Friday, December 1, 2017

Mindfulness and Yoga: Moving, Relaxing, and Centering Ourselves

It all started with a nap mat and a little imagination.

Nap time can be a tricky time for preschool. There's so many transitions; from the lunch table, to the bathroom to setting up our mats it's no wonder there is some extra built up energy that needs to be released. Instead of letting the energy get the best of us, I decided to utilize the energy into a practice that can be used throughout the day; mindfulness.
To quote a great site that has some useful mindfulness steps for children, 

"The purpose of teaching mindfulness to our children is to give them skills to develop their awareness of their inner and outer experiences, to recognize their thoughts as 'just thoughts,' to understand how emotions manifest in their bodies, to recognize when their attention has wandered, and to provide tools for impulse control."

Now to bring us back to nap time, our mats, and our imagination.

I asked them to close their eyes and imagine their mats were boats about to set sail for the open ocean to go on a fishing trip. They were hooked. Using common yoga poses, we were able to be engaged and centered as we caught starfish, whales, and fishes.

 B and D were whales, diving into the ocean and coming back up for air. The motion of bringing their head lower than their heart helped encourage a calm state, which in turn helped them to focus on the next ocean animal they were going to catch.

D spreads out on his mat like a starfish after squeezing his body up tight like a ball. It feels so good to release our bodies after a tense moment, such as squeezing all our muscles together.

At the end of our yoga adventure, I asked the children to place their hands over their hearts and listen. Some decided to participate and some did not, opting for a book instead. The ones who did place their hands on their hearts became still, quiet, and mindful of their heart beat, slowing down their breath and taking note of how it was slowing down. Even though it only lasted for a few seconds, it was truly a magical thing to witness them centering their thoughts and bodies.  That's when I decided to not only make this a nap time routine, but to find a way to implement it throughout the school day.

 Some of the best times we were able to use our new strategies were during group time. We would take deep breaths and see if we could be as quiet as possible. Then we'd ask if they could hear the running water from the sink or the cars passing outside, encouraging them to listen even closer.

We've also been keen in some heavy pushing and stretching right before nap time to help us get some of the energy out through the bottoms of our feet and hands as we pushed with all our might against the hard surface of the wall.

L and A show practice pushing up against the wall before nap time, helping to utilize the energy out their feet and hands which in turn helps relax their bodies more.

I found the more I actively practiced breathing and keeping calm, more times than not the children would perk up and want to participate with me. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. The best part of it all is that it's being practiced consistently. Soon enough it will become a habit, and what a great habit to start having in our wonderful school.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sharing Meals, Sharing Stories, Sharing Ownership

At Tumbleweed, we all eat meals together - children and teachers. We discuss the food we’re eating: where it comes from, what it looks, tastes, and feels like, how it was prepared, how it makes us feel. We share stories about our families, funny things that we’ve experienced, or interesting facts we've learned. Sometimes we listen to soft music or a story on tape. Mealtime at Tumbleweed is a time of sharing nourishment, sharing stories, and sharing some special time together at the table.  It’s a time to slow down from the craziness of the day and do something completely in unison...after all, one thing about people is that we all have to eat!

Often, we also include the children in preparing snacks or lunch items. If you follow our Instagram, you've likely seen photo sets of children making popsicles, granola, and pizza. We do these projects during our “small group” time so that each child involved is sure to have chances to participate in hands-on ways. Preparing food for ourselves and others to enjoy is a source of pride; it feels so good to start with a bunch of separate ingredients and end up with something recognizable and delicious. And we always feel proud to say, “I made that!” while our friends are eating and enjoying their meals.

Preparing meals puts to use so many of the skills that preschoolers naturally crave to use and practice. When I lead “cooking” small groups, I try to include some sort of simple kitchen skills and give each child a chance to practice these skills individually, while we all observe and narrate the action. We’ll each be responsible for cutting up our bananas or strawberries, for example, for the popsicles being made on our own trays. Or spreading the sauce on our English muffins for pizza, or scooping a certain amount of spice or oats or honey for our granola. These are the sorts of skills the children love to practice in their daily play as well, so they come quite naturally.  This practice is how we develop hand-eye coordination and motor skills, and when presented in conjunction with preparing food, it also helps the children to visualize the processes involved in harvesting, preparing, or cooking the food they eat every day.

The first thing we do before we prepare food for our friends is to wash our hands very well, being sure to use lots of soap.  Giving reminders to do this each and every time we prepare food together also presents an opportunity to discuss bacteria, germs, the spreading of illnesses, and how careful handwashing can help protect ourselves and each other.  

Next, we each sit down at a tray prepared with particular ingredients and/or tools.  When making popsicles, each tray is set up with paper cups and popsicle sticks; when making granola, each tray holds one or two different ingredients.  Sometimes these are pre-measured, while other times they are simply laid out in their packaging and accompanied by measuring tools.  

Finally, we get to the exciting part: the making!  We discuss how important it is not to eat any of the food until after we’re completely finished making it, so that our germs do not get into the shared foods.  Then I give step-by-step instructions.  If making popsicles, I will hand out a few butter knives and guide children in cutting up their bananas or strawberries, allowing them to choose how large or small to cut them.  The pieces of fruit then go in the bottoms of the cups, which gives children a chance to practice portioning and to envision the finished product along the way. After we portion out each ingredient and pop our pizzas or granola in the oven or our popsicles in the freezer, working together to very carefully carry them over to the kitchen on tray, we get to munch on the ingredients that spilled onto the tablecloth or polish off any leftover bits! This eating part makes all the work worthwhile!

It is amazing to see the joy in cooking beginning so young.  Preparing meals together and then eating them together creates a conversation through activity - instead of passive consumers, the children are directly involved in the care and health of themselves and their bodies.  The sense of ownership they feel over what and how they choose to consume and the background knowledge of where their food comes from is setting the stage for a healthy, positive relationship with food down the road, which we all know is such an important thing to foster in the lives of our kiddos!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Baking Together

Baking is something I enjoy doing at home, and is something I also really like to bring into the classroom with me. Typically, there are three things to baking with toddlers: 
* Creating a fun experience! This is an opportunity to show the children something that I enjoy and allowing them to create their own ideas. 
* Preparation and Set up.  This is a great time for children to enter into the process of following a logical sequence of events to get to a predictable result.  It offers many opportunities for order (the gathering and arrangement of ingredients), language (verbal and written), and logical sequencing (following the recipe directions). 
* Inquiry Process.  Even set activities like this can allow for time for the children to wonder and engage in the process of inquiry.  Why do we use these ingredients?  What if I stir one way and someone else does another?  What could we add in next time to change the outcome?

As a child baking was a rare and exciting time that I could help my mom in the kitchen and make something sweet that I could then anticipate eating. While I was interested in scooping of ingredients and adding them to the bowl as a child, I noticed when we baked together the children were curious about how the vanilla smelled, what salt and sugar taste like and giggling about some eggshell sneaking into the mix. What is this? What’s that? Can I smell it? Yeah, me too! What does it taste like? So many questions about all of our ingredients. Identifying all of what makes a muffin and getting a chance to smell, taste or even just look closely at something that they haven’t had much experience with was great. Through mixing ingredients and talking about their roles in the recipe, smelling and sampling things when possible we are teaching them about food and how it’s made. This experience began as something I enjoyed and blossomed into a way to connect with each other and with food.

The first step to a successful baking project is being prepared. Making sure you have a recipe selected ahead of time and that you have all the ingredients before mentioning the idea to the group. Once you have collected all the ingredients we place everything together on the table for all to see. We pause for a moment before starting so that everyone can look over the table, answer questions and say what we are going to make one last time. As we open bags and cartons and twist off caps we talk about the names of each ingredient and even perhaps what part it plays in the recipe. Like with most things we follow their lead, taste, smell, and inspect what the littles are interested in- whether it be from the table and bag or as the item is added to the bowl.

Another important part of baking with children is having an allotted amount of time to give children for their own pace.We were curious about the process and it felt good to explore this process sensorally, they smelt and tasted what we could during the time given.  We all had a turn to mix both the wet and dry ingredients.  It was even exciting to pass to our friends!

With colder weather approaching I hope it incorporate more baking into our days. I wonder what our next recipe might be!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Solar Eclipse 2017

On August 21st, 2017 we were fortunate enough to be able to experience a Solar Eclipse right here at Tumbleweed. This once in a lifetime opportunity wasn't going to pass us by, so we decided to come up with a plan to make our own pinhole cameras.

As we were constructing them at the table, A noticed a book on the table with a sun on it. We talked about how it's not safe to look directly at the sun without special glasses. I told him that these cameras we were making were the safest way to view the eclipse because it would cast a shadow on the ground instead of us having to look up at the sun.

After A cut out the hole in the paper, he decided it needed to have some decorations on it to make it unique and his own creation. We then taped a piece of aluminum foil over the hole and poked several holes in it to make sure that the sun's light had somewhere to shine through.

It was time to put our camera to the test! The eclipse was starting to happen so we headed outside. We instantly noticed the temperature change and the light outside dimming. A started to get excited, running around the backyard yelling, "Sun! Stars!" and quickly grabbed his camera to check out the placement of the moon. I showed him how to stand with his back was against the sun so he could see his shadow.

As A positioned himself, he held up his paper and then observed the table in front of him to see tiny crescents! The moon was almost completely over the sun!

A laughed and continued to run around the backyard, giggling and observing the sun's light grow dimmer and dimmer around him as he held up his pinhole camera. We were so incredibly lucky to be able to witness almost full totality during the Solar Eclipse!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Understanding RIE Principles: Outdoors

As an educator, I'm always trying to widen my teaching spectrum. I've been familiar with the RIE approach to teaching and learning but not to the extent that Tumbleweed embraces. When I first studied the RIE method in college, I was under the impression that it was geared only towards infants. I recently read a quote off of that stated:

"When allowed to unfold in their own way and in their own time, children discover the best in themselves and in others."
Its not just for infants. 
This quote and philosophy is directly related to any age group.

I wanted to put Magda Gerber's principles to the test and see what I could discover, observe and learn from my new class outside.

  • An environment for the child that is physically safe, cognitively challenging and emotionally nurturing.
 I observed A, L, and C painting on the side of the bin with a paintbrush as they told each other stories of what they were creating. An environment rich in natural materials creates opportunities that are sure to spark the imagination with limited guidance on my part. In this setting the child is the teacher and educator all in one.
  • Time for uninterrupted play.
 I overheard H talking to the dinosaurs one by one saying, "You'll be clean soon, don't worry" as she scrubbed them gently in the water. By letting H have time for herself, I was able to witness her using kind, gentle behavior she had observed from others and used it in practice, which can be beneficial in future interactions with children.

  • Freedom to explore and interact with other children.
By letting E and B explore the bamboo, they created an imaginary world about their hiding place and how they can explore and play in it with each other. This struck up a conversation between the two of them that included sharing, kind language, and being aware of other's feelings.
  • Involvement of the child in all activities to allow the child to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient. 
It would of been easy for E to ask for help up the tree, but I saw him struggle with the thought of trying it for himself or asking for help. Instead, I offered him encouraging words that made him feel more confidant in himself. "I can do this by myself, I don't need help." he replied. Having E becoming an active participant in the outcome of his thoughts about climbing the tree made him realize that doing things for himself was a greater reward in the end.
  • Sensitive observation of the child in order to understand his or her needs.
J was adamant about filling the empty bottle with water at the bin and leaving. At first, I told him that the water objects should be used at the water area, but I could tell he wasn't receptive to this request. I asked him what his plan was for the bottles and he lead me to the wooden wall and expressed how he waned to try and squeeze all the water out the bottle onto the wood. By observing his needs and compromising with J, another opportunity for exploration and learning was created that tested his fine motor skills.
  • Consistency, clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline.
E wanted to create a "tsunami wave" while B wanted the boat to be in calmer waters. I suggested to them both to try and think of a solution that would make them both feel like their needs were being met. E picked up a wooden block and started making gentle waves, looking over at B and asking if the waves were "too big or too small." B exclaimed that the waves were perfect, and continued on playing. The defined limits of knowing each other's needs helped B and E come up with a solution that were clear.

Most of what I mentioned above happened in a time frame of one hour in one day. I'm constantly witnessing moments like these throughout the day and am still in shock with the abundance of care and time the children put into these principles without even knowing what they are or even mean. As I continue to learn and adapt to the RIE mode, I make sure to take a lesson from the children I have the privilege to surround myself with everyday;

Sometimes you need to let your mind wander. Adapt to your surroundings with an ease that feels comfortable for you. Experience new opportunities presented to you.

And just play.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Painting Together

Since Cohorts 10 + 12 combined in the back room of the Infant House in June, one of our favorite activities has been painting.  
No matter what type of paint, combinations of colors, kind of brush or paper we offer, the children are always excited to see paint available.  One of the ways the two groups of toddlers have connected and seen each other is through making art together: both collaborating on big, messy painting projects, and sitting close while working on individual, smaller pieces.  
The children are skillful observers; they love to notice a friend doing something they haven't seen before and give it a try, and also to encourage others to try something new that they have discovered.
This week I offered a simple provocation: a square of white paper, a small bowl of black tempera paint, and fine paint brushes.  I was curious to see what the children would focus on when there was only one color available.  This set up seemed to invite quiet and reflective work - the table was nearly silent as children painted.  

I noticed lots of interest in brush technique: what happens if I dot my brush lightly on the paper?  What changes if I press down hard?  What if I use only the side of my brush?
As these inquiries were quietly made by each child, often a neighbor at the table would watching closely, observing what their friend was up to, sometimes quietly trying out the same technique, and sometimes simply returning to their own work.

Later in the week we returned to painting.  This time I offered each child a sturdy rectangle of watercolor paper, a wider paintbrush, and a palette with five colors of liquid watercolor, diluted with a little water.  Immediately, the atmosphere around the table was social - each child wanted to name their colors and was eager to talk about their plans for their painting: "I'm gonna mix the colors up,"  "I'm using yellow paint!" "Purple! Purple!"

Again, I noticed lots of close observation by each child of their friends' work.  This time, there were many more comments.  I was struck by the children's ability to comment on specific and objective qualities of the work around them: what colors were being used, the pressure with which a brush was being held, whether lines were straight or "curvy."

As an adult facilitating appreciating children's work with art, it can be hard not to revert to phrases like "It's beautiful!" or even "I love it!" (because, of course, these things are true!) and listening to the children comment on one another's work was a great reminder of the types of comments that are more meaningful to children: not offering judgement of the work but noticing details and technique, and inviting kids to join us in looking closely.

Painting is just one type of art activity we offer at Tumbleweed, and it's been amazing to see it become so important to the group, both in moments of quiet, focused work, and more social and high energy exploration of materials.  As the children continue to build their skills, including fine-motor control, planning, and observation, I'm eager to see where their work at the painting table leads them next!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Whole Body Exploration

Babies are amazing!  The world is so very new for them and they explore it with abandon!

Being back with infants after spending a year and a half with toddlers reminded me of the ways that infants explore the world around them.  Not only are their five senses engaged, but also their whole body helps them explore new materials and a new environment.

Listening to the sounds around them…

Tasting and feeling with their mouths…

Looking closely at objects and the room…

Holding and touching everything within grasp, including people, objects, or parts of the room…

Using their whole body, like kicking against a basket to feel it or rolling from wooden floor to carpet, to get a sense of the environment around them…

Infants are so amazing how they experience the world around them with all of their senses and their whole body!!