Monday, October 27, 2014

Be That We

Yesterday I wrote about a current parenting struggle for me.  I've been using my typical parenting strategies to STOP the behavior that's triggering me.  And now, I want to head towards the situation with the intent to Accept my child for exactly where she's at.

A few questions have come my way!!!  I've been having an exciting dialogue in my own head about them and finally realized others might want to hear and/or join in:

Does this mean you're going to just let the awful behavior continue?
In this situation, I cannot STOP it; that's not within my control. I could create consequences so dire that she was externally motivated (fear of my disapproval, fear of what might happen, etc.) to stop herself. But that doesn't work for me.

I CAN notice that my previous attempts to acknowledge were flooded with
* My own projections (e.g. I feel pressure, especially because I parent differently and because this is my career, to have what I do work; when my child behaves poorly, sometimes I let fears that other people will use that as an argument against my choices instead of simply understanding that ALL children test and explore boundaries and make poor choices) and
* My strong urge to STOP the behavior because I'm really freaking annoyed by it.

The alternative that I'm aiming for is to use the same skills (Janet talks about: observe, acknowledge, wait, accept; the Amy version: Invest, Listen, Acknowledge, Invite, Accept) while
* Letting go of my own projections and fear and instead sitting in my trust that my child is perfect as-is AND on an inevitable path of growth, and
* Listening and acknowledging with curiosity, without pressure to Stop or Fix but instead a calm presence that says, It's ok that you're feeling strongly! It's ok that you don't have the skills right now for this to go smoothly! You're not Too Much, and this isn't Too Much for me. We can figure this out, and I will be here and ready for you if you want my help.

Does this mean that she gets “her way”? That she'll learn that screaming an awful song “works”? That she'll think this behavior is ok?

First of all, trust me: a five year old knows that screaming is not ideal behavior. At this point, they're not grounded. They're triggered. They're likely flooded with strong emotions that are preventing logical thinking. They need exactly what we need when we get to that point: compassion. Compassion, contrary to our fears, does NOT breed misbehavior! Creating a safe space for feeling emotions does make for many challenges:  a safe space for feeling means those feelings come out instead of staying in!  But letting those feelings out is healing.  In contrast to what we may fear, compassion paired with consistent limits supports the development of emotional regulation, healthy attachments, and internally-motivated growth.  

Secondly, my acceptance that I can't force her to stop screaming is simply acceptance of the truth; that doesn't mean that screaming “works,” it means that I am refusing to let myself get all worked up over a power struggle for something that I don't actually have power over (and the same is true of eating, sleeping, pooping, peeing, etc.).

Thirdly, I can still have limits! Does her screaming get her to have her turn first? Nope. Does her screaming get us to stop at Salt and Straw? Nope. Do I send the message that screaming is ok by acknowledging that something is clearly not working for her and gently inviting her to identify feelings and needs and make a request? Nope.

So when I say that I don't know what my plan is today, it's because I want to stay open and simply experience the shifts that will trickle down from simply seeing the situation differently. There are times when having a strategy and ideas about figuring out what's up for her is useful! But at this point, I've done some damage by having an attitude that shows that my efforts have been to control and STOP the behavior. Instead of stressing myself out with a bunch of brainstorming about how I need to fix it, I want to shift back to a place of curiosity.  NOW, I want to simply change my mindset and trust both W and myself to move forward with the skills we have right now. I want to Let Go of my intent to affect outcomes. I want to prioritize Being Present, Listening Closely, and Accepting and simply be curious about how that will affect us.

Why? Why not just force my kid to obey me? Why let her screaming be a process for my own growth and reflection? 
Because all of this isn't about the “NAAAAH! NAAAAH!” song. It's not about the misbehavior because as soon as this one goes, another one will come.
It is about how we work as a family. It's about me trying to reprogram all those brain pathways to go from FEAR! CONTROL! MAKE IT BETTER! to compassion, love, and acceptance. It's about a belief that we are whole, beautiful humans who are exactly who we should be right now; that when we are open to listening closely and compassionately to those around us, growth is inevitable. We don't always need a specific plan! We don't always need to know the why's and how's! Sometimes we can simply set an intention to be the best We we can be, and BE THAT WE.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Trying not to Teach Again

Remember back when I said I couldn't help but wonder and fear my next lesson in letting go and trust?
Well, it happened.

Before my latest big and painful lesson, though, Willa has been making the phrase "In her own way, in her own time" a relatively easy mantra for me.  Over and over again, she shows me that when I listen closely, when I pay attention, when I let go of my own ideas and projections and fears, I am doing the best I can to Let Willa Be Willa.  And the power of trusting children keeps showing up for me, reaffirming:  I can trust her.

I can trust her natural curiosity to drive her academic explorations, such as reading and writing.

I can trust her intuition to explore creative expression.

I can trust her to guide her need for space and time to create.

I can trust that when she asks the hard questions about death and homelessness all sorts of pain in the world, she's ready to hear the best answer I can offer.

I can trust that she will develop her own boundaries and pathway towards her own version of what it looks like to be a sister, a daughter, and a part of our family.

I can trust her to look closely and learn from the natural world around us.

I can trust her to be full of wonder and curiosity and beauty.

I can trust that when things happen to her that are out of our control, she will process about it when she's ready, she will be resilient, and she will keep on trusting and loving herself and others.

I can trust that we can explore our world together, exploring and risking and appreciating together.

But somehow, despite all of this trust... I lost my way.

It all started with our new Kindergarten commute.
On our way home, W's behavior became increasingly... intense... loud... and altogether WAY too much for ME.  I needed it to stop.

I tried acknowledging feelings that may be up for her:  no change.
I tried offering to Try Again and Start Over:  no change.
I tried encouraging her to take space in her room after we get home:  no change.
I tried clear limits and consequences (like having to skip previously planned adventures):  no change.
I tried family meetings and plan-making:  no change.

All through this, our relationship felt more and more disconnected.  She said things like, "Only my teacher and gramma listen to me!" and "Just stop talking!" and "Did you hate your mom like I hate you sometimes?"


For all my efforts, not only did the behavior NOT stop, but I felt like I was failing our relationship.

Then the incredible Janet Lansbury came to Portland.  Her talk started with me smiling and nodding:  Let Feelings Be!  (yep, yep) Fully Accept and Acknowledge!  (yep, yep).  And then she ripped my heart out of my chest.  She explained (these are my words attempting to recreate her message):

When we act on an impulse to STOP a behavior, we are telling the child that their feelings are too big for us to handle.  Acknowledging is ineffective as a technique or tactic to STOP behavior.  Acknowledging and letting feelings be, when used as a Stop Tactic, simply become another way to distract and disconnect instead of supporting our goals of Acceptance, Emotional Regulation, Connection, and Healthy Attachment.  

It hit me really hard:  I needed a mindset shift.  How could I truly be ready to hold space for my child to Let The Feelings Out and Test Limits and (ahem) Annoy the Shit Out of Me AND still be assured that by doing so, the really shitty behavior was going to change?  I realized that there is only one answer to that question that would work for me:  I just have to choose to be ready, choose to believe, and choose to accept that the behavior might not change any time soon but that I'm not about to let my child and my relationship with my child bear the costs of my need for control.

And that's where I'm at right now.

What am I going to do differently?
I don't know.

What's going to be my intention moving forward?
I am going to try to remember something really simple:  Accept.
I'm going to breathe it.  I'm going to repeat it in my head.  I'm going to let it ground me and wash me over with as many calm feelings I can muster while she chants, "NAAAAH NAAAAAH! GONNA SING THIS SONG ALL DAAAAY!" Because I can't make her stop yelling in the car.  And techniques and tactics are failing us.  I've missed something, and I need to get back to a place of looking closely and listening carefully.  She's telling me, and I haven't heard it yet.

I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know this:  She will make mistakes.  I will make mistakes.  And it's ok.  It's really ok.  She is a perfect kid, just as she is.  And I am a perfect parent, just as I am.  What we give our children, we can give ourselves.  We can forgive and grow and Let It All Be.

Tomorrow's Monday.  Wish me luck.

(And here's a follow up post from the next morning.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Creating Community through Self-Expression

Lately the preschool cohort has been intensely focusing on self-expression! Self-expression can happen in many ways- it's anytime we express ourselves through a form of communication whether that's art, speech, dance, or something else! One child begins to play as a rock climber while another asserts, "No, I'm not a rock climber! I'm going to science class!". Seeing this disregard for the ideas of others may seem cold, but children can value each other without using words or engaging in play. Inviting play can be a long dance of negotiation rather than a quick fulfillment of doing whatever is said first.

There are few times when self-expression actually disrupts play or hurts someone else. It is an interesting scene on our school yard that takes place. The ebb and flow of the each child's deeply important play can look like just chaotic energy of children to an outsider. However, once you step into their world it becomes clear that playing together is actually filled with testing social skills out to fulfill each self interest. The egalitarian or altruistic ideals of our society are not inherent but rather are a learned social structure within our communities. As children work to negotiate with individual playmates (or even the whole group!) they began to define their own version of what it means to be a community.

At Tumbleweed, I often reflect on how this group of unique individuals are like planets in a solar system. Each child may become closer to another and be going the same direction but they are on their own path and may just as easily drift apart. It is fascinating to see how we all learn and work together to become such social creatures.

DC says, “AS I’m ready to play. Want to play sisters?”
EM says, “QM can I help? I will get the scoop too.”
AS says, “I need to go to a concert in a park by bike. Can you watch me?”
LC says, “CE, we are in college. Wanna do science class? You have to use goggles and a little sugar.”
RM says, “Lets make rain with this hose. Like Elsa we can solve problems”.

These statements are a glimpse into the community our Tumbleweeders have created. They reach out to one another, they drift apart, they engage with different members of our community each day... but always they are working on what it means to be together here at our school. What role do they have? How do they fit in? How will it be different tomorrow? As they grow and learn more about themselves they constantly reinvent what it means to be a community- what it means to be a Tumbleweeder.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tumbleweed Ninjas

Ninja group was something I always wanted to introduce in our classroom. The kids often talk about ninjas and are surrounded by ninja imagery in various forms of pop culture. I wanted to discuss authentic ninjas with them- what they do, where they are from, why they exist... It's also true that I was somewhat hesitant about initiating a ninja group. There is some potential for chaos among such intense excitement. However, the words of Teacher Tom from a workshop I attended in Portland a few years ago spoke to me as I readied myself for ninja group:Try participating in it. 

If you’re a part of their play, you observe the dialog between the kids doing sword fights with sticks or chasing "bad guys". Children often are very effective communicators and when we are inside their play we can see just how effective they are. They communicate verbally and physically so that they don't actually hurt each other. From the outside looking in, a situation may seem tense or as though it needs your guidance. When you are in it, though, you are able to better watch what's happening and see when they need your help versus when you want to give your help.

Once I started looking into ninjas, I myself was so fascinated by them.  Their weapons, their strategies, their movements...everything seemed amazingly sophisticated.  As I researched and prepared for the group, I realized I was learning too! My passion and excitement for authentic ninjas was more powerful to share with the children than the information I found!

Here is how our Ninja Group went.

Step 1: Talk about Ninjas

They actually know a lot about ninjas,  including what kind of weapons they used, such as shuriken.  But there was something new for them, too.

  • Ninja means “quiet person.”  We cannot make a kung fu sounding shout if you want to be a good ninja.  In fact, you cannot make any sound.

This fact actually fascinated them a lot.  They loved being super quiet as long as they were ninjas!

  • There were female ninjas who were active.

When I said this to the kids, the girls’ faces literally brightened up.  They seemed more confident about their physical strength and capability.  Next time they come across anyone who would say things like “there were no such thing as girl ninjas” they will argue that it’s clearly wrong and historical fact shows the existence of female ninjas.

Step 2: Make a weapon and use it.

What we did was making a blow dart out of paper (  It’s important to make sure they don’t blow at people because the dart comes out pretty fast!  I let them draw their target on a big piece of paper on the wall.  Most of them drew “a bad guy” and they loved darting them.

Step 3: Practicing movements

This would be somewhat similar to a yoga class but it’s way more tricky.  They practiced walking while their knees are bent without making sound.  They also practiced hiding and taking advantage of “blind spot.”

Optional: Planning maneuvers

For older kids (4-5 year old), talking about how we actually undertake our mission was the most exciting part.  They had an imaginary bad guy that they’re supposed to eliminate.  Based on what they learned, they decided to collect some information: 1) where does he live (so that they can “build a secret tunnel for ninjas to escape quickly”); 2) what’s his favorite food (so that they can “poison him”); 3) what color is the wall in his house (so that they can “buy the same colored fabric as the wall to hide behind it”), and what time does he take a bath and go to bed (so that they know “when is the easiest time” to accomplish their mission).

As you can see, they were serious.  For at least several weeks after they successfully “graduated” from the “ninja intensive camp,” ninja talk was everywhere at Tumblweeed.  When I did a Tanabata art project one morning, I told them kids in Japan often write down what they want to be in the future on a piece of paper and hang it on a bamboo tree along with other origami decorations.

I hope you enjoy your ninja experience with your kids as well.

Note : A ninja book I recommend  to read with your kids is “Fierce Fighters: Ninja” written by Charlotte Guillain.  It even talks about movements kids can practice to be a ninja.



Wednesday, October 8, 2014


The children of cohort 6 are in the middle of a musical explosion.  All day they are singing and making rhythms with and through their work and play.  They are making up songs, miming playing instruments on sticks outside, singing together, asking for new and favorite songs and enjoying the instruments we already have in the classroom : a wooden drum, a gourd shaker and a kalimba. With my own background in music this new interest is highly exciting to me and we have been talking about how music makes us feel, that music can tell stories, clapping simple rhythms and basic music theory such as tempo. 

I have been wanting to bring a guitar into the classroom and the school for a while, so the next step in expanding our musical knowledge is very exciting to me.  I have always had close ties with music and even studyed it in college.  Any way I can share this love is important to me.  During our last group time we talked about what a guitar is. Many of the children shared their knowledge from home and the excitement is growing. 

"My brother has a ukulele!  He plays Oh My Darling!" - Z
"The top is sharp. You gotta watch out." - V
"My daddy has a guitar. But he doesn't play it." -C
"We need to get a violin and wear it on or back, then have a guitar in the front!" - H

I then played a bit of classical guitar music. We listen and everyone fell silent. I held my phone close to everyone could hear. 
"This is guitar music."  Then I turned my phone around and showed them all a video of a many playing the guitar. I explained about the parts of the guitar and their functions: the head, the neck, the body and the strings. 
"I have a neck!  Right here!" Z said immediately. 
We ended our introduction to the guitar by talking about how fragile it is and how it will be so much fun to enjoy making music together with this new instrument. 

This will be a very fun exploration for us! I look forward to seeing where it might take us!

Can You See the Light?

Morning light pours in.
J looks at his play dough through the light.  He sees that some parts are lighter than others.
Conversation emerges.
T explains, "I need to flatten my play dough.
In the old days, before rollers, they just used their hands or faces like this.
 Hey!  Can the light go through my hand?
J tests the same idea.

Questions and ideas build.
How does the light affect the play dough here?
What if we pinch different parts?

Collaboration continues, naturally scaffolding.
What if we have small holes?
What if we have big holes?

THIS is play!  THIS is work!  This is learning and learning to love learning and loving...
This is the genius of childhood.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Yoga at the Preschool!

Our school is abuzz with excitement as we feel something different and new is coming. This time it happens to be Yoga. It is so great to have a parent and community member take part in the school. We spark each child's interest by repeating throughout the day that there will be a yoga class offered after nap. By the time the children begin to wake and transition out of nap just mentioning Yoga gets a small group extremely focused ready for what this new thing might have to offer. 


 To get started I introduce the yoga teacher, Shira, and set some expectations. It doesnt take much as the teacher invites everyone to sit in a circle and all eyes at the center of attention. I step back and witness how powerful yoga as a part of human learning. Shira gets going with some silly movements moving around the circle to actively engage everyone. Next she calls out each child to show an animal while everyone matches. As the children match different animal movements and sounds they move around in a circle. The excitement puts everyone in a calmer mood.


The animal movements allow Shira to weave a story with yoga poses leading everyone in these difficult poses without even realizing. As the group moves from sitting down to big standing stretches each pose is met with a new joy, discovering what bodies can do, how it feels to use different body parts in different ways and to use our whole body.

As more difficult moves were offered yoga seemed more fun than challenging. Every child either carefully tried a pose or simply sat and watched what was going on. It was a truly inspiring to see the art of Yoga practiced with such a young age.

The movements focused deeper and deeper on illuminating our inner strength the child's pose or cat pose was use by all for a much needed rest. The teacher had everyone sit and very simply explained the end of a yoga class much like every Yoga class ends. We thank ourselves for our practice and say, the light in me recognizes the light in you; Namaste.

Self-Guided Play All Day!

What does self-guided play mean in a toddler cohort?

It means providing materials that are engaging to the senses - materials that invite children to look, touch, smell, listen, and taste in ways they discover themselves.  I love natural materials, bright colors, and simplicity, and I look closely to see what interests each child the most and try to stock our room with materials that meet those interests.

It means arranging materials in a way that is open to interpretation.  When I set out materials in the morning, before the children arrive, I check my expectations.  I can create provocations to try to elicit a certain type of exploration, and if it sparks something totally different in the children, then I'll follow their interest rather than what I had in mind.

It means sometimes we play together, and sometimes we play separately.  At times, toddler-aged children enjoy playing and engaging with each other directly.  Other times, they enjoy playing side-by-side, being near each other but not directly interacting.  Often, they enjoy playing apart from one another, with lots of space around them.  My job is not to force the children to play together, but to support how they wish to play in each moment - which can also mean helping the girls negotiate when one person wants to play with a friend who wants to play by herself.

It means being open to some serious silliness!  Sometimes, a toddler just needs to be upside down (or sideways, or quacking like a duck, or singing the letters "H-I-J-K" for 20 minutes).  One of my favorite parts about hanging out with toddlers all day is that they are developing their senses of humor - they love to be funny!  I remain open to the comedy that comes my way during the day, and if I'm invited to be upside down as well, you can bet you'll see me upside down!
It means offering language to help the children process their play.  All the toddlers in Cohort 9 are in rich stages of language development.  Some are speaking more than others, but each of them is listening closely to the language around her and taking in what is said.  I spend a lot of my day watching the children play and making observations out loud: "You poured all the beads into the bowl," "Those dominoes feel cold in your hand!" "You picked up two crayons.  I wonder how you will draw with them."  I try to keep my observations open and without judgement and based only on what I see they children do, not what I think of their play or what emotions I think they are feeling.

It means allowing children space to make discoveries.  The toddlers are all capable, curious people, who are building skills, vocabulary and abilities every day.  I am so excited for them, because it is indeed wonderful to learn new words and skills.  I know that each child is learning at her own pace, by her own curiosity, and doesn't need to be pushed, so I don't ask for words to be repeated or skills to be practiced. I watch closely as play leads to new discoveries.

It means allowing a game to take as long as it takes.  Sometimes that means we do the same thing over and over (and over).  Sometimes the baby doll and the toy mouse need to approach each other 50 times and then run away.  It might be tempting for me to bring the giraffe or the bunny into the game, or to direct the child's attention to the blocks that are also sitting out.  Those actions would be to entertain my own brain, not to follow the child's interest, so instead I watch the baby and the mouse and support what the child wants to do.

I feel so lucky to be the observer of play in Cohort 9.  Every day these girls are learning so much, and it is so meaningful that their learning and exploration is self motivated.  My job is then to support and help the children to scaffold upon that learning and exploration.