Friday, July 20, 2018

Navigating Transitions Together

We pass through so many transitions at the Preschool House, from our daily transitions like going from inside to outside, and from lunch to nap, to big transitions like starting at our school, saying goodbye to old friends, or greeting a new teacher.  How do preschoolers help themselves and one another through times of transition?

We take the time to slow down and gather as a group to talk through a transition.  The more children are able to anticipate what's coming next, the more they will be able to be active participants in their daily routines.

We ask questions, and listen closely to the answers.  If we don't know an answer when someone asks us something, we do some research - who might know the answer to that question?  Or where could the answer be found?

 We make agreements as a group about what works and what feels safe.  By doing this, when something changes and feels new, we already have a stable foundation of choices that we've built together.

We find ways to get grounded, and reconnect with our body and breath.

We share materials when we want to, and use things by ourselves when we need space or individual focus.

We have daily rituals and routines that are the same every single day, so if one of us forgets what's next, the group is there to help them remember!

We offer choice and variety throughout the day.  If what we are doing right now doesn't work for you, there are options, and there is the knowledge that each part of the day passes and leads to something else.

We offer help and engage in teamwork and collaboration.

We offer our friends a gentle touch to help them feel connected and safe.

Friday, July 13, 2018

"What If They Were All Connected?"

The past two weeks have been big ones at the Preschool House, as a cohort of preschoolers graduated and a new group of two- and three-year-olds joined the school from the Infant House.  For Cohort 10 + 12, there has been a slightly different schedule, a new space, two new teachers, and lots of new children to meet.  The preschoolers who were already here have said goodbye to old friends, greeted new ones, and had a new teacher come into their lives (me!)

Watching the two groups of children get to know one another has been beautiful.  I'm in awe of their openness and willing to accept one another's different ways of doing things.  Above all, I see in these children a desire to connect and understand each other.  This doesn't always happen smoothly, as we learn each other's likes, dislikes, preferences, and boundaries it's been important to have teachers close by, sometimes to provide comfort, sometimes a listening ear, and sometimes guidance or coaching when conflict or confusion arises.

At times of transition, emotions are often heightened, and it feels important to have nonverbal outlets for children to express those big feelings.  We've offered lots of opportunities for dance and yoga, gross motor activities outside, construction and deconstruction of towers and forts, and many chances for nonverbal expression with art materials.

Last Thursday for small group I gathered a group of six children: half established preschoolers and half children who were new to the Preschool House.  I laid out a piece of butcher paper and in front of each child's spot I offered one color of paint directly on the paper and a long paint brush.  My idea was to offer each child limited materials and see if it sparked a conversation about sharing, what feelings might come up, and how we could help each other.

Often with a provocation like this, I will let my intentions remain unspoken, but this time I decided to let the group in on my plan.  I told them, "When we sit at the table, everyone will have only one color of paint.  I'm curious to see what kinds of plans you guys will come up with and what kinds of questions you'll have for each other."

As we sat at the table, each child started out just painting with their own paint in front of their spot.  Everyone was excited about their ideas: FK was making a fire breathing dragon, and LD was making a viking ship.  After a few minutes of painting, LC really wanted some of FK's blue paint to mix with her white paint.  She asked, "Can I share with you?" and FK replied, "Sure - we can connect your picture and my picture."

I felt a brief pause at the table.  Everyone else thought about connecting paintings while FK and LC quietly merged their two areas of the table.  Painting continued for a bit, and then LD realized he'd taken up all the room he could with his viking ship!  He needed more space.

LD proposed to the table: "Hey what if they were all connected?"  AM responded enthusiastically: "Yeah!" and FK chimed in "Hey, yeah!  That's a great idea!"  RM looked at what her friends were doing and let them know "I'm making a ship by myself," and everyone agreed that was just fine.  JS had been watching all the painting and making a plan for his paint and at this point he began to paint as well, and told his friends, "Yeah, you can share my paint, too."  Everyone noticed that where the different paint colors came together they blended and swirled in different ways, and that RM's paint stayed bright blue, which we thought was pretty cool as well!

As the paint started to run out and children started to feel done with their work, FK looked over the whole project: "We made a dragon ship together!"  Everyone checked in with me to make sure that the painting would be hung on the wall for parents and friends to see, feeling very proud of what they had made through connection and collaboration.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Fun of Not Sharing

RM approaches her buddy
"Does it work for you?" is one of those phrases that pops up all the time at Tumbleweed.  It's often used by a child after they state their idea for a plan - they know the plan won't work unless it works for everyone!  It's such a pleasure to see the two- and three-year-olds of Cohort 10 + 12 working on skills like negotiating, problem solving, self-advocacy and listening.  The group feels like a safe place to test out these skills and be emotionally supported while trying out new social behavior.

A frequent site of this type of problem solving is the rope swings.  We have two swings, but one is inevitably the favorite, the one that all the children want all the time!  The purple rope swing is the site of many physical feats for this group, and also a place where lots of creative problem solving takes place.

"Count to five!"
On Monday morning, LC was happily swinging away.  RM approached and asked her friend, "Can I use the rope swing?" and LC let her know, "You can use it when I'm all done."  RM looked disappointed, she didn't want to wait.  Then LC thought for a few seconds, and said, "Count to five, and then it's your turn!  Does that work for you?"

A delighted look came across RM's face: "Yeah!  It works for me!"  She ran to the other side of the maple tree from where the rope swing hangs, and shouted "One!  Two!  Three!  Four!  Five!"  Then she ran back to LC.  Both children were beaming and giggling.  LC said: "Now you count to three!  And then it's your turn!"  RM said: "Okay!" and ran off to do her counting.

This went on for several minutes, both children so pleased with this game.  RM was showing off her counting skills, of which she is so proud, and LC was still swinging on the swing, finding it hilarious that RM was doing all this counting and running.  The back and forth had turned into it's own game.  It worked for them both!
It works! 

This moment of pure fun was kid-generated and untouched by adult rules and ideas about sharing and taking turns.  It was about connection and enjoyment, not really about the rope swing at all!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Outside materials: What will you create?

Outside time is a favorite of ours at Tumbleweed. It is a time for running, jumping, playing, laughing, and overall just pure bliss-- breathing in the fresh air with the friends we love. During this time, there are a lot of activities in place between groups or even individual play. Incredibly detailed games give ample opportunities for children to collaborate together and make situations work to everyone's advantage.

What's my job? 
Where can I place this piece of wood? 
What is my role in our game?

A table set for a dinner that is being made, filled with food, drinks, and a center piece looks so enticing!

A fort or home is built using wooden materials, carefully constructed to fit the needs of those inside. Who's home is this? It is during these times when us as teachers are able to see how much work and imagination goes into these games, structures, and roles the children create. The materials we have outside are always available and are ever-changing and evolving. There is no right or wrong way to use an item in the backyard, as long as they follow the guidelines of our agreements we made together as a community.

When we are able to utilize the full extent of our imagination without limitations, we are able to be ourselves fully. Outside material allow the children to create exactly what they need when they need it. A long board can be a path over a pit of fire, making us test our balance as we run across it. Or a see-saw, turning into a mathematical equation of how many people need to be on one side to make it lift up. The limits are endless, and everyday is a new chance to create, imagine, and wonder what we can use the materials for next.

As the year progresses on and the children get older and more mature, so do the games they play. We start to notice that the games continue on for days, sometimes weeks. The structures and items used are wanting to be saved for the next time they're outside, jobs are needed to be formed for others that want to join in the game in progress. Problem-solving skills become more apparent and are starting to be used in these times, creating ample opportunities for the Tumbleweed Preschool community to come together to think of a solution.

How can we involve everyone and still keep our game/structure intact? How can we best communicate our needs and feelings when we are unable to use a material that is already in use elsewhere? Its during these times as a teacher I get the most excited. Seeing the children work through a tricky situation by themselves is such a rewarding feeling.

Outside time will always be one of my favorites as a teacher. These are the times where the children socialize, compromise, and problem-solve the most, which are all valuable traits that will make their journey outside Tumbleweed that much easier to navigate through.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Flower Experiment

I noticed some beautiful white daisies one morning as I was setting up morning provocations that reminded me not only that Spring is right around the corner, but of an experiment I love doing almost every year of preschool. It involves colored water, daisies, and our power of recognition and guessing.

Once small group began that morning, I wanted to see what knowledge we already had about flowers. We already knew and agreed that:

1) Flowers grow in the ground
2) Flowers need water, sun, and dirt to grow
3) These flowers we had were daisies

Once those agreements were made, I asked them this question:

How do you think flowers grow?

After thinking a bit on it, D answered that it was the roots that helped the flower grow bigger and stronger. I agreed that the roots do play a significant role in the growth of flowers, but what was the purpose of the roots? These open ended questions left an abundant amount of room for discussion and questions between everyone in the group. One person said that the roots help the flower stay straight up while another said that they spread all underground to grow more daisies. After our discussion, I added that the roots act as a type of straw for the flower or plant, absorbing all the nutrients and water up through the roots and eventually spreads to the whole plant. I then asked the question:

What will happen to our daisies if we put them in different colored water?

After thinking on it for a while, we sat at the table and added all the white flowers to the different colored water. Just like scientist, we were going to conduct and experiment to answer the question. I shared that the fancy science word for our guesses was called a hypothesis.

Our hypothesis were as followed:

D: The petals will drop or die or stay the same.
A: They will change different colors.
L: They might change colors.
AK: They will sprout and grow new roots.
M: They'll grow new roots and grow bigger.
C: They'll change color.

As everyone listened to each other's answers, they discussed and talked about how their answers were different, but also accepted each other's own opinions. It was refreshing to hear such open ended talk and also such a respect for each other. After we shared, we went to work to draw out our hypothesis.

We placed our flowers in the window and agreed we would wait a week to see what happened to them. Throughout the week, the whole class were able to observe and comment. What was happening to the flowers? What do you notice?

Then the day finally came for us to observe our flowers after a week of sitting in the colored water! We gathered excitedly over the flowers and instantly noticed that some of the petals changed from white to the color of the water they were placed in!But why did they? We recapped what we discussed last week about how the roots and stem act as a straw for the flower, spreading water to all the parts and ding! A light bulb went off in our heads. The group agreed that the reason for the change in the petals must be because the stem sucked up the colored water and changed the petals in the process!

Being able to test our our hypothesis helped us problem solve, coming up with out own solutions while at the same time being able to work together to come to a consensus of what may happen. We also learned about the anatomy of a flower, opening the door to further discussions and questions about them.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

It's Transforming!

Magnet tiles have always been one of the preschoolers favorite activities to start the day, during transition periods and other parts during the day.  Over the years almost anything you can imagine has been created: zoos, houses, trains, the longest line of tiles ever, vehicles.  The most favorite thing to build lately has been space ships of one sort or another.  During this time, I often place myself nearby, mimicking and talking about what I notice.
"Oh wow.  Look how those are connected!  Can you tell me more?"
"That one has a blaster?  I wonder why?"
"I don't think I've seen a design like that before.  It looks like you decided to use all isosceles triangles this time."
My goal is to highlight the work that is happening ( "I see...." or "I notice....") and then extend what the next step or help encourage the wonder ( "I wonder..." or "What's next..." or "What's the story....").  This also helps me to connect with them and build our relationship, as I spend time and share my presence in the morning.

Most recently, something new has been happening with the magnet tiles.  At first I didn't notice it happening until one day when one child began to teach another child how to build "a transformer spaceship blasting off."  I feel like I am often quite present during my time when I am with the children, but some how this theme of transformation had slipped under my focus.  The more I looked for it, the more I saw the children adding the idea of using the magnet's natural force of attraction into their spaceship play, creating vehicles which transform as they move or land.
It began by one child building one shape over and over.  He laid the pieces out very carefully, then lifted the shape and the flattened pieces fell and attracted together, because of the magnets, causing the shape to change.  "It blasted off and then transformed!" he cheered.  This concept was very attractive to the other children nearby, and soon others were asking how it worked.  It turned out it took a deft hand to make the transformation happen smoothly, and there were many crashes before a smooth take off was achieved by everyone.  This refinement of movement and working through a logical series of events was attractive to everyone involved as it speaks to a preschooler's need for order and attraction to the scientific process.  But it seemed even more than that to me, as a sense of community was forming around the idea of transforming and the new way these familiar blocks were being used.  A new language was being developed and allowed for the children to speak to each other, to share stories with each other  and delve deeper into this material in a new and exciting way.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Commonly Used Pre-School Phrases: "You're not my friend!"

In the 8 years I've been teaching, I have heard a handful of phrases that children will use with each other on a constant basis. Some sound like they may be a bit too harsh when heard, making us feel that we need to intervene or maybe question what deep seeded meaning is behind the phrase. As I continued my education and my experience with working with preschool age, I've come to learn and even welcome these phrases into the classroom. What better way to prepare ourselves for the world outside Tumbleweed than with being able to have conflict-resolutions scenarios inside the classroom now? For part one of my blog series, I will start with the one we all know so well:

"You're not my friend." 

It's one of the most common phrases children will say, starting as early as 2 and continuing on through Elementary school. When I first heard this phrase, it was easy to say, "We're all friends in school" . What I learned through experience was that it wasn't necessarily the friendship I was seeking from the children, but rather the respect for each other that needed to start being practiced.

"What's my job?" As L and C are busy at work, A finds that he wants to join, but also notices a game is already in progress. A common phrase we use at Tumbleweed is "what's my job", which opens the door for more opportune moments of creativity and the ability to let everyone have the chance to play.
At school, we get to be kind and caring to everyone there because it's how we would like to be treated, as well. When we as adults hear this phrase, we automatically feel for the child being ostracized, because we know that friendships are some of the key components to a healthy and sustainable experience at school. For a child in preschool though, this scenario will play out in a completely different matter.  One child may say "you're not my friend" because another child is playing with a toy that the other wants one minute and the next move on to another game or toy completely forgetting the toy they desired a moment before. The phrase shouldn't been seen as harsh, but instead viewed as an opportunity to help the child find the words and emotions they are searching for in that particular moment. 

When I find myself hearing this phrase, I make my presence known to them, but don't interfere right away. At Tumbleweed, we are firm believers in letting the children have as many opportunities to be independent thinkers and actors of their own choices. More times than not, a child is stating this phrase as a way to express a need of theirs. Touch, proximity, and open relationships all combined together are keystones to preschool relationships.
"I'm using these blocks. All of them." LT explains to LD. "But how about we build together so I can build a tower with you?" LD exclaims, making LT feel more relaxed when hearing that LD wasn't wanting to take her blocks, but instead build together as to not disrupt her already built structure. In moments like these, we are able to witness the key components utilized but little guidance or instruction from teachers.
With these keystones in mind I ask myself these questions:

What lead up to this situation?
Are all parties feeling heard?
How can we help them say what is true? 

John Meyer's book Kids Talking: Learning Relationships and Culture with Children, stated that "children relate friendship to practical acts like playing together, sharing a toy, or giving something to another. The ability to reciprocate and meet the other's expectations was crucial for building relationships." Once a situation is assessed and the children are feeling heard, we are able to move onto the stage of finding words that make us feel good and that we would want someone to say to us if the roles were reversed. It's in those crucial moments that we are able as educators to give them the tools and words to assist them in expressing their feelings and emotions in a productive way that benefits all parties. After that, we send them off to grow and learn from their actions and flourish into the wonderful human beings we know they are starting to become.