Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ain't No Sippy Cups 'Round Here

Sometimes the photos tell it all.  Here at Tumbleweed once a child begins to eat solids we offer water in a cup.  This gives them a chance to experience a new mouth texture, while gaining important cup drinking techniques.  It takes a lot of practice but everyone here in cohort 6 loves drinking from a cup!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hands on Painting

We are in the process of building our knowledge of art mediums.  One of the joys of going through this process with a fresh group of children ever 2 or 3 years, is I remember what worked well and can improve upon it, and sometimes, if I have the gumption, try something new.
Today I offered paint on a piece of cardboard for C and H to explore.  We had already painted on it before so today I offered red and yellow.  First placing dots of red, then yellow.  It seemed as if H was the most interested in feeling the paint on his hands and his eyes kept following the squeeze bottle of paint.
I squeezed paint onto their hands, offering it first, "Would you like some on your hands?  Like this?"  H clapped with joy while C watched very carefully.  C reached out with one pointed finger and swished her finger through the paint.  Tasted it.  Touched the dots of paints again and came closer.   I offered some in her hand and soon both were pushing and sliding their hands across the cardboard.
Through our explorations on the cardboard and hands squishing and clapping, the bottles were still of interest.  H and C both reached out for them at one point.  It reminded me of my summer at the preschool where I created a color mixing provocation using squeeze bottles for the children to use.  I thought for a moment.  Then decided, Why couldn't the infants use the bottles as well?  I wasn't worried they would dump them out or run off or....

I handed H a bottle and he responded with a squeal of glee.  He tried lifting the heavy bottle and feeling the small hole in the top.  C was also pleased to be able to touch this new object.  It made sense to me.  We learn about paint and paper and cardboard.  Soon we will learn about painting tools, brushes and sponges.  Why not offer the bottles, which I would love for them to have competency over as well!  It was almost a relief to me as a teacher, realizing by allowing the child the opportunity they grow and we connect in new ways.  Giving them the trust allows for deeper ability and self-confidence.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Are they sharing?

E is playing with a ball. he turns it over in his hands, watching how it changes as he manipulates it. He puts it in his mouth. H scoots closer and grabs at the ball. E's brow furrows and he begins to grunt at H takes the bowl from him. He reaches for it, but H holds firm. H pulls it away and E watches him, grunting and reaching for it. H places it on his face. I watch quietly, allowing this first moment of struggle over an item to happen.

E continues to struggle to regain possession over the ball, but soon moves onto a silk that is also nearby. H drops the ball and crawls toward me. 

I have noticed through my time of observing infants, that the first steps of possession and acquisition happen once the infants become mobile. This ownership of movement brings their awareness to their relationship to everything in their environment. In our classroom, this means the other infants and the things they are holding. This awareness is the beginning of social interaction. Right now I watch and allow these interactions to play out. Sometimes, I reach a hand in and remind a child about gentle touches. I have found the more practice a child has with early exploration of emotion,  interactions with their peers, and even just touching one another the more natural it is for them to be aware of themselves and the effect they have on their environment.

The next step in interactions like this will be for me to narrate what is happening. I do this when it seems right and in the most unobtrusive way possible. It might look something like this:
"E had the ball. H is grabbing for it. I hear you grunting E. It seems like you want to keep it. I see you holding on tightly.  H is holding tightly too! Oh look, H pulled it away. Now you're reaching for it E. Man, it seemed like you wanted to keep it. Hi H, you heard me talking?  Now E has the silk. He still seems a little frustrated."  I keep it without shame, without placing what I think should be happening on the situation, and simply observe. It gives them a basis for creating a new kind of awareness that helps them develop tools to be self confident communicators and emotionally intelligent children. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pointed Words

Often, what we do at Tumbleweed is about observation and context, much like real life. Words or deeds that are helpful and comforting in one situation may be invasive and destructive in another. For example, throwing sand in the air when no one is close by is a harmless activity. But the same action performed when people are within range can cause pained eyes and itchy heads. So.... sometimes, throwing sand... OK. Sometimes, throwing sand... not OK. 

It is the same with words. What is the context in which the words are being expressed? What are the feelings behind the words? What is the intention of those expressing the words? How are they interpreted by the other child, or children? These are just some of the questions I ask in guiding myself and children through this maze called language and human interaction.

We help to clarify meaning when hearing a child yells “NO”--“J, I hear you say No. I wonder what you are trying to say?” We help to tie together expressed feelings, to advocate for all--”You push S because you are upset that he took your train. You really want him to give you that train back!” We talk a lot, adults and children, about what we say to and about each other, about what hurts our feelings or makes us laugh. 

Recently, some Tumbleweeders have voiced concerns about teasing. Sometimes, it comes in the form of “She said I am not invited to her birthday party!” or “He said I am not drawing a truck!” Other times, it comes in the form of name-calling. Everyone has the right to not be called whatever it is they do not want to be called, whether it is poopy head or duck face. Children have the right to test out those “hidden in the sand boundaries” with each other and the teachers. How else will they truly understand their own feelings and the feelings of others if they do not try it out?

I know some of you have felt more than a little uneasy when your child said to me, “Good- bye, stupid Hsiao-Ling!” But there is no need to be alarmed. First off, if I do not want to be called “Stupid Hsiao-Ling” by a child, I will tell him, “I don’t want to be called stupid,” and he will not call me that anymore. I know what you are thinking. “If I let my child call you a name, then he is going to call grandma, or a teacher, or a neighbor, or the babysitter, or me a name.” You are right. He might. And if he does, it is an opportunity to say out loud to your child and the “victim”-- “I don’t know if Mrs. Harrison is okay with being called a butthead. Are you, Mrs. Harrison? She said no, she is not okay with you calling her a butthead.” Doing this firmly, clearly, and empathetically, even with the very young children, it is an opportunity to model civil dialogue. This will help children to see that each person and each situation is different. When we tell children, “Don’t say stupid, it’s not a nice word” as a blanket, from-this-day-forward rule, they simply can not apply it to every situation that will surely arise. Take each interaction separately, considering who is involved.

“My old college buddy says he doesn’t want to be called a dorkface. He had enough of that at grad school.”

“The bank teller says she doesn’t want to be called a wiener face.”

“I am OK with you calling me a butthead, but not a buttass. It’s just redundant, you know.”

None of us wants our children to exclude or reject other children, or to be excluded or rejected by other children. But we must realize they are learning about lots of social rules that they had no part in creating. Children will exclude and reject each other and be excluded and rejected. What we strive for at Tumbleweed is to provide children with real opportunities for real discussions, with real emotions, and real resolutions. Even with more serious conflicts such as abusive language or physical aggression, the first thing we do at Tumbleweed is to bring the participants together and allow them to check-in and express verbally.

Me: “He hit you in the face? That must hurt. Do you want me to bring J over so you can talk to him?

S: “Yes.”

(Walks with J and looks for S): “S, J wants to talk to you.”

J: “You hit me in the face.”

S: (Looks at me) “He call me stupid poopy head.”

Me: “And you don’t want to be called a stupid poopy head. You can tell J not to call you a stupid poopy head.” 

S: “J, don’t call me a stupid poopy head! I don’t like it.”

J: “But you are!”

Me: “J, I wonder what you are trying to say when you call him stupid poopy head?”

J: “I don’t want him to chase me!”

Me: “One thing I know about S is if you tell him what you need, he will listen carefully.”

J: “Don’t chase me!”

Me: “Oh, perfect! Now he knows you don’t want to be chased. Thanks for letting us know, J!”

Some of you may wonder if I should have punished (i.e., teaching a lesson) the child who hit, or the one who called another “stupid poopy head.” But doesn’t this scenario seem more educative and productive than a trip for “Time-out” or some kind of punishment? How much life learning they miss when I send them away from each other to teach them how to be with each other?  

Their strong language could be misinterpreted as a lack of guidance or (moral) value in the education of our children. However, words only have power if they are given power. If we wince or reprimand children for using certain words, those words become inflated tools of power. Threats are different. Those kind of words are linked to actions. But the word “poop” or even “shit” is as powerful or powerless as our reaction allows it to be. 

We can create an environment where children know they can speak openly and honestly with each other and with us even if honesty is angry or confused. We can help them to see that these are natural occurrences in human interaction. The sooner we allow them to work their verbal, cognitive, and social muscles, the stronger they will be as life’s inevitable disagreement arise.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Recently, we were nominated by a fellow blogger, Omaira of Black Board White Chalk, for a Very Inspiring Blogger award.  We here were all pleasantly surprised and it was a great reminder that we are read by others outside of our local community.  That was one of the main goals when starting our blog, so thank you Omaira for your warm words and nomination!
We are happy to participate so that we can show where some of our inspiration comes from.  It's so hard to narrow it down to 7, but here's how it's done:

1. Copy and place the award in your post.(I couldn't save the picture, so I wasn't able to share that part.)
2. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
3. Tell 7 things about yourself.
4. Nominate fellow bloggers you feel are deserving of the award, tell them by posting a comment on their blog.

Our Nominees Are:
"Good Job" and Other Things You Shouldn't Say or Do: One of our very favorites for it's punch you in the face honesty and approach to RIE through the words we use with children.  
Janet Lansbury: RIE parent educator who inspires us with almost every article she writes.  Her work is directly in line with what we do every day, especially in regards to our interactions with children and the RIE method.
Abundant Life Children: Emily Plank has a great perspective in her interactions with children, encouraging respect, authenticity and supporting the development of a child who is a self-advocate. 
Teacher Tom: From project and material ideas, to ideology and inspirational stories, we find many jewels that we absorb into our culture from the work Teacher Tom shares on his blog.
Learning for Life : Inspiring work and ideas from a preschool in Ireland.  Also one of the participants of our pay it forward exchange from last summer. 
Play at Home Mom : One of our very favorite places to gain inspiration and ideas for provocations and materials to collect and offer. 
Core Parenting : Darci and Julie inspire us with helpful advice and stories from their work and lives with children.  We are also blessed to have them as parents at Tumbleweed!

7 Things about Tumbleweed Infant and Preschool Houses
1. We draw our inspiration from the life the springs around us and follow the interests of the children.
2. Every change of season inspires us to explore the natural world even more: Spring is new plants and seeds planted, sprouting and blooming; Summer is water play and sunshine and every moment outside possible; Fall is leaves falling from the Maple and leaf pile mazes; Winter is the dream of snow and cracking ice sheets. 
3. Our teachers take great ownership over not just the organization of their spaces, but the beauty and bring and leave a bit of themselves throughout the schools
4. Observation and giving the gift of space to a child as much as possible is how we learn, grow and push ourselves in our wisdom as a teacher.
5. We take self confidence to the next level, by supporting the children at Tumbleweed to be self advocates through being emotionally intelligent and self aware. 
6. We have a VERY hard time throwing anything away.
7. Often our staff meetings last 3 hours and we still feel like we have hours of things left to discuss. This is especially true if there is good food around. 

Thank you again Omaira for this fun exercise!

RIE 5 Part Deux: Intrinsic Motivation

In the first post about this principle, we discussed why active participation is so important. We looked at it beyond engaging with children fully and completely. We looked at how active participation is intimately linked to self advocacy. Digging a little further, we looked at how all of this promotes emotional intelligence. Still, there is much more to look at concerning active participation. For instance, yet another by product o encouraging children to actively participate rather than passively receive is intrinsic motivation.

First, why does intrinsic motivation matter? When we are intrinsically motivated, our decisions and actions come from within ourselves. They focus on our own needs and the needs of the environment, situation, and perhaps others that pertain to the situation. We have an internal sense of right and wrong rather than focusing on simply what we are told. We are motivated by our own self worth instead of money or external rewards. In short, we lead rather than follow and we initiate self learning along the way.

It seems obvious why we would hold intrinsic motivation as an ideal but extrinsic motivation is easier to see, measure, and follow- isn't it? This is the long held argument in workplaces and schools. Extrinsic motivation provides us with measurable results. We want child to do X so we motivate with Y. If child does X then Y worked! I argue that this logic is flawed, though. We are eliminating what makes humans so rich and complex when we look at them in such a simplistic way. Intrinsic motivation is possible because we as humans have innate needs for community, autonomy, and competency.  It may not be as easily measurable as extrinsic motivation, but it's certainly easy to speak to anyone and see how when external rewards are the only thing that's offered we are motivated to simply complete simple tasks- nothing more. In fact, often extrinsic motivators put unnecessary pressure on people and make simple tasks complex. Why? Extrinsic motivation dulls creativity. It puts the individual in a box. Complete the task and get the rewards is a box where creativity has trouble thriving.

As humans, we all want to belong. We all want to know how we are different and how we are the same. We all want to know what our role is in any given group or situation. We want to feel needed, productive, and vital. It's an integral part of who we are. We also want autonomy. We want to feel independent and self sufficient. Lastly, we are motivated by competency. When we complete a task it helps us to gain confidence, feel satisfied, and encourages us to work to complete more tasks and increase our knowledge and ability. Here you can read a great post about the ingenuity of preschoolers when the only reward was successfully reaching the cherries they themselves decided to go after.

If intrinsic rewards are clearly the ideal, why aren't we all using them? Part of it is that extrinsic rewards are so much easier in the short term. Another piece of the puzzle, though, is that we can only work towards the intrinsic motivators if we first meet the basic needs for survival and happiness. For example, a child must be fed when they are hungry, changed when they are wet, and given love when they seek it. It's Maslow's hierarchy of basic needs. In order to get to the first innate need (community), first physical and safety needs must be met. Basically, it's equal to love and belonging on Maslow's hierarchy. Next, then, would be self esteem. This, for me, is very like autonomy. Once the need of autonomy is met then we can get to the very top of the hierarcshy: competence or self-actualization.

We, of course, now know that the hierarchy is not a simple as that. Just like many things, humans are much more complex than that. Still, it serves as an easy way to look at the importance of intrinsic motivation and of meeting these innate human needs. It also serves as a great way to consider extrinsic rewards in relation to intrinsic rewards. We've already assessed that the top three portions of the hierarchy relate to the intrinsic rewards of community, autonomy, and competency. Where, then, would extrinsic rewards lie? Money, for instance, is an extrinsic reward. Money typically falls under safety. It provides us with security. Let's look at an extrinsic reward that more directly relates to children: the pleasure of the adult. I argue that this also falls under security. It's security that your needs will be taken care of. You do not fear that the adult will not love you as long as you continue along the path they've created for you.

Again, this post is getting quite long and I still have much more I could say! If you are further interested in active participation and intrinsic motivation the links below give some great further information:

An article from Early Childhood Education Journal that explores fostering intrinsic motivation written in 1998.

A great article from Janet Lansbury on connecting with a child and remembering their need for autonomy.

Also if you missed it earlier, I can't recommend this Ted Talks with Dan Pink enough!

Sunday, February 3, 2013


 Water color has not been our only exploration on paper lately. Over the last few months, even before introducing the water colors, we have begun to work with pens and pencils on paper. The children usually prefer to use pens. They seem to enjoy the smoothness of then pen rolling over the paper and the thin lines it creates. We've used markers as well but anytime pens are offered alongside another tool, pens are heavily preferred. IS and LC especially love drawing on paper. IS often begins by drawing on his own paper then holds his pen still in his hand while quietly observing the others as they work. Occasionally he will cease observing to spend a few seconds drawing more on his paper, but the bulk of his time is observation.

LC spends the bulk of her time drawing and only a small amount of time watching others. She mostly looks up to make sure that others are still drawing. If someone has stopped drawing, she will often motion for them to begin again. Her focus while working on her own paper is intense. She is sure and certain as she glides the pen across her paper.

We had the chance to draw on other surfaces at the preschool house but have only used paper in our own classroom. Moving forward we will soon be bringing an easel into our classroom to explore additional surfaces for drawing and introduce more tools (ie white erase markers). We also plan to continue our exploration of lines with chalk on canvas. We have also begun to color our drawings with water colors.