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!!

Monday, August 7, 2017

But Why?: A Realization on Limitation

But why?

During my first week at Tumbleweed,  I heard this question more than I've ever heard in my years of teaching, which came as a surprise to me. Children at the preschool age are at a crucial time in their life, constantly questioning, absorbing, and learning while at the same time adapting to new situations. Understandably, it can be a bit overwhelming to children, making them ask the infamous question we all know so well: "But why?"

The question is a situational one, and can come at unpredictable times. Even though I heard it often this week, there was one occasion that stuck with me and made me truly ponder what the statement "be careful" means to me as an educator. 

 While on the playground I observed B and E playing a game that involved them running towards a wooden wall while at the same time grasping for the rope to keep them afoot on the wall. Not being fully aware of their full potential, I intervened and called out "Be careful." E looked at me and without skipping a beat called back, "But why?"

I didn't have a response back, and realizing my mistake told him he was right and that he knew his body and limits more than I could ever understand.  He smiled back, said that's OK and continued to run, climb and have a blast testing the limits of his body.

Its important to recognize when there are limits set on children that could possible be detrimental to their full potential.  How are they to learn, adapt, and grown if strict limits and negative language is placed on them during crucial learning opportunities?  The event that happened that day on the playground made me stop and reevaluate how often I use the term "be careful" as a filler instead of fully evaluating the growing opportunity that has been presented to me.

The very next day I was presented with more opportunities that could of ended with me stating  "be careful". Instead of intervening, I made myself present to them and sat back to observe and let the children grown, adapt and learn on their own. Whenever I felt tempted to utter the words again in the situations that I felt could potentially be crucial learning opportunities, I instead thought to myself,

Why not?