Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Mastery of Skills

Fine motor skills is the ability for children (adults too) to use their hands and fingers in synchronization with their eyes; the use of small muscles and their coordination. Examples of fine motor skills are using the pincher grasp to hold a pencil and make a line, using scissors to make a cut in paper, using tweezers to pick up a pom pom, pouring water from a pitcher into a cup without (or with minimal) spillage, stacking one block on top of another. The list goes on and on, there is practice and exposure to fine motor activities in a lot of what we do at tumbleweed.

Over the course of a year I have witnessed a lot of fine motor development within Cohort 10 and even in the 6 months I have had with Cohort 12. Toddlers never cease to amaze me, maybe that is why toddlers have always been my favorite age group. When introduced to a new material, children go through a process of investigating said material, observing what peers are doing with the material, and testing theories. For this blog I am going to be using scissors as my example material; it is still a new material for some, but everyone has had a chance to investigate. During this process I witnessed children sitting quietly in a chair as they watched what other children were doing with the scissors. When they did pick up the scissors they were using both hands to open and close the handle, looking closely at the work they were doing with their hands and noticing that opening and closing the handles was also opening and closing of the blades. The opening and closing of the scissors is where a lot of children are at with this material, they have watched other children cut the paper available but have not shown interest in doing it themselves; they are still investigating their materials.

Practicing is a next step, whether it be a continuation of their investigation or a step all on its own. The children are finding a way that works for them to use the material and there is no wrong way. Regardless of whether the scissors cut paper they are still working their fine motor skills by coordinating their fingers to grasp the handles and their hands to open and close them. They use their practice time to fine tune their skills and continue to test their theories of what works and how they can do work with these scissors.
Mastery is a step some of the older kiddos are at. When they see scissors available they recall all of their experience with the material and remember the process (investigation, practice and execution). They have spent an adequate amount of time investigating and testing the material, and now they have learned how to hold the scissors with one hand and the paper with the other while they make a small cut. Often what I notice at this point is that they are not cutting all the way across the page, but making a slit to then ripe the paper or even cutting close to the corner or edge so a small piece comes off. It is their greatest accomplishment.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Working through gender biases

It’s been about a month since my time started here at the preschool and I can honestly say it’s quickly becoming a second home. I even received an “I love you,” today from one of the kiddos! It’s a wonderfully heartfelt and passionate group of kids and I feel as though they help me learn more about myself everyday. I wanted to take some time and highlight in this blog post my personal thoughts and feelings on the gender bias I’ve not only noticed in myself but often in the behaviors of the children at the school.

As I walked into the preschool to start off the day, I was greeted by the normal “Steve’s here!” I always smile at everyone and wish them all a good morning as I head to the kitchen to put my lunch in the fridge. I happened to be carrying a banana one morning and overheard one (male) child say, “Steve! Bananas are only for girls! Eww!” Now in the past, I would have let this comment brush over my shoulder, because obviously that comment isn’t true and he was probably just trying to be funny to his classmates. Unbeknownst to him, I had recently learned through a training with my AmeriCorps cohort, that racism and sexism is a systemic problem in the USA mainly because it goes about unchecked by friends, family, and those in role model positions. As an educator, I couldn’t let these comments slide anymore. I gently approached the child and very matter of factually stated, “I just wanted you to know, that bananas can be eaten by anybody, whether you’re a boy or a girl.” Unexpectedly, there was little reaction from the child, but it’s moments like these that we miss, or simply choose not to engage in, all too often. Moments like these build upon each other and taking 10 seconds to correct an out-of-place exclamation, comment, or joke can be vital in who these kids become as they mature into adulthood. One of my duties as an educator is to provide, establish, and reinforce building blocks for these children to lean on to become healthy functioning people in society. Of course, this one moment in itself probably won’t change the course of this child’s life, but it’s certainly a block they can use as they build their “life’s tower.”

It’s important to me to make sure every child feels empowered to fulfill their dreams and not feel limited to anything because of their gender. For example, I want girls to feel strong and boys to learn gentleness because a capable, resilient, and loving human knows how to be both strong and gentle at the correct times. When a child trips, falls, and begins to cry I always tell them to pick themselves up (unless it’s a serious injury, of course), because it instills an inner strength within them. Once they’re up, I always offer a hug and any comfort them may need, tell them, “You’re strong” and “You’re alright,” to reassure them, then send them about their way. Learning how to pick themselves up when they’re down is just as an invaluable skill as learning how to be gentle with words and actions. I enjoy working with the students by providing reminders of what gentle play looks like and also talking about how our words can also have an impact on our friends.