Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Using Imagination and Building Positive Identity: What Color Do You Call Your Skin?

A new book in our classroom, Happy in Our Skin, brought a lot of excitement this past week as we continue to learn about how we get our skin color and what function skin serves for our body.  The book’s depiction of families with many different colors of skin gave us pause as everyone remembered the discussions we had around All the Colors We Are the previous week -- we talked about skin color as something everyone is born with and that we inherit from our parents, which they in turn have inherited from their ancestors.  We have discussed the role of melanin in protecting our skin from the sun, and about how the level of melanin activity in humans looks different in very hot, sunny places versus cooler, milder ones.  As we work with the children to understand the reasons behind different skin colors, we reinforce the idea that there is no "default" or "superior" skin color -- everyone's skin has an incredibly important job to encase and protect us and it is unique to each of us, based on who is in our family and where we are from geographically. 

While reading Happy in Our Skin, we paused as a group and invited everyone to describe their own skin using any words that came to mind.  There were many exuberant shouts of “Mango!” “Banana!” “Chocolate!”  Some took a moment to consider before offering their ideas, while others seemed ready with spontaneous labels that felt exciting to suggest.  As everyone shared words enthusiastically, many children added to their list of descriptors, repeating two or three words that felt especially suiting to them.  

We truly enjoyed this discussion that ultimately felt like a celebration of everyone’s skin and identity.  As we talked, I was struck by how excited everyone was to think of their own skin as something unique to themselves, and something that they have the power to describe. No one corrected each other when a child "mislabeled" their skin -- everyone simply delighted in finding words that felt exciting to connect with skin color. As we continue to do this identity work in small groups and as a whole, we trust that each child will explore their own skin color and identity in the way that feels right to them -- just as we don't rush to "correct" a child who misidentifies a number or letter, we follow their processing and meet them exactly where they are, trusting that their learning will guide us to just where we need to be as an inclusive, loving community.

We look forward to fostering more of this celebration: reading books, making art, and encouraging conversation that reflects our strong belief as a community:

Difference is valued.  We are each worthy, whole individuals, deserving of respect and celebration!

Monday, August 8, 2016

"You're a Bad Guy!!"

At the preschool every day there are many characters and roles that the children try on and experiment embodying.  There are always good guys, bad guys, babies, superheros and mamas.

One day during snack time we had a conversation about what a bad guy is.  It went something like this:
"I have heard you guys talking about bad guys lately.  What's a bad guy?"
"Bad guys are Darth Vader."
"Yeah!  He has a light saber and kills people."
"A bad guy does hurt people."
"He's not a nice guy and always runs away."
"Oh!  I see.  It sounds like a bad guy is someone who isn't very kind.  I wonder why he isn't kind."
Silence for a while and the topic moves on to the logistics of how light sabers work.

Recently I have been noticing children saying to each other, "You're a bad guy!"  This is often accompanied by running away quickly and the person being told they are a bad guy quickly saying that they are not.  The next day as we are heading to the back yard, we all line up along the fence as we often do, I told them that I felt like before we played we needed to have a conversation about bad guys.
"I have been noticing that there is a lot of games about bad guys lately."
"Yeah!" almost everyone shouted.
"I'm a bad guy. Rawrrrr." IG said.
"Someone called me a bad guy, but I'm not!" RM said.
"I'm not a bad guy either," HR added.
"Right!  Sometimes we call our selves a bad guy, sometimes we call ourselves a good guy. I can feel fun to be a bad guy sometimes.  Other times, someone else calls us a bad guy.  I'm noticing when that happens, it usually feels bad.  What do you guys think?"
"I don't like when I'm called it." agreed HM
"I like being a bad guy." said QM
"Don't ever call me a bad guy.  I don't like it!" said VM
"Ok.  So what I'm hearing is that we can choose if we are bad guys.  What happens if someone comes up to you and says, 'You're a bad guy!'?" I ask.
"Tell a teacher!  Run away! Tell them you aren't a bad guy!"  Everyone says.
"Yes!  And you can also say, 'My name is______________, that's what you can call me."

"But what if they don't stop?" A few people begin to get worried.  That is always a possibility.  I continue,
"If they don't stop you can choose to not believe them.  We get to choose if we are bad guys.  Can we all agree on that?"
Everyone seemed quite relieved that they got to choose if they were a bad guy or not, and they agreed quickly that that was a new agreement for our school.  By engaging the children in becoming aware of their peers, noticing how it feels within themselves, as well as how they effect each other, is a huge part of our neverending journey of figuring out relationship building skills.  When children have agency over their emotions and their reactions, they are able to feel confident in what they know is true within themselves.  This is the big work of preschool.

Friday, August 5, 2016

At The Table With Infants

Since Cohort 12 began this June, one of my favorite parts of each day has been sitting down at our table for snacks and meals.  I enjoy preparing food for the children each morning before they arrive, steaming hard vegetables and fruits, cutting large foods into graspable pieces that still hold the shape of the whole food, cooking simple grains, and wondering what each child's reaction will be to the taste of crisp-tender steamed snap peas, perfectly ripe avocado, or tart-sweet summer plums.
The time we spend at the table serves many purposes.  It provides essential nourishment to children who are beginning to rely more and more on solids for satiety.  It causes us all to slow down and gather as a community.  It gives the infants an opportunity to hone their growing skills: drinking from cups, chewing food completely before swallowing, grasping large and small pieces of food.  It provides a rich sensory experience, as I offer foods of varying colors, textures, and flavors, and invite the children to explore what is offered with all of their senses.

At Tumbleweed, we offer whole foods to infants, meaning that food is served in as natural a state as possible.  Until a child has had experiences with the basic state of a food, we offer that food without seasoning, and separate from other foods.  Offering foods in their natural state (that is, perhaps lightly cooked and/or cut into graspable pieces, but not mashed, pureed, peeled, or combined) allows children to begin building a vocabulary around the food they experience.  Food is poked, sniffed, scratched, and examined. The next time these foods are offered they can be recognized by sight and touch before they are tasted, giving the infants rich sense memories to build upon and the ability to anticipate what they will taste when they see a certain food.  Serving whole foods also offers infants the opportunity to feed themselves, choosing what to taste and when to take each bite.

Similarly, drinking from an open cup gives a full sensory experience: the ability to see, smell, and feel a liquid before drinking it.  Open cups are exciting to infants not only because they get to experience their water or milk with all their senses, but also because the cup resembles what the adults (and big kids) in their lives use.  Even among young infants, this is an exciting and rewarding feeling!
The sense of community gained by coming together at the table is hard to overstate.  Each child expresses excitement when they hear me announce that it's time to eat and see me prepare our table and chairs.  As food is distributed, I hear sounds of enthusiasm and curiosity.  Communication between infants happens as they watch each other eat, make sounds back and forth, and make choices (what food to taste next, how to set a cup or piece of food back on the table, when to be all done) partially based on what's going on with the group.  Communication with me happens as the infants point or reach for a food they want more of, use sign language to tell me "more" or "all done," and find many ways to tell me that they are finished with a particular food.

I am so inspired by the eagerness and inquiry with which each infant in Cohort 12 greets each opportunity to interact with food.  I love facilitating our time at the table and I know our continued journey and exploration of food and eating will bring us amazing discoveries in the future!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

How We Use Clay

When we approach a new art medium the very best way to get to know it is to feel it.  By putting our hands, and sometimes elbows and feet, on the material, we learn about it's qualities, which later we will refine through new technique, tools and practice.  This week we had a brand new, 25 pound block of clay!  It is real clay like an artist might use.  This is an important fact that we talk about as I introduce this new art medium.  Most preschoolers view themselves as real artists, and we talk about how artists take great care in every step of their creative process.  They prepare their space, work with their materials, take care of their tools and clean up when they are finished.  This is the thread we will be following as we get to know the qualities of clay.
We began with large sheets on the floor and the block of clay set up in the middle, wrapped in plastic.  Near by I arranged a clean-up station of a shallow tub of water and towels for clean up after.  Finally a spray bottle of water was near by for me to use to dampen the clay as we worked.  Everyone who was interested came and gathered around and talked about what they thought.  We felt the block through the plastic, then worked as a team to pull off the plastic.

"Why is there plastic?"
"Oh!  It's so cold!"
"It's so slimy!"
"What can we do?"
"Where are the tools?"
I then explained that today we were going to get to know the clay: feel it with our bodies, see what happens, explore and learn from the clay.  This idea seemed to feel very exciting to everyone as they worked very closely together with the clay.
The children worked for a long time with the clay, some staying for just a short time, others using the entire 45 minutes to get to know the clay.  We talked about how it was similar to playdough, but different, more difficult to manipulate and squeeze.

"I'm making a road!  A long long road.  It's really hard work!"
"We can poke it too!
"I'm breaking off a huge piece.  Look how much I've collected!"
"We need to lift it up.  C'mon and help me!"
"Yeah!  It needs to be taller then we can push on it."
"I'm stompin' it!  Can you see me!"
"I might even try my elbow.  Whoa.  It works!"

As children worked I offered water with the spray bottle.  This changed the consistency from stretchy and sticky, to cool and slimy.  Some children wanted just to be sprayed with the water, while others wanted no spray at all.  We talked about how close we were all working together, yet still watching out for the comfort for our friends. 

Soon it was time to clean up.   We rinsed hands and feet with the spray bottle and the tub, then worked as a team to clean up.  Everyone agreed, "We can't wait to squish the clay again!"

Monday, July 18, 2016

Enjoying the Outdoors with Infants

Going outside with infants can be one of the most rewarding times of day.

Everything seems to slow as they enter our yard, finding their own way as much as possible, and then their endless fascination with the sights and sounds outside are inspiring.

Getting outside is the first part of the experience. We encourage self-mobile infants to move as much as they can outside.  This might mean crawling from the classroom to the front door one day, slowly working towards navigating the stairs on their own. By allowing children to choose when their ready and how they want to move, they are already taking ownership over how they interact with our outdoor environment.  This is an idea which we will constantly be supporting through all of their interactions at Tumbleweed.
Once we are outside it is as if time slows to a stand-still.  The children's attention is constantly caught by the wind blowing across their skin, the leaves rustling near them, the bright colors of the flowers, and the sounds of the birds and insects.  It can be so easy to want to rush this moment, talking and pointing out all they are noticing.  When we give them a moment to first absorb all they are hearing-seeing-feeling then wait for them to turn back to us we can share in this moment.  "You heard a crow!  It's above us in the tree!" or "You noticed the zinnia.  It is bright pink.  You touched it so gently!" I can almost turn into a meditation of sorts when we follow the child's attention.  It requires being present and ready to support their safety in navigating new terrain, while sharing in the wonder of our beautiful world. 

When we approach the natural world from the wonder of an infant, we are almost reborn into the newness that they are experiencing.  It is a refreshing and unique experience they are sharing with us, and that we get to support, by slowing down, making space for choice, and connecting.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Beginning the Journey with Cohort 12

The past four weeks have been a beautiful beginning for Cohort 12. We have begun our journey together, a journey that will make itself known as we get to know one another, build a community together, and discover what our place will be within the fabric of our school.

My role as a teacher for this group of 8-10 month olds began before their first day at Tumbleweed as I prepared the space for the group. I thought about how I could provide an environment that would offer both comfort and stimulation, safety and challenge. I selected materials that felt likely to be interesting to this age of children, knowing that once I saw the children interact with the space I would revisit my choices bases on their interests and abilities. I read about infants, rereading old favorites and enjoying new sources of inspiration.

Each meal and snack takes a long time as this group of infants seems to love savoring their food.  Observing them eating is a pleasure - witnessing the joy of ripe avocado, the appreciation for sweet cherries, and the determination with which an infant will try a piece of asparagus again and again, still not sure what to think of it.

We also move slowly from place to place and activity to activity.  Following each child's interest and pace means that sometimes the journey from our room to the bathroom takes quite a while, as there are chairs, cabinets, and other kids to inspect along the way.

In some ways, though, time moves quickly in an infant room.  The children come back from the weekend visibly taller, and having gained skills they didn't have three days ago.  Belly-crawlers pull up to hands and knees, children pull up to standing while holding on to furniture, cups of water are handled with more and more precision.

I feel so lucky to be the teacher for this amazing group of infants.  Already we are building our community, getting to know our similarities and differences, finding our ways of communicating together, and appreciating each other every day.  I am so excited to continue to get to know this group of children, and see what we will explore together next.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

If you can do it, you can do it!

Doing for yourself feels good!  Working through the process of mastering a skill includes failing a few times.  This encourages perseverance, following a logical sequence of events and sometimes learning something new along the way. 

When a child does for themselves, they feel their own boundaries.  It can be easy for an adult to help a child tie on a cape, but then when they want it off they cannot do it themselves.  We can help them climb high, but they then might get stuck.  When a child goes through the motions of an activity they feel their current skill level and naturally work to extend it. 
Pride of doing the work is directly connected to independence. When a child does something for themselves, they notice how good it feels immediately and have less need for external praise, which detracts from the activity itself. 

During our day at the Preschool House, we encounter many moments when children need a reminder of our trust in their ability.  It is during these moments that we say, "If you can do it, you can do it"  It is a celebration of what a child can do and what they are working on.  It can also be an invitation to team up with a child to work on the details of tying knots, noticing what is happening and being seen.  All of these things support independence while building relationships: the big work of being a preschooler. 
Once this hard task has been completed we notice by saying something like, "You did it!  At first it felt really hard.  Then you practiced and worked it out.  Then you did it!"  By avoiding praise for a task completed, we are returning the child to themselves and their own self-made accomplishments.