Thursday, April 5, 2018

It's Clean-Up Time!

Our space in the back room can get chaotic very fast. For a long while I took on the bulk of cleaning up with minimal assistance and flexible limits where not everyone was required to help. As dumping and emptying shelves have become more popular and the task of cleaning much bigger I have changed expectations for the children of Cohort 10 and 12. With these new expectations comes even more modeling from me, firmly holding to the set limit/ expectation and being consistent and following through.
From my beginnings with Cohort 10 clean up time has changed drastically. I distinctly remember watching the one year olds pulling things off the shelf I had just cleaned up. Depending on the circumstances my response to those instances would be, “Pause, I am cleaning up so our room is ready for nap.” Or “I’m picking up some things before we go outside, that can be available.” I have been an active participant in our clean-up time ever since. What began as me cleaning up our whole room solo, turned into them showing interest and me asking or offering for them to help and now they are eager participants and cleaning majority of the toys. They are cleaning whole baskets of things now verse putting a single item in the basket.
I have used the term expectations very loosely when it comes to clean up time. I am always available for clean up and assisting but frequently ask for help. What cleaning up currently looks/ sounds like in our room: I will sit or crawl across the floor collecting toys; IF a child notices the toys in my hands, “I have these trains, are you available to put them in the basket?” IF a child is looking for something to clean and/or asks, “What else?” I then say, “I found all these toys, do you know where they go?” or “I have these toys to put away, I was going to do the animals next, do you want to do that?” As the children of Cohorts 10 and 12 continue to be in the phase of emptying baskets and clearing shelves clean-up time can be a daunting task. I help to minimize chaos, create individual tasks and encourage cleaning up when they are ready to move to the next activity.
We have gotten to this point where clean-up is always something they need to help with. How much I ask of them or insist they do depends on circumstances like energy level, time and what our next step is. Picking up something they were playing with is their work. I am always available to help and have no issues doing the majority but I am consistent with the limit that they are to clean-up. If I see they are dumping something out I simply say, “I wonder what your plan is?” and give a reminder that the blocks/ dominos need to be picked up before they move to their next activity of choice. The process or transition from me cleaning up to where we are now with them doing majority of picking up was long. It is not yet over though and continues to be something we work on together.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

See what I can do

As the Toddlers of Cohorts 10 and 12 continue to blossom into these amazing little people I wanted to take note of all that they are doing. In the past weeks I have really forced myself to slow down, watch closely and just get back to the basics. So much of our daily routine seems rushed, like we’re constantly moving towards the next phase. When I step back and look at what is happening I realize no one is being rushed, they have just gotten the hang of things, are doing so much for themselves and our “jobs” just go that much faster.  Everyone is doing so much more on their own these days and it was one of those slow progression that I didn't notice daily but now that I look at the bigger picture I am impressed.
Selfcare is happening independently now. If they get their shirt wet while washing their hands, they remove it, put it in the laundry and go to their cubbies to retrieve a dry one without skipping a beat. Our frequent bathroom breaks are now swift, and children are often going in to use the toilet on their own without needing assistance. They are also displaying ownership and taking a lot of responsibility for their belongings; hanging their jackets, returning their boots to the boot box, returning everything to their cubbies once they found the socks they were digging for. We have the task of getting nap mats ready before sitting down for lunch everyday; everyone washes their hands after coming in from outside, retrieves their napping essentials and takes them to their mats. I offer minimal assistance- only handing them the correct side of their sheet and they do the rest. During meal times everyone collects dishes from the shelf like the masters they are, they retrieve clothes for any spills that happen while we eat, and they clean their places when done eating, being sure to put any remaining food in our compost bowl and their dishes in the tub. We even have a system going with the tub so that plates go on one side and cups go on the other- this helps all of our dishes fit in the tub and prevents accidental breakage of dishware, some children take this very seriously and take the liberty of correcting any misplaced dishes.
Along with all the work they are doing  to take care of themselves, their belongings and the things that they use; they are very aware of their bodies and needs and doing great work practicing to verbalize everything. We have lots of conversations about their bodies and what they need, especially in the bathroom: Child “I don’t need to pee.” Me “I hear you don’t need to pee, I just want you to sit on the toilet and give your body time. If no pee comes that’s ok.” Child “I tried, and I had pee!” or “I tried and there was no pee.” Me “You did have pee!” Or “You knew your body didn’t have pee, thanks for trying.” Lately I have been noticing a lot of times when children want to play together to do jumps, or dance or work on a puzzle and other times when they feel strong about having space and doing their work independently. During these times some conflicts may arise and I simple sportscast what I am seeing or noticing or suggest what children can tell their peers that they need. Child “You wanna jump with me?” Peer “Yeah!” or “No!” Me “You wanted them to jump with you, and it works!” or “You really wanted someone to jump with, sounds like they’re not available. You can do jumps by yourself or you can check with __ to see if they are available.” Then on the other side of the spectrum… Child shouts, “NO! This is my work.” Me “That is such a clear message. That puzzle is their work and they want to do it by themselves right now.” Often, I will suggest that they move or ask for space if they feel the other child is too close to their work.
Frequently these days I notice a lot of back and forth… Some days it works for them to be chased on bikes, they even go as far as to ask their peer to chase them. Other times they feel strongly about riding solo and let their peers know it does not work to follow them. This same frame of mind can be applied to almost all of their play. Being a toddler is tricky. They are still very much so in the “Mine” phase but also creating games and wanting to find ways to play with their peers. They are also still figuring out all their big feelings and working through and identifying new emotions. They have come so far in verbalizing their feelings and expressing their needs and I can’t wait to see where they are off to next.

Flower Experiment

I noticed some beautiful white daisies one morning as I was setting up morning provocations that reminded me not only that Spring is right around the corner, but of an experiment I love doing almost every year of preschool. It involves colored water, daisies, and our power of recognition and guessing.

Once small group began that morning, I wanted to see what knowledge we already had about flowers. We already knew and agreed that:

1) Flowers grow in the ground
2) Flowers need water, sun, and dirt to grow
3) These flowers we had were daisies

Once those agreements were made, I asked them this question:

How do you think flowers grow?

After thinking a bit on it, D answered that it was the roots that helped the flower grow bigger and stronger. I agreed that the roots do play a significant role in the growth of flowers, but what was the purpose of the roots? These open ended questions left an abundant amount of room for discussion and questions between everyone in the group. One person said that the roots help the flower stay straight up while another said that they spread all underground to grow more daisies. After our discussion, I added that the roots act as a type of straw for the flower or plant, absorbing all the nutrients and water up through the roots and eventually spreads to the whole plant. I then asked the question:

What will happen to our daisies if we put them in different colored water?

After thinking on it for a while, we sat at the table and added all the white flowers to the different colored water. Just like scientist, we were going to conduct and experiment to answer the question. I shared that the fancy science word for our guesses was called a hypothesis.

Our hypothesis were as followed:

D: The petals will drop or die or stay the same.
A: They will change different colors.
L: They might change colors.
AK: They will sprout and grow new roots.
M: They'll grow new roots and grow bigger.
C: They'll change color.

As everyone listened to each other's answers, they discussed and talked about how their answers were different, but also accepted each other's own opinions. It was refreshing to hear such open ended talk and also such a respect for each other. After we shared, we went to work to draw out our hypothesis.

We placed our flowers in the window and agreed we would wait a week to see what happened to them. Throughout the week, the whole class were able to observe and comment. What was happening to the flowers? What do you notice?

Then the day finally came for us to observe our flowers after a week of sitting in the colored water! We gathered excitedly over the flowers and instantly noticed that some of the petals changed from white to the color of the water they were placed in!But why did they? We recapped what we discussed last week about how the roots and stem act as a straw for the flower, spreading water to all the parts and ding! A light bulb went off in our heads. The group agreed that the reason for the change in the petals must be because the stem sucked up the colored water and changed the petals in the process!

Being able to test our our hypothesis helped us problem solve, coming up with out own solutions while at the same time being able to work together to come to a consensus of what may happen. We also learned about the anatomy of a flower, opening the door to further discussions and questions about them.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

It's Transforming!

Magnet tiles have always been one of the preschoolers favorite activities to start the day, during transition periods and other parts during the day.  Over the years almost anything you can imagine has been created: zoos, houses, trains, the longest line of tiles ever, vehicles.  The most favorite thing to build lately has been space ships of one sort or another.  During this time, I often place myself nearby, mimicking and talking about what I notice.
"Oh wow.  Look how those are connected!  Can you tell me more?"
"That one has a blaster?  I wonder why?"
"I don't think I've seen a design like that before.  It looks like you decided to use all isosceles triangles this time."
My goal is to highlight the work that is happening ( "I see...." or "I notice....") and then extend what the next step or help encourage the wonder ( "I wonder..." or "What's next..." or "What's the story....").  This also helps me to connect with them and build our relationship, as I spend time and share my presence in the morning.

Most recently, something new has been happening with the magnet tiles.  At first I didn't notice it happening until one day when one child began to teach another child how to build "a transformer spaceship blasting off."  I feel like I am often quite present during my time when I am with the children, but some how this theme of transformation had slipped under my focus.  The more I looked for it, the more I saw the children adding the idea of using the magnet's natural force of attraction into their spaceship play, creating vehicles which transform as they move or land.
It began by one child building one shape over and over.  He laid the pieces out very carefully, then lifted the shape and the flattened pieces fell and attracted together, because of the magnets, causing the shape to change.  "It blasted off and then transformed!" he cheered.  This concept was very attractive to the other children nearby, and soon others were asking how it worked.  It turned out it took a deft hand to make the transformation happen smoothly, and there were many crashes before a smooth take off was achieved by everyone.  This refinement of movement and working through a logical series of events was attractive to everyone involved as it speaks to a preschooler's need for order and attraction to the scientific process.  But it seemed even more than that to me, as a sense of community was forming around the idea of transforming and the new way these familiar blocks were being used.  A new language was being developed and allowed for the children to speak to each other, to share stories with each other  and delve deeper into this material in a new and exciting way.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Commonly Used Pre-School Phrases: "You're not my friend!"

In the 8 years I've been teaching, I have heard a handful of phrases that children will use with each other on a constant basis. Some sound like they may be a bit too harsh when heard, making us feel that we need to intervene or maybe question what deep seeded meaning is behind the phrase. As I continued my education and my experience with working with preschool age, I've come to learn and even welcome these phrases into the classroom. What better way to prepare ourselves for the world outside Tumbleweed than with being able to have conflict-resolutions scenarios inside the classroom now? For part one of my blog series, I will start with the one we all know so well:

"You're not my friend." 

It's one of the most common phrases children will say, starting as early as 2 and continuing on through Elementary school. When I first heard this phrase, it was easy to say, "We're all friends in school" . What I learned through experience was that it wasn't necessarily the friendship I was seeking from the children, but rather the respect for each other that needed to start being practiced.

"What's my job?" As L and C are busy at work, A finds that he wants to join, but also notices a game is already in progress. A common phrase we use at Tumbleweed is "what's my job", which opens the door for more opportune moments of creativity and the ability to let everyone have the chance to play.
At school, we get to be kind and caring to everyone there because it's how we would like to be treated, as well. When we as adults hear this phrase, we automatically feel for the child being ostracized, because we know that friendships are some of the key components to a healthy and sustainable experience at school. For a child in preschool though, this scenario will play out in a completely different matter.  One child may say "you're not my friend" because another child is playing with a toy that the other wants one minute and the next move on to another game or toy completely forgetting the toy they desired a moment before. The phrase shouldn't been seen as harsh, but instead viewed as an opportunity to help the child find the words and emotions they are searching for in that particular moment. 

When I find myself hearing this phrase, I make my presence known to them, but don't interfere right away. At Tumbleweed, we are firm believers in letting the children have as many opportunities to be independent thinkers and actors of their own choices. More times than not, a child is stating this phrase as a way to express a need of theirs. Touch, proximity, and open relationships all combined together are keystones to preschool relationships.
"I'm using these blocks. All of them." LT explains to LD. "But how about we build together so I can build a tower with you?" LD exclaims, making LT feel more relaxed when hearing that LD wasn't wanting to take her blocks, but instead build together as to not disrupt her already built structure. In moments like these, we are able to witness the key components utilized but little guidance or instruction from teachers.
With these keystones in mind I ask myself these questions:

What lead up to this situation?
Are all parties feeling heard?
How can we help them say what is true? 

John Meyer's book Kids Talking: Learning Relationships and Culture with Children, stated that "children relate friendship to practical acts like playing together, sharing a toy, or giving something to another. The ability to reciprocate and meet the other's expectations was crucial for building relationships." Once a situation is assessed and the children are feeling heard, we are able to move onto the stage of finding words that make us feel good and that we would want someone to say to us if the roles were reversed. It's in those crucial moments that we are able as educators to give them the tools and words to assist them in expressing their feelings and emotions in a productive way that benefits all parties. After that, we send them off to grow and learn from their actions and flourish into the wonderful human beings we know they are starting to become.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Toilet Learning

Over the last month I have come to realize how much time we are spending in the bathroom these days. Many of the children in Cohort 10 and 12 are in underwear, and it just makes me think so much about the process of toilet learning (or Potty Training). When does it start? When is the process complete? What skills are they learning that they use outside of the bathroom?
I took an online training course once specifically for Potty Training and in this course, they referred to the process as Toilet Learning. It really stuck with me and made me think that us helping children figure out how to control their bladder, bowels and about the toilet was a lot of work for them and not so much for us. They need to take their own time and go at their own pace to not only figure out the toilet (what it is, what we use it for, and why flush, besides it being fun) but recognize signals their bodies give them when they need to go. We’re not “training” them for toilet use but supporting their natural learning process.

With that being said, when does Toilet Learning start? At Tumbleweed we are constantly talking to them in the bathroom about their bodies, about what we notice in their diapers (Whether it be wet, dry or a BM), with infants we are commenting when we notice them looking at the toilet or touching it, identifying what it is. We also talk to the infants a little about what some of the older children are doing on the toilet and in the bathroom while they lay on the floor for their change. While it may not seem like this is part of Toilet Learning it is a foundation for future conversations. As infants progress to being wobblers there is a shift in gears… Diaper changes happen while the children are standing, and they have access to the toilet if they want to sit or just take a peak. Also as wobblers we encourage each child to work with us on their clothing (assisting us in pulling down their pants for a diaper change). All of this process is child led, as their carers we are just answering questions (even the unasked questions of infants) and offering opportunity for them to explore the bathroom. Now that Cohort 10 and 12 are toddlers so much has changed from the wobbler stage in the bathroom.

Every child is:

Taking off his/ her own clothes
Removing their own diapers/ underwear
Most are sitting on the toilet every bathroom break regardless if pee or poop come
Wiping their bodies with toilet paper
Putting their clothes back on
Washing their hands
We have a consistent bathroom routine and set times throughout the day that we go in to use the toilet which they have all become accustomed to. At this stage they have made my role more of a presence, as I am just available for support or any needed assistance.

As they continue with the Toilet Learning process I wonder when is it considered complete? When are they beyond the Potty Training phase? Is it when they are no longer in diapers through nap or overnight? When they are telling us when they need to use the toilet? I feel like it is so hard to pinpoint and honestly why would you want to? I think every child is different, accidents happen… That is why they are called accidents after all. I also feel like their bodies are constantly changing and that there is always more to learn. For example, a few weeks ago one of the children was pushing on the tank lid… This of course made me nervous and I jumped in to stop it from falling. I talked with everyone in the bathroom about how the lid is heavy, and if it fell it could hurt someone or break AND then I asked if they wanted to see inside the tank because we could look if they were feeling curious. It was a pretty amazing thing to look at, we talked about all the parts and how everything was attached and even got to see what happened when we flushed it.

While a lot of our time in the bathroom surrounds the toilet they are doing so much more then just going pee or poop. They are working on dressing and undressing themselves, taking care of their bodies and practicing good hygiene, and making decisions on their own. There are many times I notice children’s skills from the bathroom carrying over to other parts of our day… When we are getting gear on to go outside they need minimal assistance as they have lots of practice dressing in the bathroom. When there is juice on their hands from oranges or dirt from outside they notice on their own and declare they need to wash their hands. When they feel mucus running out of their nose they know just where the clothes are to wipe it. There is just so much body autonomy that grew from the foundation of communication we started during their first diaper changes at Tumbleweed!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Setting Limits with Confidence

What are limits? 
When talking about setting limits for young children, it's good to know what limits are to begin with. In short, they are rules we set that help us establish appropriate boundaries for children depending on their age, developmental level and other factors. Limits are important, helping a child feel safe and secure in their environment and their relationships with the caregivers in their life.

Types of Limits
Always (Red light) Limits - Always true, regarding safety
Sometimes (Yellow light) Limits - Situational, more flexible, time-based
Rare (Green light) Limits - special occasion, rarely happen, based on own energy-level
Why is setting age-appropriate limits important?
Boundaries are comforting and help a child know what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. It also helps a child feel free when they know what is expected of them, since it relieves them from the burden of making choices that they might not be ready for. Toddlers want us to be in charge even when it doesn't seem like it. When toddlers are given too much freedom without consistent boundaries, it can lead to future destructive behaviors such as inflicting damage on themselves or others as an unconscious call for more boundaries. 

Why do toddlers push or test limits?
Children are emotional and are learning impulse control so they need to be given boundaries that will keep them safe and effective discipline that teaches them to have respect for themselves, others and their surroundings. They are learning to assert their will and personality. Testing is a positive sign of the trust children have developed in us to listen to them and do things with them, instead of for them or to them. Some of the most common reasons children push limits is because their needs aren’t being met. They could be overly tired, hungry, stressed out or be over or under stimulated. Children also push limits when they are trying to understand or clarify something related to them, like our expectations for them. Sometimes an expectation we set might be clear to us, but confusing to the child. It is important to set simple expectations that are easy for a child to understand and don't require much explanation. Another reason why toddlers push limits is to get our attention, especially if they feel ignored. As teachers, showing a genuine interest in each child, and demonstrating patience and respect with each interaction is vital for children to feel that they are loved and important people. 

So, how do we react to limit pushing behaviors?

First, before we react, we need to step back and think. It's so easy to react out of an emotion but our knowledge of the child's development should be in the forefront of our minds before we say or do anything.

Identify our expectations.  
Are they age appropriate? Are we perceiving a child’s normal behavior as a problem? If so, how do we set realistic expectations? It's a good sign if a child expresses demands and desires because it shows that he or she is secure. Insecure children are afraid to demand. All emotions are normal and should be accepted, even the most uncomfortable ones like anger, sadness, confusion or disappointment. Maintain a neutral, even, “all feelings allowed” attitude. If we accept their feelings, they will too. Children look up to us for everything and notice everything we do. There's almost nothing we can hide, including our feelings. If we get easily frustrated at a child's emotions then we lose stability as their leader and romodel.

Re-Frame our Perspective.  
If we re-frame our outlook and change our perspective, we can see a child's age-appropriate behavior, as normal, instead of problematic.

Helpful words to tell ourselves: 
This isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity.
This is just what is happening right now. It’s part of the process of growth and learning.
Lets find a way to do this together.

Children look to us to be a confident leader. That means not wavering back and forth between what we allow and what we don't. We need to set consistent limits. Ambivalence can be detected easily by children and they will test the limits we set repeatedly if we sound like we are unsure of them. Keep it simple and don’t obsess over a child’s behavior by making it bigger than it needs to be. Children learn best through natural consequences and short explanations.

Setting Appropriate Limits

Here are a few guidelines to help you along the path with setting limits with confidence!
  • Stay calm and don’t show strong emotions. That can draw attention to something minor and make it bigger than it needs to be
  • Directly and concisely address the behavior we see as problematic
  • When a limit needs to be set respond immediately or it’s too late. Toddlers live in the moment.
  • Acknowledge the child’s wants and feelings first. When a child feels understood he or she senses empathy behind our limits and corrections.
  • Only say what is true. Don’t just assume you know what the child wants or needs. Sometimes it's better to wait and see rather than react prematurely and not get the full picture of what is going on


Janet Lansbury's article "The Real Reasons Toddlers Push Limits" posted Oct. 23rd, 2013 on

Book "No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame"- Janet Lansbury, Chap. 1: The key to healthy and effective discipline is our attitude; Chap. 2: Talking to Toddlers; Chap. 5: A Toddler's need for boundaries