Sunday, January 27, 2013

Expanding on Water

Cohort 5 has always greatly enjoyed water play. One of our very first additions to water play was the introduction of color to our water. While we still greatly enjoy bringing a simple tub of water out during the day, we recently decided to take our interests a step further and work with water colors. First the children painted with very watered down water colors. This gave them a chance to work with the brushes (a new tool for many of them) and paper with minimal permanence. They were very focused on the process of getting the brush from the container of color to the paper itself.

Recently, though, they used the water colors at their full strength. The past experience with the brushes was evident in the way each child worked on their own paper. LC carefully dabbed the tip of her brush into the water color before moving it quickly to the paper, attempting to minimize the loss of water color on the way. IS had a different technique to accomplish this same goal: he would dip his brush heavily into the color then held the brush above the container to let it drip a while before moving it to his paper.

Each child had their own approach for painting on their papers as well. VR moved his brush in a circular motion on his paper, making a big swoop of blue. Meanwhile, WG showed much interest in painting the corner of his paper. He dipped the brush in water color then dabbed it at one corner until that corner was fairly covered in color.

QM was determined to saturate the paper with color as much as possible. He pressed his brush hard against his paper to soak all of the water color out. After only QM was left at the table, he slowly poured the water color out onto one corner of his paper. When he finished his designs showed through on both sides of his artwork.

 Our adventures in water color over the past few weeks have both been a delightful next step to our water play and a chance for the children to explore a new medium and new tools. We plan to continue using water colors alone, working on layering them over the course of may days, before adding in anything else. Feel free to comment with any suggestions about what to mix with our water colors! One thought we've had so far is shaving cream.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sensory Explorations : Sound

Infants are sensorial learners.  They use their highly sensitive senses to learn and own the world around them. I have been noticing over the last few months that cohort 6 is especially interested in exploring sound, either by creating it themselves or watching the sounds around them.

Fingers scratch canvas while painting.  The sound seems to focus their attention, while they feel the cool slimy paint and create lines with their fingers.
We have have wooden drum that is well loved.  Both hands drum on it strongly while others watch in wonder.  Everyone also enjoys finding how other things around the room can become drums: wooden boxes, bowls, baskets.

Even the hardwood floors provide a perfect experiment for kicking feet and rolling toys.
All of the children seem in tune with the noises around them and either interact with their hands and body or watch, soaking it all in.  I am also beginning to notice this watching turning to mimicry and the joy the children share between each other when they create the same sound or motion.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Creating Limits to Empower Children

Recently we did a parent workshop on limit setting with our infant and wobbler classroom parents. In preparation for the work shop, we (Melinda and Briana) discussed some basic questions: What are limits and why do we use them? What do they provide for us and the child? How do we come up with limits? How do the limits that we set empower children and meet the needs of our family? In the end, we decided to focus on the process of limit setting.
For us, the process is three steps:

1. Setting the Limit
2. The Zen State
3. Following Through and Following Up 

Throughout the workshop itself we built on the process, discussed scenarios, and had some amazing dialogue with our amazing parents. Below is a deeper look into some of the highlights of our workshop and where the conversation went.

 Setting the Limit
Coming up with the limits...
  • An evolution of what's important to/defines your family and the culture of your family.
  • Each child (and adult!) have their own unique needs so limits might vary.
  • Setting limits in infancy/toddlerhood helps set up expectations. It builds the process/culture of your family/school/community/etc.
  • Offer choices to your child when you can! Giving them ownership over the limit helps.
Anticipation is Participation...
  • Prepare both your child and yourself in advance when possible. It's hard but gives time for processing. How far in advance varies with each child's needs and abilities. 
  • Be direct and use language that is appropriate for your child's ability. Key phrases that they can recognize like “Kids who A, get to B” can be great for consistency.
To a preschooler who has hit their sister after she took a toy: “Wait! I won't let you hit her. (Pause) The thing about our family is that we keep everyone safe. I can tell you feel frustrated about your sister taking that toy. What might work instead?”
To a young infant who wants to crawl off their mat at naptime: “It's time to sleep. I can see that you want to get off your mat. I will help you to rest.”
To a toddler who won't brush their teeth: “Kids who brush their teeth get to read books. (pause) The thing I know about you is that you really love getting to rinse!”

The key ingredients of a good limit? Clear. Honest. Age appropriate. Helps the child feel seen and acknowledged.



The Zen State
Supporting divergent thinking and advocacy...
  • Your child might test your limit! They are working to figure out what works/doesn't work.
  • Allow your child time to process the limit and decide how they want to react.
  • Let your child own their emotions- this supports advocacy! Remaining calm helps reduce shame and builds your child's emotional intelligence.
Narrate, Narrate, Narrate...
  • Talking through what is happening helps calm both you and your child. Acknowledging the situation and how you both are feeling maintains the zen state and builds coping skills. 
  • Narration can be like an unstructured mantra that gives you a chance to be fully present, observe without shame, and take a breath.
  • While narrating, your tone is just as important, if not more, as the words you are saying.

To the preschooler: After giving them a chance to come up with their own plan, offer help as needed or talk through their chosen path. Remember to allow them to try out their own plans, even if you are sure they won't work.
To the young infant: Breathe deeply and force your adult thoughts out of your head. Focus on the child and being the calm you want them to be.
To the toddler: Remain present but give them a chance to initiate the next step. “When you're ready you can turn on the water. I can help you put the toothpaste on your blue toothbrush if you want!”

The key to the zen state? Narrating and remaining calm helps you as much as them!

Following Through
Hear them. See them. Notice them.
  • Acknowledge your child's needs and emotions. “It didn't work to take the toy from her. She's holding on to it tightly. You really wanted it! That's really frustrating.”
  • Be available for comfort but allow your child space to work through it on their own.
  • Keep the narration going even as you follow through (whether it worked or not). For example, “You remembered that kids who brush their teeth get to read books before bed! Which book will you choose?”
  • It's OK to take space!! You may need a minute to breathe before you can be calm and present with your child. If so, then do so! Take a sip of coffee, find a moment to breathe, take some space in another room. Taking care of yourself is essential.
Planning for next time...
  • At any age, you can plan for next time. Talk aloud with your child or think to yourself about what worked/didn't work. What could go differently next time? How can you set up yourself and your child for success? Preschoolers can often do this on their own. 
  • This may mean re-evaulating the limit itself. Was the limit you chose appropriate for your child, your family yourself, and the situation? Was it communicated clearly? Is it flexible?
To the preschooler: “Look! It worked. First you tried taking it from her but she held on tightly. Next you asked if you could use it when she was done. Now she's finished and you get a turn. That worked!”
To the infant: (Before the next nap) “Earlier you had a hard time falling asleep. Your body was so tired! After we finish your bottle it will be time to nap again.”
To the toddler: “You chose not to brush your teeth. It's important that your teeth are clean before bed so I can help you, but this means we won't have time for books before bed. Tomorrow night we can try again!”

The key ingredients to following through? Narrate what happened. Remind the child of the limit in your narration. Make a plan for next time and re-evaulate the limit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Peeking in on Train Play

WG deep in thought as he holds a yellow train.

It may seem as though our focus on movement and wheels has only occurred outside lately, but I promise that's not the case. The interest has continued to grow inside as well. In fact, train play has taken over in our classroom in the past few weeks. Often train play will compromise the bulk of our play. The children have began to change the way they play with trains as well. For quite a while only JK and VR lined trains up but now almost every child enjoys lining up the trains. 

 IS has even began to find new ways and places to line the trains up. This past week he worked on lining the red trains up with other red trains and the yellow ones with other yellow trains. He also used his favorite green chair as a surface for putting a short line of yellow trains. Another big jump for Cohort 5 has been building with tracks. Again, building with tracks was something done by other adults who happened to be in the room and occasionally by JK or VR. However, the building of tracks has taken off. I will often look up now to see IS and QM working together to build a track.
 Just recently they managed to build a track that actually made a full circle! This took the hard work of not only QM and IS but also LC and WG! In the end, the ownership they felt over it was evident. The track stayed put together until clean up time- which is a first in our classroom full of deconstruction lovers. IS intently played with the track for most of our play time, as well.

 Another new phenomenon within our classroom has been the parallel play of trains. Last week QM began to play with the trains on our long, low shelf. He took the short line of yellow ones that IS had left in the green chair and moved them to the shelf. He slowly moved them back and forth which caught IS's attention. At first, I thought IS would be frustrated about his yellow trains being moved but I stayed back and watched to see how he would approach QM. I was reminded of how important it is to wait and see when he simply brought another short line of trains over and played next to QM on the long, low shelf. The parallel train action caught WG's eye as well and he headed over to join them both. At first WG simply watched them from the other side of the shelf, but eventually he moved to their side and played alongside both boys with his own short line of trains. They stayed like this for quite some time before resuming their normal wander and play activities.

To complement this interest in train play, I found some trucks and planes in the basement and brought them up. This has led to many new ways of using our trains, tracks, and other vehicles. I look forward to continuing to watch the children grow and work with these wonderful manipulatives.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bikes Part Deux

During our daily trips outside, there has been continued interest in bikes and anything that moves. To compliment this interest, Briana and I dug through the outside storage spaces and found some other things with wheels! The children have been delighted with the newcomers. Among them was the skateboard which was much beloved by Briana's Cohort 4 boys. The skateboard quickly became the favorite of LC and QM. 

 The elevated surface of the skateboard seemed like the perfect space to build a tower as far as QM was concerned. He began to stack blocks up on top of the skateboard much like he does on our shelves inside the classroom. This was the first time I have known the children to stack on their own accord outside- an activity that is extremely common inside.

Reiko snapped some wonderful pictures as LC collaborated with QM to build and stack. LC brought wooden blocks that weren't immediately within QM's reach over to the skateboard.

Although stacking only horizontally at first, QM and LC began to place the blocks vertically on the skateboard as well. This is something they've recently discovered inside and it is so amazing to see them replicating it outside!

Eventually, QM decided to use the skateboard to get around instead. He moved the blocks off of it and hung his body on one end, using his feet to propel him forward. It will be interesting to see how else the skateboard is used in the coming months!

At the Table

This is a story of meal time in cohort 6.  We all gather around a table and eat as works best for us.  Food is squished and put into mouths.  Stories are told and we enjoy the food that is offered.  When we are done, we wash our hands and move off to play.  Some crawl away.  Some roll.  Others remain near the table until the food is gone.  There are many textures, tastes and smells. 

Our new floor table supports our preferred method of eating: everyone in their best position.  By using a floor table sitting infants and infants who can roll over can grab their food comfortably, yet still begin to get the feeling for what eating at a table feels like.  This was a natural progression for me in my search to constantly refine what works best for this group.  It also gives me a chance to begin introducing different rituals to our meal time such as a thank you song and washing hands. 

Today H and C enjoyed lunch together there.  C finished first and crawled off to play and H decided he wanted to finish the rest of the quinoa that was left in the bowl.  He began to pull himself forward and then up onto the low box.  He seemed so proud of himself to get into this new position!

The Joy of Being With Preschoolers

I just recently took a vacation and I went to the beautiful island of Maui. As I was watching my niece play on the beach, I was in a state of complete awe. Her joyfulness in the simplicity of the beach, reminded me of why I love what I do. She dug her toes into the wet sand, smiling as she felt the soft grains squish between her toes. She ran up and down the beach, laughing as she fell head first into an endless mound of dry sand. She watched closely and intently at the ever-rolling sea as the waves crashed in and out. She screamed joyfully as the water came up to her knees and then receded back out again.

This is what working with children is all about. It is observing children finding joy in the simple, yet mystery-filled world. This can happen after struggle, during exploration, while seeing something for the first time, or while taking something in with one's whole body.

Within the last couple of months, we have had several new children start at TPH. Watching them explore their new surroundings and try out things for the first time is the best part of just being with children.

It is the joy and proud-filled look in their faces after accomplishing something for the first time.
M and O looking proudly out the windows after climbing up the structure for the first time.

It is the look of wonder at seeing something for the first time and trying to figure out how it works.
THS concentrating while stretching a rubber band while trying to place it on the geoboard

It is exploring something for the umpteenth time with as much determination as the first time it was explored.

It is being explosive with excitement and then at peace with the world around.

Getting to watch our newest preschoolers, THS, M, and O explore while getting used to their surroundings has been magical. I am looking forward to continuing to observe them and getting to know each of them better while they explore intensely and intently at TPH.

I feel lucky to be a teacher each day that I get to be with this group of preschoolers, new additions and veteran preschoolers alike. I am filled up each day because I get to watch curious, joyful, determined, fierce, and calm, explorers. I am never bored or looking for something to do. I get to observe and be a part of the wonderment of new and old explorations. That is what joy is for me.


Sunday, January 13, 2013


"Oh look.  H and C are playing with the basket.  They're pulling the toys out.  H is looking at C's face.  Does she like it?  I wonder."

We have been noticing each other.  Eye contact during play times, even passing toys back and forth bring smiles to everyone involved.  I am always drawn to these moments when the children initiate contact and interactions between each other.

Often it begins with interest in a toy.  They reach out for it, only to notice someone else is already attached to it.  Eye drift up to meet, then back to the toy.  There is a moments pause and they either use it together, pull, taste, smile, cry or consider each other as their touch becomes an extension of the moment and the toy.  Even the play. 

 I support these moments by being present, yet reserved.  I am part of the background, yet there to narrate if it seems right.  How do I know if it is right?  It usually involves them looking to me and a feeling of acknowledgement.  If they are involved in their own conversations, then I give them as much space as they need.  This is the flow that occurs throughout my day.  Sometimes if I am with another child and notice a moment of connection happening, I will narrate to that third child what I notice.

"E and H are holding the baster.  They're holding tightly.  Z is reaching for it now.  Everyone is smiling!  It works!"