Monday, August 29, 2011


A few months ago, Cohort 4 discovered rose petals on the asphalt. I had placed them in a small dish as a provocation. We felt them on our fingers, noses and passed them back and forth. As with many manipulatives that older infants use, soon they were tossed in the air, at each other, landing on the ground and on our heads. S and GW asked more using sign over and over again, and I took a huge handful of the soft petals and toss them up and over us. Laughter was in the air!
Once we had explored the petals for a while, S and GW noticed that there were more petals at the base of the large, pink rose bush nearby. A few of the roses were at the end of their bloom, so as the bush was bumped, more petals scattered to the ground! They crawled and walked to the grass around the bush to investigate closer.
The petals are on the ground! They feel soft on my hands. Leave the petals on the bush. Let's just use the ones that have fallen.” I repeated as the boys explored.
Suddenly GW pointed and said, “That!” I looked where he was pointing, and there was more flowers! Daisies and other pink ones, so he and S went to investigate. SC, T and I watched as we talked about where all of the flowers in the yard could be found.
You found more flowers! I wonder if you can find more...”


A couple of weeks ago, I introduced the Citiblocks into the toddler classroom. These blocks are small, wooden, thin, rectangular pieces that are all the same size. I placed a cloth box full of these blocks in the center of the rug one morning, wondering how the toddlers might explore them.

J immediately noticed the box of blocks, took just two blocks out of the box and placed them together, one block stacked on top, perpendicular to the other one. Immediately J exclaimed “Airplane!” holding the blocks together and moving his object through the air.

Later in the day, T and J explored the blocks together,
creating what they called “A house.” They added more and more
blocks to the structure while talking about who lived in this house.

T also worked with the Citiblocks on her own, lining the blocks up in a specific way and adjusting blocks to exactly where she wanted them to be.

Then J took notice of T's work and he began to explore the blocks in a different way:

The blocks became something different, a road or a path, something for his feet to explore instead of his hands.

At the end of the day, we cleaned up the blocks together, creating a familiar, orderly environment, ready for more exploration the next day.

By presenting the Citiblocks in the toddler room in an open-ended way, J and T were able to explore them freely with no limits to what they could do with them. They were building fine-motor skills, developing language around the usage of the blocks, developing spacial skills, and strengthening their social skills by working together creating a common object with the blocks.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Materials as Languages

A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of attending one day of the Opal School's Summer Symposium. The entire day was focused on materials in the classroom, explored through different workshops and hands-on activities. The main theme of the day was the idea that materials become a language for children and adults to communicate through and with. A couple of speakers from Opal School explained that we build relationships with materials, in a non-rushed organic way. For instance, when a child explores clay for the first time, it takes time with the clay for all of the pieces to come together and for the child to communicate with the clay in a way where he understands it.

When we set up materials for children to explore, we can provide the opportunity for children to listen to these materials by thinking about what the choice of materials and how the materials are set up communicate to the children using them. Also, providing an environment where children feel safe allows them to explore the materials freely. When materials are able to speak to a child, materials can then make their own story for the child. As one former student at Opal School said, “A material decides what you're doing, it's a surprise!”

While I was at the symposium, I was given the opportunity to explore various materials in intentional ways and in a safe and calming environment. This is my experience of listening to materials and communicating through them:

Materials: Watercolor crayons, water, paintbrush

Provocation: Vase with a rose, leaves, maple seed pods

Materials: Various collage materials at individual tables and a central table, scissors, one piece of card stock paper at each chair

Provocation: Questions

I also was given the opportunity to explore the Opal School classrooms. Here is one specific project that a group of students completed using materials to communicate different feelings, thoughts, and messages:

The children in this classroom wanted to build a tree. They were given all sorts of materials so that they wouldn't be constricted to narrow their ideas to a small amount of materials. The children were given the opportunity to draw before constructing the tree to come up with a unified plan. This gave them the ability to experience the materials freely to create the tree they all wanted.

Being able to explore various materials first-hand at the Summer Symposium and experiencing this tree making project, inspired my work at TIH tremendously. Giving the children the opportunity to build something that is truly their own creation, with no constraints or constrictions, allows for something magical to happen, just like this tree. When providing materials for Cohort 3 at TIH, I often place the materials out on a table or the floor without giving them any instructions as to what to do with them. Allowing for the group to explore materials freely, in a safe and secure environment, gives them the ability to communicate through and with materials without limiting their imaginations!

My alphabet starts with this letter called yuzz. It's the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-ma-tuzz. You'll be sort of surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond 'Z' and start poking around!"

~Dr. Seuss

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Leading up to the front door of Tumbleweed is a short flight of two, cement stairs. They are the main thoroughfare for the adults and children who come and go from our school on a daily basis. It's also the most direct route for me to take my group of infants outdoors. I love the moments when we're heading outside. It is a great time for me to interact with each child as we put on warmer clothing, even shoes if they'd like. We talk through each step, and even notice what others are doing. This narration of what is happening continues once I open the door.

Our outside classroom is as equally important to me as the indoor environment. I try to spend as much time outside as possible, in any type of weather, even though it often means an entire clothing change once we go back inside!

Infants receive the gift of discovering nature in a holistic way through the full use of their senses because they are so close to the ground-- either because they are non-mobile, crawling, or creeping. With every moment, they come into contact with the rain on the grass, the dust on the asphalt, the tiny rocks on the path, and the ants marching by.
Infants meet the natural world head first, and these moments I treasure as we experience them together. The children are able to move and their own speed, doing what they can, and through our time together, the trust we have between each other gives the children the feeling of security they need to be able to follow their own path.

They discover spacial differences head first as well. This is where the stairs come into play. For the children who are able to move on their own accord, once the front door is open I walk out onto the porch, and invite the children to follow. This is usually not a tricky task because most everyone has already been pounding on the door at the first hint that we are heading outside.

For now I stand or sit near the bottom of the two stairs, and talk to the boys as they head my direction. The difference between the flat porch and the drop off of the first stair causes everyone to stop. Three of the children I am working with either creep (belly on the ground, propelled by feet and arms) or crawl (belly off of the ground). They make it to the edge of the step and then look at me. I smile and say, “You found the stairs!” and pause. The most adventurous reach down to the front step, feeling the difference. I am quiet, and allow for the children to explore this at their own pace. Some watch, some reach for me, even though I'm out of reach, and some experiment with what happens when they reach for the next step. This is the point where they are at the most risk of falling. Every fiber in my being wants to reach out and say, “It's ok! You're doing it! Here, put your foot there, go backwards, it's easier!” I want to be right there and make sure that no one falls. But this is how I challenge myself. I put aside my adult perspective, and try to see this from the eyes of an infant.

Imagine seeing this big space ahead of you. It feels a little scary when you reach down, but it also triggers this impulse deep inside of your body to try and navigate it. It's almost like you've become obsessed with conquering it. There are moments where you are unsure, but there is the presence of someone you trust right there, and you are confident that if you truly need help they know just what you need.

When you see the challenge the infant is feeling from this perspective, it feels empowering for both you and the child. These are the moments when you both gain confidence and trust in yourself and each other. We can do it for ourselves! The infant says, “The stairs are just a challenge that my body is ready to conquer. But I know you're there, just in case” And we, the caregiver, say “I can step back with calm confidence knowing you'll do just what you need to do. But I'm here, just in case.”

I trust that an infant will only do what they can do, and no more. It might take time. Time full of struggle, crying, discovery, and joy, and usually in that order.

Even though I knew that giving the children this chance to navigate and master the stairs on their own was following all of the readings I had done and the philosophy that Magda Gerber outlines in her RIE work, I was still surprised the first time it happened. He found his way down, slowly, head first, slipping and causing me to start forward to catch him. Though with nothing from me, but my calm presence, he made it down the two steps without falling. And he did it the first time! From then on, I spread the news to my co-workers and the parents, encouraging them to step back, even though it's scary.

I carry this moment with me though all of my interactions with children, not just the infants in my class. I continue to challenge myself in this way: walking the border between what children can do for themselves and what is uncomfortable to adults. This way the trust between myself as the caregiver and the children is continuously strengthened and we find new, exciting ways to challenge each other.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We Are Engineers

Let's build a bridge!

We need to work together.

Oops. It's not stable. We need support beams. What can we use?

Stumps! Put that one right here.

This one's too tall.

This one's too short.

This one's just the right height.

But it's still not stable.

After some adjusting, it's almost done.
Now let's do a test to see if it's safe for Bikes to go on.

Is it safe for skateboards too?

We built the bridge we envisioned we could.