Monday, May 25, 2015

What is salt?

I have something to show you today.  It's on these trays.  What do you notice?
"It's pink!"
"There's tiny, shiny rocks."
"They're crystals, I think."
You're right!  They are crystals.  A specific kind of crystals called salt.
"Oh I know salt!  We use that while we cook!"
"Yeah, it's really spicy."
I thought you might have heard of salt before.  This salt is very special.  It has big pieces.  You can feel it in your hands and play with it today.  What else do you know about salt?  Where does it come from?
"From rocks, I think."
"The water at the beach is salty"

Salt is all around us and we find it in different places.  Some comes from salty water.  Some comes from inside larger rocks.  Sometimes, there are huge crystals of rock.
"I want to see that."
"I wonder where I could get a salt crystal as big as a house."
"As big as mama!"
"As big as me!"

 The children's conversations continued as the delved into the deliciously sensorial experience of pouring, scooping, feeling and using the trays of salt.  The play evolved into a sorting of the salt crystals into a color gradient, from darkest to lightest..  The children carefully placed one tiny piece into the palette and enjoyed the process of hunting for their favorites. 

Our exploration of salt encouraged the children to create stories as they worked with their hands and the small containers. It evolved over time, but had the same theme: this is real and part of our world.  

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Many Uses of Pillows

When we play with the same toys every day, it's important to use our imaginations to think of all the different ways our toys can be used to stimulate our minds. I set out the pillows that are kept in the classroom for B and H to play with and watched how they interacted with them.

We can stack them. 
We can do headstands on them.
We can feel how squishy they are.
With a little help we can build a fort to sit in alone.
Or with a friend.
We can rest our heads on them.

We can sit on them. 
We can throw them in the air.
We can have a pillow fight.
Children are extremely good at finding new ways to use common objects. With little help from me, H and B were able to find so many uses for the pillows before they were ready to move on to something else.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Doing it Myself: Pride in Self Care Activities

E starts the process of getting his shoe on by pointing his
toes into the front of the shoe.
E then uses his hand to work his toes further into the shoe and to try and pull the back over his heel.

The other day E decided to stay inside with me as I cleaned. We finished up our work inside then headed for the porch to get our shoes on. I slipped into my flip flops as E watched me. He said to me, "Your shoes are so easy!" I nodded, "Yeah, I wear flip flops since I take my shoes on and off so much." E studied his shoes for a moment, "Watch how I put my shoes on, okay? It's work!"

We have been talking a lot lately about shoes and coats and the various ways we can work hard to get them on our feet. I stepped back to watch E put on his shoes and as he started to narrate to me what he was doing I started snapping pictures. Though its' been a considerable topic lately, slowing down with him reminded me just how many steps are involved as the children work to take care of themselves. There are so many moments that allow them personal success and a chance to take pride in their own abilities!

E noted: "I can stand up to push my foot in! Watch me!"
"Now I gotta buckle these!"

"My coat is right here! That's my name!" E pointed to his name tag above his hook before taking his coat down.

"I flip it!" E placed his coat on the ground. He stood at one end of it and looked puzzled for a moment before heading to the other side, "I stand next to the hood to flip it!"
E placed his hands into his sleeves then flipped the coat over his head and onto his body. The preschool flip allows children to have ownership over getting their coat on easily without an adult helping.

After flipping his coat on this his body, E pulled his sleeves on to make sure the coat was all the way on. Then he looked at me and beamed, "I can even do the zipper!" Carefully he found both pieces of his zipper- this was the first time I had observed him attempting this since moving to the preschool house! We both felt pretty excited. He carefully put the two pieces together and started to zip- but only one side came up! For a moment E looked crestfallen. The zipper didn't work like he thought it would! He slowly slid the piece back to the bottom and started over again. After a few tries, both pieces came up together! The coat zipped up! E zipped it all the way to the top calmly then looked straight at me, "It's done now. We're ready for playing!" I followed his lead, "Yep! You finished getting ready to go outside. Now all of us are ready."

E's trust in his ability to care for himself drove him to keep trying rather than get frustrated with the zipper or at any other moment a challenge presented itself. Successfully completing getting on his shoes and coat helped him to satisfy his intrinsically human need for autonomy. Self care is such an important piece of a preschooler's day! 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Reflections of Life: A Doctor Story

 At the preschool house we indulge ourselves in the wildest dreams of our imaginations on a regular basis. We are ninjas sneaking from hiding spot to hiding spot. We are sisters planning the most mundane and fantastical adventures. We go to ballet class. We are teachers on a lunch break. We are ship captains on the open sea. We are so many, many things- and all in the span of a few hours (or even less!). These stories that we create through play let us explore so many concepts. We can feel safe testing, failing, and succeeding in the confines of our limitless imaginations. They also let us process our own everyday lives. Often our play is a reflection of life itself. Recently, a few of our children had doctor appointments for various things. Some needed routine check ups, some were seen for possible illness... but all of them needed to process: How do doctors work to heal people or keep them from getting sick? What are the differences between a patient and a doctor? What happens when you go to the doctor?

The doctors check the patient's leg for any injuries.
As I watched the doctor play that occurred over the span of several days I noticed a few things. For the children the roles of doctor and patient were fluid. As soon as you finished being treated, you could become a doctor! You had just been taken care of by other doctors so now you, too, could take care of new patients! However, this doesn't mean you couldn't get sick again. A doctor totally gets sick. What does being sick mean, though? Usually in these scenarios it meant you needed surgery! Surgery didn't necessarily mean that you needed to be cut open, though. Maybe you just needed to lie down on the table while the doctors worked on you and took lots of pictures. However, to read those pictures you need to go to another room. It was interesting to see how much of the doctor play was based on factual information about heading to the doctor. Each child's own experience changed the narrative of the play as the days went by. Some kids received vaccinations recently so they knew all about those- both the kind that comes in needles and the kind you can breathe in. Some kids have broken a bone before so they knew all about x-rays and scans. Each child's own individual experience worked together to form the rich, complex rules of doctor play. Below I've included one dialog I was able to capture from this play. 

LC: He's bleeding a lot so how sick is he?
AS: He's sick for a lot of days so he can't go to school.
LC: Well there's a doctor school you can go to when you are sick for lots of days.
AS: Yeah! You can go to the doctor school, JK.
LC: Okay! We need to look at the science thing to check out his body. You other doctors wait here while I check out his body.
EK: LC! LC! We need to fix him!
LC: Okay JK! You're fixed!
JK: Thanks doctor!
LC: Okay JK! We are dong doctoring you. Next patient please! JK are you a doctor or a scientist now?
JK: A doctor! 

The doctors confer about the best treatment for the patient. Dr. LC looks back to the "dark room" to read a recent x-ray.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

What is a Tumbleweed?

Today I told a small group a story.  It went something like this:
Me - In the desert, there is a special plant that grows.  It's unlike other plants.  Do you know what a desert is?
AS - There's sand in a desert
LC - And it's hot.
DA - Yeah!  Really hot
Me - You got it!  The desert has very little water.  This means it also has different plants from what we usually see.  There is one plant called a Tumbleweed.
E - I go to Tumbleweeds!
Me - You know that word!  We all do, because that is the name of our school.  It is also the name of a plant.  It's very special.  Here is what it looks like:
Everyone looked very closely at this picture.
Me - Tumbleweeds grow up from the ground and into a ball shape.  It's like any other plant.  It has stems, leaves, flowers and seeds.  What makes this plant unique is how it releases its seeds.  The entire plant dries up and becomes very light.  Then, when the seeds are ready, the stem breaks off at the first strong wind.  The tumbleweed tumbles across the desert, or road, or field, or anywhere really.  As it tumbles the seeds fall out!
We flip through a few more pictures of tumbleweeds growing singularly, together, rolling down roads, through cities, and in various different places.
Me - What I love about tumbleweeds is that they roll and tumble around.  It seems like it would be fun to be a tumbleweed.  I wonder how it might feel to be a tumbleweed.  Does anyone have an idea?
AS - Maybe like this!

LC - Yeah, really tiny and small like this.

Me - You remembered it was round!  What else do you remember.
E - They move!  I can can move too!

Soon, all of the children are rolling across the floor like tumbleweeds, sometimes crashing, mostly laughing with the joy that a tumbleweed must feel as it spreads its seeds across the land. 

The tumbleweed gathering and story soon turned into somersaults and other stretching games, which fully supported the needs of these children in the moment.  The goal of our small group moments is to introduce a new concept, then offer it as an invitation to the children to explore.  I look forward to seeing how tumbleweeds will begin to integrate themselves into our daily play!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Taking time for Space and Practice

We concentrate a lot on knowing when and how to take space in our classroom. Preschoolers are working on so many socialization skills while also processing BIG emotions that we want them to feel free to have any necessary space to work through that. My own personal bias shows here, too, as I was often forced to interact with others and labelled as "shy" from a young age- though the opposite has been proven rather true since the days of my childhood! We have many communal activities throughout our day and the members of our classroom eagerly and actively engage in so much play and interaction- but none of it is required.

Are you not feeling like being at circle for this story? You are free to choose to read on another rug or quietly work with blocks! Are you not interested in small group today even though it sounded really fun when you were invited to join? You can elect to leave and find a quiet activity or join the other group! Do you not want to play with the large group of people in the sandbox? Feel free to find some solitude on the teeter totter! We offer up so many chances to take space and we encourage it when we see that someone's interactions aren't working in the way they are hoping. In short, it's always okay to need space.

But what if we only think we need space? What if space becomes our default? In my head there was no possibility of this. I had been offered so little space as a child! An abundance of space could only ensure that a child felt welcome to take space. That they didn't feel labelled or judged by their need for space. However, it's easy to forget that sometimes we make choices because we believe that's what's available. Some recent brainstorming with Amy brought this to my attention.

Sometimes what we need isn't space, it's practice. Maybe the reason that I don't want to be at circle today is that I really wanted to lean into my friend and they yelled when I did it. The interaction didn't work and now I feel poorly. My instinct is to make like a turtle and crawl in my shell. This is a totally valid conflict resolution skill and yes, sometimes, retreating is a great option! However, it's far from our only option. We can also practice our skills at voicing and labeling our needs and feelings then seeing what happens next. What if I said to my friend, "I really wanted to lean into you!" I may even add, "because I'm happy that you are here!" if I knew why I felt so strongly about leaning into them.

This is the work that preschoolers (and many adults!) do on a regular basis. We are constantly reworking what it looks like to recognize and give voice to our own emotions- and to the emotions others feel in reaction to us! Practicing our skills during our communal activities helps to build emotional awareness around not on ourselves but others as well. As we move into our next week together I'm excited to look for opportunities for both space and practice- and excited to see how the children's decision making skills help them decide which path they need to take in any given situation.
The wagons are a great opportunity to work on practice and space!