Sunday, July 28, 2013

Corn Starch + Water +......

Summer is in full tilt and every day we are finding new ways to use our favorite parts of the season to provoke to new sensorial experiences, enjoying being outside

We have been experimenting with cornstarch and water this week.  First with the fine powder loose on a tray.  Then drips of liquid watercolor dripped in. E took handfuls of the cornstarch and added to the pot of water in the middle.  Handful after handful.  Everyone seemed drawn to the white powder and once the water was added they climbed onto the tray and make it a full body experience.  Unfortunately the tray began to leak, so most of the water soaked into the canvas underneath.

The next time that we tried the cornstarch was a same day that we had picked blackberries from the yard.  I enjoy using natural coloring for our art and sensory explorations, plus using blackberries made me feel like this was for sure an edible experience.  The blackberries popped against the white powder.  E was drawn quickly and Z hurried off the porch to see what is happening. 

After we felt the corn starch and berries I added a bit of water and the purple exploded into the mix.  It enticed everyone to dive in and explore the cold gooeyness on the hot day.  Even cohort 7 was outside and had their own time with the resulting ooze.

 One of the best things about doing this cornstarch activity is that clean up is a cinch.  It's especially fun on a 90 degree day to just soak it off with a good friend. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Provocation of Us

As teachers at Tumbleweeds we often seek to guide rather than "teach" in the traditional sense. A lot of this relies on scaffolding and emergent curriculum. A lot of that relies on provocations. We set up the environment to inspire. I bring a bit of myself into each provocation I set up. I have an idea of how I want the provocation to speak to the children. I have an ideal of how they might react to it. Even if I don't consciously realize this, it is often the case. It's hard to separate ourselves from our work at times.

As I watched from the door of the back room, where our construction area lives, I realized that the children do this as well. They are, in a sense, a provocation to other children. When kids are intensely engaged in what they are doing, other children are drawn to join them. This is exactly what happened with JH in the back room. He was working very hard to build a tower. He told me, "I want it to stay and I want it to be very tall." I nodded, "It can be hard to do both." QM and LC eyed him carefully. They could see the concentration on his face. Slowly, they moved away from JH and found their own materials to build with.

LC found citiblocks, which JH was also using, and began laying them out in a horizontal line. She laid each block vertically and directly next to the one she had previously set down. She worked carefully and was completely focused on her building. It was almost as if QM, JH, and I ceased to be in the room with her.

QM found the dominoes and brought them down from our shelf. He began to lay them somewhat haphazardly next to his leg. Then looked up to view JH's progress on his structure.

Next he looked to LC. He watched her build her horizontal line for a few minutes. He called out to her a few times, but LC was too absorbed to respond.

Next QM looked up at me. I said "You are building with dominoes." He nodded and said, "Otay."

As QM built and observed the room, LC finished her horizontal line. She leaned back and surveyed it thoughtfully. Then she looked up and noticed me taking pictures, clearly having forgotten I was there.

In the end, JH built a tall but stable structure. LC's horizontal line lived on. And QM's dominoes found their way to the back of a small, wooden truck. The intense focus of JH as he built his structure acted as a provocation for LC and QM to use the building materials in their own way.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Scientists in Their Own Right

Metal bowls and metal & wooden rings have been a huge hit for Cohort 7 these past couple of months.  It seems that the kids especially enjoy the contrast between materials – I’ve watched L carefully alternate between sliding metal bowls and wooden rings across the floor (noting the different sounds this makes), C will often drop both metal and wood at once, and A holds a metal bowl in one hand and a wooden ring in the other, thoroughly exploring each with her eyes and mouth. 

In these moments, the children are conducting thoughtful experiments in an effort to understand the properties of these materials.  They align the objects carefully so that they can come to understand the similarities and dissimilarities between them, discovering that metal feels colder, wood is not quite as smooth, they both roll and slide on the floor, metal makes a shrill noise when banged on the ground, etc.  Their focus shows me how seriously and deeply they are considering the relationship between these materials, as well as their own relationships to each class of objects.  In their quest to discover the rules and characteristics (both unique and shared) of each material, they are engaged in a careful scientific process that is not unlike the science adults engage in.  It is purposeful, patient, and driven.

I plan to keep the bowls and rings out in the center of the room for a while yet – as the children show continued interest in the exploration of these materials, they are telling me that they are still contemplating how to interact with them.  I am eager to see them developing relationships with these objects, and I look forward to observing the new and interesting ways they will use them & combine them with other materials!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Joy of Harvesting

Before my cohort came to the preschool house, the preschoolers spent a significant amount of time planting in their garden beds. This included the wonderful annual planting party. The candy garden, designed and cared for solely by the preschoolers, can be seen pictured in this blog. Obviously, my cohort was stoked to be joining their preschool friends in their pursuit of gardening- especially since most of their garden is now ready to harvest. This means one of our favorite things: eating.
We've been bringing our tradition of cooking together to the preschool house. I wanted to continue on this vein and build further on the harvesting that we often do with the children. A small group of children chose to delay their outside time a bit and stay inside with me to help clean up from snack and prepare our lunch. After we had completed the responsibilities of washing our dishes, cleaning off our tables, and sweeping our floor we sat down together and talked about lunch.
I told LC, JK, TB, and TS that we would be having beets at afternoon snack. We also needed to collect some kale and other greens for lunch. We talked about how to tell if a beet is ready to be harvested. TB offered: "You might see the beet poking out in the dirt. It won't be a seed anymore." TS chimed in, "Yeah, and our beets are purple! They aren't yellow."

Armed with this knowledge of beets and what to look for, we headed outside. Everyone helped in the collecting of beets. Sometimes we pulled a beet up to find that it wasn't as big as we had hoped. Other times, we pulled out a beet and marveled at just how big it had gotten! Picking the kale was much easier as we could just look at the leaf to see if it was ready or not. Once we had collected a tub full of greens and beets we headed back inside. Our next job was to clean them. Since it can be difficult to put many people at our sink we decided to get a bowl of water and some rags to help scrub our beets clean. At this point, only TS and TB remained interested in cleaning them. JK and LC enjoyed playing and coming by every so often to carefully watch what the girls were doing. LC was especially excited about the bowl of water that was getting increasingly dirtier each time she wandered by.
After a lot of work we were ready to cut up our beets and place our greens on a pan to roast. I cut each clean beet up with a knife on a cutting board and let whoever was interested observe. TB decided that we should cut them into "bite size" pieces so they were easy for everyone to eat at snack. TS agreed. LC and JK were curious as to why they couldn't just eat the beets now, but easily settled for a bit of kale instead. I'm looking forward to continuing to harvest and cook with the children throughout the summer. There's something so satisfying about getting to eat something you've worked hard to nourish, grow, and prep for eating!

The First Week

Cohort 5 is officially at the Preschool house now! Our ceremony, complete with Strawberry Shortcake, occurred right before Summer break and our first day back was also our first day as Preschoolers. The first week has been an adjustment, but a lovely one.

The Preschoolers have welcomed us with open arms as we've worked hard to communicate. We have had to focus not only on learning their existing routines and rules (voted on by the preschoolers themselves!), but also on being heard and finding our own roles and voices within their structure.

We have brought some of our own ways with us as well. LC and I shared our tradition of making eggs and kale with some other preschoolers. We introduced our family song to everyone. QM showed some friends how we like to stack animals. VR talked to everyone about our old school and some of the fun we had there.

As we get ready for our second week in our new home I reflect on when this cohort first joined me at the infant house. Many of our friends have moved away as time passed, either for only a little while or forever. Each time we have bid them goodbye with tears and lingered over the "See you soon" rather than the "good bye". One wonderful thing each of these farewells have brought us, though, is a wonderful new beginning. Moving from a support role into the classroom again brought me so many wonderful new beginnings. I carry them with me in my heart, just as we will with this new beginning.

Flower Prints

After thinning out the garden today, I felt inspired to create some sort of provocation for cohort 6 which involved the sunflowers and other blooms from the yard.  I am constantly on the look out for new ideas of ways to use the parts of our garden as it finishes, from sunflower stalk forts, to leaf and flower crowns and today we made prints with the flowers.
This seemed like a very logical next step, scaffolding on what the children in cohort are into right now: banging things on other things, seeing the result of this banging, and being outdoors.  They also have been really into picking anything available, but today I harvested the flowers and offered them on the table.
I did the first few, laying a flower on the paper and banging a rock on top.  This attracted a lot of attention and one by one everyone approached and gave it a try.  Some were most interested in the marks or the sounds the rocks created.  Some wanted to just knock everything off the table.  Others were drawn to the flower. 
The results were beautiful, but I found that the round rocks I chose were a little to uneven to create the flower print I was hoping for.  Next time I might try a rolling pin or a flat wooden block for banging.  I'm sure everyone will approve of these changes and the resulting noises that will occur!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Drop-off Story

Drop-off can be sad.  It was sad as a kid for me, for sure.  It’s still sad for me as a mom.  And it can be still sad as a teacher…very much so.

I thought I’d share my experience with our new 18 month old boy L at Tumbleweed.  He was kind of in a unique situation—because of the timing of when he started with Tumbleweed, for several days all of the other kids in his group were older than him by at least a few months.  So he would be surrounded by the “big” kids for a while!  My mission was to make sure his whole new life experience with school—with pretty loud, fast-moving, and super excited kids—wouldn’t be too overwhelming for him.

His first day (he started with once a week) seemed great…at the beginning.  His dad hung out with us for a while to make sure L was comfortable enough to be there.  We all could tell nobody would leave him alone all day.  Our preschoolers were already showing L around the house, bathrooms, and toys, holding his small hands.  It was a truly sweet thing to see.

And it was time for his dad to leave.  He gave L an “official” good-bye hug and kiss and L seemed a little sad.  At the same time he got quickly “kidnapped” by others to play with.  This was a big distraction from the sadness.  Though it was not 100% clear for me if L understood his dad was leaving the school for the day, I decided to let go of my plan to wave with him by his dad at the window and let him play.

But I realized soon after that I should have done it differently.  He came back to the front room and "asked" me to open the door, saying “Yaya!” (this is what he calls his dad).  But it was too late.  Dad had already left, and the chance to see him off has already gone.  I explained his dad had left and he’d be coming back.  But somehow, I didn’t feel so convincing.  How could I?  L didn’t see his dad leave for real.

No matter how sad it can be, we make sure a good-bye happens.  Especially young ones take longer to process what good-bye means to them and what being in school means to them.  To let them develop this understanding, they have to “experience” the pattern.  Parents leave.  And they come back!  And there is an option to have fun at school while they’re gone.  Pretty good deal, I hope.  But it’s OK to be sad to say good-bye.  It’s absolutely natural to miss your parents during the day.  We don’t “trick” them as if their parents don’t exist until pick-up time.  We don’t do a circus show to keep on distracting them so that they don’t have time to miss their parents.  They know better anyway.  We’d rather let them face the reality and talk about it.

But I failed on that first morning with L.  After I felt a bit guilty about it for about a week, L came back with his dad.  This time, I picked him up (because he’s too short to see) and waved at his dad through the window…with tears.  It was hard….for L, for me, and for his dad, I’m sure.  All day long, I could not help picturing in my head his dad pushing his bike off with tears (not that I saw tears or anything), wishing he could stay home with L all day, every day.  Because that’s exactly how I would feel if I were him.

There is no question that he had another fun day with his older friends.  But in between those happy moments of playing, different things reminded him of his parents.  He’d say “Yaya….Mama…”  So I simply acknowledged the feeling.

Me: “Are you thinking about your dad and mom?”

L:   “Yeah” (with big nods).

Me: “You miss them very much.”

L:   “Yeah” (with even bigger nods, with tears in the eyes).

Me: “Your dad is picking you up this afternoon.”

L:   “Yeah” (still the same).

Me: “Do you think he is coming by car or by bike?”

L:   “Bike.”

Me: “Are you gonna go home in the trailer again?”

L:   “Yeah” (with a slightly happier tone of voice).

Every time he was sad, we had this conversation.  What I did was in fact very simple.  Just repeat back what he said.  Instead of trying to quickly redirect his attention to something else, talk about it.  This process of acknowledging how he is feeling and reassuring we know he misses his parents helped us build a relationship with trust.

I was glad that L had a chance to see his dad actually take off even if it was sad for him.  Because, by the end of day, he’d see his dad coming back, through the backyard gate.   It’s not that dad magically appears from smoke, as if he was gone to use the bathroom or something, and this was somehow taking him 8 hours.  He left the school, then he came back.  It’s real.  And it eventually becomes a familiar pattern for L, hopefully soon.

By the 5th day, I could see other kids do my job with L.  When they notice L being sad, they immediately offer help.

T: Are you missing your mom and dad?

L: Yeah (with tears).

S: Let me bring your family picture.

Then S sits down next to L, holding L’s framed family photo.

S & T: This is your Yaya.  This is your mom.

L: Yeah.  Yeah (with big nods and tears).

Even if L was sad at that moment, I could clearly see his heart getting warmed up by his friends acknowledging how he was feeling.  And I gave them space, feeling so proud for them.

Welcome to our community, L!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Assessment is Risky

Have I told you that I love Louis C.K.?  I do.
Have I told you that I love your kids?  I do.

And you know why?  Both teach me things.  They throw sh*t in my face that makes me think and laugh and cry and feel and wonder and nod.

And, as usual when something I don't like is happening in the world, I look to people like Louis and your kids to help glean context for finding hope again.  And this is what I'm seeing:

Life is dangerous.  We come upon situations that require risk assessment all the time.  And we start practicing this risk assessment at a very young age.  We figure out some tendencies of the way things and people work.  Over time, we build on the discoveries of these tendencies, and we adjust the way we assess risk based on these discoveries.

The thing about kids?  They keep retesting.  They don't see tendencies as static.  They are open to the possibility of tendencies changing.  Even though the chair didn't tip over last time, they know it's possible, so they're still careful.  Even though their friend bit them the last time they held on tight to the toy, they're still going to figure out a way to keep the toy again, but they might just adjust a bit (like advocating firmly verbally or creating solutions with their wonderful divergent thinking abilities).   

Another thing about kids?  They are willing to take risks to trust each other.  Dangerous, right? Because trusting others is vulnerable.  It requires letting go and seeing value in that risk/vulnerability. 

Now I know, I know... I'm an idealist.  It's just how I work.  I have a need for consistency in the message of my actions and my values.  And I'm also, admittedly, a bit of a button pusher.  I have a need to shine a light where I see inconsistencies in messages of actions and values.  And part of my idealistic, button-pushing quest is to advocate for consistency between the way we are "raising" our children and the way we are "raising" our world.  So I hope that the lessons and values children establish here at Tumbleweed will transfer into adulthood and support healthy, positive change for the future!  

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Paint as an Experience

"Life is a great big canvas; throw all the paint you can at it." Danny Kaye
Today was a coming together of everyone through the language of paint.  Some of us have had many opportunities to play with paint and for some it was a first time.  I was excited for this moment to happen, especially watching the older children watching the infants engage for the first time.  Everyone had their own experience, but the joy and satisfaction was evident.
We started with red, in long squiggles on a piece of paper.  Everyone found their best way to interact, some tearing the paper, some feeling very hesitant with touching the paint.  Finger tips poked the cool wetness and soon the infants were ready to join us.  Our favorite older kid also joined after a while, giving the children impetus to fully interact with the paint or observe in their own way.   

Tasting, Resting, Poking, Contemplating.  What is this paint?  What happens if I......  I wonder.....  I notice.