Saturday, November 30, 2013

Tumbleweeds Etymology: Provocation

I've always been interested in words. From a very young age I learned to read despite my dyslexia and I've always enjoyed getting lost in reading and writing equally. Words define. That two word sentence amazes me. It doesn't need anything else, because words really do define. They define us. They define our world. They define how we see the world. They define how others see the world... and the way others see the world is often not how we see it. We can argue about the meaning of a word for hours, because for each person the meaning of any given word is a little different. This led me to ponder on the word "provocation". We use it a lot around here and it's something we all value highly in our approach to teaching-but what does it really mean to each of us? The answers I receive varied.

Rio: "Provocation: an invitation to creative growth, where children can express themselves at their own direction."

Melinda: "Something that calls out to be explored and due to our inquisitive nature we answer it without question."

Briana: "A provocation is a story without words, that can be told a few different ways."

Amy: "Materials made available and designed or presented in such a way as to offer the opportunity to scaffold and intended to incite, invoke, and inspire."

Reiko "A provocation is a trigger for the creativity of someone to erupt."

Elizabeth: "An intentional yet open ended arrangement of materials, environment, and/or elements that is meant to inspire creative play and thought."

Each of us, as I predicted, has our own unique take on what a provocation is. They are extremely different, though they do share some of the same elements. The central theme that I see in each of our definitions is imagination, though each of my coworkers and each reader of this post will likely see their own central theme. Rio sees imagination when he writes "creative growth" and "express themselves". For me, imagination comes into play as we begin to explore. Briana's story invites imagination much in the way my exploration does. Amy explicitly mentions imagination when she writes of the intention to "incite, invoke, and inspire". For Reiko, a provocation is a literal trigger for imagination. Elizabeth writes of imagination when she says "creative play and thought". This is what I love so much about words, the amazing ability for words to have so many meaning and such a definite meaning all at once will always leave me speechless.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Creating an Academic Framework

As I have become accustomed to the culture here at Tumbleweed,
I have focused on supporting children to grow and develop in their
own unique ways. With a range of ages and abilities in the class, we use activities that involve all children while giving the option for further exploration into academics for those who wish. In this way, we respect each child in their place and let them decide when they are ready for more structure.

I completely believe in this approach to education. Each child should feel they are perfect, right where they are and feel supported in that place.

However it is hard to see how this will translate to a conventional education system. Especially one built on assessment and meeting age requirements every year. My goal is to find a connection between how we encourage children to enjoy learning while still providing the tools and education that each child needs. More and more expectations and societal pressures pile up as a child turns a new age, but I see the greater function of school as inspiring children to become creative, autonomous, and self-reliant.

All of this has led me to the conclusion that we need a mission statement for our approach to learning:

The mission of Tumbleweed Preschool House is to support the development of children by teaching self-worth, the right to be respected, and the value of community. As we prepare self-reliance in each child, we also inspire the desire to take part in community change. 

This path we have taken involves giving children the tools to solve most interactions themselves, providing an
environment that serves as a teacher and giving space for peer-to-peer education to flourish.

The most challenging of these teaching practices is creating problem solvers. In the classroom, we take time to explain what has happened and allow for the child to process their emotional reactions. We validate how a child feels by pointing out that it is always okay to feel. In this way they will require less adult oversight because they have made their own guidelines for a response to an action.

As adults we must model skills but also avoid being emotionally responsive when a child has an issue. By having distance and neutrality with each preschool child we allow ownership of feelings which do not connect an adult’s emotional response to a child's emotional upheaval. In other words, they are safe to let go with us. They know we will still support them while they feel and that we will help them process it all when they are ready.

The way academics then weaves into our scaffolding here at Tumbleweeds is by balancing the environment and peer-inspired growth while also providing teacher-lead material that is directed from students. This means we use a model that does not have the whole class learning themes so as to exclude some while uplifting others.

We feel academics are a form of  self-care.  When we allow each child time to understand and find meaning in a new action, they are able to value themselves and the work they do. In this way, we build intrinsic motivation in how children approach learning rather than extrinsic. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

All About Feet!

Recently I took over Rio's body group for the day. I was excited to discuss feet with the body group! As we entered the body group room some of the kids told me about Body Man who lives on the wall. They were excited to discuss the things they had previously done in body group with Rio and fill me in on everything they knew about the body!

WK: Look! That's the bone leg.
MR: It's a femur!
TS: Yeah, it lives in your skeleton.
WK: We talked about bones when we traced our hands.
Melinda: Hey, that's what we are doing today- but with feet!
TB: What's that black paper for?
Melinda: I thought we could use chalk to trace our feet onto it. You can choose to trace your own foot or have a partner do it for you.
EF approaches my side and takes a piece of black paper then tries to hand it back to me.
Melinda: It looks like EF wants to trace hers first. Look, you can stand on this paper EF. Now, we can use the chalk to trace around your foot.
I trace around EF's foot while she stands still on the paper.
WK: Oooh then you can put bones in it!
Melinda: If you'd like, I brought in some white chalk. I wonder what you guys know about feet.
The children begin moving around the room. Some of them choose to trace their own feet and others ask for help from a friend. They talk as they work.
TS: You use your feet for balancing. That way you don't fall down.
TB: Sometimes you can jump on your feet!
WK feels the bottom of her feet as she begins to draw bones in her traced foot.
WK: There's a big round bone here that helps you jump!
I bend my fingers and point to the joints that help me bend. 
Melinda: Something I know about fingers is that they have joints to help us bend. When we jump we often use the joints in our toes to help us push off the ground.
I jump up and down to try and show them. WK, MR, and TB pause what they are doing to jump and down too. Then TB bends over and points to the joint in his big toe.
TB: Yeah! My joint is right here. You can see it when I bend my toe.
WK: I'm gonna draw some joints in my toes.
The children continue discussing joints, jumping, and feet as they finish their feet drawings.

It was exciting to get my own, personal introduction and glimpse into body group with these guys. I look forward to seeing where else Rio takes his body group as the weeks progress!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Accepting the Beauty

It's snack time.  We're having bananas.  I move to the table with a bowl of them and sit down.

 "I like to start at the top to peel it.  
See how it's a little rough there? 
 I break it a bit with my fingernail then pull down.  
Would you like to try?  
Look, we can see the banana!  
Yep, then you can pull it out.  
How does the peel taste when you bite it?"

By encouraging this careful investigation of an experience and noticing the details as we focus together, a child's sense of wonder and imagination are sparked.  Slowing down to notice builds an appreciation of the beauty that can be found in all things, and when done regularly it creates an ability to seek out beauty and notice it in all we see.

I have a hard time explaining it to people.  It's a mindset that is not just ready and willing to see the beauty, but to search out and find it in everything you see.

Beauty is all around us.  There are the moments when it is obvious and everyone who is near it is in awe.  There are times when it is in the eye of the beholder and it takes work and explanation to show the beauty.   There are busy moments in our life or our focus is off and we miss the beauty that is right in front of our faces.

It is difficult to describe that the innate ability to notice the beauty all around.  I want to give the gift of allowing for beauty in each of our lives.  I want them to embrace it in whichever form it comes- and then seek it out, even in the dirty and broken and hard parts in their life. Sometimes, these times can be the most beautiful if we pause to notice it.

When we are always able to see that richness of texture or depth of feeling that something evokes, then the beauty of it is speaking to us.  I want the children to question what beauty is for themselves and then accept the many unique definitions that everyone they meet will have.  I want them to feel the joy of slowing down and watching something that catches their eye. I want them to value this stillness and awareness, because they know it enriches their life and appreciation of others.  When you can see the beauty that is all around, it gives you an ability to accept others for who they are and see the truth around you.  We each still have our unique perspectives, but when you are aware then it is easier to be open to new ideas and thoughts.

We practice this search for beauty on a daily basis.  Its in the moments when I move slowly, with intention to draw attention to something.  It is when they point out the window at something that catches their eye in the sky.  And when discovering the way something works.  Really, there's no limit to the places we find the beauty.  What is important to me is the ability to see and be available to experience it. 

What we talk about in Bodies Group

Building on the brains group that Amy started, the preschoolers and I have been exploring bodies. We've been asking internal burning questions like what do we use our bodies for? How do they work? What are all the different parts? At first, I invited children to the Bodies group by simply calling out to see who was interested. As interest spread, I would go outside and call out that bodies group was now meeting. Each time, I limit the group to five or six. This helps us to be able to explore questions at a deeper level than we can in our larger group times.
Picture from a later body group on brains.

On one particular body group day, I printed a picture of a human skeleton as a provocation. I also had a long piece of paper and a tray full of crayons. I wanted to discuss a few major human bones and hoped the skeleton would stimulate more story telling and creative expression around the human body. Where the children took it was not only what I imagined but more.

Picture from a later body group on brains.
The children file in from outside with a palpable physical energy and so we begin with a movement song to help transition to sitting in a circle. I usually sing “I’ve got to shake, shake, shake my sillies out” then mellow down with a fingerplay “Grandma’s Glasses.”
I then describe what we are going to learn about.
Me: “Does anybody know what this is a picture of?
Kids: “A human” Me: “That’s right but what part of a human is showing?”
Kids: “Bones” Me: “Yeah! This is a pic of all the bones in our body. We are going to learn about some today.”
After we go over some bones everyone gets to get up and move the bone we just learned about.

Picture from a later body group on brains.
I then tell them I brought in this big piece of paper so that we can see what how big a bone would look in real life. I have these crayons so that we can trace a person and then draw inside. I ask who would like to be traced first, and M raises her hand. I inform the others that they can also have a turn next time.
As M lays down on the paper, I explain that we want to gently draw around each part of the body and connect them. Soon each child calls out what part they want to trace. After we are done, I have M get up. The children are in awe to see what they have down. All their lines (different colors) connect and look like a person. I then go over the bones.
“Does the pelvis go hear?” Or here?” “Where is the femur?”
Everyone draws in the bones as I help trace their shape. After the children ask “Can we draw in more parts in the body?” Then they begin coloring in and talking about what they see in the body.

A hand traced by a child during table provocations.
I’m as amazed as the children at the outcome. These children have so many ideas about the body. Their creative expression took our discussion in so many directions I had never imagined. The children’s thoughts about what the body looks like, what is inside us and how the body changes as we grow gave so much to our group. It was also fun, as everyone shared their silly nature and how they do things in unique ways. To continue this at home, families could sing body songs such as Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes or explore OMSI's Life Hall.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Language of Clay

Today we took out our newly beloved block of clay.  Everyone was very excited when I spread the canvas on the floor.  They gathered quickly.  I carried the crinkly plastic bag, full of a heavy chunk of clay and invited everyone over.  They remembered the clay from our introduction last week and sat down on the canvas. 
I opened the bag and everyone peeked inside.  I flipped it over and slowly eased the plastic off of the damp clay.  Everyone was beginning to feel impatient.  EC found a small strip of clay that was first exposed and scratched her nail across the surface.  She triumphantly held up the bit of clay on her finger nail to show me.  "Thatsss!"  We both smiled at her discovery.
"Shall we take the bag off?"  The anticipation was building.
Everyone made joyful noises and a few "yeah!". 
"1 - 2 - 3!"  I set the bag aside.  Everyone began to manipulate the clay with fingers, nails and hands.  As they scootched closer to reach the clay, even knees and toes came into contact. 
"Pat! Pat!"  said Z.  I smiled as he labeled his action and I copied him saying the same thing.  Everyone thought this was a grand idea and quickly our clay became a drum, punctuated by our fervent 'Pat! Pat!' chant. 
"I wonder what else we can do with the clay?"  I looked around. 
"Oh look.  C is poking it.  You can poke the clay!"  With an exaggerated movement of my pointer finger, I poked downward at the clay with a "Poke!  Poke!"  Everyone thought this was a great idea and joined in in the poking. 
I repeated my wondering and noticed I was talking quite a bit more than normal today, "Poking feels good!  I wonder what else we can do?"  I look around.
"Oh look!  EK is scraping with his nail.  Then he has a little piece!"  I slowly and carefully copy his motion.  I narrate what I see and what I wonder.  By the end we were pounding, pinching, hitting, tasting, toe-ing and wiping the clay. 
This process arose naturally from the children, stemming from their interest but also where we are developmentally.  We are smack dab in the middle of a language bump and I am constantly looking for moments to snatch up ways to extend their steadily growing language.  When Z labeled his own actions, it was an open door for us to go further with this concept. Today I used language as our tool during our interactions with clay.  Even though many of the words that I used were above their ability to reproduce, we were building brain connections.  The words are now directly connected and categorized and later will be used, because of the repetition and hands on work we were doing. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Building a Framework of Respect

During a normal circle time admist songs and the buzzing sounds of children focused on more energetic needs, Melinda decided to bring up a few challenges kids have been facing. She started by using an observational statement, which invited the children to participate and did not connect to the teachers’ emotional response.

‘I notice that many of you have been upset about kicking and chasing going on. I wonder what we can do if this happens to us.’

Melinda went on to explain that sometimes it is fun to chase but it can be scary if the person being chased does not want to play.  She asked for a few suggestions on what someone who doesn't want to be chased could do. The circle transformed- suddenly everyone’s focus was on the circle. Children started raising their hands and shouting out answers. They began with stop, I don’t like it, and I don’t want to. Melinda then restated with the empowering statements that many of the Tumbleweeders already knew. She went over the three statements two times.

1     “Stop” (chasing me)
2  - “I don’t like to play” (chase)
3   “I'm not playing with you”

Then we went on to discuss kicking. 'I see that sometimes there is a lot of kicking on the beanbag. What are some ways that can help so kicking doesn’t happen.' Once again the circle was alive with hands and kids full of answers. The first one that came up was that you can ask if the person wants to be kicked. Melinda addressed the solution that Yes, it is available to ask if you can hit or kick at Tumbleweed but diverted back to ways so kicking doesn’t happen. The list then grew to include all kinds of solutions. We narrowed it down to three and reviewed them a couple of times. You can say,

1     “Don’t kick me” (and shield your body from the kicks)
2     You can move your body away from the person.
3     “I dont like when you kick me. It hurts me.”

This type of discussion is so important at the Tumbleweed house because it involves the children in every step of the learning process.  As teachers, we make observations so that the children can take ownership in how they see kicking and chasing and when it affects them. Then we ask for options knowing that the children could come up  with unique solutions that are different from our own. Instead of using the typical preschool rule of ‘no chasing,’ we formulate actions so that each child can be in control and understand how to solve a problem without needing a teachers’ help.

As a preschool, we feel that academic readiness is gained by learning transitioning, behavior modeling and social skills from peers. So much of free play is filled with these moments of learning that allow kids to have fun while gaining kindergarten skills expected. It is also a great way to build self advocacy and the ability to see and relate to others- both of which are lifelong skills for any person.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Our Day at the Preschool

Lately I've been rereading many of our old blogs for many different reasons. Nostalgia over the kids who have graduated this last summer and the ones who graduated the year before... Reflection on the ways we have grown since we first embarked on a journey that took us away from the infant house and into our own space... Curiosity over what topics I might be able to build on from past blogs... All of this was on my mind when I stumbled over a blog Bee wrote just over a year ago.

With an eye on our past and another on our future and my heart in the now, I'd love to show you all what a day in the life at TPH looks like these days.

We Greet Each Other.
As the children arrive in the morning, teachers are available to chat with families and help kids say goodbye. Sometimes we have sad drop offs. I strongly believe this is because Tumbleweeds is a place where we are free to feel and just sit in an emotion. Even after tearful goodbyes, children begin to engage in the day and find their role in the school. This may look like reading a book with a teacher, enjoying a table provocation, helping out in the kitchen, or happily greeting another friend as they arrive. Each child has their own way to come into our day and the diversity among us all is inspiring.

AS: CE's here! CE's here, Melinda Belinda!
Melinda: You see CE through the window!
AS: Me say hi.

We Talk as a Group.
Once most children have arrived and we've cleaned up our table provocations, we come together at circle. The morning circle is a time where we all talk as a large group. We sing "Who's Here Today?" and sometimes also sing our Family Song. After singing, we talk about whatever topic we are exploring as a large group. Lately this has been the idea of travel and the concept of countries such as the United States.

Rio's here today!
Rio's here today!
Let's all yell hooray
Because Rio's here today!

We Eat Together.
After group we share our first meal together: Morning snack. Often the children offer up suggestions to me of what I should buy next time I get groceries. We also tend to talk a lot about who had what for breakfast and compare what our mornings look like before school. Children serve themselves from large serving dishes- family style- at each of the four tables. Tables that are without teachers often have one child who takes on the role of making sure everyone else is heard at their table.

TB: I hear J asking for more pear!
LC: Pear!
TB: I can help!

We Play Outside.
After eating, we head outside for the rest of our morning. One teacher takes the first group outside while the second group helps to clean and tidy the snack area and work on keeping our school beautiful. Outside is primarily a time of free play, though provocations are often offered. Some of our favorite provocations over the past few months have been flax seed, soap, water, paint, and shaving cream explorations. Sometimes we explore only one medium at once and other times we explore mediums mixed together. Often, the children tell me what they'd like to do next or take it to the next level on their own. Outside the children's imagination runs wild. Often we hear snippets of conversations amongst dragons, families, doctors, or limitless others.

WK: It hurts.... right.... here! (WK points to her arm)
MR: (MR inspects the spot closely) Hmmm, it looks like a bug bite. I have some medicine!
WK: Give me the medicine!
MR: Okay, wait right here while I find my nurse.

We Break into Small Groups.
As our outside time nears the end, Rio quietly invites his Body Group to join him in cleaning up a few things and heading inside. Typically, if a child is very engrossed in something he lets them continue to play and invites someone else in their absence. Body group usually includes four to six children. Occasionally, Reiko conducts the small group instead. The rest of the children and I play a little longer then work to clean up before we also head inside. We have a small circle together and talk about whatever topic we are currently interested in. Most recently we've been discussing the United States, just like at morning group, with a lot of help from our state map.

Melinda: I'm noticing that Oregon is right here! Below it is California and above it is Washington. (I point to each state).
MaR: I go to California!
Melinda: Ma says she's been to California! California is this long, long state right.... here!
JK: I live there!
EF stands up and points with me to the state.
Melinda: We live right here in Portland, Oregon... (I point to Portland on the map) and California is right here.
MaR: How can we get to California?

We Nap!
After small groups, we eat lunch together then transition to nap. Not everyone at Tumbleweeds sleeps (certainly not the teachers!), but every child rests during this time. We have two rooms for napping: the front room and the back room.The back room consists only of children who sleep and it stays fairly quiet and dark throughout nap time. I play a song on repeat that typically has some vocal element to it. Before we turn out our lights and turn on our cd, though, we always sing a verse from The Beatles' Blackbird as I help each child make sure they are covered up and cozy. In the front room, children read a chapter book with Rio before settling into nap. The children who only rest during nap all do so in the front room. After they've rested for a while, books are offered and they read quietly on their mats.

We Head Back Outside!
Once children begin to wake up from nap, Rio takes the early risers outside. I clean and ready snack as we wait for everyone to be awake. Rio sometimes stays in the front yard and as a group the children work on a project like covering the driveway in chalk or painting pumpkins. After everyone is awake we bring snack outside and eat in the front yard picnic style. This is usually a busy time of talking, eating, and enjoying being together in the late afternoon sun we've been getting! We'll be sad when the rain begins to drive us inside to eat.

We Dance Together.
After snack, we have stretch circle. Sometimes we do it outside and sometimes we go inside before starting our circle. Some children choose to not participate and might read books or play while the rest of us enjoy stretch circle. We have two different songs that we might sing during this time and many of our parents have probably heard the words for them at home! The first song is "Jump Jump":

Jump Jump Rio!
Jump Jump Reiko!
Jump Jump Amy!
Jump Jump Melinda!
Jump Jump Briana!
Jump Jump Elizabeth!
Jump Jump Everyone!


Shake it Rio!
Shake it Reiko...

Jump Jump can go through many different movements. Often after stop, I invite the children to choose the next movement. Our second song is a song we learned from Iris long ago called "What's Your Stretch Today?"

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

We Enjoy Afternoon Provocations.
Before the day draws to a close, Rio sets out table provocations for the afternoon. He often does this as I'm running our stretch circle. The children focus on a variety of activities, much like the morning arrival time. Provocations build on what we've been talking about (perhaps a provocation offers the chance to build skeletons out of different materials to build on body group discussions), a process we've been doing for a while (making soap dough to build off of explorations of how soap and water interact), or simply reflects the changing of the season (painting with leaves or gluing leaves to canvas). Regardless, the table provocations allow children to focus and engage in a meaningful way before they leave for the day.