Friday, July 20, 2018

Navigating Transitions Together

We pass through so many transitions at the Preschool House, from our daily transitions like going from inside to outside, and from lunch to nap, to big transitions like starting at our school, saying goodbye to old friends, or greeting a new teacher.  How do preschoolers help themselves and one another through times of transition?

We take the time to slow down and gather as a group to talk through a transition.  The more children are able to anticipate what's coming next, the more they will be able to be active participants in their daily routines.

We ask questions, and listen closely to the answers.  If we don't know an answer when someone asks us something, we do some research - who might know the answer to that question?  Or where could the answer be found?

 We make agreements as a group about what works and what feels safe.  By doing this, when something changes and feels new, we already have a stable foundation of choices that we've built together.

We find ways to get grounded, and reconnect with our body and breath.

We share materials when we want to, and use things by ourselves when we need space or individual focus.

We have daily rituals and routines that are the same every single day, so if one of us forgets what's next, the group is there to help them remember!

We offer choice and variety throughout the day.  If what we are doing right now doesn't work for you, there are options, and there is the knowledge that each part of the day passes and leads to something else.

We offer help and engage in teamwork and collaboration.

We offer our friends a gentle touch to help them feel connected and safe.

Friday, July 13, 2018

"What If They Were All Connected?"

The past two weeks have been big ones at the Preschool House, as a cohort of preschoolers graduated and a new group of two- and three-year-olds joined the school from the Infant House.  For Cohort 10 + 12, there has been a slightly different schedule, a new space, two new teachers, and lots of new children to meet.  The preschoolers who were already here have said goodbye to old friends, greeted new ones, and had a new teacher come into their lives (me!)

Watching the two groups of children get to know one another has been beautiful.  I'm in awe of their openness and willing to accept one another's different ways of doing things.  Above all, I see in these children a desire to connect and understand each other.  This doesn't always happen smoothly, as we learn each other's likes, dislikes, preferences, and boundaries it's been important to have teachers close by, sometimes to provide comfort, sometimes a listening ear, and sometimes guidance or coaching when conflict or confusion arises.

At times of transition, emotions are often heightened, and it feels important to have nonverbal outlets for children to express those big feelings.  We've offered lots of opportunities for dance and yoga, gross motor activities outside, construction and deconstruction of towers and forts, and many chances for nonverbal expression with art materials.

Last Thursday for small group I gathered a group of six children: half established preschoolers and half children who were new to the Preschool House.  I laid out a piece of butcher paper and in front of each child's spot I offered one color of paint directly on the paper and a long paint brush.  My idea was to offer each child limited materials and see if it sparked a conversation about sharing, what feelings might come up, and how we could help each other.

Often with a provocation like this, I will let my intentions remain unspoken, but this time I decided to let the group in on my plan.  I told them, "When we sit at the table, everyone will have only one color of paint.  I'm curious to see what kinds of plans you guys will come up with and what kinds of questions you'll have for each other."

As we sat at the table, each child started out just painting with their own paint in front of their spot.  Everyone was excited about their ideas: FK was making a fire breathing dragon, and LD was making a viking ship.  After a few minutes of painting, LC really wanted some of FK's blue paint to mix with her white paint.  She asked, "Can I share with you?" and FK replied, "Sure - we can connect your picture and my picture."

I felt a brief pause at the table.  Everyone else thought about connecting paintings while FK and LC quietly merged their two areas of the table.  Painting continued for a bit, and then LD realized he'd taken up all the room he could with his viking ship!  He needed more space.

LD proposed to the table: "Hey what if they were all connected?"  AM responded enthusiastically: "Yeah!" and FK chimed in "Hey, yeah!  That's a great idea!"  RM looked at what her friends were doing and let them know "I'm making a ship by myself," and everyone agreed that was just fine.  JS had been watching all the painting and making a plan for his paint and at this point he began to paint as well, and told his friends, "Yeah, you can share my paint, too."  Everyone noticed that where the different paint colors came together they blended and swirled in different ways, and that RM's paint stayed bright blue, which we thought was pretty cool as well!

As the paint started to run out and children started to feel done with their work, FK looked over the whole project: "We made a dragon ship together!"  Everyone checked in with me to make sure that the painting would be hung on the wall for parents and friends to see, feeling very proud of what they had made through connection and collaboration.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Explorations with Clay

Clay time is always a special activity the children of Cohort 13 look forward to participating in.

When we first started, I gave everyone a ball of clay to explore. I saw some excited faces, and some curious faces as each
child poked or prodded the clay in a way that helped them discover more about the properties of clay. I left this activity open
ended at first and when I saw interest beginning to wane, I demonstrated one way to squish the clay by using your fingers to
flatten it out.

Some children noticed how squishy the clay was while poking or pounding it and continued to do that while others noticed those
same qualities and ripped little pieces of the clay, making their one ball turn into several pieces.
Other children decided to explore how it tasted and quickly learned that using their hands to play with it was a more acceptable choice
and more fun as well given the bland taste of clay.

The next time we worked with clay I introduced some tools such as a pick and then a roller. Each person used the tools in a different way.
Some used the pick to poke the clay and were fascinated when the clay was sturdy enough to hold the pick in place yet flexible enough
to be ripped apart into many different pieces.
The next time we worked with clay I added a small metal bowl and metal ring into the mix. Some children pressed down the metal ring into
the clay while others used it as a container for lots of little clay pieces.
Through this child-led exploration we learn about the properties of clay by observing how it changes when it is touched and how it
stays the same. In this way each child can participate in the scientific inquiry process and learn about something not only through
observation but through exploration too.

What a great way to learn about the world around us!


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Fun of Not Sharing

RM approaches her buddy
"Does it work for you?" is one of those phrases that pops up all the time at Tumbleweed.  It's often used by a child after they state their idea for a plan - they know the plan won't work unless it works for everyone!  It's such a pleasure to see the two- and three-year-olds of Cohort 10 + 12 working on skills like negotiating, problem solving, self-advocacy and listening.  The group feels like a safe place to test out these skills and be emotionally supported while trying out new social behavior.

A frequent site of this type of problem solving is the rope swings.  We have two swings, but one is inevitably the favorite, the one that all the children want all the time!  The purple rope swing is the site of many physical feats for this group, and also a place where lots of creative problem solving takes place.

"Count to five!"
On Monday morning, LC was happily swinging away.  RM approached and asked her friend, "Can I use the rope swing?" and LC let her know, "You can use it when I'm all done."  RM looked disappointed, she didn't want to wait.  Then LC thought for a few seconds, and said, "Count to five, and then it's your turn!  Does that work for you?"

A delighted look came across RM's face: "Yeah!  It works for me!"  She ran to the other side of the maple tree from where the rope swing hangs, and shouted "One!  Two!  Three!  Four!  Five!"  Then she ran back to LC.  Both children were beaming and giggling.  LC said: "Now you count to three!  And then it's your turn!"  RM said: "Okay!" and ran off to do her counting.

This went on for several minutes, both children so pleased with this game.  RM was showing off her counting skills, of which she is so proud, and LC was still swinging on the swing, finding it hilarious that RM was doing all this counting and running.  The back and forth had turned into it's own game.  It worked for them both!
It works! 

This moment of pure fun was kid-generated and untouched by adult rules and ideas about sharing and taking turns.  It was about connection and enjoyment, not really about the rope swing at all!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Outside materials: What will you create?

Outside time is a favorite of ours at Tumbleweed. It is a time for running, jumping, playing, laughing, and overall just pure bliss-- breathing in the fresh air with the friends we love. During this time, there are a lot of activities in place between groups or even individual play. Incredibly detailed games give ample opportunities for children to collaborate together and make situations work to everyone's advantage.

What's my job? 
Where can I place this piece of wood? 
What is my role in our game?

A table set for a dinner that is being made, filled with food, drinks, and a center piece looks so enticing!

A fort or home is built using wooden materials, carefully constructed to fit the needs of those inside. Who's home is this? It is during these times when us as teachers are able to see how much work and imagination goes into these games, structures, and roles the children create. The materials we have outside are always available and are ever-changing and evolving. There is no right or wrong way to use an item in the backyard, as long as they follow the guidelines of our agreements we made together as a community.

When we are able to utilize the full extent of our imagination without limitations, we are able to be ourselves fully. Outside material allow the children to create exactly what they need when they need it. A long board can be a path over a pit of fire, making us test our balance as we run across it. Or a see-saw, turning into a mathematical equation of how many people need to be on one side to make it lift up. The limits are endless, and everyday is a new chance to create, imagine, and wonder what we can use the materials for next.

As the year progresses on and the children get older and more mature, so do the games they play. We start to notice that the games continue on for days, sometimes weeks. The structures and items used are wanting to be saved for the next time they're outside, jobs are needed to be formed for others that want to join in the game in progress. Problem-solving skills become more apparent and are starting to be used in these times, creating ample opportunities for the Tumbleweed Preschool community to come together to think of a solution.

How can we involve everyone and still keep our game/structure intact? How can we best communicate our needs and feelings when we are unable to use a material that is already in use elsewhere? Its during these times as a teacher I get the most excited. Seeing the children work through a tricky situation by themselves is such a rewarding feeling.

Outside time will always be one of my favorites as a teacher. These are the times where the children socialize, compromise, and problem-solve the most, which are all valuable traits that will make their journey outside Tumbleweed that much easier to navigate through.

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.