Friday, September 30, 2011

We Love Snakes!

The preschoolers' interest in snakes surfaced when I first began at Tumbleweeds. It all started when IR asked me to share stories from when I was younger during circle time. All the preschoolers leaned in, intently listening as I shared a story about a run-in with a rattlesnake on the Deschutes River. I have likely re-told this story 50 times and what began as a mild interest in snakes has now grown into a full blown obsession. We love snakes!

TB and EB shared their own rattlesnake story. I took this opportunity to start an exploration of snakes, "What do you guys know about snakes?" I asked. "They eat eggs!" IR exclaimed. "What else do they eat?" As we discussed a serpent's diet we were able to examine how snakes can swallow prey larger than their mouths. Movement also became a source of play and exploration. We decided that snakes "slither" on their bellies. Once outside, IR and EB invented the game of baby rattlesnakes in which the preschoolers would lay on a skateboard and slide across the ground. This allowed them to explore how a snake moves with its belly. "Do snakes move in s straight line?" I asked. After we determined that snakes move in an S shape, the preschoolers used their arms to move the skateboards in a curving motion. This proved more difficult than the straight line but was an fun way to develop coordination.

Some baby rattlesnakes:

Now, snakes percolate into the majority of our activities. One morning, I set out some clay and created some spirals. The preschoolers immediately began to create long, thin shapes with the clay. "Look how long my snake is!" EB exclaimed.

Much of our information about snakes came from a Fun With Nature book. While the classroom's interest in snakes developed spontaneously, I noticed the preschoolers were curious for more information, especially about rattlesnakes. We learned that rattlesnakes can grow up to 8 feet long. Yikes! Story time allowed us to talk about new snake facts. Which ones are poisonous? How fast can they go? Where can we find them? What do they eat? The preschoolers were intrigued by the fact that snakes shed their skin, do not have eyelids and smell with their tongues. Much of these facts were modeled in our play.

Some pensive preschoolers during story time. Can't you see their minds working?

We also discussed boa constrictors. Preschoolers were fascinated by the different methods snakes employ in order to attack their prey. "How do boa constrictors attack their prey?" I asked. "They squeeze" IR responded. We then tightly squeezed ourselves (not others however). This play carried over to outside play.

Preschoolers carrying a "boa constrictor"

So what can we surmise from all of this snake play? Movement seems especially important. From crawling on our bellies, to slithering motions, to constricting modeling snakes allows us to move our bodies in inventive ways. Where will our play take us next? I will continue to find books about snakes and present snake-themed provocations. Also, this event offers an interesting way to examine snakes through mythology and storytelling. If interested, let me know! I'd love to get a group together and check it out!


T catches himself on the way up the hill
One thing I know about one year olds is that they live a very perilous life. It seems they are attracted to the terrain that is trickiest to navigate, and the trickiness is heightened by their wobbly nature as new walkers. Gravity, it seems, is always ready to play.  And calculated risk is the name of the game.

SW contemplating the hill and his bike
And yet, through the inevitable and often repeated falls, they soon find themselves confidently walking (or running) up and down inclines, stepping across river rocks, reaching impossible distances, and feeling the edges of space with their feet and hands.  In a relatively short span of time, children go from being wobblers to toddlers, and this transition to confident navigators is wrought with risk and falls. Amazingly, children seem not only ready to take risk after risk, but they are even drawn to risky areas. They seem to know, better than us most of the time, that they need to take risks in order to figure it all out: Where's the edge? How close can I get without falling? How can I fall better? How high can I climb and still be able to get down? What happens if I just let go?
One of the many up and downs the hill for T and his bus
Never is this exploration more clear than outside at TIH. Between our front lawn and asphalt area is an incline of about 45 degrees. There used to be ornamental grasses planted there. In fact, there used to be grass there, but almost every child in our school finds their way up and down this slope, whether by feet, belly, bike or bum many times everyday. Now it has holes where shovels have dug, bare dirt mixed with clumps and grass, and other various places that call out to children: I'm risky! Can you navigate me?

The wobblers often congregate around this area and try different methods to go up and down. When a fall happens, it's usually on the way down. Nearly everyone has skinned a knee, scraped a palm, or even bonked a head. Today, SW was riding a small bike down the ramp, and fell forwards over the handle bars. This wasn't the first time it had happened, and today he caught himself on his elbows, which, while it hurt, was much more preferable to his face.
SM and the skateboard with SC watching

The challenging nature of this incline is like a magnet. They challenge themselves to not fall down this time as they lift their feet and fly down the hill on a bike. They challenge themselves as they roll down, climb up, run across, and fly by.

Whenever an area has a high number of injuries (even small scrapes and bonks), we have to ask ourselves as the adults: Is this safe? What are the risks? Are the children able to make calculated, age-appropriate risks? Are the risks appropriate enough so that they are resulting in increased skills? Are we willing, as adults, to allow these risks to be taken, knowing the likely outcomes? Are the risks too great? Do we need to offer slightly less challenging risks that will help build up the skills necessary to be successful with this challenge?
With our incline, we could make it less risky. We could make the incline smooth—but there's a hill just a few feet away with a smooth incline, and it sees much less use... We could put some plants back onto it, cut it out so that it's less steep, or even put a bunch of soft mats all around it.

At this point, however, the children who have access to the incline are all facing what we consider minor risks: small scrapes and bonks. At this point and with these children, everyone is working hard to build on their skills in calculated and intentional ways. They are learning about their bodies, about how it feels to navigate and fall on different terrains and different slopes, about the different tools you can use to balance better and fall better.

However, with any risky area, I find myself hanging out near this incline constantly now. When SW fell over his bike, I quickly went to him. I crouched down, and we talked about what happened: “You rode your bike down the hill and fell. Ouch. It looks like you landed on your elbow, look! Right here, see these red marks! It looks like you caught yourself! You did it!”

As I was talking the other children gathered around, finding places to sit on the hill. Everyone wants to hear what happened, see the scrapes, and hear what happened again. The story will likely be retold over and over and over in the next few days. In a few months, someone will probably point at the bike and remember, “SW down hill. Fell. Elbow hurt.” But for now our place of risk has become a meeting spot, and we begin to sing a song. During the song, some of the boys naturally begin to slide down the hill, and the navigating of challenges has returned.

Because we allow children to take risks and challenges themselves, they learn how their bodies can work under all sorts of conditions. Most of the time, the children play happily on this incline and other challenging areas of the yard because it has been a part of their outdoor experience since they have been able to move on their own volition. They have learned that while we as adults create an environment that isn't TOO risky for them, they are still responsible for keeping themselves as safe. Each child gets to make their own choices about when and how to challenge themselves. They learn, not from us “teaching” them but rather of their own accord, to look ahead, calculate risks, fall better, recover, and persist.
Even the preschoolers continue to experiment here
We give the children this gift of risk because we trust them. We trust that they will take their safety seriously, that they will learn from their falls, and they will continue to gain skills that will help them with the next risk they challenge themselves with. JanetLansbury put it perfectly in one of her blog posts highlighting the risk a 9 month old she was observing was taking: “They challenge themselves, stumble (literally and figuratively) and get up again. What we might perceive as 'mistakes,' they accept as just another interesting life event and a challenge to be overcome (unless, of course, it hurts too much).”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Paintbrush Experiment

 Today I set up a provocation outside with jars of watercolor paints on a large sheet of paper.  Since a few of the children have not been interested in painting without tools, I offered one paint brush to each child as they approached.  Some dipped the brushes into the paint jars, swirling the color.  Others went hands first into the jars.  In the end pouring the paint was the most fun.  Everyone was very interested in how it fell onto the paper and spread out into rivers.    At one point the paper was lifted, and the colors began to mix together.  It was a cold and windy Oregon morning, so the wind helped move the paint around on the paper as well.

I don't know for sure if it was the paint brushes being offered which encouraged more children to participate, but today everyone had a part in the interactions with the bright paint.  What I do know is that pouring drew them to the activity, and once the began using the paint they lingered and explored with the paint in their own way.  SC and SW held onto a paint brush the entire time, even though they were only briefly used as painting tools.  So maybe the paintbrush was like a gateway into the medium.   Children who turned away from the tempra paint I had offered previously, with simple designs on the paper, were very attracted to the clear jars and long handled paintbrushes. 

I look forward to see how they will react to my next provocation, which will build upon today's exploration.  I know now that pouring is a doorway which peaks their interest, and I can use that to extend our knowledge of paint.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Builders pt. 2

This week, the preschoolers continued to build on the theme of building. While the last two last week's provocations have focused on PVC pipes, this week's favorite material has been a surprise hit:
A puzzle!

I was sorting through our materials last Thursday morning and two puzzles immediately caught my attention. I chose this one because many of the preschoolers have been playing construction worker and our outside play has centered around building houses. The other puzzle was full of animals. I thought the animal puzzle might catch interest because we have been reading a farm animals book and imitating animal sounds and movements. However, the animal puzzle went untouched. This puzzle, however, has been used in more creative ways than I thought imaginable!

The first morning it was laid out T was interested in using the puzzle pieces to operate on other students, "I'm going to screw in your eyeball." Other children modeled this play. A fair amount of negotiation occurred as each child used and switched his/her tool. However, soon we moved outside and the puzzle remained in the classroom.

On Monday, I set the puzzle out once again. G and KO immediately went for the puzzle during morning play and KO began to drag the drill across the floor, "I'm putting electricity in."
"Where are you putting it?" I asked.
"In the floor!"
"Hey guys," I called to the other preschoolers, "KO is creating electricity." At this point, the other preschoolers joined in.

Teamwork skills developed as KO handed out tools to each interested preschooler and they formed a plan. G grabbed a classroom stick. "What tool is that?" I asked. "A drill!" he replied as he tapped the ground. The preschoolers then decided to use the roads on our rug as pathways for the electricity "wires."

I went over the the light and switched it off. KO observed"The electricity is out!" The preschoolers then continued to employ the puzzle tools to turn the electricity back on. After they spent some time drilling, hammering and measuring, E exclaimed, "It's ready," and I turned the lights back on. IR shouted, "It works!"

Now, I am interested in the possibility of taking an object apart and putting it back together. Perhaps an old typewriter, or some bike parts. It might have to wait until after the move but for now we have plenty of building activities going. Here are some provocations from the past week:

Building station

Block tower

I wonder, where will our building take us next?

A little help from our friends

GH is standing at the top of the stairs at the front porch.  "Help!" he says, looking down the stairs and then to me.  I walk over when I hear his help to see what's happening.
"Hi GH.  I heard you say help.  How can I help you?"  I say, standing near by watching him walk towards the edge of the steps, and then away again.  He's holding his beloved broom in one hand, but when I approach he drops it and reaches for me.
"Help."  he says again, reaching for me to hold his hands.
"It seems like you'd like to go down the steps.  I wonder how you can do it?" I say, remaining a safe distance away.  The thing I know about GH, is that he can do the steps all by himself.  He's been able to do them for a while, but still slips happen, and just over the weekend he took a spill at home.  Moments like that give us an opportunity to reassure the child that they can do it, even if sometimes we fall.

This time something special happened: two preschoolers noticed what was happening and came over.  GU asked me, "What's GH doing?"
"He wants to come down the stairs, I think." I say.  S joins quickly in, and the two older boys go over to GH.
"It's ok, " GU says.  "We'll hold your hands."  At first they try to simply pull GH off the stairs, and I quickly remind them that they can give GH tips on how they might go down the stairs, so that he can do it for himself with help.
"Look, just put your foot right here.  Like this!" GU says as S holds GH's hand.  GU moves GH's foot a bit, and soon he gets the feel for it and is walking down the steps.  T comes over to help as well, and soon the group of 4 children are walking together down to the asphalt. 


GH made it down the steps, and ever since then his confidence has been boosted.  There has been no more 'help's from the top of the steps.  I could have easily followed through the process myself, giving him a chance to try, then offer help as he needed it.  Instead this beautiful moment of social cohesion came to being, where the older children were self-motivated to not simply help but teach one of the younger children.  GU and S's awareness to the needs of others has also set a precedent in the social order among the children: we help when we can, we teach when we can. 

Stir it up - A Baking Project

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed we had a very large zucchini that needed to be eaten so I planned on making zucchini bread with it. I began grating the zucchini in the morning and then M showed up for school. I moved my grating station down to the table after M asked, "what are you doing?" I continued grating the zucchini, as M watched curiously. Then T showed up and after washing her hands, quickly came over and sat at the table. She looked in the bowl as I continued grating. I let them know that after snack we could make the batter for zucchini bread together or I could make it while they were sleeping. M immediately said, "I want to help make it." Then T said, "I want to help!" During snack, we talked again about the plans to make the zucchini bread batter together after snack. I gave everyone the choice to either help make zucchini bread or play in the classroom. Everyone wanted to help!

I got out all of the ingredients, bowls, measuring cups and spoons, and placed them on the tables. T, M, S, and A sat down around the tables and we began discussing the process of making zucchini bread. We started by measuring, pouring, and mixing the dry ingredients together.




S and T each poured a cup of flour in the bowl. A added the cinnamon and M added the baking soda. M began stirring the dry ingredients together, holding the spoon steady while turning the bowl around and around.


Next came the wet ingredients. I cracked the eggs in the bowl and M immediately began breaking the yolks with the tip of the spoon! After passing the eggs around to be stirred, M poured oil into the bowl and turned the bowl in a circle.

  S put brown sugar in the bowl and focused closely on the batter, as she stirred it slowly. 

S then carefully passed the bowl to T. T put white sugar in the bowl and carefully folded the sugar in, lifting her spoon slightly out of the batter and placing it back in. T then passed the bowl to A, who poured vanilla into the bowl and began stirring it in. A said, “Stir, stir,” as he continued to mix the vanilla in with the batter.
As A passed the bowl to M, he said “A's turn. A's turn.” We discussed how sometimes we take turns, like when we make something together. We talked about how each person got a turn to stir and then we would pass it to the next person to stir. A then said, “Yeah!”

Time to add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients!

 After A was done stirring the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, he said "I'm done." He and S chose to go wash their hands and play in the classroom.

M and T helped make the rest of the batter by stirring in the shredded zucchini! I then poured the batter into two loaf pans and baked the bread. We got to eat our homemade bread for afternoon snack. YUMM!

By having the toddlers help make various breads and other food, they are learning about the scientific properties of different ingredients when they are mixed together, learning about measurements, building self-confidence and competence, and strengthening fine-motor skills while measuring, pouring, and stirring. They are also strengthening social skills such as taking turns and passing and are gaining a sense of self-worth and community through helping make snack for all of the cohorts at TIH to enjoy!

 Our Zucchini Bread Recipe:
                                  1.5 cups white flour
                                  1.5 cups whole-wheat flour
                                  1 tsp salt
                                  1 tsp baking soda
                                  1 tsp baking powder
                                  3 tsp ground cinnamon
                                  3 eggs
                                  1/3 cup vegetable oil
                                  2/3 cup apple sauce
                                  1/4-1/3 cup brown sugar
                                  1/4-1/3 cup white sugar
                                  3 tsp vanilla
                                  3-4 cups grated zucchini

  1. Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
  2. Mix flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
  3. Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  4. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes. Cool in pan. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Checking In

Our days in the wobbler room are being more and more filled with opportunities for social interaction. As the boys get older, they are beginning to test the waters of life, and lately this has been the most evident in their interactions with each other. These guys have been together since they were at least 6 months, and they know each other very well. They have a very special relationship with each other, and they are also blessed with having a safe environment in which they can test out emotions, among other things. Even though these moments can be filled with tears of frustration, or true pain as a touch gets to big or strong, I am glad to see the boys entering into this stage where they are able to test out their emotions. I know that they feel safe and secure with me, with their peers and with their environment because they test things out this way.

I also get very excited about my involvement at this point, because this is big work that they are doing! Right now we are building the keys in communication with each other, how to be aware of each others feelings, and what to do in various social and emotional moments. It's up to me to guide the boys when they need it, and right now it's a constant process. Every day there is improvement: hands pause before lashing out in frustration, soft toys are chosen for throwing instead of blocks, a glance to me to check in instead of climbing up too high, open hands caress hair and clothes. Of course this doesn't always happen, and so when it doesn't we do a check in. Check ins happen when you want to, and it's a way that you can show your concern and care for someone who's feeling very strongly. Currently I am modeling the technique and drawing attention to the emotion in play. Here is a great video that shows the process.

1. Step in and say what you know to be true:
“Oh Man! I see you crying, T. Are you ok? Look at his face, SC. T looks so sad. I wonder what happened?”
“Ouch! (Make the sign for a hurt) I see! It seems like T got hurt. Let's check in!”

2. Check In
Crouch down and get close without touching too much. It's important that everyone has space, yet they know you're physically available.
“T, are you ok? What can I do to help you feel better? Would you like a hug?” After I say each phrase, I wait for a reply. If I never get one, then I repeat my offer, never forcing comfort. Some children just really need this release of crying to calm their bodies both physically and emotionally.

3. Tell the Story
When you say exactly what happened, even if it's a little made up, it helps the child process what had happened. Sometimes they are upset because they are surprised or simply need validation that “Yes, indeed. You got hurt. Ouch!”
“What happened? Oh, I see. You bumped on the table. You were standing there, and then you slipped a little bit and bumped on the table. Ouch! That can really hurt!” This story is told over and over as much as the child wants. Sometimes it's also repeated at various points throughout the day.

4. On to the Next Thing
I repeat these steps in whatever order makes the most sense at the moment. Sometimes I only need to do one, and the child(ren) move on to the next thing. Sometimes, when check in is initiated children from all around gather to hear the story, or offer comfort. Once the child(ren) are moving on to the next thing, I slowly back away, keeping my awareness there and still being very available. Some times when I move away, a child will follow and we continue to tell the story.

I use this technique for anytime a child needs it. I try to do it as immediately as possible, and include anyone nearby. By repeating this process frequently and whenever needed, I give the children tools to use which builds respect and love between everyone during the day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

More Yellow Paint

Today marked day 2 of exploring paint with the wobblers.  We have had other hands on experiences before, but this week I am dedicating myself to giving the boys a chance to paint every day.  We all were very excited about painting today.   GW had a hard time during diaper changes because he kept saying "paint!  outside!" and pointing to the front door.  
Finally we were there, and everyone helped carry the supplies we would need: the jug of yellow paint (almost all gone), the shower curtain to protect the grass, lots of wet washcloths, and ourselves.  SC was especially interested in carrying the large, yellow paint jug.  I taped the paper to the shower curtain and invited SC to hand me the jug of paint.  

"Here's our painting from last week, "I said.  "I see yellow and red.  Today we're going to do more yellow!  Would you like the paint on your hands or on the paper to start?"  I asked each child.  SC wanted it on his hands, as well as SW!  I always get very excited when the children are ready to dive hands first into an art provocation.  The rest of the paint I dribbled onto the painting in small dots.  Everyone was watching me, some with apprehension and others with excitement.  Once everything was set up, I sat back from the action to see what would happen.  A few fingers ended up in the paint, but within 5 minutes everyone was luxuriating in the rare chance to feel the wet grass on their feet.  Shoes are normally required outside, but since this was an art project we started off pants and shoe-less. 
 Even though this art experience was short lived, the boys had the chance to get to know paint a bit better.  At the end, the jug of paint was the biggest focal point, and then large river rocks were added into the mix.  A few of them never touched the paint, yet their knowledge of what paint is and what it can do has broadened.  These are the benefits of doing process based art with young children.  Their knowledge of the properties of an art medium is the focus of their work and play, and the outcome is always different!  Their interactions socially are also enhanced through our art, as they crouch down and observe one another, or negotiate who wants to hold the jug of paint.