Monday, May 27, 2013

The Wonder in Beauty

Throughout our day, we find ways to appreciate and notice the beautiful things that surround us.  I have found by drawing a child's attention to the beauty in the world around us, whether it be the softness of a rose petal, the roughness of a rock or the way two things fit perfectly together, then their sense of wonder is enhanced and encouraged to blossom.
Beauty entices us to look deeper. A shiny object on the ground draws our attention, we stop, touch, explore when we know it is safe to do so.  A bright flower draws us towards closer examination, maybe to discover an equally beautiful spider, hiding deep with in.  It is that sense of beauty which draws us, but it is wonder that keeps us in that moment. 
So I ask myself throughout the day, how can I give the children an opportunity for this wonder, through the use of beauty.  Like in most things, each child has their own sense of beauty.  So I have the rare opportunity to test out what they find beautiful.  Sometimes it changes quickly, or, my favorite, it stays the same and allows us an in depth investigation.  I like to leave small, unique things around the room to either entice a child to explore an area or to introduce a new texture.  Soft, furry cloths with a wooden bird on top.  A tray of water and rose petals.  Ice cubes with paint inside.  A wicker box with a lid.  What is inside?  What does it feel like?  What if I taste it?  How does it change?

One year, with the first group of children at Tumbleweed, we found a lady bug.  With my next group of boys it was the joy and satisfaction of stomping like elephants, which led us to a picture of elephant empathy.  Right now, there is the beauty in touching and in sound.  There is much pointing and noticing of the birds voices as they fly by.  Index fingers manipulate tiny parts of larger things.  The parts of our natural world are closely examined. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Movement: A Link to Limits and Challenges

 "No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world." - Robin Williams

With all the focus on families and homes lately, it may seem as though we've let go of our past focus: movement. Of course, movement is an ongoing exploration for... well, for everyone. Babies begin discovering movement when they are still in utero. As we grow into wobblers, we learn to not only command the basic movements of our fingers and arms but how to balance and affect gravity. Toddlers focus their discovery on the cause and effect of their movements. What happens if I push my friend? What if I don't move out of the way for someone who is walking past? Can I sit on a dog/cat/baby? Children continue this discovery of movement into their adulthood and adults continue it until the day they die. How far can I push my body? When I reach that point where I feel exhausted from running/working/playing, can I catch a second wind? The questions change over time, but the intent is still: Where are the limits to what I can do?

We seek out limits for so many reasons. Limits are comforting. It's nice to know where the boundaries lay and what to expect. It also sets us up for success. Knowing that it's important for you to have at least X hours of sleep per night helps you plan your day accordingly. Understanding that your body will ache if you don't get in your daily run is important to your mental and physical health. Remembering that you like to have fifteen minutes to yourself in the morning before you start your day is important. Each of these little limits that we know about ourselves helps us to be the best version of ourselves.

It's more than that, though. It helps us to challenge those limits. This is why discovering movement is such an essential piece of childhood. For many children they don't just want to know where the limit is. They then want to ask themselves the most essential of all questions: Now that I know the limit, how can I challenge it? The weight and importance of this question cannot be contemplated on enough- for the child or for the adult. The way we challenge it depends greatly on the situation, but the challenging is a constant.
We stay up too late to see if our sleep cycle can survive a night that we don't want to miss. The toddler pushes his friend off the ottoman to see how their friend will react. The preschool tests the limits of their own body by jumping from the FOURTH step up instead of the second. Can I make it? Can I push myself that extra bit? This fairly simple opportunity to challenge a limit is how we build the confidence and ability to challenge the limits set around us later in life. 

I am so very, very passionate about encouraging children to be active participants in our community. To ask not only "What is the limit? Where do we draw the line? What rules exist?" but "Why? What's the logical reasoning behind this? Why not this other limit instead?" Most importantly, though, I hope they ask, "Can it be different than it is? Can it be better than it is?"

So, no, movement hasn't left our classroom. We are still discovering it, challenging it, and second guessing why it works the way it does.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Warm Weather Provocations

One of my new favorite tools is a low, wooden tray that was gifted to us.  It's very helpful for catching loose parts as they fall and now I have been experimenting with water play while we go outside in the afternoon.  It is a constant joy to see how little water it takes to make this sensory exploration possible and long lasting.

This week we tried many variations including water as our weather has turned for the warm.  First we tried ice and there was much dumping and splashing.  We also tried small tubes, containers and metal bowls.
The most interesting thing I noticed through our exploration was there were two common behaviors that happened with the children: collection and full body exploration.
On the first day, H searched out and found ever ice cube and one by one made a pile outside of the wooden tray.  He would smile at me periodically as he made his pile of ice.  When he felt satisfied that he had found them all he returned them to the tray and repeated his actions.  The same thing happened when Z was manipulating the plastic register tape rolls.  He made a pile on the grass next to the tray and then returned them to the water.  Both had a sense of satisfaction as they played with this sense of gathering and returning.  They were also categorizing the items available into like piles, which helped their mind create a new file in their brain.  It was a physical way for them to say, "This is the same.   This is ice.  This is this shape."  Having the ability to manipulate and use all of their senses to know that item, created a new file in their brain and I look forward to how they will use that knowledge in the future.

The other way the children explored this provocation, was to lay or sit on the tray or use their hands to splash and feel the water.  This contrasts from the finer motions of collecting objects as they navigate their whole body on and off the tray and then experimented with this idea of water-ness: what is water?  this is wet! what happens when I hit it? taste it? Look at it?  And the list of their interactions goes on and on.

As the weather continues to get warmer, our water play will become more involved.  Our combining of wonder and play will push our creative explorations further and further.


Are sprinklers next?

Wonder is the heaviest element on the periodic table.  Even a tiny fleck of it stops time. Diane Ackerman

Saturday, May 18, 2013

How We Build Community

At the Preschool House, there are many moments throughout the day that bring our school together and help us grow closer as a community. Having basic trust in the preschoolers allows these moments to occur more and more each day. We build up our community by:

Working together to keep our school clean.

Listening to a hurt 
friend and giving them
what they need in that

Collaborating on rules and voting on projects.
                                  Going on trips to faraway places... Wisconsin, New 
York, Germany, and other stops along the way.


Connecting objects to one another to 
create an endless road shared by all!


Communicating when something doesn't work.

           Becoming a team to take care of our gardens and help create new life. 


Rejoicing in a song before we share our meals together.

How did you build community today?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Building Nests

We've been building on our focus on family lately by talking about homes. This started one day when I asked a child to put a toy in its home. "We can find its home, LC. I remember it lives in a basket on the shelf. Hmmm where is that basket?" IS shouted "Home! Home!" as he pointed to the basket we had been searching for. VR looked at it quizzically, "That's the home?" I nodded, "It's where this toy lives when we aren't using it. It's the home for this toy."
We've talked before about the "homes" for different toys and where things "live" in our classroom. Something different clicked for VR in that moment, though. He studied the toy then told me, "My mama lives at my home." This immediately sunk in with the other children and shouts of "Mama!" "Dada!" rung out across the room (it's rather amazing how just four children can fill a room with sound). I nodded and replied to VR, "Your mama lives at your home. Your grandpa and grandma live there, too!"

VR then prodded me further, "LC's grandpa lives at her home?" I thought for a second on what to say back to him exactly then said, "Nope. Just LC's mama, daddy, and sister live in her home. QM's grandma lives in his home, though! Just like you." The conversation continued from here, talking about who lived in who's home. That afternoon, the children paid considerably more attention to the doll house that had been living in our room for quite some time.

We've expanded on looking at homes in many ways. One of the most prominent has been the exploration of gathering and building "homes" with materials both inside and outside. Inside we've utilized string, paper scraps, and many other things to build these sort of "nests" as homes. Sometimes people from our dollhouse live in the homes. Sometimes a paint brush lives in the home. Sometimes nothing lives in it.

Outside, though, the children utilized sticks for building with. On their own, they began gathering sticks one day. I joined them, looking for sticks of all different sizes to put into their gathering baskets. At one point LC dropped her basket. She began to gather the sticks back up and I sat next to her to help. I noticed the sticks kind of made a pattern and pointed it out to LC. "LC, look! It's kind of like a sun." She laughed and began moving the sticks around. WG was watching nearby and dumped his sticks out then began building them into what looked to be like a nest. IS, who hadn't been gathering sticks with us, noticed and came over to join us in building.

Before long, the children had added rocks into their building and expanded on the way the sticks were linked together. Sometimes it looked like a nest. Sometimes it was a simple pattern. Sometimes it was much more complex. After they finished creating their basic shape, the child would step back and survey their work. Often it seemed the image before them didn't quite meet the expectation the child had, so they'd search for more sticks or rocks to add. So far the children haven't incorporated other materials into their building on their own, but I have a few provocations in mind that might capture their interest!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Oh to Feel...

“I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”
-Oscar Wilde 

Throughout the last couple of months, we have experienced more bonks and bruises than usual, and with these came a plethora of strong feelings. Emotions are felt and expressed before and after incidents. Frustration leads to a bonk, which leads to Sadness and Embarrassment, which leads to Concern, which leads to Understanding, which leads to Love. We see this on a daily basis and I watch in wonder as a cycle of emotions can quickly be seen and experienced and then forgotten. As I watch, I wonder, "What if Bob could say to Sally 'I'm frustrated,' before hitting her with a stick." I think, "What if Sally understood before the bonk what Bob was trying to say?"                                                                                

This to me is a huge part of what we do at Tumbleweed. We encourage children to feel. We revel in children expressing what they need, when they feel. We empower children by giving them the opportunity to feel angry, upset, happy, frustrated, embarrassed, afraid and never judge those feelings. These are the emotions that make each of us who we are and if we cannot fully feel them and learn to understand them from birth, how are we to become emotionally capable and intelligent individuals?


There is nothing greater than watching Bob say, "I'm frustrated that I can't have that bowl," and in another instance Sally say, "I can tell you're frustrated, but I'm still using this bowl." Labeling emotions. Understanding emotions. Being there and being empathic. Feeling. Being free to feel and being validated for that feeling. Really, there is nothing greater. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fitting Perfectly

In a Montessori classroom, the cylinder blocks give a child the opportunity to practice their visual discrimination of shape and size.  The solid, cylinders have insets that fit perfectly and attractive knobs that simply beg to be grasped. 
I introduced these into my infant classroom to see what would happen.  They have not only been well received, but now a favorite gathering spot for all of the children.  There is something about this material that draws the child in, both to fitting the cylinders and also to watching the roll around the room. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mixing Mediums

I don't have a lot to say about this art provocation. I set it up thinking it would be neat to mix the materials we've been using together: string, shaving cream, and paint.

I had no idea for sure where the children would go with it. I thought maybe they'd make the strings into little nest-like patches as that's how we'd used them the previous week when talking about homes.

Some of the children did not join in so I stepped away from the art provocation to be available for everyone. I was near the table if I was needed, though. Those that did join in were intent and driven by their own internal ideas.

I wasn't needed. Not until the very end. And the result was more amazing than anything I would have guided into reality.

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