Sunday, July 24, 2016

How We Use Clay

When we approach a new art medium the very best way to get to know it is to feel it.  By putting our hands, and sometimes elbows and feet, on the material, we learn about it's qualities, which later we will refine through new technique, tools and practice.  This week we had a brand new, 25 pound block of clay!  It is real clay like an artist might use.  This is an important fact that we talk about as I introduce this new art medium.  Most preschoolers view themselves as real artists, and we talk about how artists take great care in every step of their creative process.  They prepare their space, work with their materials, take care of their tools and clean up when they are finished.  This is the thread we will be following as we get to know the qualities of clay.
We began with large sheets on the floor and the block of clay set up in the middle, wrapped in plastic.  Near by I arranged a clean-up station of a shallow tub of water and towels for clean up after.  Finally a spray bottle of water was near by for me to use to dampen the clay as we worked.  Everyone who was interested came and gathered around and talked about what they thought.  We felt the block through the plastic, then worked as a team to pull off the plastic.

"Why is there plastic?"
"Oh!  It's so cold!"
"It's so slimy!"
"What can we do?"
"Where are the tools?"
I then explained that today we were going to get to know the clay: feel it with our bodies, see what happens, explore and learn from the clay.  This idea seemed to feel very exciting to everyone as they worked very closely together with the clay.
The children worked for a long time with the clay, some staying for just a short time, others using the entire 45 minutes to get to know the clay.  We talked about how it was similar to playdough, but different, more difficult to manipulate and squeeze.

"I'm making a road!  A long long road.  It's really hard work!"
"We can poke it too!
"I'm breaking off a huge piece.  Look how much I've collected!"
"We need to lift it up.  C'mon and help me!"
"Yeah!  It needs to be taller then we can push on it."
"I'm stompin' it!  Can you see me!"
"I might even try my elbow.  Whoa.  It works!"

As children worked I offered water with the spray bottle.  This changed the consistency from stretchy and sticky, to cool and slimy.  Some children wanted just to be sprayed with the water, while others wanted no spray at all.  We talked about how close we were all working together, yet still watching out for the comfort for our friends. 

Soon it was time to clean up.   We rinsed hands and feet with the spray bottle and the tub, then worked as a team to clean up.  Everyone agreed, "We can't wait to squish the clay again!"

Monday, July 18, 2016

Enjoying the Outdoors with Infants

Going outside with infants can be one of the most rewarding times of day.

Everything seems to slow as they enter our yard, finding their own way as much as possible, and then their endless fascination with the sights and sounds outside are inspiring.

Getting outside is the first part of the experience. We encourage self-mobile infants to move as much as they can outside.  This might mean crawling from the classroom to the front door one day, slowly working towards navigating the stairs on their own. By allowing children to choose when their ready and how they want to move, they are already taking ownership over how they interact with our outdoor environment.  This is an idea which we will constantly be supporting through all of their interactions at Tumbleweed.
Once we are outside it is as if time slows to a stand-still.  The children's attention is constantly caught by the wind blowing across their skin, the leaves rustling near them, the bright colors of the flowers, and the sounds of the birds and insects.  It can be so easy to want to rush this moment, talking and pointing out all they are noticing.  When we give them a moment to first absorb all they are hearing-seeing-feeling then wait for them to turn back to us we can share in this moment.  "You heard a crow!  It's above us in the tree!" or "You noticed the zinnia.  It is bright pink.  You touched it so gently!" I can almost turn into a meditation of sorts when we follow the child's attention.  It requires being present and ready to support their safety in navigating new terrain, while sharing in the wonder of our beautiful world. 

When we approach the natural world from the wonder of an infant, we are almost reborn into the newness that they are experiencing.  It is a refreshing and unique experience they are sharing with us, and that we get to support, by slowing down, making space for choice, and connecting.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Beginning the Journey with Cohort 12

The past four weeks have been a beautiful beginning for Cohort 12. We have begun our journey together, a journey that will make itself known as we get to know one another, build a community together, and discover what our place will be within the fabric of our school.

My role as a teacher for this group of 8-10 month olds began before their first day at Tumbleweed as I prepared the space for the group. I thought about how I could provide an environment that would offer both comfort and stimulation, safety and challenge. I selected materials that felt likely to be interesting to this age of children, knowing that once I saw the children interact with the space I would revisit my choices bases on their interests and abilities. I read about infants, rereading old favorites and enjoying new sources of inspiration.

Each meal and snack takes a long time as this group of infants seems to love savoring their food.  Observing them eating is a pleasure - witnessing the joy of ripe avocado, the appreciation for sweet cherries, and the determination with which an infant will try a piece of asparagus again and again, still not sure what to think of it.

We also move slowly from place to place and activity to activity.  Following each child's interest and pace means that sometimes the journey from our room to the bathroom takes quite a while, as there are chairs, cabinets, and other kids to inspect along the way.

In some ways, though, time moves quickly in an infant room.  The children come back from the weekend visibly taller, and having gained skills they didn't have three days ago.  Belly-crawlers pull up to hands and knees, children pull up to standing while holding on to furniture, cups of water are handled with more and more precision.

I feel so lucky to be the teacher for this amazing group of infants.  Already we are building our community, getting to know our similarities and differences, finding our ways of communicating together, and appreciating each other every day.  I am so excited to continue to get to know this group of children, and see what we will explore together next.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

If you can do it, you can do it!

Doing for yourself feels good!  Working through the process of mastering a skill includes failing a few times.  This encourages perseverance, following a logical sequence of events and sometimes learning something new along the way. 

When a child does for themselves, they feel their own boundaries.  It can be easy for an adult to help a child tie on a cape, but then when they want it off they cannot do it themselves.  We can help them climb high, but they then might get stuck.  When a child goes through the motions of an activity they feel their current skill level and naturally work to extend it. 
Pride of doing the work is directly connected to independence. When a child does something for themselves, they notice how good it feels immediately and have less need for external praise, which detracts from the activity itself. 

During our day at the Preschool House, we encounter many moments when children need a reminder of our trust in their ability.  It is during these moments that we say, "If you can do it, you can do it"  It is a celebration of what a child can do and what they are working on.  It can also be an invitation to team up with a child to work on the details of tying knots, noticing what is happening and being seen.  All of these things support independence while building relationships: the big work of being a preschooler. 
Once this hard task has been completed we notice by saying something like, "You did it!  At first it felt really hard.  Then you practiced and worked it out.  Then you did it!"  By avoiding praise for a task completed, we are returning the child to themselves and their own self-made accomplishments. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Community & Transition

We've had a busy few weeks at the preschool house! Cohort 7 & 9 made the transition from the Infant House to the Preschool House and there was an excited hum in the classroom each morning as everyone noticed unfamiliar faces and practiced names of new classmates and their families. Each day we have stepped through our various routines as a new group, learning about each other as we go along.

While creating art, reading books, and playing with materials around the classroom, we discover common interests and begin to understand more about what drives each child's unique curiosity about the world -- is it dinosaurs? Families? Babies? Drawing designs, letters, numbers, etc? Making people laugh as we work? Telling stories about family, animals, adventures? Sinking into art and sensory experiences without talking, but instead with quiet focus? Through overt conversation and curious observation, the group comes to know each other's rhythms as they create, learn, and play.

Outside, we learn what physical challenges each child is working on - climbing, biking, balancing, running. We notice who spends quiet moments in the garden and who races right to the tower to jump into an exciting game. We find out that many children in our group love to search for insects and butterflies, practiced in the ways of gentle observation and excited to share discoveries with their friends. The children who are new to the preschool house learn from the other children what boundaries there are and what we can do to keep each other safe with all of the exciting materials available.

Mealtimes bring us together each day and provide a comfortable place for conversation. We take the opportunity to find out how different kids spend their weekends, who is part of their family, and what changes have taken place or are being anticipated in their home life. And, of course, it is an opportunity to learn about each other's eating preferences! Some kids don't like milk, while others love it. Some gobble up every vegetable in sight, while others are less sure. Some make sandwiches out of their food, eat slowly or quickly, with humor or seriousness. All of this conversation and observation builds familiarity between children, and occasionally inspires someone to try something new - a food or way of eating previously unexplored.

In the bathroom we learn who wears underwear and who uses diapers. We support conversations between children about what their bodies are currently practicing with regards to using the toilet and listening to their bodies. We normalize every stage of this process and notice with the children that this doesn't necessarily have to correlate with age and size - every child makes a plan with their family when they feel ready to do the big work of practicing the skills needed for wearing underwear daily. No matter how big or old you are, at our school you get to choose! We accept whatever feels right for each child's body.

As we move through the flow of each day together, we get to know each unique, vibrant, complex personality that is part of our school. Each child approaches and reacts to situations in their own way and time, and each child expresses emotions differently. We support everyone in making these observations, and convey to them that everyone is safe here, supported, seen, and heard - our differences are valuable and no emotion or perspective is unwelcome in our space. We help each other find ways of safe expression when the emotions are big and tricky, finding joy in both these moments and the light-hearted ones.  We are a team! A community filled with similarities and differences, challenges and triumphs, with so, so much to learn from each other.