Thursday, November 29, 2012

Functional Independence

Young children are fascinated by what adults are doing and when they are given the tools and permission to care for the world around them, I notice that they take away a pride in their work and a heightened awareness of what their own skills are, and what might need to be done. I am constantly amazed by the children's awareness and their ability to follow through on simple cleaning and care activities, and it inspires me to continuously find new ways to support their functional independence to complete the tasks they set for themselves and that they perform to maintain a beautiful, clean and safe environment.
I invite children to stand on chairs at the sink, sponges in hand. The water is filling the sink and the smell of citrusy dish soap is in the air. Earlier I had asked if they were interested in washing dishes, and a cheer went up before they hurried into the kitchen. An outsider might have heard their excitement and expected an offer of something sweet, but this is often the reaction I receive when I invite children to activities based on caring for their environment.
I began to offer the opportunity for children to join me washing dishes when I was in a hurry. I needed to get the dishes done, no other adult was available, and left to their own devices in the classroom chaos would have definitely ensued. On a whim I suggested they join me at the sink in the kitchen, and much to my pleasant surprise, they happily accepted. Sponges in hand I set each child to a task. One would wash with me, while the other rinsed off the soap. Half-way through I realized how well this was going, and that my washer was truly washing the dishes, not simply manipulating the water and soap on the sponge, as I would expect. I made the decision to step back, and the process continued without me for well over 10 minutes.
This observation inspired me to continue this idea of including the children into the maintenance of our kitchen and classroom environment. Folding laundry was the next step, which got me thinking about an entire new set of concepts that the children are working on as they tidy and clean. Washing dishes is a repetitive patter, including a fairly complex series of steps, leading to an expected outcome. This sounded like the basis for logical sequencing which is found in mathematics, geometry and even language. Folding laundry involves visual discrimination and sorting, playing to the child's strong need for order in their environment as they returns things to where they belong. Refinement of the hand is practiced as different items are folded in different ways, and hand eye coordination is employed when placing things in neat stacks.
My thought process got really excited then. How else could the children help out? What would it take for them to become independent with these things? I set up an area in the classroom dedicated to supporting the children's growing ability of noticing something that needs care and I stocked it with tools for them to use. By giving the children permission by offering appropriate tools, they found joy in caring for their environment and often preferred these 'chores' to the toys on our shelves, while they honed life-long skills that they can apply in various ways.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What can we do with paper?

Sometimes the most simple provocation can promote the longest attention span.  Today, the children show me that when I focus on one aspect of what I offer they are able to focus on that one quality for a longer period of time.  There is less distractions and more potential for their own explorations.  Everyone enjoys the crinkling, dry, scratchy paper.  They pull, push, squish, taste, tear and move the sheets around.  But they also watch, climb over and smile at each other as their exploration expands in a child-driven way. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rewards of Patience

The train tracks have been a huge focus in our classroom lately. VR and JK especially enjoy building with them. Building on the shelves themselves has become more of a focus over the past few weeks. Last week, though, both JK and VR wanted to build on the same shelf. JK built his track first and felt very protective over it when VR approached to join him in using the track. 


First, JK tried to simply shield his trains from VR. He clearly stated "Move Back!" to VR. VR did not move in any further but stayed where he was. I calmly stated that it seemed as if JK felt strongly about playing with the trains himself. VR nodded his head and remained close, watching JK play. After a minute or two more had passed, though, VR began to play on the other end of JK's track. I stayed close but was careful to not interfere with VR joining. I waited to see how JK would respond. He watched VR very closely then began to smile.

Next, both VR and JK drove their trains to the center of JK's track and met them up together while IS looked on. It was amazing to see how JK worked through his desire to play alone without my help. Because VR respected his need for space at the beginning and stayed calm even as JK insisted he moved back, JK was willing to accept VR's desire to join him in using the track. In the end, VR's patience with and respect for JK paid off!

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Current Phase of our Phrases...

Before starting as a primary teacher in the classroom, new teachers here get to have about a week to do observations, readings/research, reflection writing, and discussions.  We have "modules," or groupings of materials based around a certain topic (such as Basic Trust, Transitions, Environment, Problem Solving), and each teacher gets to choose which modules feels the most helpful for what they're processing.

Carrie, one of our two new Preschool Teachers, chose to carefully observe Teacher Language for one of her modules, and she took notes all day on phrases she heard.  When she emailed everyone the list, we were all so impressed with how astutely she picked up on our "Tumbleweedy" ways!  And it also gave us the opportunity to reflect on which phrases we wanted to keep around, and which ones we wanted to adjust in order to more intentionally support our intended messages.  What an opportunity!

Here is a shortened list of some phrases Carrie heard:
"I wonder what you're trying to say..."
"Then what happened?"
"What I know about (child) is..."
"I notice..."
"It's cleanup time." (fact not command)
"It looks like we need to think of a new plan."
"Try to take a deep breath."
"(Child) is holding on tightly."
"Aw, it's frustrating."
"I hear (child) needs some space right now."
"My lap is not available because everyone needs to be able to see the pictures.  There are still places to sit here and there!"
"I'm looking over here, and we have cubes on the floor."
(To the tune of 'This is the way the farmers ride) "(Child) is putting the blocks away, blocks away, blocks away..."
"Let's find a home for everything."
"I'm available to help."
"You're working so hard!"
"You feel really good about doing that!  It was hard, and you kept trying, and you did it."
"Do you want to tell us a story about your (injury)?"
"Does it work for you to talk about it? Not everyone likes to talk about their injury."
"What did you notice this morning?"
"I can see you're crying!"
"Everyone, let's listen very carefully."
"We need to make a plan."
"How did that make you feel?"
"I wonder, are you both looking for more space?"
"So what's your plan?"
"I won't let you hit him with a stick, but if you need ____, you can ____."
"It's important for us to listen to each other so we can all feel safe."
"I can tell that makes you feel good."
"I'm available if you need a hug."
"Does that work for everybody?"
"(Child), I can tell you feel really strongly about ____."
(Restate child's plan) + "That's an idea!" +"Does that work for everyone?"
"I notice that there is a little piece of your skin that is up in a flap."
"How does it feel, (child)?"
(Child says "Look at this!") -> "You used purple on your cheek! Did you want to tell me about it?"
"Thank you for being careful with my body.  I like gentle touches."
"You're feeling very strongly about that."
"I won't let you bite me."
"I hear you saying that it's yours and (child) is pulling on it.  I wonder if anyone has an idea for a solution?"
"It sounds like we need to make a plan that works for everybody."
"You are using that big stick so closely to your friends, and you're being so careful to make sure it doesn't touch anyone!  That's hard work."
"The thing about sticks is:  we can use them if we can keep everyone safe."

My favorite messages these phrases send include:
*  I trust you to know what you need.
*  I want to help you as much as you need me:  no more, and no less.
*  I'm here to help you understand yourself.
*  I'm here to help you help others understand you.
*  Anything you feel is always ok.
*  Expressing yourself safely is always ok.
*  Everyone can contribute to problem solving.
*  This is a safe place to offer ideas... You never know what plan is going to work for everyone! 
*  Doing things that work for everyone works (i.e. making safe choices works).
*  When you make choices that work, work hard at something, and/or help your friends, it feels good.
*  We are a team!  We are a community!  And each person's contributions are unique and useful. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Transitioning into the Classroom

Recently, WG joined our classroom. In fact, last week was his first week! When a new child transitions into the classroom, it can be a change for all of us. The children look to me and the space to remind themselves that they are safe, their needs will be met, and they will be free to explore. The rest of Cohort 5 and myself worked hard to help WG transition while maintaining safety and consistency for the rest of the children. We kept to our routine and focused on a lot of free play throughout the morning to give WG time to get to know both IS and QM who were there that day. QM and I spent a significant amount of time building towers out of blocks and knocking them over. Later IS and WG  worked to build their own towers on our long shelf.

Later in the day we did a paint project with yellow paint and green tape. Though WG was not quite ready to join us in our painting, he watched on from a distance. QM worked with IS and me for a little while before moving off to join WG in observing. After painting with the tape for a while, IS and I used wet cloths to wash the paint off most of the canvas. Both IS and I enjoy doing this from time to time as it is very rigorous and gets a lot of energy out! WG found this much more interesting than our calm painting and moved closer to watch us. 

Later when WG was feeling a little sad, Amy offered some help. She showed WG that IS had a belly button- just like him! This observation of IS having something in common with WG really excited WG. He laughed and walked closer to IS to point to IS' belly button himself. IS was also filled with joy over their discovery! JK also joined in and lifted his shirt to show both boys his own belly button. There is something very comforting about noticing what we have in common. WG and IS worked to see what other body parts they had in common- ears! hair! noses! It was quite an afternoon of discovery.

By the end of the week, WG was initiating play with QM and IS both. Our concentration on maintaining consistency during the transition helped WG feel safe to play and interact with us as well as encouraged QM and IS to allow and accept WG's participation in their play. From the latch board to more tower building to building with train tracks, WG, IS, and QM all three encouraged participation from their peers and enjoyed interacting with one another.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Art Provocations: Infants and Paint

Offering art to infants can seem like just an invitation to creating a mess, but the seriousness and intensity that E shows during his first experience with paint banishes that thought in an instant.
For E's first paint, I laid a large drop cloth canvas on the floor in the room and placed a piece of butcher paper on top.  He was instantly interested when I laid him on his back near the area I set up and immediately rolled to his belly to grab the paper.  He tasted the paper and squeezed it in his hands while I dotted a small amount of paint on the paper.  E continued to manipulate the paper and in the process placed his hand in the paper, but never really seemed to notice the paint.  I know that he felt the change in texture and his eyebrows show us that he was very interested in figuring out this paper-ness and how it is changing through his manipulations.
Creating an art provocation for a young infant, 4 months old in this case, involves setting up an opportunity for focusing on only a few qualities of an art medium.  This is the intention behind our Process Based Art approach.  For us, it is about offering children the ability to get to know the art mediums like they would a good friend that they can then get to know and later use to tell stories, express themselves, explore and experiment or create new experiences.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fall Leaves

"Children are born naturalists. They explore the world with all of their senses, experiment in the environment, and communicate their discoveries to those around them."
-The Audubon Nature Preschool

The leaves have begun falling from our large tree. Over the long weekend, they blanketed the entirety of the ground beneath the tree. Before Amy raked them into pathways, the kids and I made it outside to explore. IS spent much of his time with his own small rake. He focused on dragging it behind him and delighted in the leaves getting stuck to its teeth. Every now and then he would stop to remove all the leaves then begin again. 
Lately our time outside has been mostly pudding splashing, so the fallen leaves were a nice change for us. 

HH and VR enjoyed holding hands as they stomped through the leaves. They both enjoyed crushing the leaves beneath their boots. As they approached the blacktop they took a few steps onto it then turned around to wade back into the sea of leaves. As I stood and watched all three children work and play among the leaves I was reminded of Briana's recent post which highlights how amazing it is to allow children to have an intimate relationship with nature. This relationship with nature leads to respecting our environment, a desire to engage with the world around us, a love for all the elements, and an appreciation for the amazing moments nature offers us.
I have always seen nature as a calming force both for myself and the children. When we are needing to move big and be loud we head outside where there is plenty of room to do just that. However, watching the boys in the leaves today reminded me of the focused exploration that happens outside too. The boys moved their boots gingerly through the leaves finding the spot that felt just right for crushing. IS carefully pulled his rake, watching it closely to see how many leaves it had collected so far. Nature offered us calm in the form of a chance to engage closely with it.

Later the infants found a moment to be outside and everyone was transfixed by the leaves moving and falling from the maple tree.  A few leaves were found by hands or fell down from the tree.  The magic of the tree and the wind and the falling leaves left us all settled for the rest of our day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Supporting Natural Movement - Meal Time

Supporting the child's intrinsic need to move in their own way at the own time is an important goal for us at Tumbleweed in the development of the whole child.  At all times we consider how can they do for themselves while always setting themselves up for success.   Many sources that I have read talk about offering solids to children as they are seated, but for me that seems counter-intuitive.  We were constantly struggling with the unnatural feeling of holding an infant in our laps who is reaching for food, yet not feeling comfortable, because we are supporting their body. How can I support the natural movement and motivation of a child while putting them in an unnatural position, especially one that I have assisted them in achieving?  The biggest discovery we have made allowing children to eat while on their belly.  we are best able to use meal times to support our goals to maximize each child's comfort in natural movements, sense of ownership over eating, and identity as a part of a community.

My goal in feeding an infant is allowing them to get into their most comfortable position.  We use no chairs in the classroom until they are able to get into one on their own.  This usually follows their ability to get into a seated position unassisted, which means we often have children who are not ready to sit up yet are eating solids. Our solution for this at Tumbleweeds is offering food to infants who can roll over on their belly as they are laying on the floor.  Their body is supported, they got into the position on their own, they have their hands available and feel comfortable.  For mobile infants I often set up our meal space in a part of our classroom and invite them to come over on their own.  Once they are there I place a small amount of food before them and they are able to feed themselves.
This has been a natural evolution for us in our explorations in Baby Led Weaning.

I have found such joy in using this position for feeding both in observing the children and experiencing it together.  Since the basic need of their body is met and they are comfortable I notice more self interest in food, showing of preferences for certain things and refinement of hand eye coordination and motor control.  These are the reasons that I have chosen to feed whole foods to the children, versus purees, because it gives the children a true view of the foods they are trying.  They learn to love foods for what they are and are in the process of developing their own taste and preferences.  There is so much joy in their self knowledge of food.  Core Parenting recently did a wonderful blog about the joy of food.  Check it out to find some great ideas!

Yet, as always, the children have taught me things as well.  Often there is more than one infant enjoying their food together.  During these moments they watch each other, smile and mimic movement and sounds.  This shouldn't surprise me, because this happens often during play.  Our meal times have been an enjoyable, communal experience.  And I call them meal times for that exact reason.  I am not feeding the children.  They are enjoying a meal together and if they are eating alone I join them.
When we allow them to feel secure in a natural position they have gotten into themselves, then they are able the freedom to explore food and choose for themselves. This is a theme that we carry through out our day.  In caregiving activities, play and social moments.   These are moments to cherish when the child feels centered and able to do for themselves yet know we are there the moment they need us.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pouring: A Look at Fostering Independence

At Tumbleweeds one of our favorite questions is "How are we fostering independence within our classroom?" We think about how we can foster independence in your child from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave. Perhaps it's having a strong connection and bond with your child so they feel safe to explore. Maybe it's allowing your child to test our their ideas and give them ownership over their own learning. It could be through allowing them to help another child. It also happens during mealtime. Mealtime offers us Tumbleweed teachers a wealth of opportunities to explore and work on fostering independence. The child may have the chance to sit at the table, serve themselves, self-feed, decide when they are done eating or want more, clean up their own area, and many other seemingly small tasks that aid in fostering independence. One such act is pouring from the pitcher into their own glass. Cohort 5 has been working hard to master this particular act over the past few weeks!

Moving towards independently pouring first begins at a very young age. In the infant classroom children are bottle fed. When they have the desire and strength to hold the bottle on their own, they may be encouraged to do so. Once a child sits up on their own we will feed them at a small table with a plate and cup. If there is more than one child sitting up and ready for the table we all sit together for mealtimes if the childrens' schedules allow for this (ie they are all eating at the same time). When we pour into the cup we try to make sure to model the technique that we want the children to one day use for themselves: one hand on the handle and the other supporting the pitcher.

Once all the children are eating two snacks and one meal together we move to a bigger table that accommodates all of us and the teacher begins eating with the children to model serving, pouring, and portion control. The teacher may often talk aloud about their own thoughts and activities at mealtime. This shows the children when the teacher is full, when they want more food, and the actions they take in response to these wants and needs. At this time children are encouraged to begin serving themselves. When children begin to pour is often a personal decision for each teacher. For me, this time came when the children began to show interest as I poured for them. They would all watch carefully as I moved the pitcher to the table. Each child looked on with great curiosity as I poured the first cup of water or milk and didn't take their eyes off the pitcher until the last cup was poured. In my classroom, this meant that we were ready to begin pouring on our own.

In the picture above IS is working on pouring into his cup. I stand behind him and hold on to the pitcher with him- one hand on the handle and the other supporting the weight of the pitcher so the milk does not come rushing out. I relax my grip so he can feel the weight of the pitcher for himself and the tricky balance of getting the milk to come out at just the right speed.

Here HH is pouring into his small mug. Today I let my grip relax quite a bit with HH. He only needs a small amount of help to balance as the pitcher is not very full. Another important mantra here at Tumbleweeds is that we only help as much as is needed. I am mindful of this when I help to pour HH's milk and let him do as much as he feels comfortable with today.

Each child is at a different stop on their journey to self pouring. This is also part of how Tumbleweeds fosters independence. We focus on each child's individual needs and abilities rather than expecting them to master something as a group all at once. We are able to do this effectively due to the relationship we build with each child. When your work with a child is built on the bond you have with them, fostering independence becomes a journey for both you and the child.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Silk Wrestling

It's important to me to offer a variety of textures in the classroom.  It's why I have rocks and stumps and silks and sheepskins.  It's also why half of my room has a hardwood floor and the other a soft rug.  These changes in texture and materials gives the children an opportunity to experience various tactile opportunities as they move around the classroom.  Everyone is on their own path in movement and today the scarves proved quite interesting to everyone. 
Everyone used the scarves as a language for their explorations.
How does it feel in my hands?
Reaching, stretching, touching, pulling.

What does it taste like?
What is he doing with it?
What happens when I move it back and forth?
On the rug?  On my face?  On your arm?