Thursday, April 30, 2015

What is a Tumbleweed?

Today I told a small group a story.  It went something like this:
Me - In the desert, there is a special plant that grows.  It's unlike other plants.  Do you know what a desert is?
AS - There's sand in a desert
LC - And it's hot.
DA - Yeah!  Really hot
Me - You got it!  The desert has very little water.  This means it also has different plants from what we usually see.  There is one plant called a Tumbleweed.
E - I go to Tumbleweeds!
Me - You know that word!  We all do, because that is the name of our school.  It is also the name of a plant.  It's very special.  Here is what it looks like:
Everyone looked very closely at this picture.
Me - Tumbleweeds grow up from the ground and into a ball shape.  It's like any other plant.  It has stems, leaves, flowers and seeds.  What makes this plant unique is how it releases its seeds.  The entire plant dries up and becomes very light.  Then, when the seeds are ready, the stem breaks off at the first strong wind.  The tumbleweed tumbles across the desert, or road, or field, or anywhere really.  As it tumbles the seeds fall out!
We flip through a few more pictures of tumbleweeds growing singularly, together, rolling down roads, through cities, and in various different places.
Me - What I love about tumbleweeds is that they roll and tumble around.  It seems like it would be fun to be a tumbleweed.  I wonder how it might feel to be a tumbleweed.  Does anyone have an idea?
AS - Maybe like this!

LC - Yeah, really tiny and small like this.

Me - You remembered it was round!  What else do you remember.
E - They move!  I can can move too!

Soon, all of the children are rolling across the floor like tumbleweeds, sometimes crashing, mostly laughing with the joy that a tumbleweed must feel as it spreads its seeds across the land. 

The tumbleweed gathering and story soon turned into somersaults and other stretching games, which fully supported the needs of these children in the moment.  The goal of our small group moments is to introduce a new concept, then offer it as an invitation to the children to explore.  I look forward to seeing how tumbleweeds will begin to integrate themselves into our daily play!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Taking time for Space and Practice

We concentrate a lot on knowing when and how to take space in our classroom. Preschoolers are working on so many socialization skills while also processing BIG emotions that we want them to feel free to have any necessary space to work through that. My own personal bias shows here, too, as I was often forced to interact with others and labelled as "shy" from a young age- though the opposite has been proven rather true since the days of my childhood! We have many communal activities throughout our day and the members of our classroom eagerly and actively engage in so much play and interaction- but none of it is required.

Are you not feeling like being at circle for this story? You are free to choose to read on another rug or quietly work with blocks! Are you not interested in small group today even though it sounded really fun when you were invited to join? You can elect to leave and find a quiet activity or join the other group! Do you not want to play with the large group of people in the sandbox? Feel free to find some solitude on the teeter totter! We offer up so many chances to take space and we encourage it when we see that someone's interactions aren't working in the way they are hoping. In short, it's always okay to need space.

But what if we only think we need space? What if space becomes our default? In my head there was no possibility of this. I had been offered so little space as a child! An abundance of space could only ensure that a child felt welcome to take space. That they didn't feel labelled or judged by their need for space. However, it's easy to forget that sometimes we make choices because we believe that's what's available. Some recent brainstorming with Amy brought this to my attention.

Sometimes what we need isn't space, it's practice. Maybe the reason that I don't want to be at circle today is that I really wanted to lean into my friend and they yelled when I did it. The interaction didn't work and now I feel poorly. My instinct is to make like a turtle and crawl in my shell. This is a totally valid conflict resolution skill and yes, sometimes, retreating is a great option! However, it's far from our only option. We can also practice our skills at voicing and labeling our needs and feelings then seeing what happens next. What if I said to my friend, "I really wanted to lean into you!" I may even add, "because I'm happy that you are here!" if I knew why I felt so strongly about leaning into them.

This is the work that preschoolers (and many adults!) do on a regular basis. We are constantly reworking what it looks like to recognize and give voice to our own emotions- and to the emotions others feel in reaction to us! Practicing our skills during our communal activities helps to build emotional awareness around not on ourselves but others as well. As we move into our next week together I'm excited to look for opportunities for both space and practice- and excited to see how the children's decision making skills help them decide which path they need to take in any given situation.
The wagons are a great opportunity to work on practice and space! 

Explorations in Art

Our classroom transition has began to change into a predictable routine. This has meant more frequent small groups and increased time to follow child interest in a more intimate environment. A few weeks ago I set up an exploration I thought the kids would find great interest in. We all sat down and everyone worked for a few minutes before their interest fizzled out. AK looked up at me, "Why can't we just do art?" I looked back at him and realized I had no reason for why we couldn't. I stood and began to look at the materials we might use instead then spoke, "If you are interested, we could clean up our materials and work with the markers instead." EF nodded "Yeah! We need stickers, too!" CE added, "And BIG paper pieces!" The children were motivated by their excitement to use the markers and quickly cleaned up the materials already out. I handed out the materials we had decided to use and the children set them upon the table. Then we began to work.

The children spoke as they worked on their individual pieces. HM said, "I'm drawing cars!" HR said, "Oh! Me too! I love to draw cars." CE made a long sweep with a marker then added a foam sticker, "I'm making dance class!" She peered over at EF's paper, "What are you making E?" EF stopped working and studied her paper, "I don't know yet. I'm not finished." This caused the others to study their papers as well. For a moment everyone was quiet. All work had stopped. They were simply considering their own work. AK spoke up, "Yeah! None of us are finished yet." After this their work resumed.

For the next small group I hosted I set out a provocation based around art materials. I placed small vessels of water color with brushes next to half pages of paper. I invited children to approach the provocation with a simple offering, "When you close your eyes, what do you see? Can you use the brush to make it?" What followed was a lot of closed eyes and focused, intentional brushwork. Each child began to work to paint what they saw in their imaginations. JK painted circles slowly, "These are faces that I see."

 DA used her brush to make thick lines, "I see a tree so I'm painting that." CE began to paint lines in a flower or star like fashion, "I'm just closing my eyes then painting a little then closing my eyes again." SC was quiet as he worked. He would paint for a moment then stop and consider what he would do next- without closing his eyes, though. After the initial surge as we started, each child fell into their own individual rhythm with working. Though they were all using the same materials with the same set up, each child connected with the materials in their own way.

 Our most recent exploration was inspired by the children's interest in dandelions. As a group we've spent considerable time picking dandelions, pulling weeds from our garden, making dandelion crowns, and even bringing bouquets of dandelions into our classroom! The cheerful yellow of the dandelions naturally pulls us to explore them- to touch them, smell them, and gift them to one another. Today as our group headed inside I asked them if anything outside piqued their interest to use in our art explorations that day. Of course, they immediately and collectively answered, "Dandelions!"

 Each child found a few dandelions to pick before coming inside. Once we were inside I handed out half sheets of paper and brought down a few small spray bottles filled with water. With help from the water, we used the dandelions to paint!
Some children applied water directly to their dandelion while others sprayed the paper itself. Though it wasn't the most successful in terms of actually creating something, the journey of our explorations was endlessly engaging for each child. When one attempt to paint with the dandelion didn't work, EK quickly tried another. CE carefully pushed her dandelion on her paper without water, leaving a faint yellow mark. She yelled out, "I can see the flower! There's color in it! Look it's on my paper!" In each of our small groups, the exploration was our true focus. I can't wait to continue this work in the upcoming week!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Exploring Color-Mixing

This week, Cohort 7 & 9 has been extraordinarily fascinated with color-mixing.  We have been observing the children's ideas and observations about colors for some time, but their interest seemed particularly sparked by a painting provocation I set up early in the week.  On the table were transparent, colored blocks arranged so that a few colors could be seen from every seat.  Where blocks of different colors overlapped, new colors came into view, providing an open-ended, visual representation of color-mixing.  I gave each child a palette with red, yellow, and blue paint separated between the wells, handed them a brush and piece of paper, and sat back to observe.

First, I was struck by a few of the children who waited a full minute or two before even picking up their brush.  I often observe the children begin painting right away, so I was interested to note this pause.  After a little while, LC announced: "I'm picking colors!"  LT, sitting beside her, said "Oh! Me too."  LC, LT, LP, and NA counted the colors multiple times: "1, 2, 3! yay!" 

Across the table, AJ and LS had already begun to paint.  LS worked with one color at a time, transferring a large amount of paint to her paper before moving on to the next color, layering it on top of what was already on the paper.  AJ was using the very tip of her paintbrush to pick up just a little bit of paint, and then working with short, brisk strokes on the paper, creating a pattern of color that eventually faded before moving on to another color and trying out longer, circular strokes.

LP began painting next, making large circles of color across her paper, and then mixing new colors on top of each area: "It's green in there!"  NA, LT, and LC were still observing others and closely investigating their palettes.  LT carefully picked up her palette to bring it closer to her face, bringing it gently back to the table, and finally dipping her brush in each color, creating a green color with hints of red on her paper.  LC appreciated LT's work right away: "Look!  L's paintin'!"

NA set her brush down at this point, and dipped her fingers into two of the wells.  She held up her hands in wonder, her left fingertips covered in red, her right in blue.  She began to paint the paper using her hands, growing more and more excited as the colors changed on her skin: "Look Na-nee hands!"   LC began her work, focusing on mixing the paints while they were still in the palette.  "I'm tradin' colors!" she exclaimed, as each movement changed the colors in the wells.  The children stayed at the table for quite some time before moving on to wash hands and explore the classroom.

The children showed so much wonder and appreciation with their careful handling of the paints that afternoon, finding joy in their individual ways of engaging with the colors.  As each child explored the different paints, they fulfilled their interest in ordering the world, the work they are constantly engaged in everyday:  counting and labeling the colors, putting them together, keeping them separate, or moving through each color one at a time.

We continued to explore color-mixing throughout the rest of the week, working with tempera paint both in the studio and classroom and mixing wet chalk on the pavement outside.  Each time, the children who were present brought the same excitement and focus to their work, labeling the colors and noticing how they changed when mixed together through words or gestures.  We are excited to continue supporting this interest; stay tuned for where it takes us next!

Toddlers and Timelines and Letting Go

Cohorts 7 and 9 (combined in March) have come together into a beautiful, silly, sweet, curious group of children.  It's been an exciting transition over the past two months as the children have gotten to know each other and their new room.  We have seen old friendships strengthen and grow to include new friends, as brand new bonds form as well.

As teachers, Elizabeth and I have also been transitioning - figuring out what works and what doesn't in our new space, with the larger group, communicating frequently about what is going great and areas in which we want to improve.  Being in a new set of circumstances gives me a unique opportunity to reflect on my habits and tendencies and reflect on next steps for myself as a teacher.

Something that has been important for me as a teacher since I started at Tumbleweed last July has been letting go of the importance of a timeline or a schedule.  While there are certain things that mark our days that must happen with regularity every day (meals and snacks, diaper changes / toileting, naps!), we have the luxury to allow each of those processes, and every other part of our day, to take all the time it needs.

With 8-9 children in our room everyday, each bringing in his or her own mood and temperament, sometimes we zip through snack, throw our shoes on, and get playing outside in no time.  Sometimes, each bite of apple and pretzel at the snack table needs to be discussed, and then savored, and then everyone spills water and needs to find a towel to slowly mop it up, and then we all need to stretch our legs before putting shoes on, and we need to talk about our shoes for several minutes before opening up the velcro and slowly putting our toes in, and then decide what coat to wear, because all of our coats are interesting, and then maybe back down the stairs one at a time while counting each stair, and by the time we are outside, it's not all that long from time to head inside for lunch.

There is a part of my brain that goes a little crazy on that second type of days.  A part that is saying, "We should have been outside 23 minutes ago - how on earth did this take so long?!"  I am learning to tell that part of my brain that it is all going to be okay, because more important than the schedule we have pinned to our wall is the schedule that is internal to each child in our care.  And because we have the freedom of time, we can allow snacks, diaper changes, transitions, and activities to take place on toddler-time, which varies wildly.

Yesterday was one of those days where everything took an amazing amount of time.  All nine children were at school that day, playing, making discoveries, having discussions, and doing the work of being toddlers.  I think that Elizabeth and I got swept up in it as well, because once we got outside in the morning, we both checked the time and laughed out loud.  How did it get to be so late?  We made sure lunch would be ready on time, so that nap could happen as scheduled, but other than that, we let the schedule go, trusting the children to show us how much time they needed.

Later that day, when the children had woken up from nap, there was a quiet and relaxed joy in the air.  Kids were spread out all over the room, a few still relaxing on their nap mats, others already up and engaged in silly play.  There were soft voices and giggles and smiles all around.  I looked up at the clock and laughed again - it was well past the time we usually have nap mats picked up and have moved on to the next thing.  We then, slowly, began working on cleaning up the room together, and I thought about how, even though snack would be a bit later that afternoon than usual, I wouldn't give up that relaxed and easy time for anything.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


A favorite activity at the preschool house is mixing sand and water together.  Some days it is a river, some days it is a waterfall, some days it is a road.

Today as HR, C, SC and V were digging and pouring water I made an observation:

"It looks like a lake is forming."

The intention was to plant a seed of inspiration and information to drive the play to the next level.  Sometimes these seeds sprout and other times they never break the ground.  Today, the idea of  a lake took off quickly. 

HR - It is a lake!  The water is inside.  But we need more
V - I will build a lake of sand over the top.
SC - What is a lake?
C - I know how to make a lake.  You need to put sprinkles of sand on top.
HR - NO!  You just need water.  Like this, See??

I stepped back at this point an allowed the children to integrate this new information into their play.  Water is scooped in a hole that was dug.  Some of the water began to drain under the sand.  Where did it go?  Some sand is added which covers the water.  Where did the sand go?

These questions begin the cycle of inquiry and wonder which drives the work and play of the children.  By asking questions and allowing them to sit in the air for a while, they are able to draw their own conclusions, seek more answers through their play and answer for each other.  When I am able to observe their wonderings, it gives me ideas for where to go next.

Sand and water are a favorite open ended, loose parts material that lend themselves perfectly for introducing the idea of Landforms: lakes, rivers, continents, countries, islands, archipelagos.  It gives the children a concrete way to explore with what shapes our earth is made up of, as well as exploring the qualities of the sand and the water as they mix together.