Friday, March 29, 2013

A Gift of Presence

More than ninety days ago, I arrived at Tumbleweed as one of the Preschool Teachers. I was (and still am) enthusiastic, caring, and devoted. However, the experiences did not guarantee a super-perfect-preschool-teacher-on-the-job. To be sure, I am not invalidating my experiences or textbook knowledge.

Being a preschool teacher with a roomful of 16 youngsters on a daily basis, I have directly experienced children defying the presumptions of myself and many a scholar. I have been privy to child behavior that many think improbable, if not impossible. I have seen and heard "developmental stages" being blown to smithereens. Of course, I have also heard lots of poop jokes, so my ego stays well checked. The past ninety-something-days has all gathered itself in my head and tossed a salad on my once strongly held beliefs about children and a teacher’s role in their lives.

I also realized I bring to the relationship what I have carried with me for many years: all the good, bad, ugly and delightful. But it was all laced with a misguided spice born from reading too many books about too many things I knew too little about: Children. So, I have had to put in my time....not reading, not workshopping, not networking. Instead, I have been really nosy in the company of children, day after day, diaper after diaper. I listen in on private conversations. I embed myself in their lives. And what I have seen and heard shapes what I now hold dear.

Children are more capable than adults give them credit for, physically, emotionally, mentally. They are nothing if not resilient. They can overcome and even thrive in the midst of my educational stumbling and bumbling. The fact is, what I believe and thus practice has and will continue to change over time. Yet, there is one demand I have tried to make on myself without the use of excuses... A mindful mantra if you will: BE PRESENT

These words are a reminder of what is the most important to-do thing I do. Whether a preschooler has a story to relate in seemingly unrelated terms or has a knee that creaks and requires a lap for one minute short of eternity, I must be there for them. Ears hearing. Face expressing. Body comforting. These are the moments so necessary to a youngster reaching for brilliance in emotional grad school. Nothing I do will cost these youngsters more than my half-attentiveness, a crime worse than absence.

With my presence, might it be merely a few seconds or a seemingly hour-long-minute, whatever form it takes, my preschoolers will find reason to continue present-ing throughout their lives, and certainly, some sweetness will follow.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

We are almost 6 months into our time together as a group and we have settled in rhythm and flow our day.

We Nourish our Bodies
We Play Inside
We go Outside
We see New and Interesting things

We  make firm friendships

We spend time together

We discover what it means to be Us.  

A Return to Mixing

Many of our art explorations lately have focused on layering. It was a natural progression for us. First we explored water and mixing various tools and materials into our water play. This led is to begin using water colors and eventually that focus landed on paper.

When the children began to paint on each other's paper and layer one color on another color we dug deeper yet again. We began using the same canvas or paper multiple times and adding new textures, layers, and mediums to it. We would draw with pen then water color. We painted then use pastels. We used pastels then added water color. The options were endless.

As of late, though, the children's focus has returned to mixing again. When presented with two materials at once, the children wanted to mix them before applying them to paper or canvas. This meant we needed a new material for mixing. I quickly decided to bring in shaving cream!

We used the shaving cream for a while on its own. The most obvious next step was to add in water color for mixing. I set up the area by putting dabs of shaving cream in front of each chair. I added a small, shallow bowl of water color for every two chairs, placing the bowl in between the two spots. The children greatly enjoyed spreading the shaving cream and dipping their fingers in the water color. I provided brushes, but most of the children opted to use their hands.

We plan to continue with shaving cream in the coming weeks. I plan to expand on it as the children show me they are ready for further explorations!
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, March 18, 2013

We Are Storytellers

How do you read a book with no words to a group of preschoolers? Last week, we invited the children to create their own collaborative story using a picture book with no words.

"Pancakes for Breakfast," by Tomie DePaola

There was a snowy house. (TB)
The mother was making pancakes. (MR)
She was making pancakes, but how is she going to make pancakes? (SM)
Oh, no. There was no more flour! (TB)
And then, the chickens ate all of the flour. (TLC)
Maybe she can take a walk outside. (SJC)
She pours some milk and makes it stronger. (SM)
She mixes it. (MR)
She doesn't have any eggs because the chickens ate all of the eggs. (TS)
The bird ate it, then the eggs turn out, and the snow grows. (GW)
The stove wasn't working when she came back. (TB)
And then she was really mad. (TLC)
And then she spills the milk. (MR)
She smells something, and it was pancakes. (SM)
Her gone to sleep. (SF)

                 "Time Flies," by Eric Rohmann             
The bird flies in the storm. (TB)
The dinosaur eats the bird. (TS)
Inside is a big mouth. (SM)
The dinosaur puts the bird in its mouth. (GW)
The bird flies out of the dinosaur's mouth. (TLC)
The bird is flying inside the museum. (MR)
They are going home. (SF)
Then, the Pteranodon eats the bird. (TLC)
The Pteranodon tries to catch the bird, but he got away. (TB)
He spies a big long head. (SM)
And the dinosaur wants to eat him, but the big dinosaur wants to protect him. (TS)
The bird flies to his eyes and his mouth. (SM)
The dinosaur tries to eat the whole bird, but it just got some of the  feathers. (TB)
It's inside of the dinosaur's mouth. (AK)
The bird got out of the dinosaur. (MR)
And then, the bird flies away. (SM)
They were going home. (SF)


Oh the many stories that can be told from a few simple pictures... 
What would your story be?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Spring is Springing with a Gentle Touch

Days are warming quickly here at Tumbleweed, which has us outside as much as possible.  We are working on mastering the stairs, exploring the various textures outside and discovering new things.  This is also the beginning of our opportunity to practice gentle touches now  not just on our friends, but on our outdoor environment. 

A phrase that I use frequently in our room is "Gently"  This means slow down, notice our friends reaction, where our body is, where our hand is.  It is where I start in talking about interactions between each other.  It is my goal to bring the children's attention to the effect their movement and actions have, while at the same time allowing and supporting touch in a way that works for everyone. 

"You found a leaf.  Look how fuzzy it is.  You can gently touch it.  I won't let you pick it."  

"I see you climbing over his body.  I'm watching his face.  Does it work for him?"  

"Oh, gently!  Remember you can touch his hair with an open hand, like this."

There are moments where I intervene, usually when fingers are pulling on hair or plucking leaves.  In infancy these are the tools for them to interact with intention in their environment and with their peers.  It takes repetition and practice, but gives them an early start on building awareness and confidence. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Circle Time

Reiko reads to the children while I snap pictures of our circle time.
Circle time is part of every classroom at Tumbleweeds, though it looks very different from one age group to the next. In the infant room, for example, circles are typically a spontaneous activity. Briana may be reading a book to one child when the other children notice and join her in their own way (ie crawling over, craning to see Briana, etc). In the preschool room, circle is much more structured and may contain books, songs, story times, and scaffolding specific to what the children are working on.

In the toddler room circle has a little more structure than the infant room but less than a preschool room. In our classroom in particular we have circle once a day. It is typically either before lunch or after afternoon snack. The timing depends on the needs of the children and when they are ready for a circle time. Our circle often consists of reading a book or two, chosen by the children, and singing two or three songs. We may spend a little time conversing together if the children choose to. It's also up to the children whether or not they want to participate in circle. It's a voluntary activity and the children often roam the room if they are not interested in what we are doing.

Reiko signs with the book (a baby sign language book).
Why do we do circle, though? The reasons are countless, but one of the most important factors is our inner need for community. Circle provides a time during the day that is focused on coming together as a group. Though the children may roam the room, the circle time is still the focal point of that window of our day. They can hear us and are, in their own way, participating. Singing our songs together helps us recharge with one another and it can provide a great transition point for moving from inside to outside, from playing to eating, or whatever activities it may happen to fall between.

Noticing me, LC and Reiko look up to the camera.
Circle is also a time for us to further explore the interests that a cohort has shown. I may try out new songs during this time so I have them on hand to use again if the children like them. New books are often introduced during circle. In older classrooms, a jumping off topic may be introduced so that the children can discuss it. For example, if a preschool room is studying bees the teacher may read to them about hives and sing songs about bees then state something to the children such as "That book talked about how bees live and work in hives". (should I go into scaffolding here? yikes...)

QM, who had been roaming, joins momentarily.
One last thing that circle time provides is a great opportunity for increasing literacy in the classroom. Reading with children is one of the fundamental ways for increasing literacy in children. Linking up the new books that we are reading with songs that match the same interests helps to increase the interest of the children in the books in our classroom as well. Often after circle the children will choose to read the books that are in our book basket then come to me to request songs they remember singing after each book.

Keeping expectations for the circle low (I always aim for at least one song and one book and if interest remains I continue until it wanes), focusing on increasing community and literacy, and following the children's lead during circle time (I respond to any requests they have for books or songs) helps our circle time to be successful, engaging, and tailored to the needs of the children. It's a wonderful way to come together and increase literacy in our classroom that the children and I look forward to each day.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In their Own Way, In their Own time

The stairs are like a right of passage for each group at Tumbleweed.  The Stairs blog I have written reminds me of that first steps I took as a teacher in trusting the children in a new way.  It was scary and new for me, but they showed me the benefit of trusting their ability. 
The stairs the entry and exit and the most direct route for us to head outside.  The days are growing warmer and everyone is moving faster, so it is natural for us to head outside as much as possible and allowing the infants to move in their own way, in their own time.
This was made abundantly clear to me as we headed outside today.  I opened the front door and invited everyone out.  H quickly crawled out, Z followed and I helped E get closer.  I like to give each child the time they need while balance the cost of heating the house, so after a while I helped everyone outside.  Then came our next obstacle. 

There are two, cement stairs.  I encourage them over.  "Over here, everyone!  Here's the stairs.  It's the safest way!"  H quickly crawled to the shoes and began to rearrange, talk about, pile up and pull up on the shoe rack.  Z watched carefully remaining near the door, while E scooted to me.  It was like he was pulled to the dirt and grass.  When he found the edge of the stairs and pulled himself forward almost loosing his balance.  He seemed surprised, but didn't slow down.  I found myself reaching out to cushion his fall as he pulled and pushed forward head first down the stairs.  I know the cement is not forgiving, the smallest bump causing an awful abrasion.  I allowed E to feel the weight of his body as it went down the stairs, the change in dimension and where and how to place his hands.  He was so full of joy when he was on the ground, and he spent the rest of our time outside.

Z watched E's trek down the stairs and slowly made his way forward.  He let out a very happy noise as he eased over the edge.  He hung out there, then felt nervous and backed up.  watched H at the shoes for a while and quite naturally began to slide backwards down the stairs.  First his feet reached down, then he was standing on the first step.  He tested it out by pushing down with his feet, even bouncing a bit and laughing.  I sat near by, talking quietly about what he was doing.  "Your feet are on the step, do you feel it?"  Soon he was on his belly on that first step and even scooted forward a bit along the length of the stair.  After some time he swung his legs down and moved down to the ground, the whole process of him making his way down the stairs taking around 30 minutes. 
H came over to see what Z was doing a few times, but returned to the shoes where his true interest was. 

I sat or stood next to the stairs our entire time outside.  It brought my attention to the individual child and our common goal outside.  Each child was at peace with their chosen path, whether it be grass, moving slowly or shoes.  We had our flow and the work and play we chose felt good. 

"If we agree that the bottom line of life is happiness, not success, then it makes perfect sense to say that it is the journey that counts, not reaching the destination."                 
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Let's Go Fly a Kite...

This morning Carrie put out clear plastic bags and sharpies to decorate the bags. 
Once we got outside, strings were attached to the bags and a parade of kites were seen throughout the yard...

Sunday, March 10, 2013


QM hugs WG close as they dance.
WG begins to return QM's embrace.
The dancing started out from two places. First, we often sing Row, Row Your Boat where we sit across from one another and rock while holding our arms together Second, we often play  a song and run around in circles in the room. Somehow the children moved these two interests together and began to dance with one another during our song time. It started, most definitely, with QM. He approached WG and hugged him. At first I thought it was just a hug and quickly grabbed my camera to snap a photo of the tender moment. As I snapped away, I realized QM was swaying with WG as he hugged him. Delightedly I said, maybe with a little too much zeal, "You're dancing with WG!!" QM locked eyes with me as I took the next picture then WG began to move his arms to be around QM as well.

IS and LC grasp hands as they dance.

IS had been intently watching QM and WG. He quickly found LC and extended his hand to her LC's always up for some hand holding action so her acceptance of his offer was immediate. Then IS held out his other hand, which LC again gladly accepted. The two of them held hands as they began to move around the room. LC would excitedly jump up and down as they danced while IS preferred for both feet to remain on the ground.

LC begins to jump while they dance.

I'd love to say that it was upon my suggestion that they found dance partners, but it really wasn't. The spontaneity and desire for togetherness in these children continuously amazes me. Whether it's holding hands while on their mats during nap time, walking together to explore outside, sitting together reading books on the couch, or dancing together... this cohort finds so much comfort in being together. When someone doesn't come for the day, they notice and often ask me about it. The sense of community in these children is inspiring.