Sunday, July 29, 2012

Playing with Struggle

Many parents ask me about how we deal with moments like in this video below.  It's that tricky situation where two children want the same something.  I have written about our process before, but it is a constant process and sometimes the children like to practice this frequently.  It's a special kind of play where the children experiment with "What happens if I...."  Sometimes I call this testing boundaries and limits, but truly it's simply a new way that they figure out how interactions with other children work.  I love these moments and enjoy taking the time to give the proper assistance.  I also love recording not just the children's work, but mine as well.  It gives me a chance to reflect on the words I use, how I use them, my reactions to a situation or how the children react.  I further my wisdom as a teacher this way, using the power of observation and having a friendliness with error which enhances not just my work, but my knowledge of who the child is.

The thing to notice here is our process of working through:
1. What is happening: "You both want the milk crate."
2. Making a plan.  The key phrase from me: "It's not working!  We need a new plan."
3. Feeling the satisfaction when something works for everyone "It worked.  I can tell that makes you feel so good."
Just a moment later, the scene continued.  One child says "We both want it!"  The interesting part is that I can tell that one child is more interested in the conversation and the process of negotiating who is using something.  We capture this moment and move on.  A sense of satisfaction from everyone involved, even an explanation of what he was trying to do. 
When children are able to communicate successfully and feel the satisfaction of being heard, they are more likely to express themselves positively.  Working through this in a shame-free way, I am able to support their interest in exploring these tricky moments through play.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Toes on the Line: How Shoes Can Empower

Two children are sitting on the step, shoeless and clearly feeling a little spunky about this barefoot freedom.
 I come over, sit down, and start the video (see below) thinking that I might be able to capture a challenging moment...  But, alas, these guys make it so easy!  They know the limit: if you want to play in the yard, you need shoes on.  They know that the choice is theirs.  And from there, my work was simple:

The general gist of the video:
The children express their joy in their shoe-free experience.
I sat with that--that joy in that spunky feeling.  No one was trying to walk away from the step.  No one was getting hurt.
A third child joins, also shoe free.
I throw in a gentle reminder:  "When they're on, you can come out and play!"  (I hoped my tone said, "This is totally up to you.  It doesn't matter to me how long you want to stay on the step!")
They toss their shoes a little ways away.
I know that feeling too.  Sometimes it feels fun to do things that are on the line.  And if everyone is still safe, no lines are officially crossed, and the emotions from the experience aren't getting beyond control, why not?  (I tried to react in a way that showed this was silly but still safe.)
Then one child exclaims, "I need to put my shoes on!  I want to paint!"
The others think this sounds pretty awesome, especially when she talks about using her hands... and so everyone decides to put their shoes on.

The shoes didn't become about me versus them (power struggle) or obedience.  This was just a silly, fun moment!  When given the chance to feel seen, understood, and empowered, the children didn't seem to need to cross any lines.  They just toed the lines.  And when that didn't induce a reaction from me that implied shame or guilt or control (it's so easy to get that: "There's the liiiiiine... Watch oooout!" tone), the entire process felt simple--it was just about them making their own choices.  And the painting afterwards was cool too.

It makes me wonder:  How often do I make situations turn into a power struggle?  What little aspects of my body language and tone and words support or tear down the chance for a situation to be about empowerment?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Take A Peek Inside... Our Preschool's Work on IDENTITY

This is a little tour of inside the Preschool House right now:

Through careful observation, scaffolding, and documentation of children's work, Briana and Bee have noticed a theme to the children's current work:  explorations of identity. 
Whether it's through art, science, baby play, dinosaurs, negotiations around gun play, death, bones, or insects, the children are driven to explore questions such as How are we the same?  How are we different?  In what ways do we compare to each other, animals, other cultures?  What makes us us?  How do we express our us-ness?
Briana and Bee's intentional choices of materials aim to support this exploration by offering:

*Open-ended provocations that allow for artistic expression.  With no guidelines on what to do with the materials (other than keeping people and materials safe), the children explore stories, emotions, aesthetics, and more... never failing to amaze us with how they naturally challenge themselves and process incredibly deep concepts through this work.  

Building on a long-term exploration of patterns.

*Opportunities to remember our connection to our families. 
Made during our Earth Day Get Together.

*Ways to bring awareness to and explore the intricacies of the self.

Extension of comparisons to animals.

*Ways of exploring topics in a way that highlights connections between different children and families.

Clara the Ladybug gets to go home with children with a book about ladybugs and a photo album that highlights Clara's adventures with other families.
These elephants traveled with Cohort 4 from the Infant House.  Elliot's journal also highlights his adventures with children.

* Open-ended provocations that explore areas of interest in ways that tie to expression

Following interests in dinosaurs and paleontologists!
Following interests after finding a dead bird.

Connections to different cultures and opportunities to reflect on sameness and differentness. 

Materials from Mongolia!

*Explorations of literacy as a fun, interesting way to express oneself and connect to others. 

This is just a small peak into the Preschool House.  I skipped over areas with blocks, babies, silks, animals, paint, dishes, puzzles, and so much more (an entire room, in fact!).  But hopefully this gives you an idea of the level of intention the teachers take in order to support the work of the children in ways that scaffold, enhance, support, connect, explore... and so much more.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pay-it-Forward: Our Package from Mongolia

After weeks of anticipation and excitement, we finally opened up our package from Mongolia. We sat down for circle time and before opening the package, we talked about where the package came from and what we remembered about Mongolia. 
A couple of preschoolers also made more guesses as to what might be inside:
 EB- "Their flag."
IR- "There might be some of their toys in it."

And then the moment came and I watched the preschoolers as I tore open the top of the package carefully. There was silence all around, all faces on the package, eyes wide in wonder as to what would be pulled out of the package.

After pulling out a few items, I noticed a letter from our new friends at the school in Mongolia. It was a beautiful note with pictures of the children that go to the school.

Here is part of what the letter says:

We then looked at the rest of the items in the package, which included postcards, a beautiful felt mat, and small ankle bones from a sheep, which are called shagai. They are used for games and fortunetelling!

The items were passed around the circle so that the preschoolers could look at them up close, touch them, smell them, and read about them. We especially enjoyed smelling the felt and the bones!

The preschoolers also enjoyed looking at the pictures of the children from Ulaanbaatar and observing how they look similar and different from themselves.
Our items from Mongolia are now out for the children to explore and to be reminded of our connection to a school across the world with children who like to play, just like us.


It is now our turn to Pay-it-Forward to three schools/bloggers who want to play! If you would like to play and are willing to PAY IT FORWARD from your own blog, here is what you can do next:
Leave a comment on this post letting us know that you would like to play and we will randomly choose three participants. You can be from anywhere in the world, but the only stipulation is that you must have a blog.
Here are the rules:
  • The three participants will receive a package reflecting Portland, OR, our school, the USA or maybe even all three! It will be up to the preschoolers :)
  • You must be willing to PAY IT FORWARD to three more schools/bloggers.
  • When chosen, you need to send us your address so we can you send you your package.
  • After you receive your package, you will need to PAY IT FORWARD in the same way on your blog.
  • Comments will remain open until August 12th
We are looking forward to Paying-it-Forward with you!!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Painting: Round 2

We had been doing a lot of ice and water play outside to beat the heat in Cohort 5 lately, but last week we were blessed with a slightly less incredibly hot day than usual. We decided to tough it out inside and paint. As soon as I brought the drop cloth in and brought the canvas to the floor, IS knew what was going to happen next and excitedly approached the area where I was setting up. LC was not with us last time so she was a little puzzled as to why I was so focused on my task (usually I play a very observant role in my classroom). AS was too busy with the mirror in the bathroom to give much thought to my actions.

I brought the yellow paint down next. LC moved closer to me and observed what I was doing. After I sat down she used my arm to stand up and closely watched the canvas as I squirted the yellow paint onto it in a circular motion. IS watched, too, then eagerly started in. After only a split second of observing IS's eagerness, LC joined him. Very quickly they were both working on moving the yellow paint around the canvas.

At first, IS moved his hands back and forth horizontally in the space directly in front of where he sat. LC watched him and copied this move with her right hand, leaving her left hand still on the canvas. It only took a minute of becoming orientated to the texture of the paint before LC had her own idea of how to do this thing, though. She began to move her right hand across the canvas vertically. 

At first she stuck to the area in front of her but after that was covered she used her legs to boost herself into a bear crawl like position where she could further her reach. She started to use her left hand a bit, too. Then she sat herself back down and used both hands simultaneously to cover another corner of the canvas. IS continued his horizontal motion for a bit before noticing LC's vertical approach. He also figured out that the black paint from last time was still pliable enough to be mixed with the yellow paint. This was a discovery that I had along with him! Who knew! He moved the paint in a circular motion to mix it as much as possible. 

At this point, AS finally decided she wanted to come over. She tentatively touched the part of the canvas that IS and LC had not gotten to yet. This got a little yellow paint on her hands. She looked at them and laughed then held them up for me to see. Then she painted her own face. After that, AS was done and came to me to get some help removing the paint from her body. Meanwhile, LC crawled away leaving only IS at the canvas. He made quick work of what was left of the yellow paint. He moved it horizontally, vertically, and any other way that would mix it into the black paint from before. Once he was finished, he also came to me for help getting cleaned up.

I look forward to continuing to see how the children utilize paint in our room. I was amazed at how devoted they were to one approach of getting the paint across the canvas (whether it was vertical or horizontal or circular). It was also interested to see the different intent behind their use of the paint. IS was very focused on mixing it, for example, while AS only wanted to see what it would do to herself. Even though we had only painted as a group once before, the children were able to anticipate what the drop cloth meant and what to do when they felt satisfied with their painting experience. The time we spent painting before was such a core experience for us that it stuck with them which, along with my own remarks about what I noticed and what we were doing, helped them to know "What's next?" This was instrumental in making our transition to and from painting a success!

The Workshop is Open!

Nuts and Bolts

Exploring the properties - MR
 Exploration - Creation - Design - Construction

How does it fit?
Parallel Work

"It's a Monster Truck!" SM
A Lightsaber - SW

Watching gears turn - KC

KO's train, before it becomes a bus.
Our gazebo is under a transformation into an area for construction. We have renamed it The Workshop in honor of this new focused play and the materials that are available.  Over the last few weeks gears, nuts and bolts and a hamster wheel have started us out on our path to exploring how things work, designing, experimenting and construction of our ideas.  Look forward to how this space grows as our experience and ideas influence our work.

Lining up the jewels after polishing

Constructing Shelves for a jewel store

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Spontaneous Circle

This morning while we were outside, I walked toward the gazebo to let everyone know it was time to start cleaning up. As I was about to make the announcement, I noticed a group of preschoolers sitting in a circle outside of the gazebo on the concrete. They were focused. Although it was getting late and to keep on schedule we needed to get inside in the next couple of minutes, I did not say anything. Something important was happening. Something magical was happening. I needed to observe this moment without interruption. And more importantly, they needed the opportunity to finish their process without interruption. 

I first noticed each person's hands in the center of the circle, one on top of the other one. IR and EB were going around, letting each preschooler know when it was time for them to put their hands in the center. There was an order to it... a process.
As soon as everyone had their hands in the middle, each child in the circle raised their arms and hands high up in the air, cheering "Go team Tumbleweeds!"
They then did this again, taking time to get each hand in the right order and ending it with "Go team Tumbleweeds!"
IR then said "Okay guys, what are we going to do? Talk!" And this is what happened next:

 While witnessing and filming this beautiful moment, I became teary. I was completely blown away by this spontaneous circle that was unfolding in front of me. IR took the initiative to lead the circle, coming up with a topic and making sure everyone had a turn to contribute.

This is how we do circles at Tumbleweeds. One teacher leads circle, starting with a song or some other known greeting and then we have a topic that we discuss as a group. Everyone has the opportunity to contribute and in turn a discussion occurs. IR did this. She led the greeting with EB and then brought up a topic to discuss with the group of preschoolers in the circle. 

This is what circle time is all about. It is about modeling and building relationships and about discussing interests as a group. It is about learning about each other and getting to know our similarities and differences. It is about building a community... a family. It is about our amazing group of Preschoolers feeling comfortable and safe with each other to be able to share their thoughts. It is about the process.

If I would have interrupted the circle outside, I would have missed something truly inspiring and the group would have missed out on this process of forming and exploring their own circle time. I got to witness this extraordinary moment. It was there, it was magical, it passed, and I will never forget it.