Monday, December 30, 2013

Body Based Emotional Awareness

"Eye!  Eye!"  A finger is quickly jabbed towards my eye.

"Oh!  Yes, my eye.  Please give it space.  You can touch your own eye as much as you'd like," I say blocking the hand.  We spend a moment looking at each other's eyes as we point to them.

Later someone gets very close to a friend and wraps his arm around them.  They are smiling as they go in for a hug, but then the other child begins to squeal and pull away.

"I wonder if they would like a hug?  I hear and see them pulling away.  Lets try again and ask, 'Would you like a hug?'"  I turn to the other child as ask the question and open my arms in invitation.  They shake their head no and walk away.

"They don't want a hug right now.  I'm available for a hug, if you'd like!" This produces a smile and we hug, before returning to play.

We are all squished together on the cozy chair.  Some are half sitting on the arm with my arm around their back for safety.  Everyone is touching, arms and legs tucked over and under each other.  Someone begins to squirm and I say calmly, "Are you ready to get down?  I know everyone's very close.  If we can be careful it just might work."  They too calm down and we sing a song together.

All of these moments are building on our emerging sense of self and growing awareness of others, both peers and how we fit within our cohort community.  When I give language to body parts, we can then use them in conversations around emotional awareness.  We are at the age where the children in cohort 6 are beginning to feel some strong emotions. They experience big feelings mixed with trying to work out how to react.  Often there is yelling, hitting, throwing toys, crying or other big movements.  There are times when these things work and times when it does not.

When they not only understand words for labeling their body, but understand the commonality between others ( We both have eyes!  We both have hair!  We both have..... ) then these interactions carry more meaning.  It is a natural progression that toddlers are especially working on: categorizing, applying, expanding. Seeing both similarities and differences are the very first steps for emotional awareness and empathy.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Animal Circle

Today during Japanese circle, EF brought over a book about animal science. Rather than telling EF that they were reading a Japanese book already, Reiko offered to read the animal book if everyone interested. Every child perked up- yes!! They were indeed interested.

Reiko read through each page slowly, stopping as the children asked questions or exclaimed over the pictures. AK was often heard asking, "Wow! What is THIS animal?" TUS often had an answer or suggestion, "Oh, that's a squid."

JK and EF were so fascinated with many of the pictures that they had to lean in very close. Getting close allowed them to see all the details in the photographs. WK was interested in what each animal did rather than the name. She was particularly keen on learning about how snakes eat their prey.

As their circle comes to a close, WK asks "Can osprey carry you away?" Reiko pauses then says, "Maybe one could grab each of your arms. Then it would be like you are flying." AK and EF laugh as they lift their arms in the air to "fly".

Sunday, December 15, 2013

At the Table

Lately I've been reflecting on how we "teach manners" and set expectations at the table. The table can be a contentious area. The thing kids instinctively want to do anywhere is play and in our society play is something that isn't appropriate for the table. As a parent, I strictly forced this with my picky eater... Until his feeding therapist told me to stop.

She said I should encourage Graham to play with his food. I was floored. Food isn't something we play with! Wouldn't this make it even harder for him to eat? He was already on the edge of thriving and I was anxious about the small amount of food he took in on a daily basis. However, I was also desperate so I decided to hear her out. She told me playing with food can help children learn about it and build a relationship with food. It can increase their enjoyment of eating- which is a fairly social activity in our society. When there are so many rules and expectations set around food, eating can be anxiety provoking.

When I took time to consider the expectations I set in other areas, I realized I could easily accept this new schema for eating. Play is how children learn. Tasting, touching, feeling, looking at, smelling, hearing... We use all of our senses to explore everything. So I changed my ways at home, and begun to re-evaluate the way that I set expectations at TPH.

The first thing that is important to me during a meal is safety. We sit in our chairs while we eat and we ask for bowls of food to be passed to us. This way we decrease the odd of falling out of our chair or knocking something over. Not only is this expectation born out of necessity, but it's realistic and concrete. The children can see a definite cause and effect. They also want to keep our dishes from breaking and themselves for falling so they tend to self correct these behaviors with little intervention.

A second rule for while we eat is eating what we've taken before getting more. For example, all of the kids absolutely love it when we have bananas. Many times, they'd love to eat the entire bowl themselves. Again here this rule comes from necessity. It's important in our community that everyone gets a banana. Eating what you've taken and waiting before grabbing more also helps us to have a chance to feel full and make sure we are still hungry for more. Waiting reduces food waste and leaves food for those who are hungry for more.

Knowing what the rules are during eating is only part of it, though. As teachers we aim to create a self correcting community. Our rules are here because each of the children values them as well. For example, Rio and I rarely speak up if a child takes too much food. Often another child will notice and say aloud, "You took most of the bowl of cereal. Now there's not much left for the rest of us." This is the ideal for Rio and me. We want the children to explore freely and work with one another to establish the rules and routines that work best for our community as a whole. Sometimes the children create rules around something Rio and I would never have thought to limit, but if that works for everyone it sticks around.

The other way that we "teach manners" is by modeling the behaviors we want to see ourselves. We sit at the table with the children while we eat. We try a little of each thing at the table- barring any dietary restrictions. Modeling, a reliable routine and structure to meal times, and a self correcting community all work together to help establish rules and manners around eating together. This is what part of being a community is: figuring out how to work, live, and play with one another. Eating is simply one form of that.