Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Hamster Wheel

After reading a blog by Teacher Tom regarding a hamster wheel, I knew I wanted to have one in my classroom as well.  The point of his post regarding the wheel in his class was inspiring and talked about the children's respect for the work of each other.  His children are older than my toddlers, so I knew the waiting for a turn to use the hamster wheel wouldn't happen with my boys, but the idea of using the hamster wheel as a manipulative was so exciting!

A few weeks ago, I found one at the goodwill.  I quickly snatched it up and looked forward to placing it in the room.  I put it in a tray with a few bowls and some pom poms.  I thought that they might enjoy sticking the pom poms inside and spinning it, or maybe simply just spinning it.  Once the boys discovered it, everyone wanted to use it and we had some practice figuring out how more than one person can use it at the same time.  It tricky, but SW and GW figured it out.  They pushed the pom poms inside and through the hamster wheel watching as they fell.

At the end of the week, I found that the boys' favorite way of using the wheel was carrying it around and banging it on things.  Unfortunately this caused one of the supporting wires to detach from it's solder, and it is heading over to the Preschool House where maybe it can be used a bit more gently.  It make sense that they enjoy using it this way sense there has been a lot of hammering, so now my though process is evolving to follow that need.  Perhaps drums or xylophones are in our future!

Friday, October 28, 2011


One of my favorite activities to do with the children upon waking up from nap is exploring the properties of rice.  I have a coffee can full of rice, wheat berries and red lentils that I save for quiet moments when the children are waking up, or looking for a new provocation.

I have found that dumping it out in one of our small boxes, usually used for climbing, then placing on a sheet in the kitchen is the perfect place for the boys.

Today everyone was very excited when I brought out the coffee can.  I added small metal bowls, pitchers and spoons so that we could also get a chance to practice pouring and spooning to our hearts content.

After we had been playing for a while, I noticed SC pouring handfuls of the rice on his legs and sock covered feet.  I invited him to remove his socks and even stick his toes into the rice!  At first this was a great joke to be had by all, but after a while both SC and T were sitting in the box having a true full body experience.

I was worried that they would be blocking the rice for the other children, but when I waited to see what would happen, everyone worked very carefully and considerately in very close quarters.  GH was scooping over and over with the pitchers and spoons right next to SC's thigh.  And movement in and out of the box only caused a bit of rice to go flying, which I had already expected to happen. 

 Soon everyone stood up and drifted on to the next thing, almost in unison  with a sense of contentment from their play with the rice.  I love these quiet moments with the boys, especially with the loud running that happened not too long after when we went outside!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Everybody or Nobody: Building Community

Over the past few weeks the preschoolers and I have been working on the "Everybody or Nobody" rule. We began this discussion when I noticed some exclusion during play. Exclusion surfaced in many different forms. Often it was "no boys allowed". Other times preschoolers would only offer materials to people of a certain hair color. Also, when a child destroyed something the other preschoolers did not want that child to play. Thus, there are many different scenarios that have dictated who can and cannot play and, often, it is hard to navigate what counts as exclusion. This led me to ponder Teacher Tom's suggestion of "you can't say you can't play." This seemed like a mouthful for the preschoolers. Instead, Amy mentioned that they had come up with the "Everybody or Nobody" rule a few months prior which seemed concise, and it also gave the preschoolers a choice: either everybody could play the game or nobody could play the game. I mentioned this rule and the preschoolers took it to heart.

Much of our navigation around the Everybody or Nobody rule focused on the use of small spaces. Many children wanted to play but there simply wasn't enough space for everyone. One day the preschoolers fashioned a boat out of a chair and bin.

When SW tried to squeeze in to the "lifeboat" bin, EB observed "there isn't enough room!" SW demonstrated his desire to be included with an emphatic "Noooo". IO brought up the Everybody or Nobody rule and the preschoolers tried to reconcile the lack of space with their ability to include everyone. G excitedly set a piece of wood on the ground and exclaimed "It's a surfboard" and offered a surfboard to me as well. The children who couldn't fit into the lifeboat were offered the alternative of riding surfboards beside the boat.

Another way the preschoolers have begun to incorporate the Everybody or Nobody Rule is through the assignment of jobs. I have noticed that sandbox play is very focused. When another child approaches worry about destruction often arises. However I suggested that when someone shows interest we can include them by offering him/her a job in the creation of sand structures. This not only prevents destruction but allows the preschoolers to expand their play and work as part of a team.

The other day G began to assign jobs in a game of firefighter. Soon, each preschooler enthusiastically participated in the game. Every time a child approached G would send him/her to retrieve an object:

"You can get the axe"

"You get the ladder!"

Each child brought an object (many of which were sticks used as "hoses")

The Everybody or Nobody rule has renewed an enthusiasm for sharing as well. It seems that when the preschoolers consciously choose to include others, they start to build a community amongst themselves. At morning snack IO wanted a second helping of crackers. Alas, the crackers had run out. When the preschoolers observed this, 5 children offered a cracker to her. I used a scoop to transfer them to her plate. She then, with a smile, offered a cracker to me. Sharing is contagious!

Sure, figuring out how to include everyone takes some negotiation but this seems to be an integral part in the development of social skills. What has pleasantly surprised me is the joy that surfaces in our play when each child feels connected. The preschoolers thoroughly enjoy finding jobs for one another and learning to work together.

"Everybody" helps pull G

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What is it about boys and trucks?

Ever since I found out that I was going to be having class consisting entirely of boys, I have seen the inherent love of trucks that most boys have blossom.  Looking back on the time I have spent selecting materials for the classroom, it seems silly to avoid things that I know they would love, but I had this wish that they might gravitate towards a non-boy gender stereotype involving our babies, scooping or cooking activities, or even dinosaurs.  They do love these things, but all 5 of the boys in my care still are fascinated and in love with all things with wheels, so I took the last few weeks to observe the boys in their interactions and think about what it is that really draws them in to using trucks.  

A favorite activity inside is finding a small truck, running around to the slide, climbing up, pushing the truck down, then sliding down after it.  Some times the sliding happens while the child is sitting up, but more often it's "Superman" style, or arms out head first.  I tried hard to capture it on film, but everyone was simply too quick.  This activity often turns into a furious game where everyone who's playing hurries as fast as they can, yet also without knocking anyone down, or frustration.  There is a constant cycle of activity where the truck-climb-push-slide cycle is repeated over and over.  I saw many variations of this cycle over the last few weeks, and even a few hairy moments where two children were on the stairs at the same time, or one of our large pull wagons were brought to the top.  I challenged myself to remain within safety's distance while giving them the chance to navigate through each other's space, and I found it to be a fluid dance every time.  I saw one child hurrying up the stairs next to a slower child, and almost always the slower child moved to one side, while a truck was pushed past them and both children smiled with joy.

Outside similar motives of activity were present.  Trucks and skate boards are carried and pushed a long our asphalt patch, carried up the hill and turned upside down to more closely inspect the wheels.  Each child seemed to have their own favorite vehicle to scoot around on, and since the pieces are bigger gave them the opportunity to practice navigating more awkward movements.  There was the constant squeals of joy as they pushed their favorite truck down the hill for the 10th time, or bumped into the fence as they coasted down the asphalt.  These were contrasted by the inevitable moment where two children fell in love with the same thing and we worked together, using our phrases to negotiate through these interactions:  "S is using it.  I can tell, because he's holding on tight.  You're holding on tight too.  I wonder what our plan is?"

After watching all of this truck-ness with the intention of figuring out what the allure is especially for boys, I began to notice two things: it's all about wheels and movement.  First the boys inside loved to mimic the movement that is unique to trucks: their ability to move quickly in a straight line.  When the truck rolls down the slide it continues across the floor for a while.  By the end of the two weeks, all of the boys were able to find a way to slide down the slide and also across the floor.  It seems that the trucks motivated them to move in such a fashion, and it felt good!  When the boys slowed down, trucks and skate boards or whatever with wheels was near by often was flipped over and the wheel mechanism is closely examined.  They used their hands to roll the wheels, or even reached down inside to examine the axel and other smaller parts of the wheel.  Sometimes they would lay low on their belly and push the truck back and forth across the floor, directly at eye level, seemingly memorizing how they move.

I found one great article online by Heather Turgeon, columnist for about some of the science behind the gender of children and the affect it has on the activities they choose.  She talks about her observation of her truck obesessed son, and some of the research that is done by Lise Eliot regarding gender of children and their brain.  Though this is just the beginning of this type of research, it seems that perhaps children are more affected by their environment than the chemical make up.  But it seems to me, as the mother of two boys and long time teacher of children under 6, that boys will always have this simple fascination with motion and things that go, even if they also nurse their baby dolls or love to play dress up.  I find such joy in supporting all of the interests of the children in my care and some days are more about looking at the mechanism of a wheel and others are about reading as many books as possible.

Conversations Between Toddlers

Over the past couple of weeks, I have begun to notice more and more full conversations happening between the toddlers. I often try to write these conversations down, but my presence usually distracts them from the natural flow of their communication with each other. However, I was able to capture two different conversations that highlight the language we use with the children at TPH and how they use similar language with each other during play!

A couple of weeks ago I was getting lunch ready and TS asked, “Bee, can you read this?” She was holding a book out to me. I replied, “I'm not available to read it right now, but I can read it in a couple minutes.” TS replied, “Okay.” As I began to walk back toward the kitchen, I overheard something magical happen:

MR: “I can read a book to you.”
TS: “Can you read this?” (She was holding out two different books)
MR: “I don't know those books.”
TS gave MR the books and pointing at the “Shake my Sillies Out” book, said, “that's music.”
I watched as MR and TS went over to the rug by the cubbies and sat right next to each other with their backs up against the cubbies. MR held “Shake my Sillies Out,” open to the first page.
MR (Singing): “I'm gonna shake my sillies out...”
Then MR paused for a couple of seconds.
MR: “I don't know how the song goes.”
TS: “Oh.”

TS and MR looked at the book for a few more seconds before they separated to find other books and other objects to explore. This was the first time where I have heard any of the toddlers make themselves available when I have not been available. Not only did MR make herself available, but TS immediately accepted her offer, finding out what book MR could read to her. Even though MR didn't know the entire book, she attempted to read it (well, sing it), wanting to share the song with TS. TS smiled as MR offered to read the book, and lit up the entire time they were sitting together.

Last week while the preschoolers were outside and I was washing dishes, I noticed that JH, MR, TS, and SF were all sitting near each other, exploring the Unifix Cubes (small plastic cubes that stack on top of each other). I then heard a conversation begin:
MR: “Guys, you have to clean this all up. I'm not going to help.”
TS then gave MR a yellow cube.
MR: “I don't like yellow cause...”
MR had a short stack of cubes in her hand and began saying the color of each block, “orange, green, yellow, orange.”
  While pointing at the cubes in MR's hand, SF said, “That's mine, MR. That's mine!”
MR began pointing at each cube on her stack, one at a time and began to count, “one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, eleven, twelve, sixteen, eighteen...”
JH picked up two cubes and put one up to each eye, smiling and laughing as I moved closer to see.


MR noticed I was near and said, “hey Bee, this is a snake, sssssss....”

MR: “The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout...”
TS wanted some of the blocks MR had in her hand, so she told MR, “mine!”
MR: “No, I was using it!”
After a few seconds:
MR: “Guys, you can't do it cause you're not a tricky person.”
TS: “Using it!”
MR: “Hey TS, you want to use this,” giving TS a small stack of blocks.
TS: “Yeah!”
MR: “I don't want JH to look at the snake.”

  After a short amount of time, the group separated. JH and SF took their blocks to the couch, getting some space to explore the blocks in the calm reading area. TS and MR stayed near the bulk of the unifix cubes for a little longer. TS added a few more blocks to her stack, saying, “snake!” Then MR and TS took their cubes to the reading area.

During these conversations, the toddlers are developing language, gaining social skills, discovering the process of conversations, and learning different ways to communicate with each other. Not only are the toddlers communicating with each other through verbal cues, but also through nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, facial expressions, and body gestures. They are using phrases that we all encourage at TPH and TIH, such as "I'm using it" and "Mine." The toddlers are also finding ways to help each other when I am unavailable. They are learning to problem solve and explore new ways to share in experiences together through associative and cooperative play!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Little Powder Tempera Goes a Long Way.

The black plastic that has recently been erected along the fence outside beckons to be covered with something more beautiful. Thus, Bee and I tied up a canvas for various painting activities. Last week the children used pink watercolor. However, this week we used one of my new favorite mediums: powder tempera.
Powder tempera is fun because its creation is a process that the preschoolers can all get involved in.

We started with a a small cup of powder, a cup of water, a watering can, paint brushes, droppers and a muffin tin. TB volunteered to fill the water cup while G wanted to employ the watering can. I filled each space in the muffin tin with different amounts of blue powder and let the mixing commence!

Most children used the droppers to add water. This activity unfolded in a small area and the preschoolers had to negotiate how to allow each other enough room. "I can't move!" TB exclaimed. "I wonder how we can make sure everyone has enough room. There are enough spaces for everyone." I observed. EB scooted over creating a circle. The other children spread out and soon all present preschoolers were involved.

KO, S, and K all chose to move on to other activities once the mixing was done. EB, IR and IO became interested in painting houses. IR began with 4 strokes that created a square. EB and IO helped her fill it in. "It's an upside down house" IR informed me. EB responded, "Let's make another and not fill it in." They each contributed to this house and painted windows, a roof, a chimney and a large, blue sun.

"This house is where IR lives, and her cat lives in the upside down house." EB explained. The wind was especially blustery on this day and kept blowing the canvas up. "It's windy!" observed IO. I then wondered "what wind would look like if we painted it?" All three girls then proceeded to make quick, long brushstrokes, both vertical and horizontal on the canvas. When they were satisfied they moved to the sandbox and left this beautiful landscape behind.

Now, I would like to introduce more colors and repeat this activity. I wonder what materials we could use for mixing colors as well as for painting. The wonderful fall weather has provided many leaves to choose from on the ground. Leaf prints, pine cone paint brushes? I wonder what the preschoolers will choose next.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Preparing for "Santa"

Twas the night before Christmas at the Tumbleweed Preschool House and in the back room, IO and IR were getting ready for Santa. I walked into the room and noticed many things taking place. I asked IO and IR if they had a story to tell me about what they were doing. This is what I observed and what they told me:
  IR: “This is the night before Christmas and MR's a Christmas tree.”
IO: “We don't have a Christmas tree, that's why she's our Christmas tree.”
IR: “We're putting our Christmas tree ornaments up on the house because we want our house to look pretty too.”
IO wrapped a glittery scarf around the door handle and said, “Yes, that's why we have a little thing and it's for Santa.”
IR: “And we don't use finger puppets on our fingers, we use them for Christmas ornaments.”
SF came in during the girls' story and IR began to include her in their play. I asked, “I wonder what SF is?”
IR: “She's another baby bad guy.”
Bee: “Are you guys baby bad guys too?”
IR: “No, we are adult bad guys.”
IO: “We go out hunting for jewelry in the town.”
Bee: “Is there anything else you want to tell me?”
IO noticed I was writing everything down, so then she said, “Now sign our names at the bottom.”

As soon as I finished writing their names, their play continued to get more in depth as they continued to “decorate.” I left the room to give them space to continue their play so their imaginations could roam freely without interruptions, providing no limits to where their play could take them!

Phonics are Fun!

At Tumbleweeds, we read multiple books every day. In the morning, at naptime, during circle time: the preschoolers' appetite for books is insatiable and I love it! While I usually read the books out loud, the other day, KO decided to try to read a book to the other preschoolers. I was blown away by his ability. Moreover, the children were all enthusiastic and encouraging as he sounded out words.
The interest in phonics is contagious. SW hunts for 'W', 'H', or 'F' in any letters he can find and has also helped renew the other childrens' interest in the ABC song. This past week, we have sung this song at least 15 times.

While each preschooler possesses different reading and writing abilities, everyone loves to make mail. Thus, taking a cue from the phonics mania, I set up a provocation with paper, envelopes , a rainbow of colored pencils and tiny, wooden letters.
Each child used these materials differently. G and IO chose to trace the letters to spell their names on the envelopes. IR spelled her dad's name with the letters next to the envelope. KO had little interest in the envelopes and paper and chose instead to create acronyms like NYPD and FDNY. Last week we wrote letters as well and EB created shapes and lines that emulated a letter. She drew a stamp and then squiggly line after line to model penmanship. I began to wonder how thinking about phonics through shapes might help develop writing abilities. When we went outside I laid out some shapes for us to play with.
I asked, "which shapes look like letters?" IO picked up a rectangle, "I". I pointed out that a triangle resembled an "A", and SW decided that a hexagon most closely resembled an "O". The alphabet play quickly evolved into the creation of rocket ships with the shapes.
For one of the next day's provocations I shaped a few letters with the wax sticks.
G and SW demonstrated interest and spoke each letter out loud. SW proceeded to create an elaborate 3D "O" with the sticks, a letter he has been very focused on this past week after we made the connection between the letter "O" and the shape of a circle.

Here he is with a watercolor "O!"
We have a stack of notebooks with lines for penmanship practice. However, all of the play around shapes and letters this past week has led me to wonder, is sitting at a desk with a pencil and paper, writing between two lines the most effective method for learning? It certainly isn't the most fun. Still, in the coming week we will break out the books and see if the preschoolers are interested. Perhaps we can explore how certain shapes emulate words. I am excited to see where we take phonics next!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


This week I introduced a new activity outside: hammering!  We have a small, ball-peen hammer and a large stump dedicated to hammering small nails.  I started a few off, which enticed the boys over to this new activity.  SC was the first to give it a go and he seemed so proud at being able to make the nails go down and it seemed like the sensation of hammering was very satisfying as well.  Everyone tried many hand positions and some were simply interested in the nails sticking up from the stump.
It started out like this...

And looked like this too.

During this time I remained near by to maintain safety, yet gave the 3 boys freedom to explore the new activity hands on.  Yes, fingers could have been squished, but I knew the hammer was very light.  There was also a strong sense of possession over the hammer.  It is the beautiful new jewel of our outdoors and they were able to express themselves strongly with both love and desire.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Throughout our first week at TPH, I began to notice the preschoolers and toddlers finding and making all different kinds of patterns from simple to elaborate, with stories and without. This is what I observed:

 Elissa placed the small, wooden, multi-colored shapes on one of the tables first thing in the morning. Once TS sat down at the table all of the shapes were mixed up in the middle. 
Here is what happened next:


I asked, “Do you want to tell me about what you made?”
TS replied, “It's a snake!”

TS made a pattern using all of the red trapezoid blocks that she could find. This pattern took the form of a snake for her.

The following morning, IR became very focused in the block area. This is the result:


IR used blocks, a wooden alphabet puzzle, a few wooden animals, and small plastic parts to make an elaborate structure. IR explained that this was a “zoo.”

Through the use of many different objects, IR was able to create a multi-colored, multi-level structure, where each group of items (E.g., the alphabet puzzle pieces) created a unique pattern that changed the entire structure.

The following day, the robot puzzle became a new way to explore how patterns can change, take the form of something else, and then change back into their original form.

In the morning, I discovered JH taking the pieces out of the puzzle base.

 After JH carefully placed the puzzle pieces next to the base, he proceeded to put each piece back into the base, in their original spots. He began telling Melinda and me about this. He pointed at one piece and said, “It's a mountain.” He then placed a yellow piece on the board and said, “a bridge.” After about a minute of placing the rest of the small pieces in, he pointed at the small blue rectangular pieces and exclaimed, “boats!”

JH then took the pieces back off of the board and created a new pattern, aligning each piece carefully in the way he wanted.

Later in the day, KC found the robot puzzle and like JH, took the pieces out of the puzzle base, but created a different pattern and theme with the pieces.

KC told Melinda and me about his structure. He said, “it's a rocket.” Melinda asked, “where is your rocket going?” KC replied, “to Mercury!” I left for a minute, then came back to find KC adding more pieces to his structure from a different puzzle. 



 IO and G came to observe what KC was doing also. He began telling us about the newly added pieces. He pointed at the pieces and said, “this is a line of moons,” and pointing at a block in the center said, “and this is a satellite.” He then pointed at the orange piece closest to the puzzle base and said, “this is Mercury.” I left and came back again and KC had added memory game pieces to his structure. He exclaimed, “this is the launch pad!”

KC had not only created a new pattern with one puzzle, but he constantly created new patterns by adding to his structure, by rearranging pieces, and by continually developing his story with each new puzzle piece addition! KC also gained the notice of IO and G, who were interested in the structure he had created, and what the pieces would transform into next!

  The next day, I noticed SM lying on his stomach on the ground, exploring the matching game.

SM had turned the pieces over, making an upside-down V with about 10 pieces. He chose to turn over one of the pictures at the end first. He then turned a picture over at the top and exclaimed, “noooo,” shaking his head as he turned the picture back over. He then tried another picture, comparing it to the original one he had flipped over. He did this for a short while and then scattered the pictures. He was playing the matching game! He had placed the game pieces in a pattern that worked for him to easily lay down near them and compare two pictures at a time.

Patterns can be found in everything we do. I have shared some of the patterns the preschoolers and toddlers make on a daily basis with the objects in the classroom. I also observed a different type of pattern that one of the preschoolers found. It wasn't with any object we have, but within a piece of music that Elissa played for the preschoolers one day. KO discovered a pattern in the music:

Through discovering patterns, creating patterns, changing patterns, and sharing patterns, the preschoolers and toddlers are learning about the properties of various objects and music, they are discovering stories within the patterns they create, they are learning about how different patterns can support a structure or can cause it to fall down, and about consistency in the objects they manipulate and consistency in their daily flow here at TPH!