Friday, May 20, 2016

"Let's Make a Plan!"

MH, CK, and LT wanted the purple rope swing.  MH's hands were holding the rope, and his friends were standing where he would like to swing.  All three children were feeling pretty frustrated, each attempting to hold the rope. LT asked me to come over: "Can you help us make a plan?"

Each child proposed their own turn to be first, and we recognized that wouldn't be possible. We paused to think for a moment.  What kind of plan could work for everyone?

MH:  "Well, I'm holdin' the rope right now, so I think I'm going to go first.
LT:  "Alright.  Then I'm next."
CK:  "No, I'm next, L!  I'm gonna be next."
Me:  "You guys both really want to use the rope when M is done.  It feels so frustrating!  We can still work on a plan that will work for everyone."

CK and LT think for several long moments, brows furrowed, big thoughtful frowns on their faces.  LT speaks up, animatedly:  "Okay.  So M will go first.  Then me, then you, C.  Then me again, then C, and then M!"  She looks at her buddy CK, and he answers: "Yeah!  That works for me!  Does it work for you, M?"  M answers:  "It works for me as well!"

Does this order make sense to my adult brain?  Does it match with what I would have done if I was handing down a solution to their problem?  Probably not, and that's the beauty of this moment.  It's not just a moment about a rope swing.  It's also a moment where these three children are experiencing the interesting, messy friction that occurs when we disagree with someone we care about.  These three are meeting one another where they are, they are sticking with a tough spot until they come up with a consensus on a solution, and they are slowing down to make a plan when it's clear something isn't working.  This is big, beautiful work.  This is the work of relationship building.

I tell them it sounds like the plan works for everyone, and remark that it feels great when a group can work together like that to make a plan!  As I begin to walk to another group of children in the yard, I hear LT suggest:  "Let's cheer for M while it's his turn!"

Sunday, May 8, 2016

No Girls Allowed!

SC and H are searching the yard for boards.
"We are building a club house!"  They announce.  They gather the long, heavy boards in their arms.  Once they have what they are looking for they bring it over to the bamboo, a favorite hiding spot. 
They carefully arrange boards around the edges, blocking them inside.
"We're building a club house, right?"
"Yeah!  No girls allowed!"
AH walks by, heading this bold statement. Our eyes meet.  She asks me what HM and SC are working on, and I explain in plain terms.
"Well, that's a funny thing to do. I would like to build a club house too.  But everyone can come in mine." She said, thinking for a while. Instead of building, she remained nearby, watching the building progress.  A few other children came by to watch as well, and then moved along to the things that interested them.
"We need a sign!  Can I have some markers?" SC asks me.  I offer the ones which can be used outside and he sits down to work on writing, one of the first independent writing tasks I have ever seen him set for himself.
This new game is gathering attention, and soon various children stop by and ask if they can play.  SC and HM only say yes to the boys, and usually I gently remind children that it's Everybody or Nobody when it comes to play outside.   However, today no one seems too upset when they are being excluded.  I decided to see what would happen if I simply allowed this to play out. Some children are confused by the rules set for the club house, but most wander away to play their own game. It makes me wonder if the exclusion is less interesting than their own ideas.
Despite the language of the clubhouse, it is a quiet game, which begins to transition from building a structure, to a movement game.  EK joins and begins to lead a jumping game at the backdoor of the club house. The physical activity of the new game seems to be a natural transition away from their exploration into exclusion.
It has been a few weeks since that game has been played and I have not heard it explored again.  Did allowing this instance of specific exclusion to play out being enough satisfaction that it did not need to be tried again?
Did the connection between two friends mean more than the words they were saying?
Does our normal rule of Everybody or Nobody bring us the safety needed for more creativity, imagination and play to happen?  

Friday, May 6, 2016

Revisiting Flower Deconstruction

One of the magical things about getting to work with a group of children over an extended period of time is being able to return to activities over the course of weeks, months, and years, and see the effects of accumulating experience and knowledge on children's processes.

Last year's spring and summer brought us a fascination with bees.  We explored these fascinating creatures in many ways, and especially loved learning about the way flowers are used by bees as a source of sustenance.   We found that taking apart flowers was one of the best ways to learn about them, how they were made, and what was inside them.  Flower deconstruction became an important part of our investigations into bees, and we became experts at opening up flowers to discover what was inside.
As spring has begun to arrive in Oregon, we have been delighted to find daffodils and other early spring blooms in our garden and all over the yard.  The children continue to be drawn to flowers, to their color, their smell, the uniqueness of each bloom, the process of a seed becoming a plant, which makes a flower, which makes more seeds.  And so, once again, we have started to bring flowers inside to our table in order to take them apart and learn more of what they can teach us.

One afternoon, I covered our table with paper, and laid out several daffodils and a big peach and pink rose.  I placed a pencil at each spot at the table and invited the children to join me.  AJ grabbed a pencil and a daffodil and worked on tracing the whole flower on the paper.  She moved the flower away and said "There!  Now I can see the shape of the flower.  There's a little part and a bigger part.  Not too bigger though."  LP looked at her daffodil for quite some time before separating the bloom from the stem, noticing that there was water inside the stem, "like a straw?" she wondered, beginning a discussion of whether plants need water ("Yes!  That's why we water the garden in the summer!").  There were lots of ideas about how flowers might drink - do they soak up water, like frogs, or drink like us, or some other way?
CC brought in her love of making connections and drawing metaphors between novel and familiar items - noting that the stem she had broken off looked like a paintbrush.  She used the water inside to paint fleeting designs on the white paper before they dried up.  LS diligently worked taking apart the head of the rose, again bringing prior experience to her work as she told her friends "I know there's something in there," and feeling quite proud when she found the pistils and stamens in the center of the petals.  MH used his pencil as a tool, testing the strength of the petals (easy to break), the daffodil stems (tricky, but breakable with a pencil-tip), and the rose stem ("I don't think a pencil can break this!").

The next week, we returned to flower deconstruction.  I had been thinking about MH's use of his pencil as a tool, and decided to offer each child a flower along with some scissors and various other tools.  We were able to combine something the children felt comfortable with - taking flowers apart and looking closely - with something with which they are building competence and confidence: scissor skills.

Along with rolling pins and other tools, each child took apart, flattened, and cut up flowers, building on their knowledge of flowers themselves, as well as the use of each tool.  It's amazing to see each child gain fluency with these tools, and at the same time witness the ownership each child takes of his or her own work as individual processes are seen by teachers, honored, celebrated, and scaffolded upon.