to bounce back” (p. 125).  With this in mind, the very act of being born into this world is a heroic act of resiliency. a fetus journeying from the only environment it has ever known, only to enter the brightest, loudest, and the most disorienting experience of their existence as an infant.  Though this example is an extraordinary one, resilience is also cultivated within the mundane.  Masten (2001) spoke to this ordinary nature of resiliency saying, “Resilience does not come from rare and special qualities, but from the everyday magic of ordinary, normative human resources” (p. 235).  In this view, even trying to put on a shoe or overcoming the common cold is building resilience within the child’s physical and neurological processes.  In fact, the absence of such trying experiences only serves to delay the emergence of resiliency (which could also be termed here as development).   

Children, our children of Tumbleweed as well as those outside our doors, are such insatiable learners, protagonists, and explorers in the celestial beauty of existence.  They are theory-builders, co-conspirators, and conduits of grace.  We have the opportunity each day to witness their resilient journeys, as well as offer them the freedom to encounter new challenges and struggle once again.  And each time they bounce back, each time they overcome, we celebrate their beauty and wonder at their continual maturation.  Yes, our children are resilient!

Masten, A. S. (2001). Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist, 56(3), 227-238. Retrieved from /10.1037/0003-066X.56.3.227

Skovholt, T., & Trotter-Mathison, M. (2016). The resilient practitioner: Burnout and

compassion fatigue prevention and self-care strategies for the helping professions (3rd

ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. Retrieved from /10.4324/9781315737447

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Politics of Sleep

 Naptime.  One of the most talked about, written about, and contested times of the day for children.  Some caregivers love it for the respite it offers them in a mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing day, while other caregivers despise it for the “power struggle” dynamics that sometimes accompany it (particularly in the preschool years).

Children Need Sleep

Whatever the viewpoint, one thing is for certain: children need sleep.  We all do, and it is not for a little reason.  We need sleep to grow- physically, neurologically, and for a healthy stress response system.  We need sleep to rest-  to give our mind and body the pause that it needs.  And we need sleep to heal- to give our muscles, skin, bones, etc. time to regenerate.   

Sleep is not Dogma

With this said, one culture’s values around sleep is not dogma.  Despite the proliferation of literature on infant sleep schedules and preschool mandates, children are not inherently delicate.  Rather, diverse cultures throughout the world prove that there is no universal law around sleep (except that you need it), especially considering the spectrum of ways in which each culture cultivates sleep for its youngest members.  It’s important that we recognize this so that we don’t get stuck in the falsehood of dichotomizing rest.  Thinking there is a right and a wrong way for children to get what they need is true in some instances, but to assert a universal value around the way children sleep creates the possibility of asserting colonial attitudes on the culturally divergent ways of cultivating rest.  

Sleep is Political

Regardless of our practices around naptime, what is most important for us to remember is that the way that we relate to children and their sleep routines is political.  Children are right-holders and active citizens in society.  As such, mandatory participation in an act of rest comes with no small amount of negotiation.  When we participate in this negotiation, we are affirming the child’s right and competence in co-creating a restful experience, which leads to increased self-efficacy and confidence in their own self-care.  

To be clear, this is not to advocate for a kind of anarchist pedagogy, one in which adults have no authority when it comes to children’s sleep practices.  Authority still exists because a large knowledge gap between adults and children still exists.  However, authority in these instances is not absolute.  Even infants have an innate knowledge of what they need (often heralded by crying); therefore, our work is not how to “get them to sleep”, but to tune in to what their bodies, emotions, and behaviors are telling us.  As a child grows, they become more competent in recognizing what their body needs, as well as what feels most restful for them. Every time that we listen, follow, and negotiate with their thinking, feelings, and desires, we are participating in the politics of sleep by giving our authority and power away, while simultaneously promoting confidence and self-efficacy in children.  It is not easy; negotiating power never is.  But if we desire to live in a democratic society, one in which the rights of each citizen are highly valued, we need to recognize the inherent strength, capabilities, and knowledge(s) of even our youngest members.  

Thursday, November 5, 2020

The More We Get Together

“The more we get together, together, together...

The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.

Because your friends are my friends, and my friends are your friends. 

The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.”

In the Preschool Class, we sing this song almost every day at one of our three meal times.  And it sounds so simple- “The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.”  But, in the beginning, it often doesn’t feel that way….

It’s Monday morning, and we’re out in the yard.  The children have been working on their “Ninja House” much of the morning, but as we come back outside after snack, their attention turns to the newly-fallen leaves lying under our large maple tree.  CKP finds a leaf with a brilliant spectrum of colors (maroon, orange, and yellow) and says, “Look at my beautiful leaf!”  OP has turned her attention to the same leaf and after Clark puts it down, she immediately picks it up.  CKP notices this, and says, “No, I’m still working with that.”  “No, I’m working with it,” OP replies. 

By this time, I have come over to assess what is happening.  I ask them to hand me the leaf while we talk about how to solve the problem.  “It looks like you both want the same leaf.  How could we solve that problem?”  Hearing this, CKP quickly finds another leaf with its own array of colors and offers it as a substitution to OP.  “So CKP’s idea is that you could have the leaves he’s found and he could have the leaf that I’m holding in my hand.  How does that sound?”  “Not good!”  

Meanwhile, JA hears this same conversation and offers OP a leaf saying, “Here’s a leaf for you!”  “But that one isn’t beautiful!  I want my leaf,” OP responds.  However, as I continue to hold the leaf and CKP again asks to be entrusted with it, OP has her own idea.  I see her bounding up the side porch steps, only to celebrate and proclaim the long piece of grass she has found.  “It looks like you’ve found something else to play with, OP.  Does that mean CKP can have this leaf?”  “Yes!”, she replies.  

Tuesday will host one of the most important elections in our Nation’s history, and it has been met with not a little strife already.  Rather, it has been a continuous and contentious debate over the past four years, while ideas conflict over the appropriate and democratic way to move forward.  And though this discord has been sewn into the fabric of who we are together, I wonder about how, and even if, we will move forward together as a collection of diverse people, situated in the same geographical and constitutional milieu(s).  

“The more we get together, together, together…” The more our preschool class gets together, the more we see our differences: differences of culture, of thought, of feeling.  And the more we get together, the more we see these differences and recognize them as such.  Initially, we try to change one another, to root out these differences that we see as problematic.  But eventually, the more we get together, the more conflicts we have, the more we see our differences as something to be empathized with (rather than destroyed), and the more we see ourselves in one another.  A conflict over a leaf is just one example of this.  

With all of this being said, a leaf is not abortion or LGBTQ rights or immigration, and it never will be.  But the possession of a leaf is political.   Everything is.  And the more we get together as a community, the more we will learn how to navigate conflict together, empathize with one another’s differences, and just maybe... the happier we will be.