Sunday, November 29, 2015

"We are all attached!"

What is the earth?
How can we see it?
Are we a part of it?
These are the questions that the preschoolers are asking in many different ways every day.  It speaks strongly to their natural desire to become a part of their surroundings, find the places the fit (or don't fit), to discover themselves, and follow their individual paths of development.  It's because of that individuality, we are finding we often have different ideas or answers to the questions we ask about the world we live in.  

One thing we can all agree upon is that we are all connected.  We talk about this a lot through our day in open ended activities which highlight the way we effect others, through building empathy and awareness.  During group there are many stories shared about things the children remember.  One day I brought out a green scarf.  We each held a piece of the edge and we imagined that the scarf represented our world.  We each had a place we lived, where we held on to the scarf.  When we moved the scarf, it made changes across the scarf.  If someone pulled tightly on one side, it made it very tricky to hold on another.
"Let's try something," I suggested.  "Everyone make your place very still, and watch closely.  I am going to create a wave and pass it across the scarf.  Across the world."  Everyone was silent.  I looked at everyone in their eyes with a secret smile.  Then I carefully moved my hands up and down twice and we watched the wave move away from me and move the scarf next to the children sitting across from me.  
"It moved!" they cheered.
"Did you move it?" I asked.
"No! You did!" They all agreed.
We practiced this idea of our movements effecting others a few more times, before everyone began feeling very silly and were ready for the next part of our group time.

The Earth
We continued to explore the earth through reading books, building puzzles and singing songs.  We also shared stories from our own knowledge of what the earth is and looks like.  

We came to a few agreements:

We all live on the Earth
Animals live on the Earth
We are standing on the Earth.
Sometimes it is a planet.  Sometimes it is just the Earth.
It has land and water.
It is round and it spins.
We can see it in pictures or if you use a rocket ship.
Everyone shares the Earth. 

"We are all attaching!"
   In the afternoons outside, art provocations are frequently available which usually involves a large piece of paper.  Collaboration is implied as each child finds a place to begin their work, as space is limited.  One day this week paint was available.  At first each child painted on the paper directly in front of them.  Then one child drew a line to another child's area.  "There!  Now its attached."  This idea caught on quickly, and soon everyone was attaching together with a cheerful chant, "We're attaching! Everyone!  Everyone's attaching!"  Smooth lines of paint connected everyone's separate works together, similar to our game with the scarf earlier in the week.  This idea of connecting and finding ways to attach is a neverending interest to preschoolers.  

Play and Imagination in the Classroom

While playing on their own, H and B moved the play structure and sat down against the wall. They both agreed that it was a "choo choo." I decided to observe and see where their imaginations would take them next. 

They moved to sit on the steps of the play structure and decided they were still on a train, but the blocks in their hands became more of a focus to them.

H looked at the block in her hand and started using it to pretend to saw the wood on the play structure.

Then she gave B a closer look at what she was doing.

After watching H for a few moments, B set up his own blocks and said "look it!" He was really excited about how he got them to stand up.

B then got up and grabbed a book. He put it under his arm like a bag and said "bye bye, going to work."

H noticed and decided to grab her own book and pretend to leave. They both had a big laugh together over this and then went on to play separately. It's amazing to see what different things inspire and motivate children to play together and all the ideas that can come up in just a few short minutes!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Stormy Weather

This past week we had so much wind and rain and clouds and sunshine!  Autumn is a beautiful time to live in Oregon and have many opportunities to notice the beautiful leaves as they change and of course stomp in puddles.  We go outside twice every day, no matter the weather!  One day last week, we went outside directly in the middle of the storm.  The wind was gusting strongly and the rain was falling diagonally!  Some children put on their rain gear and dashed out into the thick of it.  Others felt less sure and stayed on the porch and talked about how the wind was blowing.  

After being outside for a while, some of the children found a puddle which was collecting water.  I had offered chalk for drawing, since chalk and water is such a lovely tactile experience.  A few children first dipped their chalk in, then began drawing at the bottom of the puddle!  They were amazed when they noticed the chalk beginning to change the water different colors.  Then people jumped through the puddle, and the colors mixed.  

We didn’t last too long in the heavy rain and by the end almost everyone was drenched.  Having these full body, sensory experiences in the weather of our world give children real experience of the qualities of rain and water, the effects it has on the world around them, as well as builds a natural appreciation. 

Grace's Spiral

Yesterday, I had an agenda:  Observe and document in the classrooms.  I had an intention, a wondering:  In what ways do we, as adults, affect a child's relationship to agency?  In what ways is that relationship connected to our practices around struggle and holding space for what IS?

I grabbed my camera.  I took some deep breaths.  And I began to document.  See with me:

Mary's children feel wary of me coming into their space. They probably wonder:  Is she here so that Mary can leave on a break? What does she want? 

Mary calmly explains to them that I'm there to take pictures.  She's available for connection and reassurance.  Can you sense how they know she's their person, their safe space? They know, already, as infants:  I can be seen by her. I can let her know what I'm feeling. She has space for me to be a whole version of me.  

And the feelings pass.  And they play again.  

Outside, my chest can hardly contain my heart as I watch more teachers who are masters of presence, connection, and holding space for whole selves.  

Slowly, as I feel the awe and joy wash over me in my observation, I realize something's coming up for me:  Sometimes, I'm afraid to be seen.  Sometimes, the idea of going into the classroom is overwhelming.  Sometimes, the process of being open for others AND showing up where I'm at and accepting that that's where I'm at... is a struggle.  Sometimes, I'm afraid that I'll let people down, that I'm not enough.  Sometimes, my fear tells me:  you might not be enough.

As I witness this understanding of my own fears, as I turn into them a bit and imagine hugging the part of me that fears, a few children come over to me. See with me, and feel this:

When face to face with these children, I feel truths deeper and stronger than any fear:

We are worthy of being seen.
We matter.
We are exactly where we should be right now. 
We are enough.

I am enough.

When I come back inside and head upstairs to start processing about the blog, I remember my wonderings:  In what ways do we, as adults, affect a child's relationship to agency?  In what ways is that relationship connected to our practices around struggle and holding space for what IS?   

I try to think about agency but am left vibrating with the feeling of seeing and being seen, of holding space for others and myself, of releasing into a peaceful trust in my own process. THIS is what Grace feels like.

I am struck by the realization that the powerful presence of Grace in the classroom made processing around agency (both itself and the relationship to it) feel like a stretch, an effort that would take away from a deeper resonating connection.  And BAM, it connects:  
My own agency--the grace I allow to myself to follow my inner guide, my own path--resonates with the grace I allow for others; back and forth, each connection with others spirals inward and outward, reinforcing deeper truths.  

Spiral with me.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

What Feels Fair?

One day this week, before children arrived at the school, I set out a provocation of buttons, beads, and stones, along with lidded jars and palettes.  Looking at this simple set up, I envisioned these materials inspiring sorting and matching work among the children who were soon to arrive in our classroom.  What I didn't know yet was that this work was going to be about what it means to share.

LT was the first child to enter the classroom.  LT loves to work with the screw-top jars I had set out, and is often drawn to this sort of work, so I had a feeling she might be interested in this provocation.  She sat right down and began her work of sorting and rearranging materials.  Beads were sorted by color in the palettes and stones and buttons were poured into jars and covered with lids.

LS was the next child to arrive, and after catching her teachers up on her morning and washing her hands, she joined LT at the platform.  LS watched LT for a bit and then gestured to the palette where LT had put the purple beads.  

LS: "I want that."
LT: "No, I'm using that, LS.  It's not available.  You can have these stones."

LS picked up the jar of stones and considered them.  She forcefully shook her head.

LS:  "No, LT.  I don't want the stones.  I want the purple beads."

Throughout this interaction, I sat nearby, actively listening but not intervening.  I offered support to both children by reiterating what they had told each other ("LS is hoping to use some of these materials, too."  "LT is offering you those stones."  "Hm, it sounds like the stones don't work for LS.").  I saw my role as being there to assist with communication as needed, to offer support to both girls as they maneuvered the tricky situation of both wanting the same things at the same time.  My role was not to offer solutions, but to be a supportive presence as the girls worked on finding a solution that worked for everyone.

The girls looked at each other from across the platform for a few moments.  Then LT got an idea.  She asked me to bring an additional palette to the platform and then announced:

LT:  "Okay LS, I will make a palette for you!"

Slowly and methodically, LT doled out each purple bead into a palette just for LS.  LS was delighted by the element of play that LT had brought into this exchange, and when LT handed the palette to LS a few minutes later, LS thanked her with a grin.  Both children returned to their play, pleased and satisfied with the outcome of their negotiations.

OP was the next child to arrive that morning.  He sat down next to LT, saw that the jar of stones was not being used, and immediately got to work sorting them between several small metal bowls.  Both LT and LS made space for OP when he sat down, slightly scooting and moving their own work so he could join them - a silent and maybe subconscious negotiation of space to welcome a friend to their work.

The events of that morning led me to thinking about my own adult interpretation of sharing, and especially the concept of fairness.  I could have intervened, dividing up each material between the LS and LT in a way that felt fair to me - each child ending up with an equal amount of beads, buttons, stones, and jars.  That would have interrupted their play, most likely left both children unsatisfied, and also imposed my own adult idea of what is fair onto them.  Although LT started out wanting all the purple beads to herself, given time and space she felt flexible about sharing them, in her own way and in her own time.  LS didn't change her mind about what she wanted, but she was patient and engaged in the process of finding a solution with LT.

Our practice at Tumbleweed of not enforcing rules about sharing or fairness asks children to look inside themselves to find ways to coexist in the same spaces, using the same materials, in ways that work for everyone.  While these skills of negotiation, listening, flexibility, empathy, and patience are built and honed in low-stakes interactions like this, they are lifelong skills which are applicable in so many other situations.  We hope to build a foundation of these skills that the children will take with them for years to come.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What's Happening in the Garden?

We are extremely fortunate at Tumbleweed to have a beautiful, open yard with much to offer in the way of plant life and space for both fine and gross motor explorations.  This summer, our garden was a constant draw for us as we excitedly planted seeds, carefully tended them, and then watched in awe as the once-bare garden boxes turned into magical, wild spaces filled with flowers, berries, vegetables, and the tiny creatures living among them.

Now that summer is past, we begin the work of preparing our garden for cold months ahead; we have been removing plants whose seasons are over, cherishing the last couple of cucumbers and ripe tomatoes.  In the places where it was once difficult to even catch a glimpse of the soil underneath all of the summer growth, we now work the soil and begin planting from seed once again, this time focusing on cool weather crops, like carrots, parsnips, kale, and spinach.  As we work the wet soil, we are finding more and more of the earthworms and slugs that captured our interest all winter long as we tipped stumps and dug around in the garden hoping to find these creatures so we could observe and investigate them.  
I love this time of year and with the children of Cohort 7 & 9 now between the ages of two and three, I love noticing how strong their memories are of the late spring and summer stages in our garden.  We can now tell stories to remind ourselves of how we worked the soil in the spring, planting all sorts of seeds and writing on little wooden markers to remind ourselves of all the plants we could look forward to tending.  Together we remember our work party in May, when many of the Infant House families generously contributed plants for our early summer planting, which have thrived all summer long and have been important staples for us (this group loves basil!).  As we clear out dead tomato, cucumber, and zucchini plants, we recall how bountiful these were during their prime, allowing us to harvest, eat, and celebrate together.  And as we plant tiny seeds alongside plants that are still looming tall in our garden, like our cauliflower and broccoli, we talk about how amazing it is that these seeds will sprout and might one day be just as big.  

The fall season gives a sense of coming full circle, which feels bittersweet, but also incredibly satisfying after a summer of learning and growing together, working alongside each other to care for a space that we all love.  We feel sad that the green tomatoes left won't be ripening like the ones that came before them, but it helps us to appreciate the long, hot months of summer and encourages us to notice all sorts of other changes that come with the shifting seasons.  We look forward to fall and winter, knowing that the strong relationship we have with our garden will take on new meaning as the leaves keep falling, the rain starts, and eventually cold, icy days greet us when we step outside of the classroom.