Monday, November 28, 2011


We tried scissors today.  I figured it was a great day to give it a try since there were just two children and here is what it looked like:

Following my typical method for introduction of new things in our art explorations we talked about the important points of scissor-ness:

Handles are for holding.

The blades are sharp (even though they're not really on safety scissors).

Scissors open and close.

Paper is good for cutting

GW already warns me while I'm preparing our meals about my 'sharp' knife in the kitchen, so he latched on quickly to the sharp aspect of the blades.  He was very interested in pointing out with his index finger the 'sharp' and we practiced how it is the safest choice to only touch the handle.  T got a hang of the open/shut action and practiced it over and over.  I showed how the scissors can cut paper, and T went right to work poking the closed scissors with the paper.

It seems like our scissor work is going to be a long journey, but I am very curious to see what happens when they are offered something of this level of finger dexterity now and given a chance to explore, in a very safe manner, just as they are offered paint, clay and other art mediums.

Potty Training : What do I need to get started?

I have always said it, and I know it sounds funny, but I look forward to this potty training time.  It's a moment we have been building on from the first diaper I changed.  I think it has to do with a passage from a more passive infant, who has the minimal ability to interact, even during those pauses and invitations that I give, to a highly interactive toddler who tells me, "Me do it!  That toilet!  Pee!"  I also find myself full of joy as I sit on the floor of the bathroom in our rhythm of undressing-changing diapers-sitting on the toilet-washing hands-singing-telling stories.  I find I spend quite a bit of my time in the bathroom now, whether it's at school while one of the children struggles with finding how each leg fits into each individual leg of their pants or reading the 5th book to my son as I hope his poop goes into the toilet today.  I look forward to these moments and luxuriate in taking my time, building that trust and showing the children I interact with that I am present and aware of who they are and what they need.  It's the core of my goals as I am with children: building a lasting relationship built on trust in everything we do.

Potty training is in the forefront of my mind on a moment to moment basis both at home with my 3 year old and at TIH with my 16 to 22 month olds.  I find my view of what is necessary and what works has been greatly fluctuating over the past year as I have been given the gift of a child who is too busy and not interested in sitting on the toilet.  This is also the first time I am potty training a child of my own, which is a completely different relationship than I have with the children I care for at school.  I keep asking myself...."Why is having 4 boys in the bathroom easier than 1?"  I'm still not quite sure of that, but I think I'm close to discovering it.

As I think about potty time, both at home and at school, I thought it might be helpful to simply  make a list of things that are important for supporting a positive and smooth experience in the bathroom.  It's important to note that independence and following each child's individual cues is key to me in cultivating a positive potty training experience.  These things are what I think are important, but I wonder what has worked for you!

1. The Pants - Elastic waist, easy to pull up, no need for closures, stretchy fabric....These are all things I value in a toddler's clothing.  More often than not we are pants free while we are inside at TIH, so leg warmers are also very helpful for chilly legs and of course hip toddler style.

2. The Underpants - I wait until I see the appropriate cues to begin a child in true underwear.  In the beginning we talk about how to get in and out of a diaper: snaps or velcro.  We talk about how it feels before it is removed: "Hmm... I wonder how your diaper feels.  It's poop?  Let's see.  Hey, it's dry!  I betcha that means you need to pee!"  I am motivated to encourage a child to begin wearing underwear once they begin being dry at most changes.  Some people believe in waiting until they are also dry through naps, but I still feel like a child won't be too confused if diapers are used for sleep periods.  Making underwear exciting is important once they're ready and having a few with a thicker gusset can be helpful to stop full on soak throughs during the first few weeks.  I really love Imse Vimse for a thicker, more absorbent underwear, but really anything works like these by Gerber.

3. The Potty - It must be comfortable.  I always encourage the use of a full sized, adult potty to start.  Whether a child is shown how to hold on to the seat between his spread thighs or helped to balance there until they figure it out, I have found that if they are given the adult toilet first they are able to master it and then can, when they're ready, use any toilet anywhere!  Some children are very nervous about this at first, but I have found that lots of practice and talking through the entire process eases their fears and gives you yet another chance to really connect with your child.

4. The Time  - So when I came up with the idea for this blog post, I told myself that I would limit my writings to simply the physical needs and practicalities of potty training, but I find that I can't do it with out emphasizing this point and the next.  Potty training takes time.  There are many books out there that promise to train your child in a day, and all I can think is why?  There are children who potty train themselves or who need very little help, but I feel that when we put a time limit or expectation on when a child needs to be potty trained then we set up unrealistic expectations, especially for a child.  By being in a hurry we put our needs before that of our children adding pressure and unreal expectations.  Perhaps this step means a lot to me, because of the amount of time I have been spending in the bathroom over the last 6 months, but I believe that it is an important bonding time and it allows the child to move at their own pace.  Some encouragement might be needed or expectations set up ("It's time to pee before we go outside.  I'll wait until you're done.").  But when a child knows that they have the time they need, then the entire process will go smoothly because they will feel that they have the power.  Because let's face it, they do!

5. The Ritual - Toddlers love to know what comes next.  They find a sense of security in it and once they feel safe and secure then they are able to blossom in other important arenas such as creativity, imagination and focus.  I support their need for order by building in rituals around our everyday tasks and it is the same in the bathroom.  For my son our ritual begins with me saying, "It's time to go potty.  Shall we go now or in 2 minutes?"  And the process begins.  He always knows what comes next as soon as I begin it: walk to the bathroom, turn on the light, talk about what book to read, pull down pants, get a big hug, climb or get lifted on to the toilet, look into my eyes and smile, etc.  Having a ritual around this time can help in the creation of a positive space in the bathroom.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Everything Pumpkin - Part 2

After we made pumpkin soup with the fresh pumpkin, we moved on to another project with pumpkins the following day. I set out canvases over the four tables and set out one small pumpkin for each child to paint. I placed a bit of red and blue tempera paint on a paper plate and set one plate next to each pumpkin along with a paintbrush. Then the painting begun:

  Most children used the red and blue paint separately, while others mixed the red and blue paint together with their brushes, then with their hands on the pumpkin. They noticed that red and blue mixed made “purple!” When the pumpkins were finished I noticed various textures and designs, including lines, swirls, circles, dots, completely painted pumpkins and even faces with “hair.”

The following day, JH got to paint his pumpkin first thing in the morning. He used the paintbrush first and then found his hands to be much more efficient!

Later that day the preschoolers broke open one of the larger pumpkins outside and harvested the seeds from them. I cooked the pumpkin and made pumpkin bread and roasted some of the seeds to eat with the bread for afternoon snack. The rest of the seeds were planted in one of the large barrels in the back yard in hopes of producing more pumpkins for us to enjoy next Fall!

Being able to use pumpkins that were locally grown for numerous activities and planting the seeds in hopes of growing our own pumpkins in the future, allows for the children to learn about sustainability. Not only is sustainability part of our philosophy at TPH, living green by using many parts of an object and reusing has become something the children get excited about and continually want to explore!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fairy Homes

Along with TPH's castle fascination, the preschoolers have been very interested in fairy tales. We often read a collection of classic fairy tales Bee found at the library and, when outside, the preschoolers construct "fairy homes". This theme has been present since I first arrived but continues to surface and develop.

In this photo, months ago, IO and EB "free" fairies from their homes. This game continued for a few days and consisted of digging for rocks or clusters of mud in the sand. They would then crumble the sand to let the fairies fly away. What captivated me about this moment was how the preschoolers created such inventive stories with the objects in their environment. A cluster of dirt transformed into an entire world. Moreover, many children participated in this play which created a space for imaginative collaboration. The preschoolers worked together to create an alternate realm where they all saw fairies, built their homes, created small cakes and shared stories about the fairy world they had created.

The fairy home theme has only continued. It began in the sandbox. "What are you working on?" I asked IR and EB one day. "Fairy homes!" EB shouted back. I noticed that the fairy home play had expanded to include elaborate decorations.

One of the objects we introduced for outdoor play were collections of colorful stones. These quickly became decorations for a fairy home in one of our circular planters. Thus, the game continued to grow as it moved out of the sandbox and the focus on decoration intensified. When I asked IR why they placed the jewels in a particular pattern she replied, "we have to make the fairies want to live here." Throughout the day, almost every child had a chance to arrange and rearrange the stones and objects in the fairy home.

KO builds a "bridge" for the fairies.

Other additions included boards for "bridges", leaves, a squash and rocks. After the PSers were satisfied with their decorations, the game developed to include monsters. They began to cover the planters with boards and rocks. When Bee asked what they were working on, she observed this conversation.

IO: We already put up a sign for the monsters that says there is no such thing as jewels. But there is!  
EB: We're trying to trick them. 
IO: Here comes more monsters!  
Bee: Why did you cover up the fairy houses?  
EB: They will seize them.  
IO: They will seize the jewels.  
EB: Don't be too ferocious about that gun. (Talking to Issa who was holding a makeshift "gun").  
IO: It doesn't shoot people, it shoots monsters.  
EB: We're putting heavy bricks to keep the monsters from ripping the   house apart. 
 IO: I have two fire guns.  
MR: Making this heavy (said this as she added a piece of wood to the top of the
IR: This is a big heavy rock.  
EB: Monsters aren't very strong  
IR: Fairies, we're saving you, don't you understand? 
EB: Look at IO, IO's being a guard to guard the castle while we're gone. 
G: Can you find a job for me? 
EB: Yes. G, you can come with me. I'm trying to get a job ready for   you. Be careful with this gun. It
squirts water in their eye. (Gave Gus a couple things to use as guns). 

I notice a few interesting themes working in this conversation. I am fascinated by the group storytelling that occurs with the PSers imaginative fairy play. The creation of a fairy world, and the plot developments in our play (like monsters) are a group effort. Moreover, the PSers imaginations seem to stretch even further and the play lasts longer when a community of imaginations are at work. This focus on group play links to the Everybody or Nobody rule that we have been processing over the past month. I noticed that, in this conversation, G approached EB, IR, and IO and asked for a job. This has become a common way for PSers to enter imaginative play, which does not only allow them to participate in the storytelling and play acting that unfolds, but also facilitates development of joining skills. The language of "jobs" does not only circumvent exclusion, it actually helps the PSers expand their play. Do they need a guard? Someone to fetch water for a river? I have also noticed that the jobs the PSers assign aren't often helping jobs, but are roles to act out: a prince, a guard or a monster.

Thus, I am enthusiastic to see how our focus on fairies can develop. Perhaps a theater provocation in which the PSers create characters and roles would help us explore the acting, imaginative aspect of our play. Amy also mentioned a Fairy Festival which would be a fun way to expand on the decoration and pattern aspects of the fairy homes. I will keep you updated!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


The weather outside has definitely changed with the leaves and now we don our rain gear before heading outside.  This morning when I arrived at school I placed a pot under the downspout and by the time we were ready to go outside the pot was full!
T was especially excited about the pot full of water.  I sat out a variety of small jars and a few metal bowls then watched to see what would happen.  Hands dipped into the water and a few times paused as they felt the chilly water.  SC especially liked to find ways to put water in and out of the metal tea kettle.  We also went searching for other drips and found one at the side of the house.  The drips fell down into the kettle with a lovely dop-dop-dop.
The most fun was scooping the water into another container then dumping it into the leaves.  Soon there were some of the bright yellow in the pot as well.
T concentrated intensely while sitting on his knees, scooping with the plastic cup, looking at the water, then dumping out.
GH discovered more metal bowls collecting rain under the tree.  He found different ways a lid could fit on top and paused a few times to listen to the rain tip-tapping on the metal. 

Where will the rain take us next?

The rain is raining everywhere
It rains on hill and tree
It rains on the umbrellas here 
And on the ships at sea.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Builders and their Projects

KO, IO, S, E, and IR discuss the village.
Me I'm thinking about this being a tree. (a tall stick)
IO: That's too tall!
IR: It's okay. 
Me: And maybe this rock is a building.
IR: And the little one is a house. 
Me: What could this be? (squash). 
IR: It's a big plant for the fairies to eat. 
IO: Here's another house.
IR: We can make a circle of houses!
IO: This can be a bamboo!
IR: This can be a tree!
IR collects wood blocks. 
IO: Are those walls?
IR: No.
IO: It could be a slide!
IR: Yeah! A slide!
IR builds a slide.
IO: But I had a different idea like maybe it can be taller and the fairies can jump off.
E comes over: What are you doing?
IR: We are making a village! You can help!
E: I can't help. I am playing with KO.
IO: It's okay. We can do it!
IO to IR: these leaves can be a river!
IO puts a wood piece across the side. 

Our Fairy Village.

Me: What's that?

IR: That's a bridge over the river. 
IO: But the river is over here!
IR moves it.
KO comes over: We need grass!
IO: Fairies don't like grass!
E: Yes they do!
KO: How do you know?
E: We've been to fairyland!
They all put grass over the village. 
IR: Fairies love to have grass on their houses.
E: And all over their town!

After a second I realize we have a rule about picking things that are growing and say, "Hey don't we have a rule about grass?"
All: We can pick things that aren't growing!! 

The building of the fairy village has sparked numerous other building projects. SC worked to build a bed for sleeping and jumping in. MR and TB worked with SC to arrange the dirt blanket on the bed. KO, G, and SM built an oil rig to carry oil to all the people. KO rode in the rig while SM pulled it and G cleared the way and made sure they were safe. IR and E worked to build a tunnel made of bamboo sticks. Then E tested it by crawling through it.


All of this focus on building has given the preschoolers a chance to work on negotiating space, whose job is what, and to practice collaboration. It's also taken their imaginative play into so many new directions! I am curious and excited to see how they continue to build on emerging story lines such as the fairy villages. 

The children revisit the fairy village later and continue to build.