Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Welcoming a New Friend into Cohort 7

This month, LC joined Cohort 7!  It has been very busy in the infant room as we have all been adjusting to this transition.  At first, LC was very sad about saying goodbye to her mom in the morning, and she preferred to spend most of the day on my lap as she observed the other children playing, eating, and exploring.  After several full days with us, she became much more comfortable and started exploring on her own and engaging with the other babies. 

LC is very social, and really enjoys our snack routine, as well as the time we spend together on a blanket out in the yard or on the big blue rug in the room.  The first couple of weeks, AJ, LT, and CS paid extra special attention to LC during these times, and they all seemed to love communicating with each other and sharing in activities.  LT and LC especially like to put their faces very close together to get a better look at each other’s expressions.  A favorite activity this summer has been maraca playing, and all of the kids like it best when they are shaking a maraca at the same time as me or one of the other babies.  It was fun to watch the kids shake a maraca and watch LC to see if she would join during her first week with us, and she was thrilled to join in.  I could tell that LC instantly felt very welcomed by her new friends!  

As we’ve welcomed LC into our space, I’ve realized that it isn’t all about sharing our ways with LC – she has also had lots of things to share with us!  Even at this young age, each of the kids brings something unique and exciting to Tumbleweed.  For instance, LC is very interested in pointing at various things and hearing them labeled (e.g. “that’s the light switch” or her favorite, “that’s a ball!”).  I’ve noticed over the last few weeks that the other children have picked up on this, and when LC points at something, they will often listen carefully to what I say, knowing that it contains information about whatever LC has noticed and is asking about.  I’ve also watched as the kids have expanded the types of noises they make now that LC is with us.  LC’s favorite exclamation is “ball!”, and I’ve noticed the others saying “baaa” noises much more often than they were before this month.  And in the same way, LC has started to include different noises in her own vocabulary (for instance, CS’s “book-a-book-a” phrase seems to have influenced some of LC’s names for objects).  It is truly amazing to watch the kids exchange in this way – each one of them has a distinct way of observing and engaging, but despite this, they are still paying a lot of attention to their peers and expanding upon the ways they interact with their environment.

It has been so much fun welcoming our new friend into our community.  I can’t wait for all the adventures we will have together!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

"If your Life were a Book, and You were the Author..."

I have had this post in the back of my mind for a while now. The importance of imagination and pretend is more and more obvious to me as my experience outside of our community grows and as my own children grow. Sure, I am surprised and often amazed at what kids come up with but lately I've been so amazed by what this means for them as adults. Their creativity and imagination will change the way they see the world. It will help them find solutions to old problems that have plagued us and see pathways that many before them could look directly at and still not notice. Imagination is vital. In one of the links I've provided, Amy Purdy says it well: Imagination allows us to break down borders, to move beyond our circumstances, to create and constantly progress. 

"This is the food for all the workers. Let's be really careful so we don't spill it or they might get hungry."

"I'm going to the store. I'm gonna make cookies!"
"See the bubbles? I'm popping them so them don't get away! Pop!"
"I'm making chocolate bread. This is the batter!"
"We are sawing the house down! Let's break it! We have to be quick or it won't work."
These children that I spend my day with are doing just that. They use their imagination to entertain themselves, to test out new ideas, to fail, to succeed, to put on a different role than who they are.... They use it to adapt to new social roles, to find out more about who they are and what they want, to find out more about the people who are there imagining alongside of them. For a long time imagination was undervalued. Jay Walker, the founder of Priceline, points out that the ruling classes did not want those underneath them to imagine. They didn't want them to see pathways out of their current situation or to think of new ways of doing things. This doesn't mean that imagination didn't thrive, simply that it wasn't encouraged. Over the years imagination has become more and more encouraged. As a result, imaginations grew. We are constantly finding new paths, new technology, new ways, new solutions, new cures... As Amy Purdy puts it, we continue to live beyond our limit. And each time the limit is defined, we break it again. 
"I'm a super hero guy! This block is going to get you!"...

"This is my shield! You can't even get me!"

So how do we support imagination? How do we encourage children to use their imaginations? I feel Nikola Tesla covers this well:

“Every night, when alone, I would start out on my journeys - see new places, cities and countries... This I did constantly until I was about seventeen when my thoughts turned seriously to invention. Then I observed to my delight that.. I needed no models, drawings or experiments. I could picture them all as real in my mind.”

Tesla's imagination thrived regardless of encouragement. Humans need, perhaps even live for, imagination. So give them time to play and time to imagine. Imagine with them. Fulfill your need and their need both... that is all the encouragement they need.

In case you missed it above, I highly recommend watching Amy Purdy's TedX Talk:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What's a Provocation?

When I first started working at Tumbleweed a couple of months ago, I kept hearing the word "provocation" used by Amy and the other teachers, and I was instantly intrigued.  In context, I could deduce that it had to do with setting up an environment or certain materials in a way that "provokes" creative play, but it seemed even more nuanced than that.  I decided to research the term by reading all of the blog posts the other teachers had ever written about provocations.

One thing I was really struck by as I was reading everyone’s posts was how simple provocations can be – Melinda wrote about taking the children outside to be in the snow, Bee wrote about using leaves and sticks to paint, and Briana reflected on the inspiration and wonder the children feel when gazing up into the branches of the beautiful tree out back.  I felt like these posts really set the foundation for understanding provocations and their intended outcomes – they are simple, whole, pure windows into basic elements of the environment.  Of course, provocations can be more complex and pre-meditated, but my interpretation was that sometimes the most basic, untouched provocations make the biggest impacts.  Since reading these posts, I’ve already begun to view my environment differently.  Raindrops aren’t a reason to scurry inside – they’re an invitation to stick around outside and learn (what do they feel like? Smell like? Sound like?).  Shadows aren’t to be ignored – they’re to be played with, touched, and viewed from different angles.  The best part is that the infants in my room already know all of this; it’s been my lesson to learn (re-learn, really) these past couple of months.  I feel like I’m waking up to all of the wonderful things around me, and becoming more attuned to my environment and the kids I share it with. 
I also really enjoyed the various posts on the introduction of new art mediums.  One entry described this process as “offering the children the ability to get to know the art mediums like they would a good friend”, a phrase I really loved.  Especially with the youngest children, allowing complete and uninhibited exploration of brand new materials (e.g. paint or clay) really encourages a depth of interaction between the child and the material, which will later enable expression and creation.  Children’s very first “art projects” shouldn’t be set up with particular goals or outcomes in mind (in terms of the kids making certain shapes or drawings) – rather, they should be opportunities to touch, roll around in, smell, smear etc.  In other words, really coming to know the properties of materials is what it’s all about.  This is the majority of what infants are doing with their waking hours, and both older children and adults still practice this exploration on a daily basis.  It is the primary way we navigate new territory.  I really liked how these posts got me thinking about various mediums as “good friends” – ones you want to get to know as thoroughly as possible because you will know and rely on them for years and years!
Finally, Briana had a couple of posts that were very beautiful and touching that I wanted to make sure to mention.  The first one describes a moment in which she was setting up an elephant provocation during the day, when a few of her kids were in the room.  Briana wrote about how she became very immersed in the setup, and eventually realized that she was truly playing – it was for the children, but it was also deeply satisfying and engrossing for her, too.  She looked up to find each of the children engaged in their own activities in much the same way.  The room was peaceful and secure, with everybody focused and fulfilled in their own explorations.  I thought this was such a beautiful post, and one that is exemplary of thoughtful provocation set-up.  There have been parallel moments for me in my room since I've started, when I've noticed how deeply absorbed I am in the setup of materials.  Briana’s post really helped me appreciate the value of this, and to understand that the provocations we set up are first and foremost for the children, but that we stand to learn and thrive from them, too. 
The second post that I really appreciated described how Briana had painstakingly rearranged small, beautiful cubes so they were alluringly stacked in little spice jars.  She wrote about how excited she was for her kids to discover this provocation and take these familiar objects in a whole new direction.  Much to her (initial) dismay, however, the kids took note of the new arrangement and immediately returned the cubes and bottles to their previous location and arrangement.  Briana felt disappointed that the setup she had been so enthusiastic about was disregarded by the children, but she took this as an opportunity to practice letting go.  Her children showed her in no uncertain terms that they weren’t ready to see the materials change yet, and she had to remind herself that kids will always show you where they are in their process of play and exploration.  Briana’s post reminded me of a great quote from Magda Gerber that I recently read:

“Play is for play’s sake only – be careful what you try to teach; you may be interfering with what the baby is learning.”

All in all, I was so impressed and inspired by the writing on provocations that all of the teachers did.  I am fortunate to be working alongside such thoughtful, focused individuals!

metal pots & magnets

Preschool house ink & paper provocation

found objects
scissors, strings, paper

I set this one up with momentum in mind - the blocks flow to the left  & the car and
balls are placed alongside them to inspire exploration of movement & direction

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Bakery

 One of the many materials available outside is sidewalk chalk. There's been a lot of exploration with sidewalk chalk over the past few weeks. "What else can we do with this stuff?" seemed to be the question the children asked of themselves. One of the most in depth explorations seemed simple enough: chalk dust. It happened very organically. The children began to bang the chalk pieces on various surfaces- especially our concrete slab in the back where a lot of mixing and creating takes place. Chalk dust was the natural result of this banging. This intrigued everyone so the banging continued. Bricks were often used to produce chalk dust at a faster rate. As Carrie and I watched their focus intensify, I mentioned quietly to her that we should find something to mix with the chalk dust and see where the children took it next. This was out of the ear shot of the children focused on the chalk dust and I'm positive my thoughts weren't overheard by anyone else.

That afternoon I watched as the children scaffolded on their own interests. First they added water to the chalk dust. Just a tad with the help of some watering cans. They had done this some before but the result seemed more interesting this time for whatever reason. They found tools to mix with and more and more containers to create in. Next they added paint. Sometimes the paint was added to only chalk dust. Other times it was added to the water and chalk dust mixture. There was much discussion about how it worked best. 

"When you add the water first the chalk dust gets smooth! You have to mix it a lot, look... then you should add the paint." 

All of this continued to occur on the concrete slab, which is rather hard to fit very many people around. Soon this drawback became very apparent. TS shouted, "We need to move to the workshop!" As if they all were of the same mind, the children lifted their materials and moved to the workshop. They set up the chalk dust as their own little provocation. A pitcher was present for adding water. The colander held the chalk that hadn't yet been turned into dust. A green water bottle became the home of a final mixture of paint, water, and chalk dust. A funnel sat near it in order to help slowly add chalk dust to the mixture. A smaller colander held chalk pieces that were in transition between chalk and dust. The colanders, the children quickly found out, were a great way to speed up their production. "Here, if you hold on to this chalk piece you can grate it with those little holes. Just like cheese! Try it."

 Before too long there were too many people and not enough tools. New tools were made to keep every last person busy. A wooden bowl and stick quickly became a mortar and pestle type tool. The chalk could be slowly ground down with the use of the stick and moving the bowl simultaneously. It was also a great way to mix the paint into the chalk dust. TS was in charge of this tool while GS and TLC worked with the original brick tool and colander. Before long, a good amount of the mixture was ready to be used for something else.All throughout the exploration, children would come and go. Some enjoyed observing the meticulous work of TS, GS, and TLC. One child, however, joined them  around this point.
 "Let's make some corn cakes!" said Z? as she approached, muffin tin in hand. She set it on the ground and began to portion out muddy water in each opening. TS watched carefully, "Yeah! For our bakery!" I inquired, "Your bakery?" TS nodded, "Yeah this is our bakery. We have to hurry! We're about to open!" She set to work mixing again- even more intensely than before. GS leaned in close, "Do you have enough chalk dust??" TS barely paused her mixing to nod affirmatively. Then she said, "This is for the bread."

Without input from me as the teacher, the children guided their own play. It went beyond what I could have imagined and it connected their love of dramatic play with their need for scientific inquiry. They scaffolded upon their own interests and gave themselves an incredibly rich experience. Oh man, how these kids continually amaze me.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ice to Beat the Heat

Our sensory explorations centered around ice this week!  I made a few new shapes and everyone seemed to have a great time getting cool and figuring out what ice is all about! 

Giving or Showing?

When being with children it can be so easy to be in the moment, yet not be seeing from the perspective of the child.  Being open to that availability shows us a whole new world.  

So, What do you do when a child holds out a toy to you?
Do you smile?
Do you say, "Oh Thank you!" and take it?
Do you offer out your hand?
Do you look confused as they jerk it back away?
Aren't you going to give it to me?

You might try saying:

"I thought you were giving it to me."  or "You were showing me?"  
Being honest and clear about your side helps the child know you saw his moves and are available to listen to what they want to tell you about their needs, even if they are preverbal

"Look at that jar!  It's clear and smooth."  "Your face looks happy and proud."  
Say what is true, accurate and what is happening.  This helps the child slow down and engage in the moment. 

"Look how that fits! Now you're holding it in your mouth.  I wonder how it feels."
Asking wondering questions encourage the process of inquiry.
"You put it in my hand.  Thank you"
Adding manner words gives the child a real world model for when these words are appropriate and when they feel good to say and share.  It feels good to be together, to share toys and to be available to hear each other.  

"You want it back?  I'm using it.  Yes you can have it.  I'm finished." 
This is practice for interactions you hope to see between children.  Asking for what you want, being clear about limits and setting up for success creates a standard of behavior which is self-sustaining.  

 Narration gives the child who engages with you an opportunity to bring his awareness to his interactions with another.  I have many seemingly one sided conversations with the children in cohort 6.  While they are just beginning to say words, their body language, eye contact and movements talk to me as loudly as the words of an older child.  When respond to this communication with the same understanding, responsiveness, and care that we would with words we are teaching these children what true communication needs: time, listening,