Monday, December 30, 2013

Body Based Emotional Awareness

"Eye!  Eye!"  A finger is quickly jabbed towards my eye.

"Oh!  Yes, my eye.  Please give it space.  You can touch your own eye as much as you'd like," I say blocking the hand.  We spend a moment looking at each other's eyes as we point to them.

Later someone gets very close to a friend and wraps his arm around them.  They are smiling as they go in for a hug, but then the other child begins to squeal and pull away.

"I wonder if they would like a hug?  I hear and see them pulling away.  Lets try again and ask, 'Would you like a hug?'"  I turn to the other child as ask the question and open my arms in invitation.  They shake their head no and walk away.

"They don't want a hug right now.  I'm available for a hug, if you'd like!" This produces a smile and we hug, before returning to play.

We are all squished together on the cozy chair.  Some are half sitting on the arm with my arm around their back for safety.  Everyone is touching, arms and legs tucked over and under each other.  Someone begins to squirm and I say calmly, "Are you ready to get down?  I know everyone's very close.  If we can be careful it just might work."  They too calm down and we sing a song together.

All of these moments are building on our emerging sense of self and growing awareness of others, both peers and how we fit within our cohort community.  When I give language to body parts, we can then use them in conversations around emotional awareness.  We are at the age where the children in cohort 6 are beginning to feel some strong emotions. They experience big feelings mixed with trying to work out how to react.  Often there is yelling, hitting, throwing toys, crying or other big movements.  There are times when these things work and times when it does not.

When they not only understand words for labeling their body, but understand the commonality between others ( We both have eyes!  We both have hair!  We both have..... ) then these interactions carry more meaning.  It is a natural progression that toddlers are especially working on: categorizing, applying, expanding. Seeing both similarities and differences are the very first steps for emotional awareness and empathy.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Animal Circle

Today during Japanese circle, EF brought over a book about animal science. Rather than telling EF that they were reading a Japanese book already, Reiko offered to read the animal book if everyone interested. Every child perked up- yes!! They were indeed interested.

Reiko read through each page slowly, stopping as the children asked questions or exclaimed over the pictures. AK was often heard asking, "Wow! What is THIS animal?" TUS often had an answer or suggestion, "Oh, that's a squid."

JK and EF were so fascinated with many of the pictures that they had to lean in very close. Getting close allowed them to see all the details in the photographs. WK was interested in what each animal did rather than the name. She was particularly keen on learning about how snakes eat their prey.

As their circle comes to a close, WK asks "Can osprey carry you away?" Reiko pauses then says, "Maybe one could grab each of your arms. Then it would be like you are flying." AK and EF laugh as they lift their arms in the air to "fly".

Sunday, December 15, 2013

At the Table

Lately I've been reflecting on how we "teach manners" and set expectations at the table. The table can be a contentious area. The thing kids instinctively want to do anywhere is play and in our society play is something that isn't appropriate for the table. As a parent, I strictly forced this with my picky eater... Until his feeding therapist told me to stop.

She said I should encourage Graham to play with his food. I was floored. Food isn't something we play with! Wouldn't this make it even harder for him to eat? He was already on the edge of thriving and I was anxious about the small amount of food he took in on a daily basis. However, I was also desperate so I decided to hear her out. She told me playing with food can help children learn about it and build a relationship with food. It can increase their enjoyment of eating- which is a fairly social activity in our society. When there are so many rules and expectations set around food, eating can be anxiety provoking.

When I took time to consider the expectations I set in other areas, I realized I could easily accept this new schema for eating. Play is how children learn. Tasting, touching, feeling, looking at, smelling, hearing... We use all of our senses to explore everything. So I changed my ways at home, and begun to re-evaluate the way that I set expectations at TPH.

The first thing that is important to me during a meal is safety. We sit in our chairs while we eat and we ask for bowls of food to be passed to us. This way we decrease the odd of falling out of our chair or knocking something over. Not only is this expectation born out of necessity, but it's realistic and concrete. The children can see a definite cause and effect. They also want to keep our dishes from breaking and themselves for falling so they tend to self correct these behaviors with little intervention.

A second rule for while we eat is eating what we've taken before getting more. For example, all of the kids absolutely love it when we have bananas. Many times, they'd love to eat the entire bowl themselves. Again here this rule comes from necessity. It's important in our community that everyone gets a banana. Eating what you've taken and waiting before grabbing more also helps us to have a chance to feel full and make sure we are still hungry for more. Waiting reduces food waste and leaves food for those who are hungry for more.

Knowing what the rules are during eating is only part of it, though. As teachers we aim to create a self correcting community. Our rules are here because each of the children values them as well. For example, Rio and I rarely speak up if a child takes too much food. Often another child will notice and say aloud, "You took most of the bowl of cereal. Now there's not much left for the rest of us." This is the ideal for Rio and me. We want the children to explore freely and work with one another to establish the rules and routines that work best for our community as a whole. Sometimes the children create rules around something Rio and I would never have thought to limit, but if that works for everyone it sticks around.

The other way that we "teach manners" is by modeling the behaviors we want to see ourselves. We sit at the table with the children while we eat. We try a little of each thing at the table- barring any dietary restrictions. Modeling, a reliable routine and structure to meal times, and a self correcting community all work together to help establish rules and manners around eating together. This is what part of being a community is: figuring out how to work, live, and play with one another. Eating is simply one form of that.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Tumbleweeds Etymology: Provocation

I've always been interested in words. From a very young age I learned to read despite my dyslexia and I've always enjoyed getting lost in reading and writing equally. Words define. That two word sentence amazes me. It doesn't need anything else, because words really do define. They define us. They define our world. They define how we see the world. They define how others see the world... and the way others see the world is often not how we see it. We can argue about the meaning of a word for hours, because for each person the meaning of any given word is a little different. This led me to ponder on the word "provocation". We use it a lot around here and it's something we all value highly in our approach to teaching-but what does it really mean to each of us? The answers I receive varied.

Rio: "Provocation: an invitation to creative growth, where children can express themselves at their own direction."

Melinda: "Something that calls out to be explored and due to our inquisitive nature we answer it without question."

Briana: "A provocation is a story without words, that can be told a few different ways."

Amy: "Materials made available and designed or presented in such a way as to offer the opportunity to scaffold and intended to incite, invoke, and inspire."

Reiko "A provocation is a trigger for the creativity of someone to erupt."

Elizabeth: "An intentional yet open ended arrangement of materials, environment, and/or elements that is meant to inspire creative play and thought."

Each of us, as I predicted, has our own unique take on what a provocation is. They are extremely different, though they do share some of the same elements. The central theme that I see in each of our definitions is imagination, though each of my coworkers and each reader of this post will likely see their own central theme. Rio sees imagination when he writes "creative growth" and "express themselves". For me, imagination comes into play as we begin to explore. Briana's story invites imagination much in the way my exploration does. Amy explicitly mentions imagination when she writes of the intention to "incite, invoke, and inspire". For Reiko, a provocation is a literal trigger for imagination. Elizabeth writes of imagination when she says "creative play and thought". This is what I love so much about words, the amazing ability for words to have so many meaning and such a definite meaning all at once will always leave me speechless.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Creating an Academic Framework

As I have become accustomed to the culture here at Tumbleweed,
I have focused on supporting children to grow and develop in their
own unique ways. With a range of ages and abilities in the class, we use activities that involve all children while giving the option for further exploration into academics for those who wish. In this way, we respect each child in their place and let them decide when they are ready for more structure.

I completely believe in this approach to education. Each child should feel they are perfect, right where they are and feel supported in that place.

However it is hard to see how this will translate to a conventional education system. Especially one built on assessment and meeting age requirements every year. My goal is to find a connection between how we encourage children to enjoy learning while still providing the tools and education that each child needs. More and more expectations and societal pressures pile up as a child turns a new age, but I see the greater function of school as inspiring children to become creative, autonomous, and self-reliant.

All of this has led me to the conclusion that we need a mission statement for our approach to learning:

The mission of Tumbleweed Preschool House is to support the development of children by teaching self-worth, the right to be respected, and the value of community. As we prepare self-reliance in each child, we also inspire the desire to take part in community change. 

This path we have taken involves giving children the tools to solve most interactions themselves, providing an
environment that serves as a teacher and giving space for peer-to-peer education to flourish.

The most challenging of these teaching practices is creating problem solvers. In the classroom, we take time to explain what has happened and allow for the child to process their emotional reactions. We validate how a child feels by pointing out that it is always okay to feel. In this way they will require less adult oversight because they have made their own guidelines for a response to an action.

As adults we must model skills but also avoid being emotionally responsive when a child has an issue. By having distance and neutrality with each preschool child we allow ownership of feelings which do not connect an adult’s emotional response to a child's emotional upheaval. In other words, they are safe to let go with us. They know we will still support them while they feel and that we will help them process it all when they are ready.

The way academics then weaves into our scaffolding here at Tumbleweeds is by balancing the environment and peer-inspired growth while also providing teacher-lead material that is directed from students. This means we use a model that does not have the whole class learning themes so as to exclude some while uplifting others.

We feel academics are a form of  self-care.  When we allow each child time to understand and find meaning in a new action, they are able to value themselves and the work they do. In this way, we build intrinsic motivation in how children approach learning rather than extrinsic. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

All About Feet!

Recently I took over Rio's body group for the day. I was excited to discuss feet with the body group! As we entered the body group room some of the kids told me about Body Man who lives on the wall. They were excited to discuss the things they had previously done in body group with Rio and fill me in on everything they knew about the body!

WK: Look! That's the bone leg.
MR: It's a femur!
TS: Yeah, it lives in your skeleton.
WK: We talked about bones when we traced our hands.
Melinda: Hey, that's what we are doing today- but with feet!
TB: What's that black paper for?
Melinda: I thought we could use chalk to trace our feet onto it. You can choose to trace your own foot or have a partner do it for you.
EF approaches my side and takes a piece of black paper then tries to hand it back to me.
Melinda: It looks like EF wants to trace hers first. Look, you can stand on this paper EF. Now, we can use the chalk to trace around your foot.
I trace around EF's foot while she stands still on the paper.
WK: Oooh then you can put bones in it!
Melinda: If you'd like, I brought in some white chalk. I wonder what you guys know about feet.
The children begin moving around the room. Some of them choose to trace their own feet and others ask for help from a friend. They talk as they work.
TS: You use your feet for balancing. That way you don't fall down.
TB: Sometimes you can jump on your feet!
WK feels the bottom of her feet as she begins to draw bones in her traced foot.
WK: There's a big round bone here that helps you jump!
I bend my fingers and point to the joints that help me bend. 
Melinda: Something I know about fingers is that they have joints to help us bend. When we jump we often use the joints in our toes to help us push off the ground.
I jump up and down to try and show them. WK, MR, and TB pause what they are doing to jump and down too. Then TB bends over and points to the joint in his big toe.
TB: Yeah! My joint is right here. You can see it when I bend my toe.
WK: I'm gonna draw some joints in my toes.
The children continue discussing joints, jumping, and feet as they finish their feet drawings.

It was exciting to get my own, personal introduction and glimpse into body group with these guys. I look forward to seeing where else Rio takes his body group as the weeks progress!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Accepting the Beauty

It's snack time.  We're having bananas.  I move to the table with a bowl of them and sit down.

 "I like to start at the top to peel it.  
See how it's a little rough there? 
 I break it a bit with my fingernail then pull down.  
Would you like to try?  
Look, we can see the banana!  
Yep, then you can pull it out.  
How does the peel taste when you bite it?"

By encouraging this careful investigation of an experience and noticing the details as we focus together, a child's sense of wonder and imagination are sparked.  Slowing down to notice builds an appreciation of the beauty that can be found in all things, and when done regularly it creates an ability to seek out beauty and notice it in all we see.

I have a hard time explaining it to people.  It's a mindset that is not just ready and willing to see the beauty, but to search out and find it in everything you see.

Beauty is all around us.  There are the moments when it is obvious and everyone who is near it is in awe.  There are times when it is in the eye of the beholder and it takes work and explanation to show the beauty.   There are busy moments in our life or our focus is off and we miss the beauty that is right in front of our faces.

It is difficult to describe that the innate ability to notice the beauty all around.  I want to give the gift of allowing for beauty in each of our lives.  I want them to embrace it in whichever form it comes- and then seek it out, even in the dirty and broken and hard parts in their life. Sometimes, these times can be the most beautiful if we pause to notice it.

When we are always able to see that richness of texture or depth of feeling that something evokes, then the beauty of it is speaking to us.  I want the children to question what beauty is for themselves and then accept the many unique definitions that everyone they meet will have.  I want them to feel the joy of slowing down and watching something that catches their eye. I want them to value this stillness and awareness, because they know it enriches their life and appreciation of others.  When you can see the beauty that is all around, it gives you an ability to accept others for who they are and see the truth around you.  We each still have our unique perspectives, but when you are aware then it is easier to be open to new ideas and thoughts.

We practice this search for beauty on a daily basis.  Its in the moments when I move slowly, with intention to draw attention to something.  It is when they point out the window at something that catches their eye in the sky.  And when discovering the way something works.  Really, there's no limit to the places we find the beauty.  What is important to me is the ability to see and be available to experience it. 

What we talk about in Bodies Group

Building on the brains group that Amy started, the preschoolers and I have been exploring bodies. We've been asking internal burning questions like what do we use our bodies for? How do they work? What are all the different parts? At first, I invited children to the Bodies group by simply calling out to see who was interested. As interest spread, I would go outside and call out that bodies group was now meeting. Each time, I limit the group to five or six. This helps us to be able to explore questions at a deeper level than we can in our larger group times.
Picture from a later body group on brains.

On one particular body group day, I printed a picture of a human skeleton as a provocation. I also had a long piece of paper and a tray full of crayons. I wanted to discuss a few major human bones and hoped the skeleton would stimulate more story telling and creative expression around the human body. Where the children took it was not only what I imagined but more.

Picture from a later body group on brains.
The children file in from outside with a palpable physical energy and so we begin with a movement song to help transition to sitting in a circle. I usually sing “I’ve got to shake, shake, shake my sillies out” then mellow down with a fingerplay “Grandma’s Glasses.”
I then describe what we are going to learn about.
Me: “Does anybody know what this is a picture of?
Kids: “A human” Me: “That’s right but what part of a human is showing?”
Kids: “Bones” Me: “Yeah! This is a pic of all the bones in our body. We are going to learn about some today.”
After we go over some bones everyone gets to get up and move the bone we just learned about.

Picture from a later body group on brains.
I then tell them I brought in this big piece of paper so that we can see what how big a bone would look in real life. I have these crayons so that we can trace a person and then draw inside. I ask who would like to be traced first, and M raises her hand. I inform the others that they can also have a turn next time.
As M lays down on the paper, I explain that we want to gently draw around each part of the body and connect them. Soon each child calls out what part they want to trace. After we are done, I have M get up. The children are in awe to see what they have down. All their lines (different colors) connect and look like a person. I then go over the bones.
“Does the pelvis go hear?” Or here?” “Where is the femur?”
Everyone draws in the bones as I help trace their shape. After the children ask “Can we draw in more parts in the body?” Then they begin coloring in and talking about what they see in the body.

A hand traced by a child during table provocations.
I’m as amazed as the children at the outcome. These children have so many ideas about the body. Their creative expression took our discussion in so many directions I had never imagined. The children’s thoughts about what the body looks like, what is inside us and how the body changes as we grow gave so much to our group. It was also fun, as everyone shared their silly nature and how they do things in unique ways. To continue this at home, families could sing body songs such as Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes or explore OMSI's Life Hall.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Language of Clay

Today we took out our newly beloved block of clay.  Everyone was very excited when I spread the canvas on the floor.  They gathered quickly.  I carried the crinkly plastic bag, full of a heavy chunk of clay and invited everyone over.  They remembered the clay from our introduction last week and sat down on the canvas. 
I opened the bag and everyone peeked inside.  I flipped it over and slowly eased the plastic off of the damp clay.  Everyone was beginning to feel impatient.  EC found a small strip of clay that was first exposed and scratched her nail across the surface.  She triumphantly held up the bit of clay on her finger nail to show me.  "Thatsss!"  We both smiled at her discovery.
"Shall we take the bag off?"  The anticipation was building.
Everyone made joyful noises and a few "yeah!". 
"1 - 2 - 3!"  I set the bag aside.  Everyone began to manipulate the clay with fingers, nails and hands.  As they scootched closer to reach the clay, even knees and toes came into contact. 
"Pat! Pat!"  said Z.  I smiled as he labeled his action and I copied him saying the same thing.  Everyone thought this was a grand idea and quickly our clay became a drum, punctuated by our fervent 'Pat! Pat!' chant. 
"I wonder what else we can do with the clay?"  I looked around. 
"Oh look.  C is poking it.  You can poke the clay!"  With an exaggerated movement of my pointer finger, I poked downward at the clay with a "Poke!  Poke!"  Everyone thought this was a great idea and joined in in the poking. 
I repeated my wondering and noticed I was talking quite a bit more than normal today, "Poking feels good!  I wonder what else we can do?"  I look around.
"Oh look!  EK is scraping with his nail.  Then he has a little piece!"  I slowly and carefully copy his motion.  I narrate what I see and what I wonder.  By the end we were pounding, pinching, hitting, tasting, toe-ing and wiping the clay. 
This process arose naturally from the children, stemming from their interest but also where we are developmentally.  We are smack dab in the middle of a language bump and I am constantly looking for moments to snatch up ways to extend their steadily growing language.  When Z labeled his own actions, it was an open door for us to go further with this concept. Today I used language as our tool during our interactions with clay.  Even though many of the words that I used were above their ability to reproduce, we were building brain connections.  The words are now directly connected and categorized and later will be used, because of the repetition and hands on work we were doing.