Friday, March 27, 2015

Spring Blooms and Paint!

Springtime in Oregon started early this year, and the children have been watching our surroundings closely for signs of the changing season.  As the weather grows warmer, we notice many changes in our yard: seeds that we have planted are beginning to sprout, leaves are budding on the trees, and flowers are blooming in all corners of our outside space.  Spring flowers are an amazing thing through the eyes of a toddler; the signs of growth we track (stem growth, leaves, buds opening, bloom!) are visibly changing every day.  This teaches us something about time, patience, memory, and nature itself.

Something we have been enjoying immensely is finding places where our interest in flowers can intersect with our ongoing explorations of art materials.  One afternoon, we noticed a rose in our classroom was wilting, so we brought it to the table with blue liquid watercolor, watercolor paper, and paintbrushes. 

The children each had their own ideas about what do do with the rose - some wanted to paint directly on the bloom, some wanted to pluck petals off and incorporate them into their work, some wanted to use petals as brushes.  We explored the smell, texture, and absorbency of rose petals that afternoon.

 The next week, I set up for an outdoor studio provocation by taking apart a lily bloom, stem, and leaves.  I arranged them on the studio table, which was covered with white paper.  I mixed some colors that I hoped would reflect the color of the lily, and placed pots of paint and brushes around the table.  Then I invited the children in.

Immediately, imaginations were sparked.  Paint brushes were eagerly taken up, paint colors claimed, and then shared.  At first, the flower parts were painted around, and then they were touched, moved, painted on, and became part of the artwork.

When one child declared "I'm painting a rainbow!" this idea became interesting to everyone, and many rainbows were made that day.  Some wanted to fill as much paper as possible with one color, while others were interested in what would happen when the colors blended.

Natural materials are inherently interesting to interact with and we keep our spaces at Tumbleweed stocked with beautiful and interesting natural items.  It has been wonderful to interact with something as vibrant, striking, and ephemeral as spring flowers, and we are all eager to see what the season will bring us next.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What does your Cinderella look like?

First child - My Cinderella has green eyes, but yours doesn't!
Second Child - No! Cinderella always has blue eyes.
Third Child - Everyone could make their own Cinderella, you know.
First Child - What does your Cinderella look like?

There was one thing that everyone agreed on: Cinderella has long hair. From there, the agreement about what she looked like, what she did, what she wore and other details varied.  The other thing that was true, is that everyone could make their own version of this fairy tale character.  They talked as they drew, adding in the details they thought were important.
The story grew and evolved throughout the day and drew others into it.  We left drawing materials out, so that they could return when needed to finish parts of their story.

"We drew Cinderella!  And they're all different!" 

When differences are not just celebrated, but accepted as a natural state of humanity, they become how we connect and understand each other in an intimate way.  Our differences draw us closer and encourage us to build connections and community.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cohort 10's First Art Provocation!

Today was our first art provocation in Cohort 10! Provocations are set up to give children the opportunity to explore new or even familiar materials. I laid EF on his back next to a piece of white paper with a few drops of blue paint. I also had a bucket with some water and towels nearby for an easy clean up.


As EF moved his arm up and down, he smeared the paint across the paper. He smiled when he felt the cold paint on his hand. I rotated the paper after a few minutes, so that EF could reach the other blue dots. He turned his head to look over at the paper and see what he was making. I acted as a “sportscaster” for EF while he was painting. I described what he was happening, what the paint was doing and how he may have been feeling: “You can feel the cold blue paint on your hand!”.

This provocation was EF’s first time experiencing paint. He was able to feel the cool paint on his hand, arm and side. He felt the smooth texture and how it felt to rub paint onto paper. Infants use their senses to learn about the world, so provocations like this are a great way to introduce new experiences and materials. It’s also a great way to let older children to use materials they have used in a different way.  The goal of provocations isn’t the product, but the process of exploring materials and trying new things.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Finding our place during transitions

Transitions between activities gives children an opportunity to practice skills of asking for help and giving it.  There are some children who put their shoes and coats on quickly and then turn to help their friends.  This cycle of peer support gives the children ways to interact with each other, build communication skills and hone fine motor and dexterity. 

HR - I can't find my shoes. 
AK - I can help!

EK - I cant get my coat on.
AS - Let me try (notices its inside out and shows how to do it). Do you want to do a preschool flip, AS. 
EK - Yeah!

CE - I dont know how to tie laces. Does anyone know how?
DC - Sure I know how to do it. I'm not as good as my brother though.

Transition periods can feel more chaotic as children are moving from one activity to the next and the adults are often less available.  By working together, the children take ownership not only over their own experiences at school, but the school environment itsself.  They are creating our culture by caring for each other and feeling pride in our community.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Building Community at the Table

The last few weeks have been an exciting time of transition as Cohort 9 left our room at the Preschool House and joined Cohort 7 and Elizabeth in the sunroom at the Infant House.  For Cohort 9, there have been many significant changes: a new house we meet at each day, different people around the school, a new room, a new yard, a new bathroom, and (most of all) 5 new children and a new teacher who are now part of our group.

Any time a group of people comes together there will be a period of transition, a time to get to know one another as a group.  At Tumbleweed, we place great value on the feeling of community in each group.  These first few weeks have been invaluable as a time to feel out how our new community works, how each of us likes to play and work together.  Meals and snacks at the table have felt especially important to me in this process of community building.

As I've written before, gathering at the table to eat is a very special time for Cohort 9, and I know it has for Cohort 7 as well.  It is a time during which we get to slow down and all work on the same thing: getting nourishment into our bellies.  Passing a bowl of food to a friend, as we do at our family-style meals and snacks, is a simple act filled with warmth and generosity.  Food is a sensory experience, and it's always wonderful to see what children notice about their food as they look, feel, smell, and taste at the table.  

Something that has been important for Cohort 9 has been singing "All I Really Need" before we start passing food around the table and eating.  We were so excited to share this song with our Cohort 7 friends and they have embraced it wholeheartedly.  Now everyone gets excited to sing together as we slowly move as a group from washing our hands, to getting our lunch dishes from the shelf, to sitting together at the table.  We wait for the whole group to sit before we count to four and sing together. 

Mealtimes are one of many daily routines that we see as meaningful.  By setting meals and snacks aside as a time for closeness, thoughtfulness, and communication, we are creating a space at the table where relationships can grow while minds and bodies are being nourished.  It has been inspiring to see the intention with which the children come to the table, making sure everyone gets each bowl of food as they are passed, checking to see what each person is enjoying, asking questions about food and listening closely to responses from teachers and friends.  I am sure that in our new group new mealtime rituals and routines will come about, and I am so excited to see how the group continues to process these moments of connection.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Freedom of Movement

 This past week, I have been thinking and learning more about the importance of movement for young children. Not only is movement important, but allowing a child to move freely is essential. "Never put a baby into a position that she/he cannot get into or out of all by themselves." This is a quote from Respecting Babies: A New Look at Magda Gerber's RIE Approach by Ruth Anne Hammond, which really stuck out to me. You see parents, family members, and caregivers put babies or young children in positions that the child is not ready for all the time. I had flashbacks of propping my nephew up at three months old and holding his hands above his head while he "walked" months later. Adults might feel that they are helping the child get to the next step in their development when they "help" their child by putting them in the position that they feel the child wants to be in. In reality, you are benefiting the baby more by letting them get there on their own-- and in their own time. 

A great example that I found in Respecting Babies by Ruth Anne Hammond for understanding what it feels like to be a baby who is put in a position that they are not developmentally ready for, is trying "tummy time" for yourself. Like the book suggests, I laid on the floor on my back and moved my arms, legs and head around. Then I rolled over and tried the same movements. What a difference! Even for an adult who can support their head, roll over by themselves and quickly get out of that position, I felt a little helpless. Holding your head up while you're on your stomach is tough! Breathing is harder and your range of motion is totally different. Once you try both positions, you get a sense of how your baby would feel. You also have a better understanding of how "tummy time" would feel for a baby who is not ready to be on their tummy. I encourage you to try tummy time for yourself! It really opened my eyes to why it's so important for the child to be in control of their own process and how we should be respecting the baby's instinct and internal time table.

Free movement is important because it builds the child's own awareness of their body. It helps a child learn to problem solve and they prepare for the next step. When a child is given ample time to move freely, they are building muscles and practicing important skills that they will need later on. Adults may see a baby on their back, who seems to be struggling to roll over onto their tummy. Their instinct, and my first instinct, would be to roll the baby over! When you really think about the process the baby is going through, you understand why rolling the baby over isn't benefiting them in the long run. Struggle is a beautiful thing. In the baby's struggle, they are learning and getting stronger. Babies are determined and they will get to the next step but when they are ready to. When they accomplish their goal, whether it's rolling onto their tummy, crawling, balancing, walking-- on their own, they feel the same joy that we as adults feel when we complete a hard task. Putting a baby in the position they are working towards, takes away from that feeling of accomplishment they will have once they finally do it for themselves at their own pace.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


It's spring and all the plants in our yard are beginning to wake up.  Leaves unfurling and buds opening are a rich time for us to encourage and enhance our connection to the outdoor environment with the children, even the very youngest!

When the children of cohort 8 came outside today, I discovered dandelions.  They are one of my favorite plant based manipulatives because they are something we naturally remove from our lawn to encourage grass growth and they are edible! They also have long, green stems and bright yellow flowers which draw the attention of the children immediately.  

I picked a handful then offered them to the children. They were all very excited and hurried over to see what I was talking about.  Each child had their own way of interacting with the flowers. The children in cohort 8 are still in the stage when interacting with their surroundings sensorially fits with their natural development.  

They tasted the stems and petals:  
"Oh, what did you notice?  It tickled your tongue?  It had a strong flavor?"

They looked closely at the bright flowers: 
"It's a dandelion!" 
 "You noticed the yellow flower is at the end of the stem."

They held them in their hands:
 "I noticed you're running your fingers on the stem.  I wonder how it feels."  
"You pulled off the petals.  They look a bit different now."

By offering this hands on experience of interacting with the outdoors, the children were able to build new connections and learn more about the qualities of other plants and flowers they will interact with through their adventures

Beauty in our Spaces

Lately I've had the pleasure of spending time in all of our classrooms. I'm always so appreciative when I have the chance to spend time in the spaces of our teachers. Each classroom acts as a temporary home for the teacher and children in that cohort. You see pieces of that cohort around the room- in the way that the materials are arranged on the shelf, how the light is used within the space, the arrangement of the furniture... all of it speaks to the intentions of the teacher and how the children use the space. This is especially true in Briana's classroom.

As I sat in Briana's classroom the other day I leaned back and took in the space as a whole. To a neat freak like me I at first saw clutter- there were things everywhere. However, when I let myself look at each section of her room closely and intently I started to see the beauty that can only come from Briana's handiwork.

Small touches of her were everywhere and these small touches called out to the children. They asked of them: "Come closer. Look intently. Study us. Make us your own." Her very set up of her room called for close, focused engagement from her children. Where I saw a pile of mismatched items, the children saw a collection of treasures.

The beauty in Briana's space moved past this as well. Flowers livened up spaces and brought nature into her room. Metal pieces from a monopoly game inspired the children to use the pieces of a stacker in a new way. A small bowl of paper with numbers on it embraced their imaginations. I felt inspired as I sat there in the quiet of her room... for no matter where my eyes rested I saw beauty.

The Power of Pretend

Our Preschoolers love to negotiate for roles during pretend play!

Children decide their own roles.
DC: I will be the mom.
AS: I will the sister.
LC: Ok I will be the sister too!

Children invite others to play.

LC: Do you wanna play sisters?
DC: Yeah!
AS: Yeah!
EF: Yeah!
LC: This is a train! Climb on!
DC: We are going to the beach!

Children listen to each others ideas.
SC: I'm a doggie!
EF: Come over here doggie!
LC: Guys, SC is the doggie ok!

In the process of deciding roles during pretend play with doctor visits, horse back rides to the mountains, ballet class, bike rides, cooking meals, and more, children gain confidence in advocating for themselves and listening to others!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Language As Scaffolding

Since collaborating with the other Infant House teachers on our recent workshop about The Language of Limits, I've been reflecting on how the language we use in interactions with children can actively scaffold emotional processing.  Emma recently wrote about scaffolding in toddlerhood as "presenting materials to children in a way that will provoke interest, inquiry, and exploration."  She goes on to write about a shift that happens as children get older, when teachers begin to present ideas as a means of scaffolding.  This discussion resonated with my understanding of the use of language as a way of scaffolding children's emotional processing beginning right away in infancy.

In the same way that our material provocations are meant to inspire and engage children (and not to explicitly "teach" them in a top-down fashion), so too does our language scaffold their emotional processing at any given time.  Our language evolves with children: when interacting with infants, we primarily reflect and narrate what is happening and the emotions that we notice.  Infants are in a stage of soaking up emotional vocabulary and linking emotions to what is happening around them:

"Oh!  You are feeling really sad that I set you down.  I need to bring these dishes to the sink.  I will be available to hold you after I am done."

Offering labels like "sad" or "frustrated" engages infants in their own emotional processing, as they are naturally driven to make sense of feelings in themselves and others.  Calmly and simply explaining the limit in a situation (i.e. not being available) facilitates their cause-and-effect understanding of tricky emotional situations (when you need to step out of the room, I feel sad).  These are fundamental components of any social interaction, and the language we use with infants reflects just that:  meeting them where they are in their processing, we offer just enough language to facilitate their learning of this foundation, which will be part of every social interaction they go on to have as toddlers, Kindergardeners, and beyond.

We slowly add more language as children show us they are ready.  As children reach toddlerhood, offering choices and using phrases like "It's up to you" or "Let's make a plan" are introduced:

"I notice you feeling frustrated that I am not available to hold you right now.  I need space to work when I am at the sink.  You can stand close by or go play in the classroom until I am available again.  It's up to you!"  

As children begin to take more ownership over all kinds of routines that occur throughout the day (e.g. getting dressed, setting the table/serving food, cleaning up before heading outside), they show us that they are interested and capable in making decisions about when and how things happen around them.  Meeting children where they are in their emotional processing looks different now than it did in infancy -- we still label emotions and explain limits, but now there is room for negotiation in the language we use, as we give them age-appropriate power in limit-testing situations.

"I can tell you both really want this toy!  I won't let you push each other, though.  Let's make a plan!"

Older toddlers often show us that they are not only capable of understanding limits and making choices within them, but that they can also take on much of the problem-solving work in their interactions with others.  When I notice children spontaneously running across the room to offer an upset friend a different toy, I know that they are watching and listening carefully, and that they are driven to find solutions (and exercise their ever-developing divergent thinking) in tricky situations.  We can support this interest by offering toddlers more open-ended invitations (e.g. "Let's make a plan" or "I wonder how you will...") to engage in challenging emotional work.

In any limit-testing situation, it is not our role to make children see what we see, but to support them in seeing exactly what they see.  It is our role to notice their perspective and scaffold their interest in engaging with whatever is most relevant to their emotional development.   We can trust children to guide us in our practice of gentle leadership as they show us what they are currently processing and the direction that they are heading in next.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Joy in Discovery

This past Thursday I watched as one of the infants in Cohort 8 discovered how to put on a necklace…and take it off again.

She spent a bit of time looking closely at the necklace and than, simply and resolutely, worked to get the necklace on.  She tried…and tried…and tried again.  I sat close by, watching and waiting and wondering – could she figure this out?  Would she get frustrated or simply be done with the attempts?

She tried…and tried again.  And just like that, between one breath and another, the necklace was on.  I said calmly, “You did it.  You got the necklace on,”  but internally I was jumping up and down and wanting to share this new accomplishment with whatever adult was close enough to hear me!  She did it!  She tried, over and over, and got the necklace on!  She modeled perseverance, determination, and a willingness to try over and over!!


And then the necklace came off.  And went back on.  She would crawl about the yard, rediscover the necklace around her neck – off again, on again, off again, on again.  And crawl some more.


The joy, hidden in moments like these, is contained in watching someone do something, discover something or experience something for the first time – EVER!  In these moments I reflect that this infant, this small young person, has just done something for the absolute first time in their young lives and I had the privilege to bear witness – to celebrate, support, and encourage. 

So, when the day is long and perhaps naps have been short, I find such joy in reflecting on all the amazing 'first times' I have witnessed and think ahead to all the wonderful ones just waiting to be discovered.