Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Watch out!
A fire-breathing dragon is near.
His breath is fire.  And he growls.
Wait!  Another dragon joins him!
They are ferocious.
Fire flies out of their mouths.

And it's quite fun...
...especially because they are friends.

An Afternoon

When I arrive, it's snack time.  
Children are eating, chatting, laughing, negotiating food passing, scooping, drinking. 

 When I bring my camera out, everyone is interested in looking into the lens.

Most choose to help clean up after snack--sweeping, wiping the tables, putting cloths into a bin, ensuring all uneaten food goes into the compost bin.  
A few more children take the opportunity to look into the lens.

Before long, the camera's newness wanes.  
Rio offers up the opportunity to stretch on the rug.  
We sing a song we learned from Iris years ago,

"Amy! Amy! Jump up and down!
Amy! Amy! Spin around!
Amy! Amy! Dance your own way!
Amy! Amy! What's your stretch today?"

Each child takes a turn jumping, spinning, dancing, and stretching.
Others follow along or observe.
Rio encourages awareness:  "Whoa!  Look at E!  Her hands are down on the ground, and her leg is up in the air! Let's take a deep breath in this stretch..."

Then Rio reads a book.
The children are focused, interested, and engaged.
Each child's sense of safety, security, and belonging is clear.  
They know what's expected!  They know what comes next!  They know what choices they have! 

It's comforting and empowering.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tumbleweed Culture and Our Global Citizens!

We've spent the last five years fine-tuning our mindfulness around fostering

by supporting a healthy, secure space for children through

which reflect a culture that values

so that we both model (by our actions) and support (for each child's actions) the ability to

In this way, we support children who are

These children will change the world
as the newest generation of
Global Citizens!



Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Development of Creative Play

We are well into our fifth month together in the infant room, and many exciting developmental
changes have taken place since Cohort 7 first started at Tumbleweed.  LT is crawling! CS & LC are saying words and standing freely on occasion! AJ is scooting all over the place and getting close to crawling & getting herself into a sitting position!  And ACW, who just joined us in the past month, is pulling himself up on everything!  Infancy is such an exciting time - every month (week, even!) brings a new area of focus for each individual child, and it is truly amazing to watch the concentration and determination with which the babies engage in all of this hard work.

I've been thinking lately about how the developmental trajectory I've observed all summer ties in nicely with a quote I really like from Ruth Anne Hammond's Respecting Babies:

"A constantly changing play environment promotes dabbling rather than deep engagement - the goal of RIE is to promote the creativity needed to make the present objects interesting rather than the consumerism of needing new objects all the time." (p. 51)

The babies' physical development has profoundly impacted their creative development (& vice versa, most likely!) over the last several months.  I've intentionally maintained a fairly constant play environment in the infant room - most toys have been available since June when I started, with only a few exceptions.  If/when I introduce new materials, I generally make a point to remove something that seems less inherently interesting to the kids, so as not to overwhelm the space with too many play options.  I've watched as our materials have elicited completely different patterns of play over the course of the summer.  In June, I had three infants ranging from four months - ten months.  Now I have five ranging from eight months - fourteen months.  Here are some observations documenting the shift in playing habits with some of our most well-loved materials (these are presented somewhat chronologically, though of course with our age range, most/all of these types of play are still occurring!):

Metal Strainer (outdoors, often to be found on the porch):

-Held high above head, rolled on ground, look closely through the holes
-Used primarily for drumming
-Used to explore nesting/containing - what fits inside, and what doesn't?  How do you remove other large metal bowls that fit quite snugly inside?
-Used as a base for magnet play
-Something to pull up on & then drum on from a standing position (full circle!)

Rocks (indoors, contained in a fairly shallow wooden bowl):

-Often tasted & looked at closely, before moving onto something else
-Sliding across the floor (learning that they don't slide on the rugs)
-Lifting (some are heavier than others! this correlates with size! whoa!)
-Spinning - this particular habit has been inspired by CS, who loves anything that spins (particularly wheels on bikes/trucks).  He experiments with spinning rocks like they are tops.  Again, this works better w/ some rocks than it does with others (small, irregularly shaped rocks are good spinners), which offers a great opportunity to explore the properties of rocks and what makes them similar/dissimilar from each other.

Small Metal Bowls (indoors, held in a very shallow basket):

-Tasted, looked at closely
-Banged on the ground
-Slid on the ground
-2 bowls banged against each other
-Spun like a top (again, CS-inspired)
-Loaded into wooden trucks, driven around the room

These observations encompass just a few of the babies' favorite materials, but hopefully they capture the beauty of what I've observed these last five months.  Because of the stability of their play environment (as well as their physical development, which has enabled them to try many new things), the babies have been able to play in increasingly complex and demanding ways with the same materials we started with.  I find this really powerful when I reflect on how some of these materials were likely brand new for the kids when they first started in the infant room - now they exhibit such familiarity and understanding of their various properties.  I don't know if this would have been possible had there been a rapid turnover of materials; for each set of observations, you'll notice that the very first ways of engaging with materials was by carefully examining them: tasting, touching, and looking at them very closely.  During this stage, the infants were building a sense of familiarity with the materials, which set the foundation for their increasingly creative play as the summer progressed.

The best thing is that this process is never-ending!  New materials will make their way into our room, and the kids will start all over again: tasting, touching, examining, and then moving forward with new ideas for play and exploration.  At the same time, old materials will take on increasingly complex functions.  It is truly amazing to observe this progression, and a joy to reflect on it - creative play is so worthy of our celebration and respect!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Nonviolent Communication and learning the Preschool way

As I started my first week of teaching at Tumbleweed, I felt a strong desire to encompass all the research, reflection, and pedagogy from training into my teaching. It soon became apparent that this was not going to work. I became overwhelmed with processing the routine and understanding each student individually. There were so many chances to use what I had learned- so many opportunities to give independence with my choice in language or to support children in conflict resolution by waiting to intervene- yet I fell into old habits and forgot to put into practice all I had learned. It seemed like I was able to remember a new approach only after the opportunity occurred. However, this reflection provided an amazing breakthrough in my thinking when I realized the link between the Tumbleweed methods and the practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

This change in thinking allowed me to approach my work at Tumbleweed in a slightly different way. I focused on respecting each child and accepting them for where they are right now, in the very moment I was interacting with them. I was able to pause and consider the following: Where is this child coming from? What is it they are working on in this moment? How can my reaction support their development of the authentic self? This might look like understanding that a child's need to hit comes from frustration and redirecting them to hit the floor. It might be noticing that a child ripping books is genuinely interested in the feel and texture that comes from ripping and providing them with paper or newspaper to rip instead. By pausing, I reflected on the child's need and how I could meet that in safe and appropriate way.
The language used in preschool has always interested me. From day one words are modeled in the classroom to give students tools that are available any time. Teachers establish a framework for students to be empowered and have intent. I saw the job of a preschool teacher to be a consistent calm user of preschool lingo.  It wasn't until I came to TPH that I discovered that communicating with calm words was not enough because this was just borrowing what I have seen from others and not authentic. In order to really create this school environment I had to be exactly what I wanted to teach. For example in order to teach gentle I would have to be gentle and show it with each interaction. This mentality exactly feeds into the philosophy of nonviolent communication.

NVC has often been appropriated by different movements and therefore has taken on many meanings. In the context of our early childhood setting the definition I will use is, NVC is the intention to create connections with other people and oneself that allows compassionate giving to take place. By approaching any exchange or conflict with a respectful and emphatic attention we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. It is in our nature to enjoy giving to one another.

I saw this most clearly when one day at the preschool house when the kids were out playing in the backyard. I saw Q and J playing with a jump rope. All students had been discovering new ways to move it and suddenly Q grabbed the end of J's jump rope wanted to play. J was not interested in playing with Q and began pulling which started a tugging match. I could see that J was getting more and more irritated but waited. As they both got closer and louder I ran in and focused on J being upset by Q using the rope. I asked Q if he heard that J did not want to play and see if he could ask before he pulled on a jump rope someone else was using. Later in the day I could not shake the feeling that I could have handled the situation differently. There are always teachable moments in the most difficult of times. I was not calm and did not understand where Q could have been coming from. Q could have been happy to play tug and I could have used that to teach J that no one is right or wrong, there is only difference. As a teacher students are always testing us when we are busy, embarrassed, shocked or just have our guard down in any way. It might seem like they are doing it to make our jobs harder but this is how children learn. The way we handle these moments give students examples of how to respond to adversity, challenges and problems they will have for the rest of their lives.

Being a nonviolent communicator requires a commitment to live it and use the method to handle interactions inside and outside of school. Every action in the preschool environment whether we know it or not carries importance and shows that teachers are role models supporting children with all that we do.

"NVC is about empowering students to realize their potential with others, not against others; nourishing ways of being that sustain caring, democratic learning communities and generate capacities to change the world."

The Frost Cats

One provocation that is well loved at TPH is face painting. We tend to offer it at least two times a week- almost always in the afternoon. There is something very satisfying about face paint. You can literally paint on a new face and try on a new role. If you don't like it? Wash it off and start over again.

We've had many different faces over the last few months but today marked a pivotal change in face painting for me. WK and MR became... The Frost Cats. In case you didn't know, Frost Cats only go out in the snow. They have little, pointy ears and very big, fluffy tails. They are a little devious, too.

MR and WK quickly latched ok to their new roles- communicating through odd scratchings in the air and dreadful sounding meows. Frost Cats are not the fuzzy, warm kittens you may believe them to be after all. But this is exactly why I love face paint (and costumes for that matter!).

They allow us to access little parts of us that might otherwise be hidden. Perhaps they are even hidden to us until the mask comes on. As many of you know, I'm an avid gamer. One thing I love about games is the way you can become someone else- if only for a moment. A game I recently played for the first time- Fiasco- is heavy on role playing. It pushed me to my limit and demanded that I let go of my inhibitions and simply enjoy the moment. It also, believe it or not, made me more confident.

So much of our self identity is built in these moments of play. We try on new faces or attitudes. We figure out more about the pieces of the puzzle that make up our self. We find out what works and what doesn't. Then we reflect and we grow. It's funny how something as simple as face paint can be part of a job so huge. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Educaring: Teaching Lifelong Self-Care Habits

A central concept of educaring is that the primary way we "educate" infants is through the care that we give them on a daily basis.  Above all else, an educarer guides routine tasks like diaper changes, washing hands, and getting dressed in the most respectful and patient manner possible.  The RIE method of diapering involves the child: each step is explained (& I will often include a rationale for the step - e.g. we are going to rub in some ointment this time because I've noticed a small rash forming, and this will help it to heal), children are involved to the fullest extent possible, and even the youngest of infants are given plenty of warning before actions are taken.

As Ruth Hammond writes in Respecting Babies, when we slow down and perform these tasks patiently and methodically, we are teaching children "what respect feels like (through touch), and what is and is not acceptable in what liberties others may take with their bodies."  When I was first learning about educaring, I envisioned the RIE approach to physical care as not only communicating to infants that we respect and value their bodies, but also imparting a message that will hopefully stick with them forever: that their bodies are worthy of their own respect and love, and that as they gain the autonomy to care for themselves, the same patient, methodical, and loving care is appropriate and valuable.  By modeling a respectful, nurturing approach to physical care, we are imparting lifelong lessons that will shape the way self-care is approached.

As adults, how often do we go through the motions with our own self-care without much regard for its purpose?  I know that I, for one, do not often pay attention as I'm brushing my teeth or washing my hair.  It is very rarely, if ever, that I appreciate the goal of whatever task is at hand (namely, the nourishment of my body).  Learning about educaring opened my eyes to this, and I was a little startled to realize that I routinely ignore the opportunity to engage in respectful and loving self-care.  Over the last few months I've challenged myself to change this and though it is hard sometimes to slow down and really think about what I'm doing, I have truly noticed that I'm more at peace with my physical being when I've taken the time to care for it respectfully and patiently.

It's interesting because I've also noticed that the babies of Cohort 7 are always so fascinated when I drink water, eat, put on a sweater, or pull back my hair.  This has given me even greater motivation to be a positive model through my own self-care because I see that they are watching closely, learning about the way in which adults care for their own bodies.  I have started explaining some of these actions in the same way that I explain what we are doing during diaper changes or when I'm helping them to wash their faces after a meal - always outlining the purpose of what I'm doing, and why it feels good to listen to your body (e.g. "I'm drinking this water because I noticed my mouth feeling dry, and I know the water will make it feel good again!").  My goal in all of this is to encourage them to listen to their bodies, take the time to do whatever will make them feel best, and foster a sense of independence surrounding all of this.  After all, they are the only ones who can possibly know how their bodies are feeling at any given moment, and it is never too early to completely involve them in the process of nurturing themselves - a lifelong endeavor.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Validating the "Mine!"

Yep. We in Cohort 6 are there. The first "mine" always begins a new era of interactions between the children. An awareness of ownership creeps in as their ability to voice their needs and wants and their awareness of one another as a conscious being increases. This time is a balancing act between validating the "mine" and helping everyone feel heard and safe.

What is the "mine" really saying, though? It's ownership, yes, but it's more than that, too. The children realize they can control their surroundings and effect the people and things in it. They notice a commonality that they all share: need for space, ability to emote and communicate what they need and want differently. Some children tell you mine by holding on tightly and crying. Others grab a toy and shout the word itself.

"I need space!"
Sometimes, when a child says 'mine' or 'no' they are really meaning they need space.  At Tumbleweeds we work with the children to encourage them to say this clearly to their peers and to be available to hear it when it is said.  We have experimented with various hand motions to go along with it, but encourage the least amount of touching and focus on what someone's face looks like, what are they trying to tell us.
Z is sitting on the couch.  E comes quickly over the arm and leans on him.  Z yells and pulls frantically at him.  I come close by.  "I noticed when E touched you you yelled!  I wonder if you needed space.  You can make a bubble with your arms and say 'space!'  Look.  It worked! E moved back!"  "When Z said space you stopped.  Do you see his face?  He looks sad.  Lets find some space for your body!"

"I'm using it!"
Sometimes when a child says 'mine or 'no' they are experimenting with maintaining ownership.  This is something we will be constantly practicing and refining and revisiting in the years to come as we build our negotiation skills as a community.  Just as making space focuses on watching a child's face, we want listening and emotional support to be the key during these tricky  moments when two children want the same toy.
C is sitting on the floor with the box of cylinders. She is carefully stacking and knocking them down. Z moves close and grabs a cylinder that she is holding. Quickly C yells and scrunches her face. "Mine!" She says loudly. I place my hand on the toy knowing that sometimes someone pulls too hard and it can slip and cause an injury. "I hear Clara saying mine. That means she's still using it. Z, you can say 'can I have it?'"  I pause and Z lets go and moves to something new.   I let go too. "C next time you can say I'm using it!"

"I like gentle touches!" 
Sometimes when a child hits, pushes or grabs they are practicing how they can effect their environment.  When I see this happening or about to happen I quickly approach, yet give space until I feel that safety is going to be an issue.  I slip a hand or arm between the two children,

The way we validate this new self-awareness is bringing their attention to the signs someone needs space, that someone is using a toy, and consistent work on how we an positively effect the people and things in our surroundings.  It is an ongoing process that we will be working on in the years to come.  I get excited when this process begins, because it means we have entered into a new realm of communication, awareness and ability.  We have come to understand each other and ourselves in whole new ways.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Our Brain Group is Evolving!  Here's a conversation from this morning:
Me:  What happens when you put your hands over your ears?
TUS:  I can't hear very well.
WK:  Can you hear me?

Me:  We've been talking a lot about how the brain sends messages to our bodies, and I did some research on ears, and it turns out that our brain also RECEIVES messages from our body, like our ears!
MR:  Yeah, the sound vibrates.
WK:  Yeah, it uses your ear drum, and if you hurt your ear drum, it won't let you hear.
MR:  My grandfather can't really hear because his ears aren't working right, but he doesn't want those hearing things, so he didn't believe us.
TUS:  If you do this, you can feel those little hairs in your ears.
MR:  Yeah, those hairs protect your ears from dirt.
WK:  Hairs?!
MR:  Yeah, and there's a part of your ear that looks like a snail.  It's a purple one.  If you're mad it turns brown.  Know how I know that?  I saw it in my doctor's office.

Me:  What do you want me to do research about?
WK:  What do ear drums look like?
MR:  I think they're circles.
WK:  No, they're cubes.
TUS:  Can I tell you somethin?  Ears have hairs.