Sunday, June 30, 2013

Many Shiny Things

A new material was introduced a few weeks ago and has found many amazing uses by everyone.  It's always fun to introduce something new to an environment, and especially fun to see the outcomes, potential provocations and inspirations between the children and environment, which spread to everyone involved!  

How can we use them?
Where can we use them?
I wonder.....

It's cold/hard/shiny/bumpy/small/round/long/special/beautiful......

Oh no, one broke.  Now what can I do with it?

Look, they can fit in a pipe!
How many can I wear?
How far do they stretch?


What are they doing?
How does it feel?
How does it look?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Trust Us

On our bold quest to change the world for the better, we actively trust children.
We trust them from infancy!  A young infant has so much to say.  So much to do. 
And those toddlers!  ...pushing  limits, testing boundaries, figuring so much out...
So that once they're preschoolers, they trust themselves.  They know that danger is real.  That their risks are real.  That they can get hurt.  That it's their job to assess and figure and think.

Let me be clear:  I'm not talking Lord of the Flies here.  We have a role as the adults!
At Tumbleweed, our intention is to:
*  Be present.
*  Be available.
Carefully observe each child in order to know them, their skills, the sorts of risks they tend to take, etc.
Assess risk to ensure that the risk each child takes is a reasonable one (based on both the child's skill/comprehension level based on our observations and the degree of risk involved).
Set clear limits.
*  Send the message:  This is big work, and I trust you.  We are intentional about our body language (being only as near as is necessary to be able to quickly intervene to prevent major injury or provide emotional support/sportscasting as needed) and our word choice/intonation (i.e. observing, modeling close attention to detail, noticing careful choices that work well).
Intervene (when necessary) with an anti-shame approach that aims to support child-led solutions.

Aren't these useful things to figure out now?  Cause the risks only get bigger from here on out.  And the consequences more intense.  And our presence less present...

So, from your children to you:   
Trust Us.  Trust us now, while we're here together, while the risks are relatively small, while we still want you to hug us when we scrape our knees, while we still have the chance to know that we are capable, strong, worthy, resilient, and absolutely amazing just as we are.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Swings, Songs, and Solutions: Leadership in the Making

At Tumbleweed, we highly value child-directed solutions.  Common phrases you might hear from teachers include, "We need a plan!" and "It sounds like that works for everyone!" and "I know that X really enjoys helping create plans.  Shall we see if she's available to help us come up with some ideas?"

We've found that when we value a child-led process in problem solving, the children, in turn, also value the process!  They take great joy in coming up with interesting solutions.  They develop a sense of pride in their own ability to come up with a plan that works for everyone.  And this leads to a never-ending list of life skills:  They understand that not every plan works for everyone.  They know that sometimes their plans work, and sometimes they don't.  They don't fear failure.  They learn more and more about each other, themselves, and how they fit in their community.  They build leadership skills.  They figure out how to negotiate, how to stand up for themselves when they want to, how to let go when they can, and how to work through strong emotions of themselves and others.

This morning, as I observed at the Preschool House, I couldn't help but cry, overwhelmed by the beauty of the children's interactions.  I wish you could have been there... Check it out:   

Three children all wanted to swing (S, M, and T).  S offers a solution:  Everyone at the same time!  (Note:  I can almost guarantee that if I had come up with this plan, it would not have worked :)).  T and M agree to the plan, and T helps them get situated before climbing on the bottom rung.  
Pride and joy... They came up with this plan!
T's ability to swing the whole group makes everyone laugh and shriek.  The excitement of the three-child swing draws other children over.  Soon many children want a turn with T.  T directs:  "If you all line up over there, I'll know you want a turn." 
A group of children wait in line for a turn with the boisterous, swing-skilled T.
I don't interrupt this process.  I don't set a timer.  I don't say anything when one child takes a really long time on the swing.  They own the whole process.

And then some children express frustration with the wait time.  T's idea:  They could chant while they wait!  And how about also jump back and forth?
Check it out:

Did I stop them because the chant was "Weener, weener, pumpkin, penises"?  Nope.
Did I tell T she was being bossy?  No freaking way.
This works for everyone.  And it works for me.  So I just keep watching.

The chanting then turns into a parade of chanting and laughing around the yard.
T then leads the group up to the top of the play structure.  She has a vision.
T directs:  "M, you stand here!  With your head out!  Yes!  Like that!  And J, you stand in the middle.  Yes!  Put one hand here, and one hand here.  You're doing it!"

 Once everyone is in place, they sing, "You Are My Sunshine."  At one point, one child in the structure starts to bang on a pot like a drum.  It's too loud for some children.  The solution they come up with?  The drummer can take the drum out of the structure and far away to drum or stop drumming and stay.  He chooses to stay.

Then a child who was observing decides she wants to join in.  She attempts to communicate with TC that she'd like to get up the ladder, but he doesn't notice her.
 A teacher notices this and stands nearby, available.  Sure enough, the observer goes over to the teacher and explains her yearning to join in.  I can only hear snidbits of their conversation, "You need TC to move off the ladder?" and "You really want to join them!" And although I don't know exactly what was said and decided, it's clear that the observer feels ready to try again.
 This time she kneels down, directly in front of TC, and tries again, "I want to get on the ladder."
 When TC is still too distracted to hear her, the teacher comes over and helps him hear her.  "I hear M saying that she want to play too.  She wants to be on the ladder." 
 "Wait!" intervenes T, the one with a vision, "If she wants to join us, she has to sing."  The teacher asks M, "Does that work for you?"  M nods emphatically, and TC moves up the ladder, making space for her.
 And they sing.
  Here's a video of that process.  It's hard to hear, but you can still see so much! 

The group then asks the teacher to join in, and I am reminded that what shines just as bright as the amazing work of these children is the work of the teachers--always available as much as needed...never more, and never less.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Ever wonder what it might look like if kids weren't forced to say "I'm sorry"?
What kind of culture would shape up if we, as adults, didn't shame children into feeling bad about trying stuff that didn't work well?
What happens when we, as adults, advocate for child each without making authoritarian judgments about the situation?
What if we, as adults, modeled what we hoped children would do, with sincerity, awareness, and teamwork?

 Take a peek:

Children care.  They want to help their friends. It feels good to be the one to come up with a plan that works.
"He's using that, so it's not available..."

"I have an idea!  I can help you find another one!  Ok?"

Children notice each other.  What each child needs to feel better takes priority.
G falls.  M offers to check his knees.
G, still sad about the fall, has friends who notice and come over to check in.  "Do you need a hug or kiss or space?"

Children feel free to express their feelings.  Others relate to these feelings.  Everyone feels seen and heard and understood.
Child:  "I got wet!" (Another child, T, had offered this pink hat to see if it helped.  It didn't.)

Teacher:  "Yes, I can see some mud right here on your knee."  Another child, S, has joined the conversation and offers condolences:  "Oh man!  I got wet, too.  Right here on my tights."
Today is a big day!  Change is upon us.  Love is valued.  Hope is in the air.
And with these children forging the path to the future, I feel so very, very happy inside.                                         

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rain Water Paint Alien Play... Negotiations

Rain water collects on the table.  Two children grab paint brushes and enthusiastically swish them back and forth, watching the water as it flies off of the paint brushes and as it separates and then recollects in the middle of the table. 
Their enthusiasm is catchy.  A third child walks over to observe, and water splashes all over his face.
I kneel down next to him.  "The water from the paint brush is splashing on your face!  Do you like that?"
"Yes!" he smiles at me.

Two friends notice the spots on his face too.
"Can we call you a paint monster?" they ask.
"No," he replies.
They walk away, collecting themselves in a corner of the yard, scheming:  "What if we tried 'paint monster bonster'?" "No... how about 'paint alien'?"  "Yeah, yeah!"
While they plan, I smile at the child with a spotted face.  "You said 'No,' and they listened!"  He smiles back at me.

The two planners return, prepared.  "Can we call you paint alien?"
"Yes," paint alien replies.
"Paint alien!  Paint alien!" they taunt.
Paint alien smiles.
Then one child gets very close to his face, chanting, "You are a paint alien!"
"Oh! Wait!  I see his face is changing!" I observe.  "I notice that he's not smiling anymore.  If you don't like it, you can say, 'Stop' or put your hand up like this [I put my hand face out]."
He puts his hand up.
The two stop.
I smile.  "Hey!  You guys noticed that he put his hand up!  He didn't even have to say anything, and you guys noticed that he wanted you to stop."
 "Yep!" they reply proudly.

My intention through this was to support:
*  Each child's ability to self-advocate (i.e. say, "No!" or "Yes!" or otherwise choose how they are being affected.)
Anti-shame redirection (i.e. I don't want to imply that the child is wrong/bad but rather, I hope to show that their intention--to play with each other, to pretend, etc.--is appropriate and requires behavior that works for everyone in order to continue.)
*  A culture of divergent thinking (i.e. instead of shaming the urge to taunt, citing a rule they need to follow, or giving them options, in this situation, I can observe along with them what works and what doesn't work with the plans that they create.)
*  A sense of community (i.e. by following each child's lead, I can advocate instead of judge, and this allows us to work as a team together for play.)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Poisonous Plants

We spend many hours of our days outside in all weather, and part of this includes a healthy and respectful interactions with all parts of our outdoor environment.  We begin this in infancy, drawing attention to the details of the plants and insects we discover, as well as approaching both with a gentle touch
As different things are experienced, we name them which means it is important for us as the adults in the environment to know the names and properties of the plants, especially the poisonous ones.  It's easy enough to know the ornamental plants that we have in the yard, but there are few native plants that are important for everyone to know.  These plants are often very invasive and hard to remove, so they are important to be able to recognize.
Poison Hemlock
Highly poisonous plant.  Has been known to kill children very soon after ingestion.
Grows  to 5 to 8ft tall, with large white flowers, long fern-like leaves and easily identified by the purple spots on the stems
Symtoms occur within 20 minutes to 3 hours of exposure and ingestion.  They are dilation of the pupils, dizziness, and trembling followed by slowing of the heartbeat, paralysis of the central nervous system, muscle paralysis, and death due to respiratory failure

Bittersweet Nightshade
High invasive vine that is highly toxic to humans and animals.
Arrow shaped dark green leaves, vine, purple star shaped flowers with a prominent yellow stamen, green or red berries often present.
Symptoms are  thirst, blurred vision, headaches, nausea, fever, high blood pressure, hallucinations, and sometimes, convulsions, coma, and death.  Children are often attracted to the bright red berries.

Tansy Ragweed
Common in open spaces and often confused with common tansy, which has button like flowers and is non toxic.
2 to 4ft tall, fern like leaves and yellow flowers.
Symptoms include swelling membranes, trouble breathing, diarrhea 

Other native and often planted in yards are: Foxglove, Lupine, Rhododendron, Yew, and Bleeding Hearts.  Click a link here for a document that gives you more information about native plants that are poisonous to livestock and humans.  
By educating ourselves on what is safe for our children, we can teach them to respect and enjoy the outdoors in a safe way. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Saying Goodbye

Lately there has been a lot of saying goodbye at the infant house. Some of our friends are moving on to different journeys as summer greets us. We've spent last days together, lounging in each other's company and enjoying the familiarity. We've shed tears and put on brave smiles as we wish our friends the best and say that we hope to meet them again soon. One family that left us told me very sternly, "It isn't good bye. It's see you soon."

All of this goodbye-ing has geared us up for another big goodbye in Cohort 5. This week will be our last at the infant house as we will join the preschool house after that. We have a transition ceremony at Tumbleweeds that the cohorts leaving the infant house participate in. We walk from one house to the other as a physical representation of our journey. For me, I know the hardest moment will be when we open that gate and leave the sanctuary of the infant house yard. It's been our home for the last two years. It's where we play, where we eat, where we lay back and watch our big tree. It's where we wonder, where we investigate, where we adventure. The yard, more than almost anything else, will be what all of us will miss most.

Saying goodbye is never a simple thing. We look forward to the new adventures that await us. Some of us (myself being one of these people) long for change and love the way that it keeps things fresh, moving, inspiring. Newness gives us a certain breath of air and motivation that nothing else can. We dive into newness to see what it's all about: What incredible things we will find here? What kind of people will we meet? What kind of friendships will we have? What new things will we learn and know? The unknown, of course, is scary but it's also tantalizing. Still, the anticipation of something new can never win over the sadness of saying goodbye. Even when the goodbye is necessary, needed, and important to moving forward- it still hurts. We love our routines and our familiarity and leaving it behind is never done lightheartedly.

As we gear up to say goodbye to the infant house, I think fondly on all the memories we will forever have there. The bonds that the children and I have created. How hard we have worked together and played together. How amazing we are as a team. I know much of this will change and that excites me but also saddens me. I so love watching these children grow and blossom. I will forever treasure our time at the infant house and keep it with me in my heart. It has meant so very, very much to me.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Baby Play: Looking more at families

Cohort 5 recently welcomed a new baby to one of our families! As the date of the baby's arrival rapidly approached, the children became more and more aware of the babies in the front room and the mom's expanding belly. Often the children would ask to visit Briana's room. They wanted to simply watch how her babies moved and what kind of activities they enjoyed. 

As the interest in families started to emerge a little while ago, I brought babies and a play house into the room. The play house has many animals, furniture, and some small people to use in it. For the first few weeks both the house and the dolls saw little use. Lately, though, they have been the center of much of our play. LC especially has greatly enjoyed using both of the new materials. She especially is interested in playing out parts of our day with the dolls. For instance, she often takes them to where we sleep at a nap time and helps them to sleep. IS will walk over to warn me it's time to be quiet. He brings his finger to his lips and quietly utters "Shhh! Baby!" to me. LC quietly sings the babies a song and pats their bellies or backs as IS keeps watch over her and them both. QM has also begun to want to help the babies to sleep and can often be found behind our brown chair helping one doll to fall asleep in a nice, enclosed space.

The baby play has also spread to other areas of our play. Outside, as I've posted before, we've been gathering sticks and building nests. This has been happening in the classroom, too! Nests have been made out of towels, piles of clothes, the brown chair, piles of trains... pretty much anything in the classroom! So far these nests remain uninhabited but that may change over time as we continue to explore habitats and homes. For now, we've been welcoming the arrival of our family book and discussing more about what our lives are like in our own homes away from our school.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

RIE # 6: Using Observation to Create Patterns Based on the Needs the Children Show Us

"Sensitive observation of the child in order to understand her needs."

For me, there are a few parts to this RIE principle, but the primary goal of it is to be able to predict the needs of the children in your care.  We do this through slowing down, observing what the child is actually doing, which brings our awareness to their needs.  This happens to me frequently through our day. 
With infants, I find it can be easy to focus simply in the tasks throughout our day. Diapers are changed, meals are eaten, we go outside and do art with all of the transitions in between. I am fully present and aware and intentional during these moments, but it is not until I purposefully slow down and notice that the experience becomes enjoy able not just for the child but for me as well. I have noticed that this intention of slowing down is a gift to the child. When we breathe, pause and wait it gives the child a chance to participate and initiate interactions. Sometimes a diaper change takes 15 minutes. Most days this is not only okay but desired. However, there are also those days when everyone else is crying at the same time. How do we find our peace and slow down then? While this is an extreme example it brings to light the need for taking the time to slow down and see each child for what is truly happening in the moment, without getting wrapped up in our adult mind's need to fix a situation immeditely.
When we slow down, this ability to truly observe occurs.  When we take the time to see what is happening, amazing things can be found and the children are telling us more than simply they are hungry or uncomfortable.  The key for me is being available for them to tell us things.  It's a tricky thing for adults, to look to the infant for direction.  I have found that it takes more time than we are used to, to truly 'hear' an infant.  I say 'hear', because their way of speaking often has more to do with how their body is moving or eye contact or a mixture of those things connected with sound.  Every child is different, yet there are similar motions they make when they are hungry or uncomfortable.  Observing the the cues of an individual child and narrating them can help us come into tune with what they are telling us.
"Oh, I see you are moving your arms and legs back and forth.  I wonder if you're ready for a fresh diaper.  The last time you did that, it helped you feel better."  Reaches forward with both hands, smiling.  "Can I pick you up?"

"I see you chewing on your hand.  I remember that the last time you chewed on your hand, you were ready for milk.  I have your bottle right here.  When you're ready you can crawl to me."  Show bottle and open arms in welcome.

These are just a few examples of ways I would outline the observation for myself either silently in my mind, or out loud to share the moment with the child , while bringing their attention to the cues they use.  When we narrate and respond to these cues, it helps the child feel seen and continues the foundations for basic trust.
I build my day around this dance, watching with an open mind and heart.  Ready to trust the child to tell me what they need when they need it, yet balancing it with what I know come next.  This ability to predict comes with time and being together.  Once we develop the flow of our day, using observation and knowledge of the child's individual
 cues, helps to create an environment of trust and ownership.