Friday, June 29, 2012

Can I Shoot You?

After singing this morning during group time, I brought up an observation about some play that had been happening outside over the last two days here at the preschool house.  It ties in very closely with our interest in long sticks, running and chasing, and being the bad guy.  Shooting, being shot and pointing sticks at people brings up some very strong emotions on both sides of the stick.  It took some time to observe the behavior outside, and it seemed more often than not, the shooting resulted in more negative feelings than play, which made everyone feel satisfied when it was over.

I talked to everyone about what I noticed outside, and immediately there was a cacophony through out our group.  The previous rule had been "We do not shoot at people at Tumbleweeds," but everyone agreed this wasn't working.  Our conversation went something like this:
Me: When you feel like you need to shoot, what can you do?
IR and S: You could say "Can I shoot you?"
Me: That makes sense.  Let me write this down.

Me: Ok.  So, if you feel like you need to shoot, you can say: "Can I shoot you?"  Then that person can say....
Almost everyone: Yes or no!
Me: Perfect, so what can we do if someone says yes.
Everyone: You can shoot them!
Me:  Great, you can!  But, what do we do if someone says no.
Everyone: Don't shoot them!
Me:  What can they shoot?
SC: Trees!
SM: No, up in the sky.
IR: Up to outer space!
GW: Monster Trucks!
JH: Caterpillars
IR: Wait, caterpillars are living.  I am feeling worried about that.
Slowly our list moved from what we could shoot, to what we couldn't shoot.
S: I have something to say!  No shooting snakes.
JH: You can shoot monsters, not caterpillars.
MR: Don't shoot.......turtles.  No Turtles!
IR: I feel really strongly about life.  

And that was the beginning of our new rule:  If it is alive, think before you act.  

Would it like to be shot?  Would I like to be shot?  How would it effect it's body?  Does it work to pretend to be shot/shoot/die/fall down/cry?  These are all of the thoughts and extensions of this type of play.  Our conversation came to an end with these thoughts in our head and no complete decision about what exactly will work.  I suggested that we see what happens outside and figure out what will work best for everyone.  Being aware and ready to listen is the best tool for the children as they experiment with this big, highly emotionally affecting play. 

Later we were outside and a situation arose with shooting, and IR, our resident 5 year old for the week, quickly stepped in a conversation about living vs. non-living.  The decision was reached to not shoot anything that was living in that moment, and the play continued.  By opening up the discussion with my observation, the power was placed in the hands of the children to come up with a resolution that worked not just for all of the children, but for our school community and environment.

By the end of the day, the shooting play continued.  "Shooters" were constructed which shot different things.  TLC had a very specific device that "shoots fire from one side and arrows from here."  Amy shared a few shooting stories during snack time.  There was less chasing where a child felt uncomfortable, more awareness of what  and who is being shot, and more positive feelings in general.  Through processing these feelings we have begun the cycle of creating respectful rules that do not demand obedeience, rather create the ability for observation, reflection, awareness, respect, and feeling safe.   All of this creates an environment where amazing and deep levels of play occur and children who become dynamic problem solvers and communicators.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

As Overheard in the Toddler Room

"You can be a bad guy, but you still need to touch me gently."

Thinking about that after I said it was one of those moments where you realized a greater meaning in my words.  Melinda had also just walked by as I sat on the floor of the bathroom.  She repeated what I said and it started to sink in.

There is a theme of bad guy play at Tumbleweeds.  It has trickled in to the Infant House from the Preschool house.  There are families of bad guys, bad guys who chase away monsters, bad guys who are captured by the police and there is something very big about saying "I'm a bad guy!" while rushing around with a long stick.

There is no play which is off limits and we build the expectation for basic safety and awareness of others in all that we do.   Yes you can shoot, but listen when someone says "Don't shoot me!".  Yes that long stick feels so good to swing around, but be aware of who and what is around you so no one is hurt and nothing is damaged.  Yes you can bang that pot as loudly as you like or scream, but look and watch to see what effect it has. 

I get very uncomfortable when I am called a bad guy or even when the children call themselves a bad guy.   "You're a bad guy," they say.   I think that uncomfortable feeling is the key to the need for this type of play.   When I get that uneasy feeling my first reaction is to stop whatever is happening, so I have challenged myself as the boys become full fledged 2 year olds to stop and see what the root of this play is.

Are they really bad guys?  Are they enjoying themselves running around as a gang of bad guys or chasing each other on bikes?  What is a bad guy? What happens when I move the stick this way?  Or at that person?  What if I do it again?

Their real questions are constantly, "What is the limit?" and "Will you help me help myself?"  They discover it for themselves through their play and through our conversations.  Every day we know more about who and what a bad guy can and cannot be, while also learning about ourselves. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Risky Work

The children have propped a long piece of wood up onto the play structure.  They've "secured" the bottom by putting it into the wagon so that it doesn't slip down.  They are very careful applying their weight to see if it can hold them and have made an announcement that no one should go beneath the board in case it falls.
They notice that the top part keeps slipping off, and they deliberate over the best way to secure it.  Some children run off to grab rope and other supplies while two are left to experiment.
It's serious, risky work!  Now they have found a little notch on the side of the tree part of the structure that seems to be working.
And now that it's secured in its notch and with a jump rope for extra stability, every wants a chance to brave the climb.
As I watched this progression, I noticed that the children had a keen awareness of the properties of the materials they were using.  They were aware of the flexibility of the board and didn't climb farther than right above the wagon.  They had expectations about outcomes, hypothesis about potential solutions, and reflections on what was or was not working.  This work was a serious endeavor with calculated risks, divergent thinking, and collaboration.
With these observations, I was so thankful:  thankful that in our Tumbleweed culture, we (adults) have built trust over time; we have supported appropriate risks over time; we have refrained from interrupting unnecessarily; and therefore, we have been able to see the beauty and complexities of children hard at work.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Children are natural learners.  Curiosity drives them.

That urge to figure out the Whys and Hows and What Ifs is so strong, it's contagious.

 The excitement over a shared experience of exploration and discovery is practically palpable.

Because in these moments, children are creating meaning together.
They are making sense of the world, of their power, of their place, of their connections with others. 
It's not only cause and effect.  It's not only light and color and projectors.
It is humanity at its finest.

Excavation Site

Today outside we began our work on creating an excavation site.  A few weeks ago our interest in paleontology blossomed as we experimented with the process of discovering clues about life from the past.  It was a very simple provocation that drew quite a crowd over the course of the morning.  We will be continuing work on this through out the week and then allowing it to dry over our summer break.  

Thick red clay waiting for things to be embedded: flattened marbles and dinosaurs.

Pushing in jewels.   "You cover them up so they can't be seen!" IR

"Lookit This one!" SC

The dinosaurs are making their marks.

"Look!  I broke off a piece!" SW

Water was added.

"It's getting all slimy.  Just feel it like this!" IR

Rinsing off hands once we are finished. 

"Maybe this is how dinosaurs died.  Their feet got all stuck up in the muck and they couldn't get out." IR

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cycles of Activity

Children are constantly changing beings with different needs, wants and curiosities from one day to the next. They explore their world with their whole body involving all senses and their full potential. They are driven to figure out their place here through these explorations, and their natural tendency for order causes them to engage in cycles of activity.  Sometimes these can seem very random to an adult who is watching. It can also be predictable, and you can create opportunities to invite your child to find a cycle.

Cycles of Activity are when you see a child repeating the same activity over and over again. Their full concentration is there, and it might seem like nothing can distract them away from it. Their eyes are focused on what their hands are doing. Their whole body is engaged in the activity. If they are sitting at a table working, only the necessary parts of their body are moving, or if they are climbing, then each piece of their body is working together with focused effort. You might notice that the child's breathing deepens with the calmness that comes from concentrated focus. Cycles of activity can be anything from repeating that step of washing your hands where you rinse the bubbles off (only to make them soapy and do it again) to climbing up and over an obstacle over and over again. The sure sign that a child is engaged in a cycle of activity is the presence of that concentration followed by repeated activity with the end goal of perfecting something.

It is important that perfection in this situation not be confused with perfectionism. The perfection that the child is aiming for is to achieve or complete a task at a level not yet attained. The child is constantly aiming higher to build on their previous learning. They seek improvement and refinement through repeating certain tasks which can be called cycles of activity. They are friendly with the idea that they are always getting better at what they do; it could almost be called cycles of perfection, constantly aiming for that better understanding, refinement and comprehension.

The child's biggest work, especially during toddlerhood, is mastery of the self. These cycles of activity happen spontaneously when their attention is drawn. All humans are born with certain instincts, such as the suck reflex and 'death grip', but in this cycle of concentration – repetition – perfection is an inherent power which guides us to accomplishment. Concentration is the key, and concentration is stimulated by our curiosity and interest. You know when a child is interested because the signs of concentration pop up, and they focus their entire being on whatever it is. It might last for 5 seconds or as long as 20 minutes. They might
leave the activity only to return to it 5 minutes later.  A sense of pleasure occurs after they have finished a cycle. It's that same satisfaction that is felt after a task is completed. You might notice a huge smile or even just a contented aura in the child once they've moved on to their next interest. They have satisfied whatever need was being fulfilled while working through the cycle.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Acknowledgment: A Path to Self-Esteem

Noticing what children are working on and acknowledging what they are doing without praise is something we strive for at Tumbleweeds. So, what does noticing without praise look like? Noticing is commenting on what a child is doing, whether the child is happy, proud, frustrated, angry, or embarrassed.

There are many ways to take notice of what a child is doing. When a child has been working hard on something, and they finally accomplish what they had planned on (e.g., stacking a bundle of objects together), you can say to that child, “You worked really hard at putting those objects on top of each other, and you did it!” This is one way to show a child that you have been watching their play and noticed their hard work.

It can also work another way. For instance, if a child has worked on something for a long time, and they get frustrated and look at you, you can say, “You are feeling frustrated with those blocks. You have been working really hard stacking those blocks, and they keep falling over.” You are acknowledging the child's hard work and also letting the child know that getting frustrated is okay.

Noticing and acknowledging children’s work shows them that although you may not be directly playing with them, you are engaged in their independent play. This can work also when a child has done something that was asked or offered to them. For instance, at the Preschool house, I will often ask the preschoolers to help put some items away, even if they were not playing with those specific items. I will always tell them when I notice them put something away or help out in some other way, which builds their awareness of our group and school being a vital part of their community.

However, when children are highly engaged in play, it may not always be beneficial to comment on what they are doing because it can interrupt their work. By waiting for a cue from the child (such as eye contact), we can limit the disruptions to their processes. When we give children the space and time to work through their processes, we send a message of Basic Trust to the child: I trust that you can figure out what to do when you’re ready to, and this process of figuring it out is an important part of your work in becoming you!

So, what is the difference between praise and positive acknowledgment? The definition of praise is “Words that express approval or admiration,” whereas the definition of acknowledgment is “A sign showing that somebody has seen or heard somebody else.” The goal of acknowledgment at Tumbleweeds is to bring awareness to what a child is doing, to enable each child to feel seen as well as increase their abilities to see connections between their actions and the world around them.
This allows a child to have a sense of accomplishment that comes from within the child. Observing what a child is doing also helps them develop a sense of worth and builds their self-esteem. Self-esteem grows from within by developing confidence in daily activities, by developing respect for ones self, and by having a positive image of ones self. These can all be fostered by us simply observing what a child is doing, acknowledging what they are doing, and simply being engaged in the activities that they do throughout the day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Never Stop Discovering...

...Bones are everywhere!"  - EB, age 5

It's a warm late spring afternoon and the preschoolers have come to visit us at the infant house!  It's always a flurry of activity and excitement as the toddlers and preschoolers meet with joy and the preschoolers return to their old environment.  Our outside space is highly conductive for  large motor.  My goal today was to set up a provocation that would call to our common interest in dinosaurs.  There has also been an interest in deconstruction, so creating an archeology station seemed perfect. 

I set up chunks of dried clay on our table outside.  These chunks of clay were imbedded with dried leaves, petals and grass from a provocation a few weeks earlier.  A few children sat down and I offered brushes, spoons for chipping brushes for dusting a sticks for scraping.  We talked a lot about how the tools could be used and how an archeologist might use them in their work.  It became quickly apparent that there were not enough tools, so we began searching near by for anything that might be helpful.  As they began their work I told a short story:
"Archeologists search for information.  They carefully look at rocks to see what they can find.  There might be bones or fossils.  They never know what they might find and it takes a lot of work."
KC and IR were the first to join the table and they sat down and got right to work.  "Be careful IR!  There's dinosaur bones in there." KC said as he bent closer to his chunk of clay.
"I like big banging!" IR said, and began to use a large pot to bang her clay.
"No!  That's too much!" KC quickly said, looking worried.
Others came to see what was happening and soon the table was very busy with activity.
"We should use water to make the rocks softer!" IR declared.
"I can find some.  Where's the water?" TLC asked.  He searched for a long time, first finding a white cup for scooping and eventually finding the only source of water in the yard: the bird bath filled with rain water.
Some children dunked their entire piece of clay into the water while others simply dipped their brushes.
"I like to use a dry brush," EB explains "because it smooths better."

As they worked many things were discovered inside of the rocks.  "Look!  I think I see something inside!" TLC said with excitement and showed everyone nearby.
"Maybe it's a fossil.  We'll need to break it open,"  EB said as she balanced on the adult sized chair and worked with her brush.

Throughout the afternoon, almost every child became an archeologist by searching for clues, using very careful techniques and talking together about what they found.  Other discoveries were made through their work including the mess that happens when you spend a long time chipping away at a rock and that when you pull at something inside of the rock it might break!  The children found such joy in the work they did and satisfaction of working together through their discoveries. We called it work, because it was.  The focus, longevity and attention they added to the activity emphasized the importance of this new role they entered.  They became the archeologists, hoping to find something new and exciting, yet they found the work of their hands just as satisfying.