Thursday, February 27, 2014

Let Me Work Hard!

S really wants that toy that is just barely out of his reach. He kicks and kicks his feet, reaching his arm towards it.
Soon he flies his arms out to the side and kicks strongly again.
He looks over at me. I smile softly, nod with my eyebrows raised, and reflect, "You are working so hard! You really want that toy."
S returns to his efforts, with stronger than ever kicks and stretched out fingers...
And it works! He looks at me again, and I smile and reflect again, "You reached and kicked and reached and kicked, and you grabbed it!"
He rests his head on the floor, the toy nuzzled under him.
What a feeling--to work and work and work... and finally reach it!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Group Care: Sharing Space

The Cohort 8 children are becoming more familiar with each other! 

They do their own work and also make sure to check out each other's work as well.

When falling asleep, they can hear each other--sometimes crying, sometimes cooing, sometimes shaking a rattle... It takes a little longer to fall asleep, but they do! 

Being in group care is new and different! Rituals and communication and freedom to explore help each child feel safe and confident as this new and different way of sharing space together becomes more and more familiar.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Body Group: Experimenting with our senses

Lately we have been exploring a lot with the forces outside of the body and how they affect us. After covering food, how we taste it and the energy it provides in previous groups, the children continued to question what makes us tic. Next we dove into bodies in cold and bodies in movement. Many of the children can describe cold and when it happens but few have really sat down to think about it. We discussed what cold is, what does it do, how does it feel, and more.

After our usual "stretching" of the mind routine the children were anxious about the activity I had laid out; how would it deepen our exploration of cold? They couldn't contain their excitement and started shouting out.

"What is the ice for?" blurted out W. "What is the yellow stuff in the bag?" asked M. "Why is there ice?" asked A. "What is that yellow stuff for?", they all seemed to ask.

Instead of answering all of their questions at once I said, "we are going to do an experiment and all of your questions will get answered as soon as we get started. First off all this has to do with cold!" The conversation then started as we went around the circle with raised hands. Each child expressed their own interest and thoughts on cold. As I connected all these thoughts back to our bodies I asked, "what would it be like if we lived outside and not in houses?".

"Cold" said C. "Frozen"said W. "Like an Ice cube" said M.

It sounds like everyone is saying we would be really cold I replied. I asked if anyone else had any questions about cold. "Can we live in the cold?" asked M. That is exactly what we are going to talk about. How do animals live in the winter? Do they survive outside and what is hibernation? We are going to find all this out in the experiment.

We discussed that the ice water in the bowl represented a really cold place and the yellow bag what keeps us warm. Then the group hushed as we invited children to come up and test how long they could put their hands in the ice water. Each child exictedly came up and we counted together how long they could stand the cold. The most we got was 17 seconds. We talked about how it felt and if anyone liked it.

I then asked if we cold put our hands in the ice for longer. We came up one-by-one and put our hands first in plasic bags and then put our hands in the yellow bag (chicken fat). When we submerged our hands this time the surprise grew. Everyone was able to keep their hands in the water for much longer. Up to 30 seconds! As we discovered what the yellow liquid did we connected it back to animals. We pointed out as a group that fat keep you warm and animals have more fat in the winter.
"Animals stay warm because they have fat" said M.

This group was unusual but highly rewarding as all the children felt they were really a part of the experiment.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


I am always on the hunt for new things to entice the children into sensorial experiences. My goal is always to find things that are beautiful, open ended and offer a variety of sensory experiences. This happens during meal times when we meet new foods, during our times outside and more recently I have been offering sensory trays.

Our favorite these last few weeks was a jar of buttons I found at a local thrift store. I was personally first drawn to the large clear jar, so I knew when i offered it to the children the would love it was well. 

There was a rainbow of colors, materials, sizes and shapes. At first of wanted to separate out then biggest buttons, but after playing with them myself for a while, I realized that the variety was part of the appeal to me. I knew that it was possible for my children could try to eat them, so I began by bringing out the large jar, some small bowls and a flat tray.

Watching the buttons tumble out on to the tray was satisfying for everyone. There were handfuls grabbed and many scooped into bowls. Individual pieces were carefully chosen and held no it for all to see with an "oooh!" Or "wow!"

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mindfulness habits and Teaching Preschool

When I recently got through a family filled holiday season I started to reflect, as most people do, on why it was so stressful. Of course I had a lot of fun seeing family and friends, but there was a palpable relief when my flight home took off. I sought out something to help me make sense of the stress. I ended up stumbling upon an article about eight zen habits to use in family gatherings for mindfulness training, click here.

As I read each habit I grew more and more intrigued by the idea of connecting these thoughts with teaching preschool. At a recent staff meeting we had discussed practicing meditation and mindfulness while teaching at Tumbleweeds and pausing before you react to conflict was the main takeaway I had. Immediately after reading the first habit, I knew Tumbleweeds would be the first place I would try out these mindfulness techniques. Below are the eight habits put into the context of a preschool class along with my own reflections on each one.

#1: "Check in with your Body and Breath". The first point states "in the middle of things happening, take a few seconds to turn our attention inward." What a difficult, but important, task! Checking in with yourself before reacting allows you to notice where you are even if only for a few seconds. It can stop us from reacting with our gut instinct and give us the briefest of moments to focus. The stress or emotions that lead to quick reactions are overcome as we take this time to be present.

#2: "Notice your Self-Centeredness". The struggle most of us have with this is apparent when we truly look at why people frustrate or irritate us. The reason for conflict often comes from our own needs- specifically when our needs conflict with the needs of someone else. In any confrontation, we are equally at fault with the others involved. Without being mindful of our own needs and where they lie in the mix, it can be easy to place blame away from ourselves or justify our reasons for being upset. When we have expectations for certain outcomes within our community at Tumbleweeds, for example, we may be stressed or irritated. In these times, it's easy to forget to acknowledge the emotional awareness of everyone involved in the conflict. Taking a moment for each person to see where their needs are conflicting with others give us that breathing room to find compromise.

#3: "What does this person need". After you've taken the time to check in with yourself both emotionally and to notice your preoccupation with your own needs, the eight zen habits asks you to think about what the other person needs. When I read this habit, my thoughts floated to how often I think about what I want in the classroom: quiet focus, less running, less destruction... I realized I don't always remember to consider the needs of the others who share this space with me. By changing the perspective I use to see the needs of the classroom, I can include the needs of myself, the community as a whole, and most importantly: each individual child. The old adage "to walk in another person's shoes" comes to mind here. Without judgment, I can use empathy to truly respond to the needs of each individual child.

#4: “Just listen”. This habit sounds like the most simple but it is much harder done then said. I often try to focus on giving closure, support, understanding to a child when all they really might need just a caring ear. We often listen to a child when they ask for it but it is not always with 100% attention. If we listen without thinking of what to do or say next, we can feel what they might be feeling and that could be all they need.

#5: “Watch your thoughts arise”. This action is a powerful tool in meditation but is hard to practice in everyday life. In the preschool we are often multi tasking as best we can to ensure the safety of all the tumbleweeders and support their growth and inquiry. Just like the practice of asking what a child might want, when we take time to see our thoughts arise we can question our impulses and what drives them. When we can be an observer we can see the importance of acting, not acting immediately and not acting at all.

#6:  "Let go of control". Just the thought of this saying can bring up anxiety in any caregiver. Often we think letting go of control can mean that children will become wild just by unconsciously knowing there is no authority figure and chaos will ensue. In the classroom of course this is not what we mean by relieving control. It is more of a way for us as teachers to step back and practice not resisting what happens. In the Tumbleweed philosophy(mostly influenced by RIE) we let the children be self-care problem solvers and uphold our rules because they have helped create them. In this way when children inform other children not to hit we can reinforce that behavior simply by noticing it.

#7: "Make this task your universe". At our Preschool the routine is loosely structured and based on invitation. In this way we allow each child to get deeply immursed in whatever play they choose. This intention is permeable and also carries over into our group circle time. When there is nothing else but our circle we are able to go any place with our learning.

#8: "Practice Appreciation". This habit is as hard for teachers to practice as it is for the children in class. The difficultly lies in holding on to our thoughts that things should be different. Children often see that another child has a toy when there are so many other toys right around them. As teachers we hope to see the beauty in every child all the time no matter how stressful or difficult the situation. We take the extra step to focus on the wants and needs of both children when there is conflict.

On Movement

Cohort 8 infants are discovering new ways of using their bodies everyday. It's a lot of work! And a lot of fun!
Each child self directs their progression of movements, building on previous work in order to reach, see, explore, and feel.
I am reminded of a passage from Authentic Relationships in Group Care for Infants and Toddlers:
This progression of movement may come naturally but it's also a lot of work AND a lot of play! 
When was the last time you slowed down and really thought about the muscles it takes to roll over? To rotate your body in a circle while on your belly? To put something in your mouth while on your belly? How many different ways can you get from your belly to your back?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Our Magical Yard

These days the time flies when we go outside to play.  Since the rain has returned (and the bitter cold has mostly subsided), Cohort 7 cannot get enough of our big, beautiful yard.  As we put on shoes and zip up jackets, I can feel the impatience in all of them -- they are ready!  I open the front door, and everyone excitedly makes their way onto the porch.  We take stock of the yard together:  Is it raining?  Are the Cohort 6 kids outside, too?  Is there sunshine?  Puddles?  Where are the bikes parked?!  Soon everyone is going down the stairs and picking a direction to explore in.  

AJ loves to explore the side yard, often playing the piano for long stretches of time.  She turns her head to make eye contact with me occasionally, a look of pure joy on her face.  Eventually she moves on, crawling over to the climbing structure in the corner of the front yard or taking a peek inside the garden boxes.  

LT enjoys riding the bikes around, often challenging herself to go backwards and get on/off the seat in increasingly challenging ways.  Some days she is so happy to be on a bike that she does all of her exploring while riding -- I spot her riding over to something interesting and then leaning over as far as she can to examine it without having to leave her seat.

CS likes to stack wooden blocks into towers almost as tall as he is!  He is very careful with each new addition and asks me to hold them until he is ready to add them to the existing tower.  The short steps on the pathway leading to the porch have also been an area of interest, as he practices stepping up the stairs from an upright position -- hard work!

LC has been fascinated with the collected rainwater from the last couple of weeks, and she often makes her way all around the yard, finding pots, bowls, and baskets to tip over.  She ventures to the furthest corners of the yard, bringing back treasures to show all of us.  

I love our time outside together.  I am always struck by the level of focus in the children -- within moments of going outside, everyone seems absorbed and content in each of their activities.  Though the children are focused, they also make time to check in with everyone; they are eager to show their friends what they've been exploring, and interested in knowing what the others are up to.  

We are so fortunate to have this beautiful space to play and explore.  I am looking forward to the Spring and Summer, when the big tree becomes leafy and majestic and the garden grows green and plentiful.  For now, we are thankful that the weather has turned somewhat -- we can't get enough of our Oregon winter!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Reflection on Co-Counseling

Reiko and I recently took an 8-week long co-counseling workshop, which focused on the fundamental theory behind co-counseling.  Reiko's reflection (below) includes a review of some of the basic concepts that guide the practice of co-counseling; what follows is my own interpretation of what we learned and how it connects to the work of the teachers and parents who make up our community.

Firstly, I saw similarities between co-counseling sessions and our role as teachers at Tumbleweed.  Co-counselors are asked to refrain from offering advice or relating to what the "client" is sharing; they are expected to simply listen, to celebrate the client and to wholeheartedly believe that they are a beautiful and rich spirit, no matter what the client is feeing in the moment.  This positive emotional regard is perceptible, yet the counselor presents herself neutrally; there is no need to frequently offer verbal affirmation or support.  The counselor embodies this emotional regard in a way that makes her seem available and present, without overpowering the situation.  This reminded me of our goal as teachers at Tumbleweed.  We strive to maintain a warm, available presence with the children, while also giving them space to learn and explore in their own way.  We trust the children to show us exactly where they are in their process of learning, emoting, and developing.  We build trust with them so that they feel confident that we will accept them just as they are - we won't push, take control, or shut down a child, even when we feel the urge to jump in and "fix" something.  

Maintaining this presence can be challenging.  Adults tend to be averse to mess and conflict, so we must constantly remind ourselves to create space for children to work through things at their own speed.  It is equally challenging not to provide constant encouragement to someone who is sharing deeply personal struggles.  Most of us equate talking with being present - it shows we're paying attention and engaging with others.  Though it seemed odd at first, maintaining silence in a counseling session was refreshing for everyone and gave the client enough space to process in their own time.

Occasionally counselors will ask a question or provide a bit of encouragement, but these words are always carefully catered to the client's needs.  When we got a chance to practice counseling others, we discovered how tricky it can be to figure out when it is appropriate to interject with our own words; this reminded me of being in the classroom and watching everyone's signals carefully to determine whether my voice is needed, or whether I should continue to quietly observe.  It's not always clear (and sometimes you make mistakes), but eventually you learn the rhythm.  I enjoyed hearing our workshop leaders place so much value on this type of quiet presence and I often reflect on our discussions while I am in the classroom with the children. 

A large part of the workshop was dedicated to identifying our own personal struggles, thereby learning about the psychological theory behind the practice of co-counseling.  As Reiko writes,  the main focus of co-counseling is on our childhood; in class, we talked about how many of the issues we face as adults have their roots in our youth, when we may have experienced oppression, neglect, or ridicule.  There are many ways in which individuals are systematically patterned to believe that certain people or characteristics are more desirable than others, and so children gradually learn that they are "good" or "bad" at any number of things.  The intent behind co-counseling is to expose these childhood lessons for what they are:  damaging, baseless nonsense.  This is most often accomplished over the course of multiple sessions in which you speak, uninterrupted by your counselor, for a specified length of time. 

I uncovered a few things like this from my own past over the course of the workshop - patterns of communication from my parents, teachers, and friends that made me feel inadequate or unworthy as a young child and adolescent.  Some of the things that came to light were subtle, others more obvious.  In class, we discussed how insidious oppression can be because it occurs on so many levels, both public and private, and because children who are raised under oppressive circumstances don't know any differently - they believe that they are deserving of whatever they are experiencing.  It was remarkable to watch as each person in the room identified someone or something they hadn't thought of as being an oppressive force until they were asked to really reflect on it.  We so readily internalize these messages that we are not smart enough, creative enough, strong enough, etc.  Though we see others as possessing all of these qualities, we cannot overcome the doubts we have about our own worth.  

Our co-counseling discussions reignited my motivation in the classroom.  Everyday I think about how badly I want every child I know to grow up believing that they are capable, complete, wonderfully intelligent beings.  I know that the parents and teachers that make up the Tumbleweed (and greater early childhood development) community feel the same way.  This is what guides our work and what maintaining that accepting, warm presence is all about.  I am available when the children need me, but I trust them.  I trust them to be problem-solvers and creative thinkers - strong individuals who possess the capacity to achieve absolutely anything they ever set out to do.  I have the great honor of witnessing their growth and giving them all I have to offer in the way of love and support.  We might not be able to vanquish every oppressive force in a child's life, but as parents and teachers we have such a unique and powerful opportunity to help our children see the truth about themselves - that they are perfect just as they are!

Thank you to Allies: People to People for a wonderfully insightful course.  We appreciated the opportunity to enrich our perspectives and we value the positive impact you've had on our work at Tumbleweed!

Monday, February 10, 2014

An Introduction to Still Life Painting for Toddlers

We are ready in cohort 6 to begin to refine our art skills!  It's exciting to me to think about how I can break down the steps and carefully introduce each tool and technique in a way that inspires careful movement and creativity.  Paint is something we have experienced in various ways since the children started.  We have used paint brushes, even used palettes for holding our paint.
In preparation I gathered all of my materials and decided to offer a focal point: a pear.  We had just had pear for snack.  I like to bring the entire fruit to the table, cut it into pieces and talk about what we notice.  I did the same thing today before we painted but made a clear distinction that this time the pear was for our hands.  We could smell, feel, listen to, lift and roll it carefully. 

After everyone had a chance to engage with the fruit, I sat it in the middle of the table.  Paper was passed out and one fine brush.
"You can hold the handle.  That is the long, thin part.  The bristles gently brush the paper."  Everyone checks it out, but is eager for paint. 

EK uses a bit of each color, mixing them together both on the tray and on his paper with short lines and moving the bristles of his paintbrush back and forth.  He uses slow, careful movements, which for him is something I rarely see.  It's as if the paint is calling for him to slow down and notice the magic that is happening.  He points to the resulting orange and looks at me.  I smile and we talk about the color change briefly.  "You mixed red and yellow.  It became orange!"  He thinks about it for a moment before continuing, this time using his index finger as a painting tool

EC focuses on mixing the red and yellow paint on the tray.  She dips first into the red and places it in a new cup, then ads some yellow.  She repeats this process in another cup and then the flat part in the middle of the palette.  I ache to remind her about the paper.  It's sitting plain and white directly in front of her, but as she works it becomes clear that she knows her focus is on the tray: the textures of the paint colors coming together, the depth of the shallow cups of the palette, the way the brush can scoop the paint, the way the brush slides against the plastic. 

For Z, the red paint calls to him and he tries out what happens when he moves the paint with the brush in a few of the cups of his palette.  Then he applies layer after layer of red, watching as the bristles make lines and swirls through the thick paint.

The possibilities for sensory experience while we were painting was so vast, even as I tried to simplify their process so they can focus on the color and the paint, they found ways to participate and process in their own way. Each child had their unique need and approached the experience following their internal plan while we painted.  They each built upon the same skills, in their own way.  The sense of satisfaction was there and soon everyone was handing me their paper and saying, "up!" so I could hang it from our drying rack.  And what I learned from our art together was that each unique way was the right way.  There is no best way except for that which calls to the child.   

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thoughts from co-counseling

Elizabeth and I had a great opportunity to participate in a co-counseling training last fall.  There were two trainers and 10 other participants.  The training lasted for 2 months.  It was great!  I had some experience in counseling and support group sessions, but this was my first time being in a co-counseling group.

Even though I was originally there as a teacher at Tumbleweed, I quickly started focusing on myself at the first training session, kind of forgetting about my role as a teacher, and got more curious to look into deeper layers of myself and revisit my childhood, something I had been avoiding, whether intentionally or not.


To me, one of the most significant rules about co-counseling was the minimization of interruption.  You find a partner and play the role of counselor for 30 minutes, while your partner is a client, and then swap roles for another half hour.
When you’re a client, it’s your time to talk.  You can laugh, cry, yawn, sweat, even scream, shout or roll over.  These are called “discharges.”  While you are the one talking (and discharging),  you get unconditional attention from your counselor.  On the other hand, when you’re a counselor, you need to remember it’s NOT your time to talk.  It’s your time to give your client unconditional full attention by just LISTENING.

FIrst, I find it challenging to just listen for 30 minutes.  My client is sobbing, I feel like I need to say something kind.  I feel like saying, “I had the same experience,” or even “I know how you feel” or “that’s awful” or all kinds of different things.  But those reactions are not helpful in co-counseling.  Co-counseling made me realize how we are not used to giving our full attention to people when they need to talk.  We’re trained to “interrupt.”   As if we’re not cool if we have no relevant story to tell back to our conversation partner.  We’re under pressure to throw a good ball back to the other.  But isn’t it actually even more challenging to just stay quiet and listen and let the other person finish saying what he/she has to say?  And believe or not, if really feels good to get someone’s full attention for a good 30 minutes!

Inherent Human Nature

At one of our trainings, we talked about "Inherent Human Nature.  Qualities that every one of us is “universally” born with.

- Smart
- Curious
- Loving
- Spontaneous
- Flexible
- Dynamic
- Fun
- Lovable
- Bold
- Creative
- Connected

And those qualities are not only universal, but also unique, complete, permanent, limitless, and unconventional.

Imagining all of our lovely kids at Tumbleweed, all of those qualities are present in each child, there is no question about that.  I look at Elizabeth who is sitting with me in the room.  Oh, yes, I'm sure she has all of those, too.  But, wait, was I also born with all of that?  Once upon a time, did I have all of those qualities?  I guess I did, if they’re right about them being “universal.”  Then where have they all gone?

Here is the answer, if you’re also skeptical about your inherent nature.  Our trainers talked about how we can become disconnected from these qualities as children.  Imagine there is a pair of scissors that cut the string that connects us and those qualities when we experience something negative as a kid.  We feel hurt.  We feel rejected.  We feel neglected.  We feel discouraged.  We don’t want to feel hurt.  We choose not to feel hurt.  We start acting safe so that we don’t get hurt, hopefully.  Over time, we gradually get disconnected with our inherent nature.

But what can be the scissors?  Here are the quotes from our heat-up class.


We could have gone forever listing those “scissors.”  I remember when my parents seemed annoyed when I was curious about their conversation.  I remember my teacher seemed upset when I knew something that he didn’t teach.  I remember feeling hurt when TV told me I am overweight.  It was all their fault!!

Wait a minute though.  Now I have an 8-year-old to parent.  I am a teacher for those beautiful kids at Tumbleweed.  Am I potentially their scissors?  Well, I hope not.  Well, I’m not perfect, just like my mom wasn’t.  But I’ll try my best. 

The things I learned in this co-counseling training reinforced the notions of respectful education that we try to practice at Tumbelweed.  Our focus on emotional intelligence, community leadership, self-advocacy, and critical thinking will keep on rocking!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In Our Own Way

When infants feel secure and have their needs met, they naturally start on their own work: movement.
Offerings of various materials nearby incites want! Want incites motivation to look, to start orienting the body towards, and, eventually, to reach!

Once a material is in hand, self-guided exploration continues! Children naturally want to discover for themselves: What is this? How does it feel? How does it taste? What are the properties of bowl-ness? 
I quietly observe during this exploration. My goal is to avoid interrupting the process and, thereby, to support the natural progression of ever-increasing focus, self-confidence through discovery, and love of learning.
I am nearby, available, present, and yet wanting nothing from the child who is fully engaged in work.
If a child invites me to join in, typically with eye contact, I take the opportunity to connect and reflect my guess at their feelings about the situation, building on language, our relationship, emotional intelligence, and the Tumbleweed culture: "You're holding onto the black cloth! It feels so soft on your hands and face. You really enjoy this soft cloth." "The nubs on that toy fit right in your mouth! You're excited! It feels good on your gums to bite on the hard nubs."
Struggle is an inevitable part of the growth process!  A child is naturally driven to push themselves, to work hard, and to perservere. They will try again and again and again... Sometimes they will take a break from trying and return to the attempts at another time.  
My goal during struggle is to make sure I am following the child's cues for needs. Most of the time, the child in struggle expresses with a cry or grunt, but is still working hard and not actually seeking my support. 
Sometimes the struggle is so frustrating that the child may make eye contact with me, seeking a secure connection with me before wanting to return to work.
By being fully present and available AND following the child's cue for needs, I feel best able to support each child's authentic, self-driven path of discovery.