Friday, March 28, 2014

Encouraging "No!" and "Mine!"

These days, the kids in Cohort 7 are observing their peers at play more than ever -- what do they tend to play with?  How do they choose to use it?  Do they carry around favorite toys everywhere, or set them down quickly?  I notice the children following each other's movements and getting ideas from others everyday.  CS's interest in trains and cars shapes the way the other children engage with the trains, motivating them to create tracks and experiment with pretend-driving on their own bodies.  LT has been into throwing things lately, and the soft balls have become a popular item with everyone as a result.  AJ loves to work on removing the lids from baskets, which are often tight and tricky to get a good grip on, and now everyone takes great interest in solving this problem for themselves.  ACW experiments with the drums in the room, beating them with all kinds of items and inviting others to do the same.  LC's great love for babies has put our collection of baby dolls on everyone's radar.

Of course, along with this increased interest in what others are doing around the classroom comes the inevitable and sudden grabbing of toys from children who are still using them.  When the children were babies, these actions were not often protested, and play would continue on smoothly and happily.  But these kids aren't babies anymore!  Every child has gradually entered the stage of deeply caring about what happens to the object they are holding -- a quick grab for a toy often results in two children pulling on something back and forth, both crying and expressing extreme frustration.  If someone finally secures the toy, the interaction is rarely over.  Feelings are still hurting, and sometimes second or third attempts are made at trying to reclaim the item.  Often, I choose to be present and available, narrating and supporting but not necessarily physically intervening in these interactions unless either child appears to feel (or actually is) at risk of being harmed during the conflict.  If the children make eye contact with me, I will calmly narrate what is happening:  "You really want that doll.  You are holding on tightly.  LT is also pulling.  She really wants that doll."  In many cases, this is enough.  Someone might lose interest or decide to find another doll instead.

But what about when this happens over and over with the same children and the same toys?  There are some mornings when one child seems to seek out conflict; for example, LT often notices LC playing with one or two babies at a time, either covering them with a blanket or clutching them to her chest tightly.  This observation sometimes motivates LT to experiment with taking the baby, often with the hope that LC will chase her.  LT loves to be chased!  But for LC, this is not a game.  She is distressed, and really wanting the baby back.  In order to support a healthy pattern for the children, I began introducing the concept of asking for something:

"Oh, LT!  You grabbed for the baby, but I notice LC is still hanging onto it.  You can try asking LC if you can have it.  You can say, 'May I have it?' [I extend my hands out gently to LC, to model the sign for asking to have something].  You can listen to what she says."

More often than not, LC is not done using the baby.  She responds with "No!" or by simply turning her body away while still holding onto the baby.  I then say, "I heard LC say no.  That means she is still using it.  That baby is not available.  I wonder what you will choose to play with instead?"

These interactions are encouraging a couple of different things.  First, it teaches everyone to anticipate that others will care about the actions we take.  LT knows that she will get a reaction from taking something abruptly, but hopefully I am showing her that LC's strong feelings are not just for instigating and observing -- they're also something she can anticipate and listen to.  By modeling how to ask for something, I am showing LT how she can communicate with LC respectfully about her feelings in a way that doesn't automatically escalate the situation.  

In these interactions, I am also encouraging the use of "No!" and "Mine!".  Many adults dislike hearing children yelling "Mine!" because it seems pushy or overly possessive.  But these words are typically some of the first to enter a child's vocabulary, and therefore one of the only ways to verbally communicate certain needs in situations such as these.  By encouraging LC's use of the word "No!" in the above interaction, I am showing her that this is a valid way to assert herself: it's safe, clear, and something LT can practice listening to and respecting.  

It's hard work, and it doesn't happen all in one day, but over time all of the children will learn this pattern and put it to use on their own.  Even now, I notice LT express frustration after an interaction like the one above, and she will often sit close to me and simply look at LC for a few seconds.  Sometimes she will then pick up another baby and offer it to LC, as if to say, "I notice you like babies.  I know you want that one you're holding.  Maybe you want even more?"  LC responds with an enthusiastic nod and "yeah!", sometimes offering LT the baby she was originally holding onto as a trade.  Both children look at me smiling, and I say, "Hey!  That worked!"  

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Getting into places is often easier than getting back out.

Elizabeth approaches calmly as a child expresses discontent while on top of a box she climbed onto. Elizabeth acknowledges, guessing as best she can based on close observation, the feelings and needs that are up for the child and then coaches her through each step required to get down.
Elizabeth's calm, reassuring tone helps the child feel safe while she tries out these new skills: "You can put your foot down this way, towards the ground. Can you feel my hand? I'm guiding your foot to the floor."
After getting down, the child hugs Elizabeth, and they both connect over the strong feelings that came up through this process. 
By choosing to patiently guide each child through these tricky, high-emotion, and physical situations, Elizabeth in ensuring that
*  each child feels safe and supported
*  each child develops healthy attachment and attunement with her
*  each child has the opportunity to take appropriate risks
*  each child builds on their skills to make safe choices during tricky times
*  each child experiences a healthy relationship that models unconditional positive regard and antishame/vulnerability guidance
*  each child increases their emotional and physical competencies in ways that support both connection and autonomy for the future

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Garden Group

Spring has taken off in full bloom and it has caught us in a fever. With spring fever in full effect, I decided to begin a Garden group. More daylight and warmer weather has left us with the desire to be outside longer and more often than in the winter months. Seeing pleas change from ‘inside’ to ‘I want to stay outside’ echoed from child to child so one day I asked,

“Who wants to stay outside and get their hands dirty?”

The children then gathered around me in the front yard. As an important part of any small group we began with some movement songs and exercises. This signifies the beginning of our time together and creates cohesion among our group. Since we were all outside we quickly moved into a stretch circle and every child led a stretch for the group to copy. After we got out our excited energy we sat down and I went over some basic rules for safety. This is an essential part of garden group because there are more safety concerns out of the classroom and it is important for the class to agree upon the rules and take part in owning them as part of garden group. Being the first group meeting we started with understanding tools. I had a box with all the tools we use in garden group and went over each one then passed them around explaining the safety rules when using them.

For example, I pulled out a large garden rake and said, "This is a rake and used for moving things around on top of dirt. If we hit or throw this we can break this tool. It can be used on the dirt, but not on people's bodies.”

Next we moved to the the big raised beds in the front of the school. I began by going over what these raised beds are for. The class was soon in agreement we do not step, run, jump or dance in the beds. The raise beds help plants by giving them more protection and space to grow BIG. We then went over questions.

A said, “How do you use this?” M said, “You have to be gentle because the plants can die.” W said, “Is this deep enough?”

From these questions our conversation turned towards what plants need to survive. Once all our inquiries seemed to be satisfied, I explained we would be preparing the raised beds today. That meant we would need to weed and add more soil and then if we had time we could plant some seeds.

The work went quick as we all grabbed a tool and set to renewing our beds. Each gardener was so intent and focused on their work that we only had words to trade tools or admire beauty around us. When we got to sowing seeds we all huddled around to study the different shapes and sizes of seeds. You could see in the eyes of every child that the magic of gardening had taken hold. 
This feeling will only continue to grow and deepen as garden group and Summer become a regular part of Tumbleweed culture.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What's Your Family Song?

We often reflect on the outside world in our group time. We talk about our weekends, use the map to discuss places we've been, and, of course, we talk about our families. Family, in fact, is one of the most common themes of our large group time. We sing the Family Song which has been a long time favorite of my cohort even before we joined the Preschoolers.

Something that I love about the Family Song is how adaptable it is. In our preschool, we love discussing differences and similarities. The Family Song gives us an opportunity to discuss things that are the same and that are different in each of our own families. For example, we have families with a mom and a dad, families that live in two homes, families that include grandparents, families that have two moms, families that include an Uncle, families with or without pets... the list goes on and on. It also gives us a chance to relate to one another. The kids often ask Rio or myself to sing our own family song. They love to think about what our lives are outside of the preschool walls, too!

Taking this kind of time together to discuss our families builds community and connection. It exposes us to all sorts of things that are different and many things that are the same in each of our lives. Through learning about each other's families, we build a greater sense of understanding around what a family is. In my own home, I sing the song about our family as well as the family I was part of (and of course, still am!) before my kids were born. We also talk about other members of our "family" that aren't necessarily related but are very important in our lives- such as my children s' godmother who they refer to as "Aunt Lindsay". It gives us time to reflect on what we are thankful of, who makes up our community, and all the great people who exist in our lives. So, what's your Family Song? Who makes up your community and adds joy to your life?

Look for more posts on how we discuss family at the Preschool House! We are excited to be introducing the Family Song in Spanish, working on drawing Family Portraits, and making our own Family Books! 

Body Group continues

Do you think skin is an organ?

This question was how we began our recent body group. I started by approaching our circle time and explaining that I will invite children to body group who are listening and sitting. I then invited one by one by playing the "if you can see me, touch", using different areas where we have skin; eyebrow skin, foot skin. Once we were lined up at the back door we all sat down on the rug and began are warm-up songs. Next I repeated the first question and the children were ready and replied quickly. M said  "what is an organ?".  I explained that they are very important and we need all of them to live. Then I asked  what things pump our blood, help us breath and give us energy for food? The class responded with the heart, lungs and stomach(intestines). "Do you think those are organs?" "Yes" said AK. Then what does skin do thats so important? I asked.

We went over all the functions that skin could have. "It protects from the sun" said T. We talked about how skin could be similar to the heart and other organs. We also worked out that the skin, the heart, and all of our other organs all have a very special job. The discussion first led to how skin can be many colors. Why? We rolled up our sleeves to find out and began comparing arms. "You're darker than T" W told me. I explained that people are born with different melatonin that makes skin darker and protects us from the Sun. "Yeah I get darker when I lay in the sun in the summer" M said. T mentioned using sunscreen and I said, "I don't often wear sunscreen when T needs to use it."

Next we talked about hot/cold. I passed around a bowl of ice and we took turns putting our finger on it. We discussed what it felt like. "It hurt" said AS. I explained if we touch a stove skin allows us to feel so we don't hurt ourselves. "It protects us", said W. Yes, and it also keeps our body the perfect temperature!

Last I had everyone find their elbow and pull the skin. Some kids were grossed out and we asked why can we pull our skin. We came to the consensus that skin is stretchy and flexible. Then we all did our best stretches to prove the point.

We ended by drawing what skin does with a little flip book. Everyone excited to express what they had just learned.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Importance of Facing Adversity

There are, somehow, lots of moments throughout our day for losing and winning. One of the most common occurs when we head inside from the back yard. Everyone seems to know that it's a race. Who will get to the front porch first? Who is the fastest? Who managed to get in the front of the group waiting for the back gate to open? Who will win?

The conversation that happens once we reach the front porch is always pretty much the same but here's the conversation from one particular afternoon:

WK: I'm here! I'm the winner! I was FIRST!

MR: You were first but you're NOT the winner!

WK: I'm the winner because I was first!

MR: No! Everyone is the winner! We all ran so we are all the winners.

WK: Well, I got here first so I'm the winner.

MR: That's not how it works! We ALL win!

Usually this is about where I step in...

Melinda: What I'm hearing is that WK really feels like she's the winner because she was here first. MR, you feel like everyone wins because they all participated.

WK and MR nod slowly.

Melinda: So one thing that's really interesting about our community is that we all get to choose what we think. MR feels really strongly that everyone wins and WK feels really strongly that she got there first and that's what makes her the winner. You both get to have your own truths.

This typically changes the tone of WK and MR's conversation and they begin talking instead about other truths that aren't the same for them. It's amazing work and it's something I'm so glad they are able to do together- but the entire exchange and how often we have it pushed me to think about something else all together: Are we really all winners? What does everyone being a winner teach our children? When did healthy competition become participation is winning? I don't disagree with this idea- and I fully believe what I told MR and WK: We all get to have our own truths. However, the other great thing about having our own truths is that we also all get to challenge each other to think deeply about our truths, to investigate them, and- when they no longer fit us- to discard them in favor of a new truth.

So my question is pretty basic: Are we forgetting to let our children fail when we always tell them they succeed? Yes, trying is its' own type of success but failure is a very real part of life and failure is not the horrific monster we make it out to be. It's painful. It's full of struggle. It's difficult. These are all things we should want children to feel comfortable in. We want our children to be able to sit in struggle and to know that they can come out of that struggle stronger. We want them to know that if they want the experience or the end goal bad enough to try, it will be okay if they fail. We want them to know how to face adversity.

Paul Tough writes on the differences between economical classes when it comes to facing adversity. One reflection I had after reading his article in the New York Times resonated with me as I was fairly poor growing up. The profile of Kewauna is full of hope. It doesn't matter how many obstacles stand in her way, how bad things seem on a certain day, or how many times she might fail or feel like she's drowning- she knows that the far away goal she's set for herself if bigger and more important than a few failures along the way. She can face the challenges because she trusts that she will- one  day- succeed. This is a powerful thing for Kewauna to know and, as Paul Tough writes, it's not just that she is poor that creates this sense of resilience.

Allowing children to fail, to struggle, and to delay gratification allows them to build will power, resilience, hope, and all the other emotional tools we need to process and face failure. So as we all turn back to our classrooms, our own children, and our own lives I ask that you reflect on what ways you let yourself struggle, your children struggle, and your classroom struggle. How do you invite failure into not just the lives of the children around you, but into your own life? After all, we all know that practice makes perfect... er... makes us stronger.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


We eat fruits and vegetables everyday. Its important to me that the children are familiar with the changing properties of the foods they eat and what food is all about. Sometimes a carrot is crunchy and others it is soft. Sometimes apples are round and other times they are flat.  Whenever possible the children are present when I am preparing food. I talk about what I'm doing, chopping, mixing stirring, and cooking.  Often during this time they also are given options about what we should have for a meal. 

 During a meal I bring in whole fruits and cut them with the children. Eventually they will be assisting more and more.
Today we have a cantaloupe. 

We start by passing it around the table. Everyone gets a chance to make observations while touching.
"Seeds inside. Brown inside. " says C as she touches the rough skin. 

"Oooooh.  Heavy. Tight!" Says EK as he lifts it. 

I cut it, slice it and we taste it. 

Our experience of cantaloupe is constantly expanding as some children want their piece with out skin. Some want to examine the seeds. Others don't like to eat it at all. 

In the end everyone knows more about fruit, cantaloupe and eating as they are an active participant in their meal time.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What Is Life, Rio?

After reading Abiyoyo as a group the other day, TUS raised an interesting question to Rio about life.

TUS: What is life, Rio?

Rio furrowed his brow for a moment then answered.

Rio: Life is kind of everything. Like our food is life. This is life... Insects are life... That's all life.

VR: Spiders are life?

WK: Living is life.

TUS: Yeah and skeletons are life.

MR pointed to me: You are life.

TUS: Earth is life.

WK: Hair is life.

JK: Poop is life.

AS: Bees eating is life!!

LC: Everything life!

TUS: Yeah, everything is life!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What's that sound?

Often when we are outside then children are very aware of the nuances in our outdoor environment. This something that I have fostered from infancy and the first times we ever went outside. Their eyes would focus on a bird flying by, they would deeply inhale when the wind blew on their face or they would startle as a loud truck drove  by.

With each tiny way they would react to their environment I would label it:
"You saw the bird fly into the tree!"
"The wind is blowing!  I wonder how it feels on your face."
"You heard a loud sound.  It was a truck?"

This statements give labels to what the children are hearing, while regulating the fact that our outdoor environment is ever changing and full of life noises, movement and textures.

Today we heard then call of a flicker. It is a common bird that lives in the neighborhood, and as spring is approaching the males are beginning to call for their mates. We often identify things by their sounds, including pigeons and crows, so today I drew everyone's attention to the sound. 

"Oh listen!  Do you hear that sound?" 

Everyone pauses.

"Its a flicker. Its a kind of bird. That sound means it's calling for another flicker. It is high up in that tree over there. We can't see it. But we can hear it. Its a flicker.". 

My goal is to keep the facts simple, concise, and few. That way the children are able to focus and retain the new information I am offering and be able build upon it later. Usually I would stop with these few tidbits of knowledge (bird called flicker, calling for friends, high in a tree) but I had this gut feeling that I wanted to cement this information using another sensory input. Toddlers and all children under 6 are highly sensorial learners, so I did a quick image search on my phone for a flicker.  Now typically my phone is only used for documentation purposes: taking pictures , writing a quick note, put quickly away when it's noticed by a child.  Today I said, "I want to show you a picture of a flicker. I'm going to look it up."  I took a moment and then showed them a picture. 

They quickly crowded around quietly looking at the picture as I repeated what I said earlier. Then I put my phone away and everyone moved on to their next thing. Later we talked about the flicker again, but I didn't show them the picture. I wanted them to hold the picture in their head so they can remember back and so that we did not rely on the convenience of the phone picture. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Garden Begins

The weather is slowly growing warmer which means our garden is beginning to form. Today we went outside and turned the soil, something everyone was excited to help with. We talked about pulling the weeds, plants that take nutrients away from plants we want to eat, and feeling the dark, damp earth. As we dug various creatures began to emerge from the earth, our favorites being worms of all sizes.


We only had pea seeds to plant today. I have been talking about the seeds of things for quite some time during snack.  Apple seeds are found hiding within the core, as well as avocados, mandarins, grapefruit and pomelos. When I opened the package of pea seeds everyone understood what they were. We dug a trench then carefully placed them in the dirt. We talked about giving each seed space for growing, then we covered them up.

"Bye bye peas!" EK said and so on everyone was saying bye as we tucked the seeds into their dirt beds.
"See you soon!  They are going to grow into plants!" I explained and we walked away.

These connections are important as we begin observations in your yard.  Flowers are starting to bloom and the children have already noticed the plants growing leaf buds.