Friday, July 31, 2015

Toddlers Are Doin' It For Themselves

Throughout the day there are so many opportunities for the toddlers in Cohort 11 to try something new or practice a simple task on their own. During these moments it is important to step back and let them try it by themselves. This gives them the confidence to try more things on their own without asking for help first.

One of the most fun and challenging things to do for the toddlers in Cohort 11 is to climb up and down the ladder of the treehouse. Getting down is a bit more complicated than climbing up, so it requires a lot of trial and error. It can be hard to step back and watch as they try to figure it out on their own, but I stand a safe distance away so that they know I am there should they lose their footing.
C prefers to go down the ladder backwards. She sticks her legs out to find the first step while holding still holding on to the ledge of the treehouse.

Once she gets her foot on the second step, she grabs on to the first step of the ladder. After that, it's almost as easy as climbing up. O stands by and watches her closely.


Washing our hands is something we do so often that all the steps have become a habit. The toddlers know what comes first and what comes last and they can complete it almost all on their own. 
H steps onto the stool and turns the faucet on by lifting the handle. She reaches her hand under the soap and I help her get a small amount out.  
She rubs her hands together, making sure to get in between her fingers and the outside of her hands. The toddlers all love watching the bubbles form in the sink. She then holds her hands under the water to rinse and pushes the handle down to turn the water off.
She then reaches for a towel and dries her hands off and places the towel in the basket for used towels. She steps down from the stool. All done!

While it might seem faster and more convenient to do these simple tasks myself instead of letting the toddlers learn how, it is much better for them (and me!) in the long run to let them do things on their own.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Climbing and Coaching

LP, NA, and LS were climbing on our sturdy climbing dome.  This area in the yard has become a frequent meeting spot for children.  The challenges it offers, climbing up and getting in and out of the dome's structure of triangles,all while negotiating space, are inviting for our group of eager explorers.
On this particular day, LS was attempting to climb higher than she had before.  LP was watching her friend closely and noticed when LS looked worried as she stood with both feet on a bar above the ground.  LP got close to her friend and asked, "You want a little help?"  LS nodded, and LP gently touched one of LS's feet.  "You move that foot down first and then your other foot and then you'll be down!"  The girls made eye contact for a moment, and then LS began her descent.  She got both feet on the ground with a smile and clapped her hands once, and moved on to another area of the yard.
After LS moved away, LP started her own work of climbing again.  LP had been watching closely as NA moved all around the top layer of the dome, and decided to try it herself.  As her friends moved on to other activities, LP slowly climbed each rung of the dome, waiting until she felt ready to move a hand or foot to the next.  When she made it to the top, she called out, "Hey, N!  I'm up high!" - a smile on her face, and pride in her voice.  She stayed up there for a while, enjoying the view from her new perch, and then I heard her calmly call out, "Hey, Emma!  I think I need a little help."

I walked over and stood nearby and asked LP what was going on.  She explained to me that she didn't know how to get down, and I began to coach her through the steps of climbing down, mirroring the coaching she had done with LS earlier.  I talked about how one way to climb down would be to place your knee where your foot had been before, and once LP did that, she was able to climb the rest of the way down by herself.  At the bottom of the dome, LP paused and took a breath.  "I really did that," she said, and then ran off to the next thing.

The practice of coaching allows for one person to calmly and patiently help another through something that feels tricky or risky.  By talking through the problem-solving process, coaching allows a child to take ownership of the solution, build skills and confidence, and share a moment of connection with the person who is coaching them.  Coaching is an important part of the teacher-child relationship at Tumbleweed, and as language grows within our cohort, the children are able to skillfully coach each other.  This is a building block in our school culture which values challenges and sees struggle as an opportunity for connection, growth, and building independence.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Potty Training: Each in Their Own Time

We have entered an exciting phase in Cohorts 7 + 9:  everyone is very interested in the toilet and all of the other interesting things that go along with toilet use: taking clothes on and off, wiping, flushing, undies, etc.  As a teacher, it's amazing to see children take ownership of this new stage of independence in so many different ways, and as a teacher in a child-led environment, I have been particularly impressed by the ease with which children let us know where they are in the potty training (or toilet learning) process.

After peeing or pooping in the toilet, you get to flush!
As with any learning process at Tumbleweed, using the toilet is something that we have been scaffolding toward for a long time.  You can read about a respectful approach to diapering infants here .  We believe that beginning by talking children through diaper changes as infants sets the stage for them to take ownership of their diapering, and then toileting processes, which is really the long-term goal of potty training.  We want to help children to be independent and have the ability to take control of self-care activities such as using the toilet.  We also make sure to use clear language and the real words for body parts and what comes out of them.  This helps children to be confident that they understand what we are talking about, and is part of our value of anti-shame: our bodies are amazing, and we can talk about them with clarity and without embarrassment.

As infants become wobblers and then toddlers, there are all sorts of ways that we encourage them to take over more and more of the diapering routine.  They choose their own diapers, they get their own wipes (and eventually wipe themselves), they pull their pants down and off and then on and up again.  They wash their own hands, and once they are standing and walking, they are offered the use of the toilet at every diaper change.  The message is never that they must sit on the toilet, but rather that the toilet is available.  We don't have any problems drumming up interest in the toilet among toddlers - it is an interesting thing (it's full of water and grownups use it!).

So what does all this child led toilet learning lead to in our classroom of 2 - almost 3-year-olds?

Working on many different tasks in the bathroom.
 Children who are all at the exact right place for each child - across a wide spectrum.  Some children in our group are wearing undies to school every day, pee and poop on the toilet regularly, and have few accidents at school.  Some children are in diapers, and choose to sit on the toilet at every diaper change, often peeing in the toilet, and peeing and pooping in diapers as well.  Some children are in diapers and occasionally sitting on the toilet and peeing and pooping in diapers.  Some children are in diapers and haven't yet started sitting on the toilet regularly.  All of these stages are perfect for the children who are in them.

Here's what everyone in the group does in the bathroom:

  • Takes off his/her own pants
  • Takes off his/her own diaper or own underwear
  • Makes his/her own choice about whether or not to sit on the toilet
  • Gets his/her own wipe
  • Chooses his/her own diaper/underwear
  • Puts on his/her own pants
  • Washes his/her own hands.
Picking out her own diaper.
Each step in the process is owned by the child.  Most importantly, to me, is that sitting on the toilet gets to be each child's choice, each time we are in the bathroom.  Getting to make that choice (even if the child chooses not to sit on the toilet!) is part of toilet learning that will continue to give a child confidence in and ownership of their toileting experience for years to come.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Building Friendships

Now that Cohort 11 has been together for a few months, it is really fun to watch the relationships that have been formed between the children. Drop-off is a great time to witness the close bonds they now have, as they usually express a lot of excitement when they see another friend get dropped off.

C notices B is gone and asks where he is.

They know each other's names and express concern throughout the day if they notice that someone from the cohort is not within their sight. If a friend doesn't come to school on a certain day, their name usually comes up a few times and we have to discuss how that friend is not at school, and talk about where they could be.

Our new friend J joined our cohort a couple weeks ago, and the toddlers have already bonded with him. They notice when he's gone and point to his cubby box and say his name.

H gives A a hug on the playground.

They even know the names of some of the preschoolers and get excited when we see them. A favorite thing to do in the mornings is stand on the big chair and watch the preschoolers get dropped off.

The joy that Cohort 11 gets from interacting with one another is such a fun and exciting thing to witness!

Introducing Solid Food

I can't believe Cohort 10 is already starting to eat solids! Over the past few weeks, we have been trying new foods together at school. We started out with sweet potato, banana, pear, steamed apple and avocado. So far the infants have shown a lot of interest in food, picking pieces up, getting a close look, squishing it in their hands, and eventually tasting a little bit. Pear, sweet potato and avocado are our favorites! 

F grabs the pear and brings it to his mouth.  By being in a natural position while eating, his hands and body are free to explore the food!

Although the infants aren't eating much of the food yet, they are learning and building the important skills they need for eating in the future. How to chew and swallow, experiencing different tastes and textures and working on their fine motor skills.

We are also introducing the concept of meal time and building skills which will last a life time.  I gather our food, we come together and eat, when they begin to push the food away we clean up and we are all done.   These concepts will build over time as our meal times develop.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Experiencing Salt Dough

Since we are still adjusting to a nap schedule, there are often times where one baby is awake while the others are sleeping. It's so nice to be able to spend some one on one time with each child and learn more about them. Last week, I made some salt dough and gave F a handful to explore.

First he held the dough in one hand and took a good look at it. Then he discovered that he could squeeze it in his hand and break it apart into smaller pieces.  His eyes watched his hands and the dough closely as the texture changed as he manipulated it.

After a few minutes of breaking the dough apart and squishing it back together, F brought it to his mouth for a taste! He seemed surprised and interested in the texture and the strong salty taste, but quickly removed it.  Young infants explore the world with all of their senses.  Since they are still new and developing, their senses are more refined than they will be later in life and they feel everything more strongly.  By offering a wide variety of sensorial experiences, the child is able to develop a refined sense for the world around them as they begin to categorize it for later use. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Back from Summer Vacation!

Each year, Tumbleweed closes for a week of summer vacation.  This year, the vacation was last week, and the families of Cohorts 7 and 9 had many amazing adventures, near to home and far away.  
It is an amazing thing to witness the reunion of a group of two-year olds after a week apart.  The relationships between the children are so strong, so full of love, silliness, trust, and connection (and a week is a really long time for a toddler!), and each moment where two friends come back together is really beautiful.  There was CC and LP wordlessly jumping up and down with happiness when they saw each other, LS and NA returning to each other over the course of the day to give each other gentle hugs, and LC smiling at each of her friends at the snack table on Monday: "I'm sitting next to you!"

Our week away from Tumbleweed was a hot one and all the plants in the garden grew rapidly.  The children were thrilled to see the changes.  MH noticed the crowns of broccoli that had begun to grow and called CS over to show him the "baby broccoli!"  After we harvested some giant zucchini we noticed, AJ held them in her hands, declaring, "Whoa.  This a big one."  Everyone was ecstatic about all the ripe blackberries our plant had ready for us Monday morning, and we got to talk about the difference between blackberries and raspberries and how to tell if a blackberry was ripe.

The last week was filled with moments of magic.  Each child grew so much in the week away and came back with new words, new moves, and new stories to share.  We are all excited to see where this growth with take us next.

We Love Games!

Games are an essential part of our play at the Preschool House. Games start to take place with growing language and communication in play. They are full of imagination and can take on any form. The three criteria needed to create a game are a description of how to play, what to do, and an outcome or the desired result.

Rules spring up as an invitation to play. One child may have an ideal outcome and in order to achieve it they need others to mimic an action or refrain from doing another action. Rules come about as a child gains social skills and use communication to lead play with peers. Anyone one can make rules especially when it comes to imaginative pretend play. Rules are dynamic often changing to reflect the changing diversity and size of the group. Rules are important because they build critical public speaking and leadership skills.
 Describing the action in a game can often happen non-verbally by showing an action first then motioning for others to join in. The action is an important way to test out motor skills, physical abilities and creative minds. There are many different types of children but all have unique expressions and love to show them off. Children get to decided if they want to follow others or express their own actions.

The achievement of a goal is as important as the creation of one.  This is true in life as well as games.  When the children create goals for themselves, there is a greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when they are reached.   There is also more ownership taken over the goals, even when they are not met.

The skills used in creating, navigating and playing games help the children learn and practice skills which will last a life time.