Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"What do you need?"

Since I first stepped into Tumbleweed about a month ago, I've been constantly fascinated by all of the exploration, intention, and especially the tenderness I see going on around me. The kids surprise me every day with their deep curiosity and inquisitiveness, with their sense of imagination and play that so surpasses my own, and with their frequent and unexpected gentleness and care for their friends. It always strikes me how inevitably, if a friend is having a difficult time with a transition or feeling sad or lonely or frustrated, other children notice. Their brows furrow and they express concern and worry for their friend:

"Are they alright?"

"What's wrong?"

"What do they need?"

These questions, which I hear daily from the children, beautifully demonstrate a deep sense of empathy that we might not tend to expect from preschoolers, and that we often forget to express as adults. Even when a child is fully engaged in his game of pirates or dinosaurs or princesses, if a friend is hurt or sad, suddenly the game comes to a halt and all attention goes to checking on that friend.

Upon some reflection, I've also noticed that when children ask concerned questions and want to check in with a struggling friend, my impulse as a teacher sometimes is to try to keep struggles private and separate from another. As adults, we often impulsively tell children to worry about themselves, not to pry into other kids' business. I think we also try to minimize struggles by moving past them quickly, instead of creating the opportunity for growth and learning from the experience. However, what I see here at Tumbleweed among the children and encouraged by teachers is a beautiful openness about and acceptance of feelings and struggle. One child's sadness about saying goodbye to her mom at the beginning of the day can be a wonderful way for her to connect with other friends who have had similar experiences. Frustration over a lost toy or anger at an unfair game provides opportunities to discuss such issues as they relate to everyone, and these conversations can be building blocks for learning and growing from past experiences.

In our very individualistic culture, we tend not to share our struggles with others or to reach out for help. We often forget to ask others for what we need, and may even forget to ask ourselves the same question. In these past several weeks, the kids have helped to remind me of how natural and important struggle is for us as humans, and how it can be point of connection with ourselves and with others; an opportunity to ask, "What do you need?"

Sometimes it can help to have a friend there to offer encouragement while working on a task, like putting on shoes!

J and H negotiate the sharing of paints, making plans when one voices their need by saying "no."

It can feel good to give others what they need - like encouragement on their drawing or silly ideas when they get stuck!

Sometimes we all just need a little laughter!

“I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” -Jean Vanier

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

We Are Scientists

This afternoon we had a small group where we talked about what it means to be a scientist.  The children are very familiar with the term science and even scientist, though when I asked them what these things meant, they had very different answers.  They knew a scientist was a person, doing experiments were NOT magic, and they found dinosaur bones.  I agreed!  Scientists ask questions and try to figure out the answer.  I had been thinking about this, because each of us every day asks many questions and is often on a very pointed quest to find the answer.  Introduced this group in a way to encourage focus, while also introducing key concepts of the scientific process:

"Today, we are going to become the scientists.  We are all going to ask the same question: What happens when you put water beads in water.  It's a pretty easy question, because we all know things about water beads, but this way we can practice how scientists find their answers."
I moved on to explain that the next thing scientists do after they know their question, is to make guesses.  We made a list of the guesses we had for the water and water bead question:
* The water beads will grow!
* Maybe they will pop
* If there is a hole, we could use them for beading
* They will grow quickly
* They will grow slowly
"Now it is time for us to find the answer.  We have to test our guesses!  This is called experimenting."  Everyone was excited by this familiar word and I invited each of the children to the table where a tray of tools and small containers was waiting for them.  I gave each child just 5, tiny dry water beads and a color of watercolor of their choice.  Immediately everyone started using the pipettes to suck up water, mix colors, use spoons for scooping and jars for pouring.  As everyone worked, I sat near by and offered my observations returning us to our original guesses and posing what I said in the form of a question: "I wonder....." and "Did you notice....."  
As the experiment began to wind down, I took out another dry erase board to record our findings:  What did we learn?
OM said, "Well, I just dumped out my water and squished up my beads and now they're all gone.  I guess it didn't really work."
"Oh!  So if you choose to dump your water, you can't really find if the water beads can grow or not.  That makes sense, " I observed.
VM said, "I wanted to know what was inside by squishing them."
EK added, "If you squish them with your fist they go flying across the room.  I'm cutting mine with the edge of the bowl."
"I noticed you are all breaking the beads.  It seems like our experiment today lead us to wondering about what these are made from." I observed.  
"If you fold the pipette, you can suck up the water.  I wonder if you can suck up the beads with the pipette?" said LC.
"The only thing I have to say is that it worked," stated AH.  "The water beads grew and I knew that would happen."
The last step for every experiment, and every small group, is to clean up our work.  As the children tidied their materials we compared our findings to our question and our guesses.  We all agreed that the best part was playing with the water and water beads and we needed to work with them more.  As we headed outside, within the chatter of happy voices were many, "I wonder...." and "Next time I'm going to try..." as the children absorb this natural process of inquiry.