Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Transitions: Morning Circle

Through the day in preschool, there are many moments where we are shifting and transitioning from one activity to another.  Many times this means moving through the school, inside to outside, and up and down the hallway.  During this time we encourage the children to move safely and calmly, while also allowing the children to know what is going to come next and what is expected.  When transitions happen smoothly, it sets the tone for focused participation and space for creativity and imagination through our day.

After a short play period, we invite the children to gather for circle time. Our circle times allow us to check in on how everyone is doing and is a great time to cultivate ideas and share information.Recently we moved our group time into the back room to allow for more space and focus while we gather. During this time we go over our day, beginning with the calendar. We talk about the date, month and the year. We take time to notice the weather, and often make predictions as to how our day will continue. 

These past weeks we have been learning about different instruments. Exploring different sounds they make and playing along to some of our favorite songs. This has been a great opportunity to talk about how music makes you feel and how different sounds can evoke many emotions.

Our time together also prepares us for our first snack of the day. We transition via songs and body movement expressions. The children love changing themes in this manner. It allows self expression and keeps the beat a playful and positive one.

Water Explorations

 Working with two- and three-year-olds is an excellent reminder that the simplest materials are also often the most interesting, versatile, and stimulating.  Water is one of our favorite materials in Cohort 7+9.  Water is familiar and accessible, and yet it has so much to teach us and offers so many different ways to play.

The children have always loved playing with water outside.  Usually one of the first things we hear when we get out into the yard is "Can we fill the basin?!"  Pouring, scooping, splashing, and dumping; working with small and large quantities of water; mixing water with cornstarch, flour, salt, and other materials; we have found many different ways to play with water outside.

Inside, water has been used frequently in our art, as a vital ingredient in watercolor paint and as a component in our work with watercolor pencils, water-soluble crayons, and other blend-able art mediums.

Lately I had been searching for ways to bring water to the table for sensory play.  The children have   an ongoing fascination with natural materials, and particularly an appreciation for their sensory properties.  We have spent long minutes feeling smooth stones, rough stems, and soft leaves and petals.  I was interested in bringing water into this careful and focused sensory work.

One afternoon as we gathered at the table after nap, I took out a collection of smooth river rocks.  I offered each child at the table a small amount of the stones on a dish, along with a paintbrush and some water in a little bowl.

For several minutes, the table was quiet, as each child looked over the materials and decided how they could be enjoyed together.  I noticed CC experimenting with dumping the water back and forth from her bowl into her plate and back again.  She smiled as she got a new idea, and then filled the tiny bowl with all of her stones.  NA ignored the stones altogether and spent time gently tapping water from her paintbrush onto the cloth covering the table, noticing how the wet spots made the cloth a different color.  LT soon brought some imagination into her play: she began mixing the stones in her bowl with her paintbrush, announcing that she was making pancakes for everyone!  LP stacked her plate on top of her bowl and then carefully placed stones on the top, saying "Look what I'm doing.  I call it a tower.  Look it!"  LS quietly experimented with her materials in different combinations.

With such simple materials, many different forms of play emerge, using creative and fine motor skills, experimenting with balance, cause and effect, and storytelling.  No instructions or suggestions were needed, just simple materials, and space and time to experiment.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

unconditional teaching

This weekend I have been re-reading one of the more influential books for me as a teacher.  The book is “Unconditional Parenting” by Alfie Kohn and while I am not a parent, the insights about how to care well for children cannot be overlooked.

One of the biggest “ah-ha” moments I had while reading the book the first time was the idea of parenting (or teaching) with long-term goals in mind of what you would like your children to become and allowing those to influence present, in-the-moment choices.  What does this mean?  When trying to solve a daily problem or get through another transition from house to car to grocery store, you intentionally make choices about how your act and respond to your children that will help them become the people you want them to be – compassionate, self-reliant, responsible, respectful, kind, thoughtful, creative, loving, curious, and confident. 

In the words of Alfie Kohn – “it challenges us to ask whether what we’re doing in consistent with what we really want.  Are my everyday practices likely to help my children grow into the kind of people I’d like them to be?  Will the things I just said to my child at the supermarket contribute in some small way to her becoming happy and balanced and independent and fulfilled and so on – or is it possible (gulp) that the way I tend to handle situations makes those outcomes less likely?  If so, what should I be doing instead?”

I love this idea because it challenges me to reflect on my words, actions, and attitude when I am interacting with my group.  If I want them to be gentle and respectful of people’s bodies (our current challenge), what am I doing on a moment-by-moment basis to develop this in them?  Am I being gentle and respectful with their bodies, modeling this for them to see, feel and understand?  If I want them to be wise about their health and food choices, choosing to nourish their bodies and genuinely enjoy their food, am I modeling this same behavior when we eat meals together, providing nourishing meals and giving them a space to discover their own likes and dislikes?

At times it can feel daunting to teach like this (I can’t speak to parenting).  Sometimes we just need to get diapers changed and onto our mats for a much needed nap and that is all I can think of.  But over time, I noticed that it changes how I approach almost everything I do with my group.  Little, day-to-day moments feel bigger somehow, as they fit themselves in a bigger picture of where we are going as a group and how they are growing as individuals.  As we transition from being an infant/wobbler group to a wobbler/toddler group, I have worked to pay attention to what I am doing in the moment that will intentionally move towards bigger, long-term goals I have for them – even as I continue to revise and envision those goals.

If you have never read the book, it’s a good one to check out.  For myself, it has challenged my thoughts and beliefs I had about teaching children and as I read it for the second time, it continues to shape and challenge my present beliefs, philosophies and actions as a teacher.

“In short, with each of the thousand-and-one problems that present themselves in family life, our choice is between controlling and teaching, between creating an atmosphere of distrust and one of trust, between setting an example of power and helping children to learn responsibility, between quick-fix parenting and the kind that's focused on long-term goals.” 
 Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

Giving Opportunities...

Lately I have been watching as the infants of Cohort 8 grow and change into the toddlers of Cohort 8.  At times, the change came slowly and then all of the sudden.  We are standing confidently, walking, trying out new words and ways to communicate, and gaining skills and abilities.

And so, I find myself in a space of needing to let go of the reins a bit - to intentionally give the boys opportunities to try out new skills, make mistakes, and keeping trying out big and small things.  I feel very much like I am saying, "I trust you...go ahead and try".

But the piece that I find to be so beautiful is that this is not an expectation that Cohort 8 now does everything on their own - it's about giving more opportunities for them to try things for themselves and being available when help is needed or asked for - another amazing skill that they have learned; the ability to communicate their need for help.


What an amazing jump we have taken, through many smalls and big steps!  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tracing Our Bodies

In the morning I had a conversation with one child who remembered doing an activity that involved tracing your body on a large piece of paper.  We talked about what it felt like, what they remembered, and then we made a plan to revisit it in a new way outside.  Our bodies are powerful things, but hard for many children to visualize.  Mirrors give us a view of what we look like, but often when you are a child it is difficult to understand or truly see.

After the entire school went outside for the day, I quietly walked around and invited a few people.  Once we had 5 children who were interested, we made our way to the front of the school.  It was exciting to just quietly make our exit from the big group, almost like the work we were going to do was something sacred.

I gathered a box of chalk I had prepped and invited everyone to our cement patch.  After asking for a volunteer, I demonstrated tracing around someone's body.  It was a tricky thing, because it had began raining that day, but eventually everyone found a way that worked for them to lay down long enough to be traced by a friend or two.  The tension in the children's bodies as they felt the chalk running along their sides, arms and legs was high, but everyone remained still and held the pose carefully.

The result was exciting.  We could see the outline of our body!  Our head, legs, arms, middle section.  But what about the rest?  What really makes us people?  We all agreed faces, hair and clothing were important.  Each child began thinking about themselves: what color are my eyes?  my hair?  my nose? my shirt?  But I want blue hair this time.  And this person has violet eyes.  The more the children worked on their drawings, often inviting their friends to help them decorate, the more these outlines became other people.  A park was drawn for the people to visit, as well as a fence so that the bad guys couldn't get them.  I brought up the idea that these outlines were originally them, and I got the clear response:

"I am myself.  This is another person!"

When exploring identity, we are constantly finding ways to define who we are, what we are, and what we mean.  This time was no different.  Even though our starting point was tracing our bodies, the end result was differentiating between ourselves and an embodiment of another.  We are tied deeply with who we are and these moments help us solidify what that truly means.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Infant Interactions

As the infants are growing and changing, so are their interactions with each other. At first, they interacted through eye contact and touching hands. Now, Cohort 10 is rolling and moving all over the room which has changed the way they interact. When a baby notices another baby near them, they change their position by rolling, turning, or crawling over to get closer and see what their friend is up to.

Cohort 10 has also started using their voices more and experimenting with the sounds that they can make. Sometimes they will have conversations, going back and forth making different sounds. They have also started smiling and laughing much more and are always excited to see their friends arrive at school each day!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Exploring Paint in a New Way

After only painting while at the table I thought it would be fun to let Cohort 11 explore painting in a different way. This set up allowed for a lot more freedom of where and what they could paint.

At first they weren't sure where they should be painting and started painting on the tarp, but they quickly got the hang of it.

 After a few strokes with the paintbrush they discovered they could also use their hands to touch the paint and move it around on the paper. This also made them want to put paint on other parts of their bodies.

The shared space and paper allowed them to take a moment to focus on what and how their friend was painting. This gave them more ideas on how to paint.

Overall, it was a very fun and messy experience!

one year later

I started at Tumbleweed one year ago – August 2014.  Its been an amazing year of growth and change as a teacher.  One of the big things that stood out as I looked back over this year was how I find myself in a community deeply embedded in respect.

Moving from preschoolers to infants was a huge shift in needed knowledge.  When working with infants, I found myself in this whole other world of knowing what my group needed through observation of their behavior and communication – different from being able to ask a 3 or 5 year old.  Watching for sometimes subtle movements of sleepiness, listening for the difference between a hungry cry and a “I’m frustrated” cry, and learning how each individual was communicating in their own way. 

And while I walked this road for the last year, often finding myself responding to well-known cues almost before they were totally communicated, I realized that none of this closeness and communication would be possible if it wasn’t for the respect found in everything we do. 

When I stop and listen to a cry or single word or communicated sound, I am showing respect for the individual and their unique voice.  I am, or hope I am, communicating back to them that what they have to say is important to me and I value it so much that I will stop and listen and try to understand (sometimes a tricky task).  After a year of intentionally practicing this and allowing it to become second nature, I have been reflecting how truly beautiful it is – to show such individual respect for every child that walks through the doors of Tumbleweed.  Perhaps it feels so wonderful to be a part of a community that cherishes respect because I know this is not always the norm in the larger world community; I feel privileged to be a part of a community where it’s a daily, second-by-second, practice.

So, a year later, I am feeling deeply grateful to be a part of a community that shows how much we value children, in all their beautiful and unique ways, through the respect that we show them from the beginning to end of our days together.

Thank you.