Saturday, May 8, 2021

Constructive Construction

 “You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it requires people to make the dream a reality.” – Walt Disney

"I just want to play by myself; come on, [OS]!" -CS

I inhale the crisp morning air as the class bursts through the fence into the backyard. The hustling and bustling as everyone goes to find a small corner of the backyard and sets about making in their own. This could very well lead to a lot of debates and problems arising; there are only so many materials with which to build or dig or decorate. The tension under these problems might bubble up a bit, but a few words exchanged (maybe facilitated by an impartial giant to their world) or even the simple passage of time will pop these bubbles as the nomadic nature of outside time finds something else that's more fun and deserving of their attention.

This week more of the attention is drawn to the building corner. The children will grab tires, milk crates, planks of wood and start to build a space for themselves. It's so thrilling as teachers to see the wheels of imagination turning inside the children's heads. What is going to be built.

"I'm making a trap for monsters...this string is very important" states CKP.

"This spaceship is gonna take us to Mars," OS giggles.

"You're gonna need some of this soup then," JA adds while handing over what he recently finished mixing in the kitchen.

The children take turns offering their individual spaces to all of their friends making sure to be as inviting and hospitable as possible. JR wanders near CKP's traps and they explore the crafted landscape together for a bit until JR wants to go do something else. HR takes care of watching OS's boards until they get back from a quick trip to the other side of "Mars."

Then, like most games do, things start to change. A few children are gathered around the tire and then suddenly I see eight hands go for a tire at the same time. The tire stands up and those same hands all start to wheel it in the same direction. Then another tire joins it. A plank follows after that. Then the words come. Everyone has a plan as to what is going to be built, but it isn't clear if everyone is on the same page yet. I go over to help and hear murmurs of agreements, disagreements, proposing, and accepting. We all make a plan and then I step back.

"We don't build when someone's inside…[CS] can you stop so I can put on this box" HR echos out, an agreement on which we all decided. This is my favorite moment. The rules of play and the fun of the game are intertwined to the point where the children care about them both equally. Everyone starts waiting their turn to go one after the other alternating from building or climbing through. Every addition brings with it another element of play. CKP adds on to the side of the tunnel to make a return trip more fun. OS and CS build a bridge of boxes to the pathway. HR adds to the roof so that someone can stay inside the tunnel and be protected.

At the end of the day, we save what we can, but eventually all of the pieces will find new home and utilities in new games and inventions that the children make up, but even though the building are ephemeral, the landscape they help foster grows better and bigger every day.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Salient Playdough

“We’re making playdough!” rings out through the halls of the Preschool House.  The children begin to gather around Maria at one of our meal tables in order to gather and mix the materials that will grant them access to one of childhood’s greatest joys- playdough.  

After measuring, Maria carefully places each ingredient into the mixing bowl, all the while articulating each part of the process for the children.  They ask questions, make comments, and chatter among themselves, anticipating what will become an integral part of their play. 

It isn’t long before all the ingredients are mixed together, and it is time to cook.  Some of the children accompany Maria to the kitchen to observe and pour some complementary water into the mix.  The children take turns doing this, while also observing safety precautions concerning the oven, keeping their hands out of the mixture, and taking turns to participate in the process.  “We’re making playdough!” rings out again, and after cooling, it’s ready to use.  

We began our interrogations of playdough with some the children’s favorite glass “gems,” which offer them a chance to create several different kinds of food from their imaginations including LB’s “Strawberry Pie” and JA’s “Blueberry Pancake.”  Other children use their rollers and wooden knives to make something inedible, like CKP’s “volcano.”  That was the first day.  

As the days went on, Maria introduced new materials to the playdough including pipe cleaners, rosemary, and markers.   Each of these materials created new opportunities for provocations of new relationships between the materials, and thus, new ideas continued to emerge.  Characteristics like the feel and utility of the pipecleaners, the strong smell of the rosemary, and the peculiar way the marker ink accented their creations made these experiences dynamic, agentic, and salient, apt for a multiplicity of ideas and meaning-making.

These ideas began to coalesce and bounce from tray to tray, while the children created alongside one another.  In the midst of this, the children made connections with the simultaneous ideas being made manifest, and in so doing, connected with one another. For example, it wasn’t long after JA and TH’s meeting at the table that they were found walking around our space holding hands and singing (one of JA’s favorite activities).  

For all of this and more, we are so grateful as teachers.  We are grateful for all the opportunities that this doughy material brought us.  We are grateful for the joy, connection, and growth we witnessed throughout this process.  And we are grateful for Maria, whose thoughtfulness, creativity, and inspiration(s) has brightened and complemented our learning experience(s) together.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Theory Building

“My magnet stuck to the Dome!,” OP said, while observing her red horseshoe magnet, dangling from the nearest blue bar.  “My magnet sticks too!,” responds HR, admiring his orange magnet’s balance at the top of the same bar.. “Yeah, mine too!,” TH agrees, after delicately attaching his green magnet nearby.  “Why do you think they stick to the dome?,” I ask.  (A pause, as they consider this).  OP looks up at me, raises her arms, and jumps while shouting, “Because they’re metal!”  “Yes!,” I reply, “They are metal.  What other things out here are metal?  What do you think these magnets will stick to?”  All of the children begin looking around and scattering across our playscape, hunting for materials that are suitable for a magnetic connection.


The way each child takes on this task is different.  While some choose to see what they can pick up with the magnets, others try  to hang the magnets from larger objects.  TH is particularly interested in what the magnets would stick to.  He tries it out on benches, door handles, excavator arms, etc, while simultaneously changing his position in relation to the magnet and looking at it from a variety of angles.  Each time he does this, he’s building a theory and/or several theories, about the way the magnets work, the properties of their hosts, and the relationship that exists between the two.  Meanwhile, he is integrating these meanings into their understanding of the world, and especially, his many identities within it. The complexities of the differences of how these are constructed are connected to family, to nature, to culture.  Each of these components of a child’s milieu are saturated with meaning, and once woven together, they take on new meanings and experiences.  More on this metaphor can be found in an earlier blog I wrote found here.


To be able to create connections, to bind things together, to use a tool- all of these are experiences that communicate something to children about themselves and their role as active inhabitants/agents in the World, and/or the Universe for that matter.  These experiences further instill competencies, and confidence to exercise those competencies.  All of this aids the children in the construction of their identities, identities that are the wellspring for their creativity and being.  

The Difficulty 

Every child has a theory.  Every child has thousands of theories..  Every child is a theory-builder, meaning-maker, and young scietents of their environment.  That is what play is.  Play is an interrogation of the materials within an environment, the negotiation of its actors, and all of the relational processes that happen among all of these elements.  That is what makes play exciting and fun.  That is what makes play meaningful.    

But it is also why play can be difficult for those entrusted to childrens’ care.  Most of you are aware of the sometimes violent language and/or behaviors that children, particularly preschool children, can exhibit.  These words and actions can stir up no small amount of feelings for adults, as we try to integrate what we are experiencing with what we know about the adult world and the effect(s) of this type of behavior.  This is a value for us, a value that carries a significant weight for children, as they watch the visible responses exhibited by their caregivers.  For children, the theories that they are building are about good versus evil, right and wrong, and the
effect(s) of their behavior on the behavior of others.  Therefore, when confronted by the value-laden responses of adults, new theories must be built to understand those values.  This is often the point at which children begin to direct their energies towards their caregivers in order to better understand this reality.  They know the reality of the value’s existence, but must understand the significance of it.  

The Invitation

With all this being said, what should also be pointed out is that what the children are doing in these encounters is to invite caregivers into their world of play, into their processes of meaning making, and into the curious behaviors of their theory constructions.  Here, the adults have the opportunity to be the guides, communicators of value, and the provocateurs of further learning.  Explaining to the children why all of those emotions around a behavior rise up for the adult goes a long way in children’s understanding of the values undergirding them.  They love these stories, these insights to their caregiver’s mental and emotional processes.  They love having a window into the values inherent within their environment.  


But this is not to say that they have the maturity to understand all of the impacts of their investigations.  This past week at school we’ve had to create more boundaries around the way that we are making meaning of violence.  One of the ways we have done this is by refraining from using objects as pretend “weapons” at school.  This is a change from the previous agency we had offered to the children in this area, as we used to be smaller in number and more similar in age.  However, our learning community is changing, and with that change, we must respond with developmentally appropriate and safe practices that adhere to the change.  This is an important bit of learning in and of itself. It creates opportunity for new theories to be made and new learning to be had concerning the meaning of our responses to these changes.  And it offers for a further exploration of community and how communities respond to the inclusion of their newest members.  

The Journey

As teachers, we are so thrilled to be on this communal journey of theory-building with the children and you all!  Please continue to let us know how we might be better partners with you in this!  

Sunday, March 21, 2021


Cody! Come here; I made you some food!” -OP

When we are in the backyard, one of the children’s favorite activities is to make various creations ranging from strawberry pie to sushi to pizza.  It’s all on the menu, but the menu is always changing.  So whenever I see a child walking up with a metal container of sticks and mud, I’m not always sure what to anticipate.  In that spirit, I usually wait for the child to tell me what the thing is and how I should eat it.  

In the meal before you now, OP  had offered me soup, coffee, cake, and juice. Now comes the hard part: figuring out what she wants me to do with it.  Does she expect me to pretend to eat and drink this food, and if so, do I need to pretend to eat all of it?  

But looking at the picture again now I am wondering about something else.  What if OP simply wants to give me something?  She offers, extends, and with this gesture OP receives me, as a host receives a guest.  I wonder if there are times when the children are offering their creations to adults that they are employing/making meaning of hospitality.  Maybe that’s something they’ve watched their parent(s) do.  Maybe it comes intuitively.  Probably both.  

While considering this, I begin to wonder about other ways children are always offering/investigating hospitality.  I think about the way their bodies negotiate such close proximity with one another all day long.  I think about their negotiation of the materials they love and share with their classmates.  I think about their inclusion of one another in pretend play and when making art.  Or even the times that they comfort one of their friends. All of it is an extension of themselves to the other, as they welcome the other.

I’m also reminded of the times that I make mistakes as an adult and the children respond with hospitality.  Or how they love to help clean, to bring me my water bottle, or say, “Look what I made for you!”  Yes, there are times each day when children make room for adults’ mistakes, impatience, absences etc., times that are seemingly obscure and often go unnoticed.  The reality is that adults are often busy, tired, depressed, or distracted and allowances 

have to be made on our behalf.  

As always, I do not want to romanticize the behavior of children.  They are not always welcoming or hospitable, as you well know.  Oftentimes they do something, need something, or create something that requires the hospitality of others, especially their family.  But to leave our understanding of their efforts there is to miss all the ways they extend themselves to make room.  To leave it there, means we may become ignorant to all the ways they are learning to welcome, to host, and to love.  

So, let’s make room for all of the motivations of children.  Let’s continue to be curious with them and all of their idiosyncrasies.  Let’s continue to welcome them, as they welcome us, and we welcome one another.   

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Processes of Painting

Paint.  We love it.  In fact, “I want to paint!”  is one of the most commonly heard phrases at the Preschool House, even while so many other enticing phrases fill our day!  Joking aside, we use paint several times each day, most often at the children’s request.  There are, of course, reasons for this.  And while those reasons may vary among the Tumbleweed Preschoolers, it’s worth considering at least a few of them to take a closer look at this artistic medium that the kids so enjoy!  

Agentic Capacity

For those of you who read anything I write, you will probably guess that what I value most about paint is its capacity for exploration and creation, especially that which gouges societal values placed on what is “good” and/or “beautiful.”  It stretches the boundaries of these perceptions because of its sensorial and aesthetic qualities, qualities which are hard to replicate with a washable marker or even a pencil. What I mean is that unlike these more precise writing/drawing instruments, paint and paint brushes allow for a more abstract process, one that is less product focused and more process focused.  For example, in the picture below, the first thing that OP and CKP did was to gather some paint with their brush and to practice making brush strokes, noticing the texture and hue of the paint, while also taking note of the particular brush marks their utensils create.  Similarly, in the picture of CKP and HR, they each first mixed water together with the dry power to make the paint before using the material to create.  In this way, the entire process is more about the material itself and the child’s relationship to that material than it is about some predetermined pictorial outcome.  

Opportunity for Connection

Simultaneous to the childrens’ agentic relationship with the paint is their relationship to one another.  While they choose what/how/where they paint, they have a shared value which is the material and process of painting itself.  As in most relationships, this shared value serves as a point of connection, while the differences in how this value is manifested serves as a point of provocation.  In other words, they have divergent ideas about their shared value(s).  As they enjoy the comfort of one another’s company, they are challenged by one another’s perspectives.  

Sensory Benefits 

This picture of CS and JA at the top of the post is also an example of the relational aspect of paint.  However, instead of painting alongside one another, they took turns, cleaning the various materials that they used over the course of their artistic processes.  In the midst of this, each of them were exploring the sensorial properties of the paint, especially in its relationship to the feeling of soap and water.  Not only that, many children receive tactile sensory input from this process, which aids in their mental/emotional regulation.  This is not always the case, as other children may feel overwhelmed by this sensory experience and become dysregulated because of it.  Whatever the case is, what is important is that we are following the children's lead.  If they are spending a long time with the paint/soap/water and it seems to be a calming experience for them, then their bodies probably need it.  However, if the child is adverse to those feelings and/or is becoming more agitated by the experience, then it is most likely a dysregulating experience.  The child’s body knows what it does/doesn’t need, and most of the time all we have to do is watch their relationship with the material(s) unfold.  

But paint doesn’t necessarily need soap and water to feel good.  On the day that TH and OS painted their hands, they spent more than 30 minutes carefully painting their hands, washing their hands, painting them again, washing again, etc.  When they decided to transition from their paper to this, I was a little hesitant, but then I remembered that their bodies knew more about what they needed than I did.  And thus, the tactile play continued on, and needless to say, TH and OS were thrilled.  

There are certainly more aspects of painting, our relationship to it, and its derived benefits that have not been touched on here.  What is important for us to remember is that this material, this beautiful, messy, “feel good” material, is more than capable of offering the children a variety of experiences that are apt for agentic creativity, connection, and sensory input.  These are reasons why so many of the children herald, “I want to paint!,” and we are grateful for it!

Sunday, February 21, 2021


The other day TH, who has been so proud of his cubby label, decided that he would bring his cubby to sit in during Group Time.  It wasn’t long before all of the children had noticed this and decided that they would inhabit their cubbies during group time as well.  OS stood up from the carpet and said to me, “I’m going to go get my cubby too!”  As they said this, I could see the look in their eyes that was not making a statement, as much as they were asking for permission.  For about two seconds I was stuck- I knew that saying “yes” to this would be followed by an immediate exodus from the rug, until everyone was able to bring their cubbies over to sit in during group time.  It was a dilemma that could be captured in the essence of What effect does this decision have today and in the future.  There is, of course, a whole litany of possible answers to that little quandary, little of which I considered in my two seconds of pause.  

Simultaneous to this feeling of fear, I recalled my belief that Children can and should be angentic citizens of their/our world(s) to the extent that they are able.  There was nothing about their idea that was inherently harmful or disruptive to our communal process.  In truth, this idea would allow for the children to perform work- to retrieve their cubbies before Group Time and to return them to their proper places afterward (with all their clothes etc. inside).  An idea that includes work, responsibility, and a shared value is an idea that leads to greater learning.  

In the end, I said, “That sounds like a great long as it helps us be together!” (the last part of this quote is something we talk about a lot when they ask for fidgets, etc. during Group).  The children raced excitedly over to their cubbies, brought them back to the rug, and made themselves comfortable.  It was a joyful experience.  

When I reflect on this story, an important aspect of it is one of power.  The children were only allowed to act on their idea because they were given the power to do so, and thus, they were able to learn because they were given the power to do so.  What if I had said “No,” and instructed TH to put his away?  What message would I have been sending?  What value (or lack of) would I have been communicating?  

In children’s investigation of power they need the power to act on their world in very concrete ways.  Apart from this allowance, the scope of what they can learn is minimized and the confidence, competence, and acceptance they could have experience would instead be unavailable to them.  Not only that, without access to the exploration of power, children are left without an avenue to understand it.  And they need to understand it.  

The necessity of this understanding is outstanding: the marginalization, subjugation, oppression, and/or violence present in our society warrant a robust understanding of power, one in which takes into consideration both past and present perversions of power-wielding.  Without an interrogation of this context, children are left to assume the age-old claim that everyone was born with bootstraps and the belief in the homogeneous nature of these tools of ascension.  But an investigation of power can challenge these assumptions, and disrupt them.   

Instead, the exploration of power happens when a child desires to make an idea manifest, when they become “superheroes,”  when they ask for a second cupcake, or when they want to sleep in the room with their parent(s).  All of these situations are ripe with opportunities for learning about what it means to be a child, what it means to be a parent, and what it means to be a human.  It is within these situations of the monotonous and the mundane that produce an exchange of ideas, power sharing, and not a little negotiation.  Not all ideas are safe ideas and not all boundaries are necessary, but learning about power is some of the most important meaning-making children (and everyone else) can do.  So, let’s wade into those complex and murky negotiations of power.  It is necessary!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Transitions, Grief, and Adult Scaffolding


“David, will you help me build a house?,” CS petitioned, collected some connecting sticks and spheres nearby.  “Sure!  As soon as I’m done helping JA, I’ll help you!”  

“Cody, I am building a house!,” says JA, with a bright smile across his face.  

“I see that, JA! You look like you feel excited about it,” I reply. 

 “Yeah, and David is helping me!,” he says, while admiring the beginnings of CS’s house adjacent to him.  

Episodes such as this one have been scattered throughout the past three weeks, ever since we have moved from the Infant House.  This is not a little transition, and it comes with not a little grief.  To lose the habitation of one’s environment, one which you spend some 25-35 hours a week, only to inhabit a new environment, devoid of many of the relationships you’ve cherished, requires a great deal of energy.

In the midst of this heavy load, children often return to the adults around them for safety, comfort, and play.  Whereas they normally would interact a lot more with one another and provide one another with provocations, their attention turns to their caregivers, who represent strong pillars of their mental and emotional worlds.  In essence, when confronted with loss and the unknown, children return to what is most known, most consistent, most reliable- adults.  

This return has been evident over the past few weeks, as I have noticed a steady increase in how often teachers are invited into play, when their peers may have served that role before.  Within such a dynamic, teachers find more opportunity to scaffold learning as they co-construct ideas with the children more closely.  What that has looked like are guided reflections on the learning that has taken place (by looking at videos and pictures, along with sharing anecdotes), but it has also looked like research, as we explore ideas that we have not yet thought through.  

All of those instances provide fertile ground for adult-child scaffolding to happen.  Sometimes you need scaffolding to construct something new, and sometimes you need it to return to something familiar.  Either way, construction happens, and as a result, emerging understandings come to fruition. They are such resilient learners!