Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Fully Human with Full Emotions

Communication and the words we use during our day with the children at Tumbleweed, can be a rich opportunity to offer ways to connect, process feelings, and even build neural pathways. It is also an important way to hone in on what we consider the important work in early childhood in regards to supporting emotional intelligence, relationship building skills, and identity work.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the words I use to describe anything to the children in my care.  I spend my days thinking and re-thinking through everything - it’s how my mind works and a powerful tool in building my skill and wisdom as a teacher. Recently I began to notice when talking to the children that at times I added a word or two to my communication which may indirectly minimize the emotion and activity of the children. I started to notice that I would say phrases like, “just”, “a little”, and other qualifying phrases when I was either describing a child’s emotional state or their behavior.

  You’re feeling a little angry”

You’re just tired”

“They gave you a little push”

When I stepped back to really analyze my intention, I realized that these small words carry a heavy weight. It also brought to mind the ideal of childism, an often systematic condition that is prejudicial and/or discriminatory towards children. I recently came across an article regarding this topic, which was so beautifully explained by Sara from Happiness Is Here blog:

You can likely see examples of childism every time you step out of the house or open up the internet. Every day, in many ways, children receive the message that they are less important, less deserving of respect, unequal, and inferior, whether we mean to send that message or not. It is so ingrained into our society the majority don’t even recognize it.”

This makes me wonder: How do our words, even our unintentional ones, make the emotions and actions children experience small and inconsequential?  How can we start to see children as fully human from birth with a full range of emotions?

The natural answer for me was returning to Magda Gerber, founder of RIE, who talks about using tools like, sportscasting what you see children doing, integrating ideas of mindfulness, being objective and non-judgmental, being an active observer vs active participant, noticing emotions and actions as I see them, and modeling my own emotions and actions honestly and truthfully. So by removing the qualifying words, it transformed my communication with the children to come from a place of truth and reflection: 

You are feeling sad.”
You are angry that your tower got knocked over.”
“They hit you! I can see that made you feel _______ (frustrated, angry, etc).”

Observing and verbally reflecting, while giving space for their unique feelings and experiences is the best way for us to support healthy, emotional intelligence.  Our goal always is to show the children in our care that, “I hear you, I see you, I accept you.” That there is no emotion that is too powerful that we cannot handle, and we will give them the best way to process and learn how this is part of their identity.

The Brain House: Building Strong Foundations for Emotional Intellegence

This past month I have read and reread the book No Drama Discipline by Dr. Dan Siegel. I was amazed by what I was reading and upon finishing the book I had two immediate thoughts: every new parent should be handed this book and any person working in the education sector in any capacity should be required to read this. This book explains how the brain develops, how it works and how to relate and support children as they learn to identify, deal with, and learn from their emotions. The book provides concrete examples and lessons so the reader has a healthier understanding of what children are facing on the inside. It shows how to connect with them, help them to feel safe and how to become proficient in teaching the most effective lessons.

It can be frustrating when it seems there is nothing you can do to get through to a child, you’ve exhausted every last consequence (positive or negative) and you resort to punishing your child and maybe even engaging  in behavior you aren’t proud of. I will be the first to say that it is hard to admit defeat with a child and it makes you feel completely powerless. It can become argument after argument with and sometimes asked myself, “Why can’t they just listen?”. After trying countless teaching practices and numerous discipline approaches it has become fairly clear to me that when emotions are high it is impossible to have clear communication. While a child is in a state where they are consumed by their feelings, their actions are emotionally driven. If we fight back with emotion it will only escalate the situation.

Mindfulness is something we talk about often and this is a great opportunity to take a step back and breathe. Practicing mindfulness with children is important so that when situations arise they are able to self soothe. In No Drama Discipline Siegel talks about the "upstairs" brain (neocortex - our thinking brain)  and "downstairs" brain (the limbic system - our feelings brain), and sometimes our brains can become overwhelmed with feelings such as fear, sadness or anger, and when this happens it is confusing for children. If they are operating from their "downstairs" and you are trying to talk to them "upstairs" they won't hear you.
Giving children ways to make sense of what's happening in their brain is so important, but this is a lot of information for them to process. I like to create stories to better help them understand. For example: I will use characters that live in a house together, some upstairs and some down. I tend to give them silly names like frightened Fred and calming Carl but maybe you can think of your own names with your child. The downstairs folk are the feelers. They are very focused on keeping us safe and making sure our needs are met. Our instinct for survival originates here. These characters look out for danger, sound the alarm and make sure we are ready to fight, run or hide when we are faced with a threat. 
Don’t expect to move all the characters into the brain house and unpack on the same day; moving house takes time, and so does learning about brains. Start the conversation and revisit it. Using similar vocabulary so they can get acquainted with it, and practicing mindfulness activities are great ways to get started.

I would love to hear of ways you may explore the brain with your child!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Fostering connection through books

We love books! Books inspire us and help us learn more about the world around us.Through books we can dig deeper into subjects we want to learn about and apply what we learn about to what we see in our world.  As a teacher, knowing what everyone is interested in based on the books they choose helps me provide learning opportunities that are engaging to each person, therefore scaffolding their interests and helping them build upon their knowledge of the subject.


A good example of this learning process centers on STB’s love of construction vehicles. For months, he frequently chose books that featured the different types of construction vehicles. As we looked at the pages together he was eager to point out what he saw. Together we worked on expanding what he knew already and adding to his knowledge. We talked about a construction site and what each construction vehicle was used for and how construction workers use the the different machines to get their work done.

When he played outside, he found all the construction vehicles in the yard and mimicked what he saw them doing outside and in books. He filled dump trucks with bark chips and filled the bucket in an excavator with sand. He drove a garbage truck around yard and collected all sorts of items to put into it. When a dump truck came by to visit next door, he was very excited and wanted to see everything it was doing. Every day his fascination about construction vehicles grows.

Books help us come together as a group and connect with each other through the books we are looking at.
During story time each child loves pointing out what they see. Sometimes it can be difficult to remain sitting down as each person eagerly points things out in the book, but it is good practice to learn what it looks like to be part of a group and do things as a group. This is also great practice for taking turns talking and waiting for a person to stop talking before speaking and contributing to the discussion. Through books we can connect on a deeper level as a group and learn more about each other too!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The magic of a summer garden

 The garden is such a wonderful resource we have at Tumbleweed. Since the start of the warmer temperatures in spring we have seen an explosion of life in the garden. Our plants are growing bigger each day and recognizable vegetables we all know and love are emerging. We love checking on the garden every time we come back from the weekend and seeing what’s new. Sometimes flowers pop up over a few days or crops ripen and are ready to be picked. We harvested the peas on thursday and came back to find several more growing on monday!
We enjoy watching what kind of creatures are crawling in the garden like spiders, beetles, worms and all sorts of multi-legged insects.
One day we released ladybugs and watched where they went and what they did. We talked about how ladybugs help the garden stay healthy because they eat aphids, a bug that eats the plants. Lately we have been noticing beautiful butterflies fly through the garden. Someone always notices and follows the butterfly until it is out of sight. We talk about the important role of insects like bees and what they do to help plants grow.  

The garden presents many learning opportunities ready to be explored. We first started learning about seeds and how a little seed holds the power of life and takes root once it is planted in the ground. Then we learned that once the seed is in the ground it needs nourishment like the sun and water to help it grow strong. As it develops roots it gets the nutrients it needs from the soil and continues to grow.

Since we planted seeds and plant starts in the spring the garden has seen an explosion of growth. At first there were only branches, then leaves began to grow in the spring. We observed blossoms on the branches, and soon enough the little buds turned into miniature versions of the fruits and vegetables we recognize every day like apples, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots.

Children love helping take care of the garden by watering it and helping pull weeds. When it is time to harvest they can help pick peas or pull the leaves off to separate a head of cauliflower or cabbage from the rest of the plant.

When we wait to harvest something as a group, like raspberries, it can be challenging for everyone, especially when we enjoy raspberries so much and they are right at our fingertips, but the garden is a helpful tool to teach the importance of waiting and as a result we develop patience. We learn that through waiting to pick the raspberries as a group that we will be able to
pick them when they are ready to be eaten and enjoy them all together for snack. Through this experience we can promote collaboration through working together to take care of the garden and then enjoy the fruit of our efforts together.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Language of Consent

Consent. It's a small word but has such a big meaning in our classroom and has a huge role to play in our every day interactions. Cohort 13 as a whole is so close to each other and love spending time together.


Some peers really enjoy being close to one another constantly while others feel more comfortable with some space. Since each child desires different levels of closeness and touch, it is my role to act as a moderating presence in the classroom so that when potential conflict arises between peers I can demonstrate to everyone how to use words and body language to communicate their feelings. This is where the language of consent is used as a tool to give each person power and choice over what happens to their body.


Hugs are a great way peers show affection and comfort to each other but just as every child is different and unique, each child has a different personality and interest in showing affection through hugging and touch.

A frequent scene in the classroom involves giving and receiving hugs. Our group as a whole loves giving each other hugs. Some children love to hug others frequently, anytime they see their friend they desire to show affection through hugging.


Some peers like to receive hugs while others only like hugs when they’re in an affectionate mood. But when they’re occupied with an activity, especially when a child is playing and really focusing on something, a hug isn’t always a welcomed gesture, especially when it is placed upon the child without their consent.

Everyday we talk about seeing if a hug works first before proceeding with it. This looks like approaching each other slowly with open arms and pausing to see if another child will also open their arms to show they would like a hug or it can also mean simply asking another child for a hug and waiting for their response which could be “no”,“space” or an outstretched arm to signify the need for space.


We talk frequently about respecting each other's bodies by giving them space. Which can look like sitting next to a friend but not so close that the other friend feels uncomfortable with how close the peer is. We talk about how we can tell how peers feel about something through their body language. If a child pulls away when another child is trying to show them a toy or get them to play with the toy, we talk about how the child isn’t interested in playing with the toy through their body language.

There is so much to learn about each other, our feelings and how to interact with one another in a way that values consent, body autonomy and respect. What important work it is to model this every day so every child can see and duplicate this in their every day world!

The joy of helping out

At Tumbleweed every child gets a chance to help out if they would like to! Toddlerhood is a time when children take great pride in being able to do things, especially if it means helping someone out. In offering opportunities to help out around the house the group learns how to be helpful to others and they learn new life skills that will hopefully last a lifetime. When children participate in tasks that care for their environment, they also take on responsibility and ownership of their space around them.
The greatest example of this willingness to help out is with wiping the table, chairs and floor after meal times. I always let everyone
know that I am going to spray down the table and chairs and then ask if anyone would like to help wipe down the tables. “Me!” exclaims
each willing person as they run to help.

During meal times, whenever there’s a spill on the floor cohort 13 as a whole is eager to clean up the mess and they encourage each
other to clean up as well! During the clean up process I ask if any help is needed. Some kids gladly accept help from me or other peers
while others are determined on cleaning up the spill themselves. Either way, there are plenty of washcloths to go around!

Sweeping is always something that the children love to mimic in the room. Lately, some children have been very interested in using
the big broom. I mention that the big broom is just for teachers to use but if one wants to help, they can hold the dust pan on the
ground while I sweep into it.

Laundry is another task that some people are more than willing to help out with. Helping out can look like emptying out the clothes
from the washer or dryer into the laundry basket and then carrying the basket into the kitchen.

At the table we can practice separating the clothes by the different items. Some laundry only I can fold, but we can certainly try to fold
clothes as best as we can together. After the items are folded, children can help carry wash clothes into the bathroom. It can be
challenging to balance the tall stack of folded washcloths without dropping any, but we can try!

At the end of the day, everyone feels happy to have helped make Tumbleweed a cleaner place while also feeling proud of their hard work!