Sunday, January 25, 2015

"I DON'T Like You!"

"Friendship is a joy found quite often through pain, sometimes great pain. That's why it feels so good when we get there."- Teacher Tom

This is a blog that I've needed to write for a while. The subject has been weighing heavily on my mind: as parents and educators how do we deal with the incredibly large emotions our kids feel? Especially preschoolers! Then I logged on to Facebook the other day and saw that Practical Parenting (from our good friend Tracey Biebel!!!) had reposted a blog from my most favorite person: Teacher Tom. Amazingly, it was on this exact subject and you can find it here.

Not only did Teacher Tom touch on the rejection that we as parents and educators feel when the children we love and care for are rejected but he talked about something even more difficult to handle: when your own children reject others. As an educator I'm somewhat removed from these feelings, I can see that the child's rejection isn't necessarily about the other child but the moment they are in. I can remember that sometimes children are attracted to playing with certain kids more often due to their personalities just "fitting" that certain way. I recall how I as an adult have people I love, people I like, and people I put up with. I'm just more clued in to the socially acceptable ways of not liking someone else. I know how to navigate the trickiness that comes with the territory of not wanting to hang out with someone in a friendly manner. Children are still learning these skills- how to be a friend to someone who isn't being a friend to you, how to approach someone you don't like... and lots of other skills that even adults sometimes can't manage to be successful at. I can remember this as a teacher in my classroom and I can remember that it's my job to help children with these skills and to model behaviors for them. It's part of social learning after all.

I can also remember how fleeting emotions are: for both children and adults. "I don't like you!" is often "I don't like you right now because you didn't let me use the ball first." or "I don't like you right now because you were yelling and it's too loud for me."

However, as a parent it's pretty hard to not roll up in a ball when your child feels rejection. As a parent it's almost impossible to not try to correct my child's behavior when he rejects someone else. And as a parent of a Kindergartner I've been feeling his rejection and the need to control his rejection of others pretty often these past five months. My son comes home crying because so and so kicked him in line outside. He's bawling about going to school because so and so intentionally pushed another kid into a desk and he got hurt in the fray. In the beginning of the year when his teacher was still new to him, he was sobbing because he Teacher Joe* didn't protect him from the other kids.

All of this and the burgeoning feelings I've seen in my own classroom made me want to write a post about how to handle it when your children hear or say "I don't like you!" Then I read Teacher Tom's post and I cried as I reached this line, "We as parents, really are helpless and impotent when we try to do anything other than hold them, and listen to them, and feel with them." 

Much in the way that my friends cannot stop me from making mistakes like loving someone who won't reciprocate my feelings, extending myself beyond my abilities and means, or giving more of myself than I should in a friendship... we cannot stop our children from giving or receiving these feelings of rejection. However, we can always, always be there for them when it happens. We can hold them and tell them about our own failures, our own rejections, and our own emotional response to these things (when age appropriate of course). We can be available and just listen to how hard it was to feel that way. We can talk about why those feelings are there and what they might do next time. We can be present and available in any way they might need us. When they face those temporary rejections, we can offer them unconditional, permanent love. 

That is, after all, what love is. It's permanent. It's unconditional. It doesn't change no matter what the other person does. The way we love someone or how much we "like" them might change, but the love we feel for our children is forever. We can teach them that no matter what happens, we will be there to love them. We can teach them that no matter what happens, they will be there to love themselves.

*Name of Teacher Joe is fictionalized.

Growing Community with Communication

Today we look at the world of a Preschooler. At this point our cohort has moved into the stage of figuring out what it means to be a part of an environment and culture as we are building a community where everything is connected to our individual identities and expression. This transition has made me question how so many children find it easy to assimilate into many cultures while expressing unique needs and emotions. They must rely on some important social skills implicitly woven in the shared identities we have as a group. 

It seems like things are moving so fast at the Preschool cohort. From the outside, it can seem that we as teachers do a lot of the work to provide community, growth, and appropriate social cues to our students but often the children do much of this work. Most of what we do is be 'directive observers' the way a conductor behaves in an orchestra. This may include modeling behavior, narrating for children to give a voice to feelings, providing words or phrases to express emotions that reinforce successful communication and advocating for problem solving.

This last job has seemed to be an important need in our class lately. I have noticed that each child has to feel they can express themselves to feel safe and accepted. Sharing differences can often be as vital to building community as sharing similarities. I've watched as the beauty of uniting together through differences has enveloped our classroom. 

The children observe and communicate when they don't like something, when they do like something, when something happens, and when they have an idea of how to solve a problem. All of this goes a long way in building the community that exists in our classroom. Below are some examples

“Stop! I don't want to play because he is hitting and that's what i don't like." said LC.

"I have a plan! AS can sit next to me and CE can sit next to SC." said EF.

"You can use the swing when I'm done!" said SC.

"Maybe you can sleep all night in my house and be my sister." said AS.

"Hug, kiss, or space? Are you OK?" said AK.

"I can help(you on the swing)! How about this or that SC?" said RM.


"I have an idea! How about we all have two shovels" said TUS.

"Look at the dust! We can put it in our art!" said HM.

"She needs some help!" said CE.

"I'm worried he is going to hurt me. Don't hurt me, OK?" said JK.

"I'm not playing with you. I'm playing a different game." said QM.

 The process has become a part of us. We own it and with it we own the ability to enact change. Over time the consistency and continual use of accepted 'tools' like the examples listed above created our community and shared identity. In just a few weeks our shared identity in this culture has spread and with it the power to be heard, to be accepted and to feel connected to learning and growth.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Thank You Song

Part of our meal time ritual has always been singing a song to signify the start of our meal, to take a pause and acknowledge the good feelings of sitting together and to bring a sense of calm.  Just recently the children have been singing with me!  It is the same song we have sung since they first started, so they know it well.  I have enhanced our experience by counting off before beginning, so that we can all sing the same words at the same time.  We all feel those good feelings of joining in a song together which we all know and love.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Language of Limits: Giving Power and Creating Trust

When we set limits with our children, there are many things we must take into consideration: location, time, energy level, needs of ourself and child, etc.   All of these things become much easier when we take the time to connect and become attuned to our child's needs and emotions. When our goals are to avoid power struggles and to to create a loving relationship built on trust, limits are a comfort for both child and adult.

Before we can engage children in limit-setting interactions, we need to feel secure in our role as gentle leaders.  We think of gentle leadership as a practice built on connection, empathy, and attunement:

"Tuning into the inner life of [a child's] mind - to their feelings and thoughts, to their perceptions and memories, to what has inner subjective meaning in their lives." - Daniel Siegel

A gentle leader embodies kind, empathetic connection at the same time as they maintain clear, firm limits.  This means being aware of a child's emotions, as well as your own, so that you can guide them from a reactive state to a receptive one.  There are a number of practices that are helpful in facilitating this kind of connection:  

Pausing.  Taking a deep breath.  Checking in with yourself.  "Chasing the why" internally before you engage (why is my child in a state of distress?  Hungry?  Angry?  Lonely?  Tired?).  

Slowing down and being present provides an opportunity for us to set our own intention for the interaction and create a sense of confidence and trust while setting limits.  

Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.” ~ Brené Brown

It can be helpful to categorize different kinds of limits as we engage in different situations with children.  We think of limits as falling into one of three categories -- these might look different for school and home, individual families and children, and different ages:

Always Limits
These are always true, regardless of outside factors and are mostly safety      based 
Examples  --  Always buckled into the car seat when the car is moving; Always hold hands when crossing the street.
Phrases We Use -- "I won't let you...", "Not a safe choice", "I feel strongly that..."

Sometimes Limits 
situational, time based; more flexible
Examples -- Sometimes we have a lot of time to get ready and sometimes adults help choose outfits and put on shoes quickly.
Phrase We Use -- "That works for me", "I'm feeling flexible", "When it's not raining, jackets are a choice", "Right now, we need to... Next time you can..."  "I need __ to happen, let's make a plan"

Rare Limits 
special occasions; maybe based on our own energy level or other authentic adult needs
Examples -- Stay up later on birthdays;  I can't go outside with you because I have a bad cold
Phrases We Use -- "I need [space, quiet, rest]", "Today, that doesn't work for me", "Today is a special day for our family, so you get to...", "When you're with Grandma, it works for her..."

Once we identify the limit that we are setting in a given situation, we can offer power to children within the limit by giving choices.  True choice are real (i.e. either outcome is equally desirable for the adult) and appealing to the individual child.  An open-ended question (e.g. "Do you want to put your shoes on?") does not function as a true choice because it leaves the option for a child to answer with "no", which is in conflict with the limit being set.  

We use choices to give permission to children in limit-testing.  Positive phrasing is an important tool for engaging children so that they feel empowered to collaborate with adults within the limits that have been set.  Phrases like "You get to...", "You can...", or "It works to..." give permission to children within their play and interactions, while also communicating information about what doesn't work in a given situation.  Some phrases work best when reserved for emergency situations: "No!" and "Stop!" retain their significance when used rarely or only for situations when a child is in danger of being harmed.  

What if you didn't have to be perfect?
What if that wasn't even the path to being a good parent, much less a happy person?
What if what your child really needed was your unconditional love, your full acceptance, 
your willingness to see things from his point of view,
and your open-hearted apologies, daily if necessary, when you can't quite pull this off (which is the definition of being human.)

What if giving that unconditional love to your child
required you to offer it first to yourself,
to accept all the good and bad, embarrassing and powerful, mundane and sacred parts of yourself?
It would take great patience and 
ruthless compassion.
It would be really hard, 
and really amazing,
And the beginning
of becoming yourself
not to mention a true blessing to your child.

-- Laura Markham (

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Garden Group: Growing Moss

We gathered around to begin our first outside project of the year. Everyone moved in close and appeared smaller with the grey skies and wet chill in the air. The scenery seemed so still and blank what could we possibly grow? Just the word terrarium stirred fascination and wide eyed stares so that our one day lesson was spread out in a week long project! The children started with questions.

 "What does Terrarium mean?" asked TUS. 

"How does it work?" asked DC. 

"What does moss eat?" asked AK.

 "How does moss grow?" asked LC.

So many things to learn! We excitedly began our ambitious endeavor by quickly discussing how we were going to grow moss. It seemed like ages ago when we last had our hands dirty growing plants and we quickly learned how much we missed it. The gardening groups had given us some much pride and ownership in our learning as well as beautifying our school. Now we would explore the wonders of winter vegetation. Gathering in front of our school we quickly examined our tools; ordinary kitchen spoons and baskets? I showed a example of a moss clump in front of us and how we would scoop it out while carefully keeping an inch of soil as a base underneath. We set off in pairs and scoured the whole front and back yards for moss. The mission was a success filling our baskets wish the two varieties of our local moss!

The next phase we sat in circle and discussed what we would fill our jars. What is in the ground? Lots of ideas came up.

"Earth worms" said AK.

"Lava" said EF.

"Bugs" said SC.

"Roots" said CE.

"Dirt" said TUS.

"Bones" said DC.

"Rocks" said AS.

Wow we going to use four ingredients today and you almost named them all. We are going to use dirt or soil, small rocks or pebbles, moss and something that we burn in bbqs. Does anyone know what it is? It comes from a wood fire. No one had a guess so we discussed charcoal and its uses. It can clean water, we can draw or write with it and we can cook with it as well. Next we ventured outside to begin our assembly line and make our own terrariums.


The children grabbed 3 mats and we set up stations for each ingredient. We split into groups of three and I handed out jars with lids. We put bowls, funnels and spoons at each station and  filled them with the dirt, pebbles and charcoal. Then we began and rotated in our groups to each station beginning with the pebbles and ending with the soil. It was tough to not overfill our jars as it became a bit of a race for some but everyone took to the work with the utmost attention and care.

Is this enough room for the moss? everyone asked. Then excitedly pick a moss clump and gently set it on top. At least we got to water and we sealed our jars. How satisfying it is to create with the earth.

Part of the joy of gardening is the patience and care-taking it teaches us. From the smallest act of putting one seed in the ground to the largest gardening is a teacher and connects us to nature and the interconnected world around us.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Open-Ended Materials in the Classroom

Our Tumbleweed classroom is filled with many materials of various textures, colors, weights, and forms.  Train tracks, silks, wooden animals, books, and puzzles are well loved and returned to often.  Currently, our collections of various small parts receive the most attention: silver bells, round magnets, birch pieces, pom poms, seashells, chain links, and tiny mirrors are explored first thing in the morning and all throughout the day.  These open-ended materials prove to be incredibly versatile, as the children use them in any number of ways. 

Loading bells into the dump truck.

Small parts are used often in imaginary play, bells and pom poms becoming soups and cakes, and birch pieces standing in for cookies and sandwiches.  Seashells are used as bottles to feed cloth babies and beaded necklaces as backpacks for going on trips.  The children are constantly surprising me with their creative thinking, as ordinary objects become stand-ins for anything on their minds: self-care/caring for others, things that are “too crazy” (i.e. wouldn’t happen in reality), caring for the environment (e.g. wiping up spilled cake), things that adults do (e.g. make coffee, go to meetings), home/school routines (e.g. cooking food, going to sleep),  and exciting events (e.g. riding trains, going to the zoo).  Because open-ended materials suggest no “right” way of use, they have the potential to be incorporated into endless imaginary scenarios.  Coupled with the children's ever-expanding use of language, they become symbolic props for complex, abstract thought.

Using a necklace as a bandaid for an injured dragon.

Stirring bells to make soup.

Of course, the properties of the materials themselves offer plenty of opportunities for engaging play, as well.  Magnets are often combined with the metal bells and chain links for an exploration of magnetism.  Bells are collected in a small pail or purse and shaken, appreciated for the sound they make.  The extreme lightness of tiny pom poms makes them a fascinating candidate for dropping, throwing, kicking, and pressing against other surfaces.  Any combination of these materials might be used for filling a bowl or basket to the very brim, in an effort to see just how much will fit and what happens when the contents are transferred to another container (of equal or different size).  More recently, the children have shown interest in counting with the bells and birch pieces, the beginnings of understanding numbers as representative of physical quantities.


Watching the children exchange ideas relevant to their current processing and experiment with materials in new ways is such an exciting aspect of my time with them in the classroom.  The self-guided work of the children is astounding in its complexity as they transform ordinary materials into opportunities for making mental connections about their world, both scientific and social in nature.  As always, there is much to be learned from observing their play, particularly with open-ended and inspiring materials!