Thursday, May 29, 2014

An Exploration of Color and Light

One of my favorite things to share with others is my love of color and how color works. I always start by providing provocations based around color. Maybe a table will focus on only one color, complementary colors, or I'll sort items into primary colors and secondary colors. Most of the time this simply makes the provocation appealing. It calls out "play with me" but it's very subtle in it's design. After a while, though, children will start to notice and comment on it "This table is all blue and orange!" or "Look! Everything here is a different shade of green." When this starts happening, I know they are ready to begin talking about color.

I've always been intrigued by color. My mother was an artist and showed me from a very young age the way that light and color came together in her art. I found it intensely interesting and it was something we could always share together. It can be a challenge to remember to step back and follow rather than teach as my mother did. Every time I start to discuss color with a new group I learn more and develop more patience. The first time we met for group I set up pattern blocks in a circle that represented the color wheel. AS immediately noticed, "Those are rainbow colors!"

I nodded, "AS says these are rainbow colors. I wonder what else you notice?" LC pointed to the red pattern block and exclaimed, "It's red! Look!" This prompted everyone else to notice a color. EF pointed to the yellow, "Yellow!" TUS pointed to the purple, "And this one is purple! Purple has a p in it, but my name doesn't have a p." I nodded, "You all notice different colors! This circle is called a color wheel. In the wheel there is..." I pointed to each color as I said it, "yellow, green, blue, purple, red, and orange."

After we explored the color wheel to everyone's satisfaction, we talked about the idea of how some colors can mix to create other colors. Using water and food color, we mixed red and blue. First, each child took a turn dropping some food coloring into the water. Once everyone felt satisfied with how deep the hues were we spooned a little of each color into a new bowl. As the blue mixed with the red, EF shouted, "It's purple!" I responded, "EF says red and blue are mixing to make purple. I have some purple food coloring. Should we check?" Everyone nodded. We used our fourth bowl of water to drop the purple food coloring in. Though they weren't exactly a match, they were pretty close. AS affirmed this, "It's the same! Look!"

The second time we met we wanted to see what happened if we used shaving cream instead of water. We also tried using our bingo markers, which are filled with liquid color, to see if we'd get similar results. TB worked hard to get some liquid color out of the blue bingo marker. He tried squeezing first but realized that he could press down on the bottom to get the marker to leak color. QM and TUS, who also had bingo markers colored red and purple, copied TB's technique. Soon their bowls were covered in their respective colors. LC, CE, and AS had food coloring. They carefully squeezed out each color into their bowls. We then added shaving cream. Everyone stirred vigorously to mix in the color.

TB noticed a difference right away in how vivid the food coloring was compared to the bingo markers, "Hey! Mine's light blue and that's dark blue." I noted, "Hmm, so the two blues look different." TUS said, "And my red is more like pink." CE said, "White and red made pink!" After all the colors were mixed in to the shaving cream we took spoonfuls of the red and blue shaving creams and mixed them together to compare to the purple from each test group. The original purples were much deeper than our mixed purples, but everyone agreed they were still very close to the same.

At the end as we cleaned up, TB said to me quietly, "I bet if we mixed ALL the colors together we'd get black." TUS said, "I did that once and it was brown." This little peek into their minds and how they are processing color made me feel excited for moving forward in coloring group. Next, we plan to see what happens when blue meets yellow!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Consistency, clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline.

One of RIE tenets focuses on the need for consistency and routine. Building a routine can help a child anticipate what's next. If they can anticipate what's next they can begin to be an active participant instead of a passive recipient. This active participation is, of course, another one of the RIE tenets. Children need and crave consistency. As adults we need and crave consistency, too. Having consistency helps us to feel secure. If we can anticipate what is going to happen, we don't have to worry about it.

Though it is easy to see the benefits of consistency it is not always easy to practice. As adults we enjoy the consistency of larger daily routines such as our job, our bed, our people, or our favorite foods. We may not notice little things that matter to children- particularly preschoolers who are becoming very aware of their surroundings. Changes in our daily routine can be good for children- they can learn to anticipate and process change as well as consistency- but it is important to be aware that those changes can potentially be met with struggle or worry from your child.

There are many reasons that we aren't always consistent. When we feel frustrated or angry it's easy to slide out of consistency and into acting in the moment. We can sometimes offer up a rule that we aren't willing to follow through on but not realize our unwillingness until it's too late. Other times we may leave consistency behind because the day is hectic or crazy and it's just easier to do something else this one time. Though consistency is important, it's also important to remember that life can catch us off guard. We should strive for consistency, but not beat ourselves up when we don't reach our goals.

What can you do when you feel you aren't being consistent, though? You can be authentic if the situation warrants it, and let your child know that you didn't like the way your last exchange happened. You can let them know you'd like to try again. This not only is a real and authentic way to approach your child but gives them a model to go by when they have moments they'd like to do-over. If the situation doesn't feel appropriate for a do-over moment, you can make a note to yourself about how it could go differently next time.

In my personal life and my work life I have always felt that my relationships with children are just that: relationships. Building the bond with the child allows there to be room for mistakes. Both on their part and mine. Forgiveness, trying again, and working to be our best is all part of life. Clearly defining the environment around us will help us to work towards our goal of consistency.

Kanji Fun

It has been such a pleasure hearing our Tumbleweed kids counting and saying colors in Spanish and Japanese, singing Japanese songs with movement, and playing a traditional Japanese game (called kagome kagome).

It is true that they can make an unfamiliar language familiar very quickly!  They say what they hear as it is…  I feel so jealous hearing how they repeat after me so accurately.

They’ve also been enjoying doing some Japanese writing too.  Kanji is a type of writing form that Japan adopted from ancient China.  As you may know, each kanji has its own meaning, unlike Hiragana or Katakana, which are more like alphabets.  I’ve seen people here wearing kanji tattoos.  A single Kanji can both tell you a lot and look very artistic!

I still remember when I first became introduced to Kanjis as a kid at my nursery school.  My teacher showed us the kanji TREE.  She also showed me a picture of a tree to show where the character came from.  Then if you put two of those characters together, it means WOODS.  If you put three together, it means FOREST!  Each character made so much sense even as a kid and looked so pretty.  I was so excited to learn more and more.
At Tumbleweed, the kids started learning 20 different kanjis to begin with.  They loved writing them down over and over.  I put a character on one side of a card and I put a picture of what the character stands for.  They sometimes seem fascinated with them, and other times they disagreed with its origin saying “that doesn’t like water at all!”  I could see them using their imagination to explore where each character comes from and seek a story behind it.  What were those ancient people seeing back then?  What were they talking and thinking at the time?

Kanji writing activity often becomes Kanji inventing activity, which is quite fun to watch.  I’m not sure when people stopped making new kanjis, but why not let Tumbleweed kids make some?

Here are some of them.

MR invented “a Chair That Combs Your Hair” [right in the pic] and Music Player [left in the pic].

TUS invented Raindrop.

VR invented Dragon.  

Well, there is already a kanji that stands for Dragon.  To me, they kind of look similar, but VR’s looks more exciting for sure!

I can’t wait to have more kanji fun with them!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Writing Group: All about D

The other day Rio and I traded places. I led writing group when normally Rio leads it. First, I invited a few children to stay inside for group. I had quite a few takers and quickly we transitioned into one small group inside and one small group outside. I set up our big table with paper, word cards, writing utensils, and a large white piece of paper with a capital "D" and lower case "d" written on it. I gave those in my group a moment to find a seat and take in what sat before them. TUS quickly spoke up, "That's a D!"

"Today I thought we'd talk about the letter "d". What do you guys think?" I inquired. TB quickly spoke up, "Yeah! D is used a lot. Like dog or dinosaur..." I stayed silent as everyone thought for a moment then LC piped up, "Daddy! Daddy!" TUS and TB agreed, "Yeah! Daddy starts with "d", too!"

TB studied the paper for a moment more then looked me straight in the eye, "Hey, are those both d's?" I nodded, "This one is a capital "D" and this one is a lower case "d". The important thing is they are both the same letter, but we use them at different times." I slowly wrote out a name that began with a "D" and the word "dog" as I continued, "When I write someone's name or the name of a city, I use a capital "D". When I write a word like dog or diamond I use a lower case "d". No matter which one I use, though, they are always the same letter." I then asked them if they'd like to write some d's of their own on their paper. Everyone was very ready for that task so we each took a turn individually.

Every child focused while they worked on writing the letters on their paper. Some chose to write both a capital and a lower case letter while others wrote just one of the two. When everyone felt finished TB held up his word card, "What's this for?" Before I could answer TUS yelled out, "I found a "d" on mine!"

"TUS says he found a "d" on his. We often talk about what words begin with the letters we are talking about, but it's true that letters are all over in words. Sometimes they are at the beginning, sometimes they are at the end, and sometimes they are somewhere in between!" Everyone's attention turned to their cards as I spoke, they all worked to find the "d" on their card. Then we read each card aloud and talked about the other letters on them. TUS noticed an "o" hanging out on his card and two different cards had an "a"!

To end our group, I asked everyone to try saying the letter "d" while paying close attention to their mouths and tongues. QM repeated "d" to himself softly for a while before shouting, "I use my tongue!" TUS embellished on this, "My tongue hits the top of my mouth! But only for a little bit." TB remembered what a "T" felt like in his mouth and said "It's not like a "T" because a "T" hits your teeth, but a "D" hits your mouth." I nodded, "A "d" and a "t" sound similar, but they are a little different. To make a "d" your tongue touches the roof of your mouth. When you say the letter it hits it for just a second, but when you make the sound a "d" makes your tongue hits the roof of your mouth a little longer." We all repeated our letters and sounds for "d" a few more times before cleaning up and heading outside. Our group brought so much knowledge to the table about "d" and what a delightful discovery we had together!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What's Inside Our Food?

Mealtimes with Cohort 7 are an important part of our time together at Tumbleweed, and these days we are often sitting around the table together for thirty minutes or more at a time.  We recently acquired a bigger table, which has allowed me to do some of the meal preparation at the table in front of the children.  We enjoy produce in its raw form at almost every meal, giving the children the opportunity to observe food when it is whole and to witness the process of cutting and selecting the parts that we choose to eat.  
Carefully tasting an avocado peel.
"No stem!"

I almost always offer the group a chance to pass the fruit or vegetable around the table before I cut it open.  Many types of produce are quite familiar to the children in this form – apples, bananas, and carrots, for instance, have been long-time staples for everyone and they are used to seeing these whole.  When they are passed around there is sometimes an air of impatience as though they are saying, “Yes, we know this is how bananas look!  Let’s eat it now!”  But as the weather grows warmer relatively unfamiliar produce has been making its way to our table – watermelon, mangos, peaches, etc.   The mood at the table is different when I pass these around.  There are shouts of “Wow!” or “Big!” There are questions: “Seeds?” “Cut?”  We talk at length about how the food appears and what it feels like when we touch it. 

Once we are ready to prepare the produce for eating I ask the children for space around the cutting board.  They all watch carefully as I split the food in half.  Watermelons have been especially surprising recently as the exterior of the fruit gives no hint of what will be inside.  The children are taken aback and excited by the redness and the stark difference in texture between the rind and the flesh.  We each have a taste.  The children often nod as they eat, giving their approval.  They also look to each other to see how they are enjoying the food.  I use this time to provide vocabulary for what we are all experiencing as a group:  “The watermelon is juicy!  It’s soft to bite into.  It has a sweet taste.”  The children will often echo a word or two from these sentences and they are slowly beginning to spontaneously label food in this way. 

The process of preparing and eating food generates many conversations about the parts of produce that we don’t eat – the seeds, stems, and core.  This aligns nicely with the work we are doing outside, planting seeds and caring for the resulting sprouts.  We recently started collecting the seeds from our produce in a small glass jar.  Everyday we work together to find the core of whatever it is we are having and search for the seeds (or pit) lying within.  We talk about how the seeds are protected by the strong core so that one day they can be planted and more of the same food can grow.  We are noticing the differences between seeds and our ability to collect them – for instance, it is easy to find and collect the seeds of an apple, but not so with a cucumber.  Last week we shared a bell pepper together and the children were surprised to notice countless bright seeds for collecting!  Together we are developing an appreciation for the similarities and differences between all kinds of produce.  We cherish our time at the table, a space for exploring and discussing a fundamental part of our day – the food we eat!

Passing around an avocado peel.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Body Group: What are Feet?

It was the beginning of body group. We ran to the circle, eager to see what we might discuss today. We sang a wiggle song... moving parts of our body differently as we shook, flapped, or jiggled. We then sang a matching song to put our hands and in our laps and be ready to talk.

What is a foot? What does it do? The conversation began with these two questions but lead to so much more.

"Its what we walk with," said M. "We can stomp," said V. "We can jump," said J. "Stand!" said L. "Move!" said A. "We can hop, skip, run, kick and stomp with our feet!" said M. Wow that seems to be a lot of things. They must be really important we decided.

Next we discussed how a foot is different from a hand. What is the same about feet and hands? "They have the same number..." said M. We then counted and unanimously agreed that they have the same number. "Same size!" said J. We all put our hands and feet together and agreed they are the same size.

"Now, what is different about hands and feet?" I said. "Feet do different things." said M. Everyone seemed to have a hard time finding differences so I said, "Do you think you can pick up this marker with your foot?"

L tried first and could not pick it up. Then A tried and was about to put the marker between her toes and pick it up. After that everyone could do it. One by one every child in the group got up and picked up the marker with A's technique. It then became easy when everyone thought it was just so hard before. To continue thinking about feet I showed the class a picture of a group of animals. We described what their feet do and if they can do some things we do with our feet. We found out that we are pretty limited in our uses of feet compared with a monkey. Do you think you can grab onto a branch and swing from tree to tree? Or could you open a banana with your foot?

I motioned how it would look to try to eat a banana with your foot. "We would fall down" said V. "Why is that?" I asked. There was silence looking around the room all eyes full of curiosity. "Balance!" I said. Should we talk about balance next week? Everyone said yes.
Then we got out tracing paper with markers and worked on drawing our feet. We filled in where we had differences from hands and other animals.

Monday, May 5, 2014


One of the more amazing parts of my day boils down to relationships. I watch as children grow together and journey forth into the oh so complicated world of relationship management. They commit to each other- voicing aloud their love for a particular child or for everyone at once. They find safety in knowing each child that's present and they test out new ways of interacting. They do all of this with less fear than we do as adults which amazes me endlessly.

I am fairly extroverted, but putting myself out there is still something I find to be fairly frightening. Rejection is a very real fear for me... And I know it is for these children, too. However, the possible rewards to be gained from putting oneself out there seems more obvious to these kids than me. Take one particular interaction I observed last week between two children.

TUS: A, are you my friend?
AS: No. I'm Melinda's friend.
TUS frowned as he took this in then said, "Well, I am your friend even if you are not my friend."
AS nodded, "Okay."

For the time being, this worked for them both so I kept my own thoughts on friendship to myself. Before long, though, TUS was following AS around asking if she was his friend yet. At this point I interjected- unable to keep quiet or miss the chance to offer some thoughts on friendship due to my extroverted nature. I said, "I don't know about you, A, but I have lots of friends. Did you know both Lillie and Briana are my friends?" AS contemplated this as LC chimed in, "Yeah, and I'm Minna's friend!" I nodded, "For some people, having more people to love makes them able to love everyone more. I'm like that." TUS spoke up at this point, "Yeah! I love A and I love L and I love my mom and I love my dad..." His list went on for a bit. AS nodded and walked off so TUS and I began to read a book.

After a few minutes AS returned. She sat next to TUS and spoke with certainty, "I'm your friend, T."