Monday, April 18, 2016

Making Playdough

Making play dough is one of our favorite activities at the preschool.  It feels good to create something that we can all use together, and remember the steps it took to create it.  Often our activities and provocations are open ended, allowing for a child to follow their interests in an organic way.  When we make play dough we talk about what our goals are, the steps we need to follow and how each of us will participate.  This is how we practice following a logical sequence of events to get to an intended outcome, while also practicing group social dynamics as we each take a turn and communicate with each other.  It feels so good to make a plan!
Play Dough Recipe
1 cup warm water
1 cup flour
1/3 cup salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
Food Coloring
1 Tablespoon oil
Combine warm water, oil and food coloring of your choice.  Add flour, cream of tartar and salt and mix thoroughly with a wisk.   When there are no more lumps, microwave on high for 30 seconds, covered with a towel.  Stir, scraping the sides.  Microwave 30 seconds.  Stir, scraping the sides.  Continue the microwave/stir pattern just until the dough begins to form.  Cover with towel and let cool enough to touch.  Once cool, knead to final mix.  
Each child added one ingredient, and as we added it we talked about what it was, where it came from and why it's part of the recipe: Oil helps keep everything together, this oil comes from a plant; cream of tartar makes the dough stretchy, it's a kind of salt.  We took some time to vote on a color, then decided to mix red and blue.  We used a lot of food coloring, and it turned out a somewhat mauve color.  
Then we got to use it!  The play dough is still a favorite for our work at the tables.  Stay tuned for a gluten free version soon to come!
Once all the ingredients were added, we each took a turn stirring.  We counted to 10 then passed it.  It felt fun to count together while our friends stirred, and it took everyone two turns until it was ready.  We gathered in the kitchen while I microwaved the dough.  Finally it was ready!!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"Where Are All the Frog Mamas?"

The toddlers of Cohort 7 & 9 have been busy exploring a recently emerged interest in frogs, which has become the focus of our group's project work as we head into Spring.  Together, we have explored books with all kinds of pictures, facts, and stories about different kinds of frogs (poisonous frogs! frogs who carry eggs on their backs! frogs who climb trees and frogs who live in the desert!).  In addition to books, we explore art materials with colors and textures that evoke knowledge we are building about frogs and their lives, and connect concepts like water absorption/resistance and viscosity to our exploration of how frog bodies function in similar and dissimilar ways to our own bodies.  

 One of the main focal points of all of this learning has been the unique life cycle of frogs: from eggs, to tadpoles, to frogs, we marvel at how a creature could start out looking so different from what it ends up being.  In learning about the life cycle of a frog, one question the children are repeatedly drawn to is: "Where are the frog mamas?"  We have learned that many frogs lay eggs and don't necessarily stay with them, but move on to other parts of the pond or river where they live. The tadpoles hatch within a couple of weeks, and fend for themselves right away, finding their own food and developing into frogs over the next couple of months.  

We gather before nap to read about frogs and the various noises they make to communicate

This fact has so much to teach us about the unique nature of humans; our tendency to group into families that stay with each other for years and years is special, and not a trait shared by all animals. How does this fact set us apart from other kinds of animals?  What does this tell us about the act of survival and what each of us needs to thrive?  We talk about how long it takes to grow as a human, and how frogs develop so much more quickly, becoming their adult selves in a comparatively very short amount of time.  Reflecting on this, we consider the extensive support that babies, children, teens, and adults need in order to develop.  These systems of support shift as we grow older of course, but it is easy to find examples of how we all give and receive support as families and community members throughout our entire lives.

A spontaneous circle time to explore a new frog book!

As we continue to immerse ourselves in studying and wondering about frogs, we gain a deeper appreciation for the different ways development occurs and families are formed and sustained.  All of our learning about frog life cycles has been coinciding with a deepening interest in dramatic play centering around caring for babies - anticipating pretend babies' needs and explaining what we know about where they are in their development.  All of this work - reading, artwork, and dramatic play - informs the ability to shift perspective, practice empathy, and consider oneself in relation to the surrounding world, made up of so many people, creatures, and places that both resonate with and confuse us as we relate things back to what we know about ourselves.  Stay tuned for where all of this work takes us next!

"Teacher" LT looks over the babies in her classroom.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Inviting Worms to our Classroom

As spring begins to spring, the children's fascination with the creatures that live in our yard is exploding.  One of our very favorite things to search for are worms!  These creatures can be found all around our yard, under stumps, in the dirt, and often in our hands.  To support this interest we created a worm habitat for our classroom, so that we can observe their homes more easily and to foster a deeper inquiry into the world of a worm.  
The first step was filling a large, glass cylinder with soil.  We chose some from one of our garden spaces that has yet to be planted.  As we gathered the dirt, we talked about our plan:
"We are inviting the worms to visit our classroom.  We want them to be comfortable so they want a lot of dirt.  The dirt is their home!"  With careful movements (and much concern about the glass breaking) we filled the container then set it aside.  The real work was about to begin.  We needed to gather many, many worms!  
There is a corner in the yard where we have been digging lately to see what we can find.  The frequent rain and digging has created a beautifully enticing mud pit that we have been loving.  I got out a large shovel and everyone gathered their own smaller ones.  The children naturally broke into different jobs: worm grabber, bowl holder, digger, worm spotter.  Each child has their own comfort level with getting dirty, touching worms and being in charge of holding the collecting bowls.  At first I did the heavy digging, but soon the children were interested in participating and formed digging teams.  It felt so good when it worked, and the worms were plentiful.  
As we were digging, we noticed that the worms were all sorts of sizes!  Some were very small, some were bigger, but short.  We even found a huge, long worm!  After we gathered quite a few everyone paused for a moment to notice how the worms were moving: 
 scrunching up, then reaching out
pushing the dirt with their heads
trying to find a home
climbing on top of each other!
Once we were satisfied with the amount of worms collected, they were placed at the top of the container of dirt.  Everyone felt quite happy and even surprised at how quickly the worms buried themselves into the dirt.  A few wiggled close to the sides of the container, so we could see just how far they had gone.  After watching for a while, we covered the sides with black paper to mimic the darkness under the earth and brought it inside.  We are feeling excited to observe it during the week to see what the worms are up to!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

"That's stupid!'

Carefully, B arranges two creates next to each other. He then selects a long board and leans it away from himself against the crates, then steps back to look. E and I have been watching, and as soon as the board became a ramp, E began to approach.
"Look at that stupid board.  I hate it."
Fireworks went off in my head.  It happens for me often when children call each other stupid, or mock the way someone says something.  It is my natural reaction.  I feel so frustrated!!  This is my cue to not react. 
"I wonder if you mean, 'I'm curious about what you built, B.'  What I know about you, E, is you love building and figuring things out.  Let's go look closer."  We walked over together. B had stepped back. E knocked over the board.
"Oh wait!  Remember, I won't let you knock down someone's work.  They're using it!  Let's try again. What I know about B is he loves building. I wonder what his idea is."  I place the board where B had placed it then stepped back. b was watching too. E placed a small red object at the top of the ramp. 
"It's going to go down the slide!"
"Oh cool!" I said. Then we were both puzzled when the object didn't move. B stepped forward to take a closer look. Soon, S was curious too!  E tried another object, this time a small block. It also didn't move. 
The thee continue their explorations as I step back.  This potentially negative situation has become an exploration in physics. It is also a firm reminder to me that sometimes "stupid" is an opportunity  to connect. That children are constantly testing out the world around them, especially how they effect each other.  They want it to work!  And I get to help them find that natural path.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


 During snack we had pineapple.  It had been a while since we had this sweet fruit at school.  It is a unique experience and comes from such a unique fruit, it is a great opportunity for the children to participate in the change it goes through before we eat it. 
The pineapple was passed around the table and child talked about what they noticed and what they wondered. 
It's so cold!
The pineapple is heavy!
How does it smell?
Oh!  It smells delicious

I also had some questions for them as they passed it carefully around the table:
What color will it be on the inside?
Where does it grow?  On a tree?  On a vine?
Why is it so spiky?
Everyone agreed it was spiky because it was a monster fruit and that it would most likely be purple inside.  On the other hand, everyone had different ideas about where it grew: on a vine, on a bush, under the ground, up high in a tree.  These answers allowed each child to think about where our food comes from.  Making these important questions give the children more context when exploring new foods, especially when they are offered in their original state. 
Building healthy eating habits at a young age is highly important.  By offering a wide variety of foods every day, we are giving children the opportunity to make healthy choices for their bodies.  By giving everyone a chance to touch the pineapple before cutting, then talking about what we notice gives the children a true picture of fruit, food and also a community experience during our meal time. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

"I'm Not Scared"

There was a garbage truck on our street one morning this week, picking up and emptying a dumpster down the block.  This drew a lot of interest, and some concern from LP.  CC noticed her friend feeling scared, and at first tried telling LP: "I'm not scared of that!"

LP replied that she was still scared of the garbage truck, and we took some time to discuss how some things are scary to one person, but not to another.  This reminded CC of something she had heard about movies and shows, "Sometimes they are too scary for kids but not too scary for mommies and daddies."  I asked her if she thought all mommies and daddies like scary shows, and CC thought for a while before deciding that scary shows might work for some people but not for others.

Then we took a moment to think together about how to help someone who was scared.  I gave some of my ideas about the topic: that it's okay to feel scared even if no one else is, even if no one else even understands why you're feeling that way.  Everyone gets to feel how they are feeling.  LP and CC had many thoughts how one friend could help another friend who was feeling scared.  LP:  "A hug!"  CC:  "I could be very close to her and tell her, I know that garbage trucks are safe, and the garbage truck won't come into our school."

Fear is a tricky emotion, it can be irrational and unpredictable, and sometimes hard to understand in others, or even in ourselves.  These two close friends were able to work through the confusion of feeling differently about something they were both experiencing, and come up with ways in which they could process the situation together.  Once we had talked about not needing to erase or fix feelings of fear, both children instinctively felt that the way to help a frightened friend was to offer connection.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Workshop Reflections: Scaffolding and Project Work in Cohort 7 + 9

Each spring at Tumbleweed, we host a Parent-Teacher workshop. This provides us with a unique opportunity to sit down with parents, without children in the room, and discuss the exciting work the children are doing, as well as have a chance for more extended discussions between parents and teachers that are difficult to accomplish during the busy times of drop-off and pick-up. This year, the teachers of Cohort 7 + 9 decided to organize our workshop around sharing the ideas of Scaffolding and Project Work with parents - hoping to give some insight into how we view teaching and learning in a classroom of two- and three-year-olds, as well as recognizing and reflecting upon the beautiful project work the children dove into over the last year.


In scaffolding children's interests, we seek to guide children only as much as needed, to encourage and inspire them to follow their interest just a little bit further.  We think of this as “planting seeds,” meaning we might offer a little information we researched, or invite the children to watch a short video connected to an interest they’ve expressed, and then we step back, observing them as they take it to the next level.  In this way, we seek to always follow the children’s interests, allowing our “curriculum” to emerge from their current focus, understanding, and processing.

Project Work

Project work encompasses the variety of scaffolding techniques we use, in response to our group’s specific interests in the world that surrounds them.  In selecting a topic on which to focus, we reflect on our documentation and observations of the children in order to identify something that the children are repeatedly drawn to, and that ignites in them questions and observations - a desire to know more.  Once we have selected a topic, we consider how it can be connected to three different areas of learning that guide all the planning we do around how to scaffold children’s interests.

  • Life Systems

    • How does the world work?
    • What is a life cycle?
    • How do life cycles look different among different species or communities?

Reflecting on Project Work From 2015

Bees gave us a way to …
  • bring understanding to how a bee stings out of self-defense, as a reaction to its environment, thereby building empathy and perspective around our place in the natural world.
  • find ways we are similar and different to bees.  For example, bees drink nectar, and we drink water, but we eat food with our teeth and bees use a long proboscis.
  • learn about bees’ homes, what they look like and how they function.

  • learn about the waggle dance, which stretched our understanding of what language can look like.
  • bring images of bees and their environments into our classroom, which became focal points of conversation and story about bees’ lives.
Life Systems
  • connect to each season - as flowers bloomed, bees were thriving and as the weather cooled we saw them less and less.
  • understand and appreciate flowers for their function as well as their appearance.
  • explore the concept of nourishment through an animal whose food system looks much different than ours.

We explored bees through...
  • physical observation.
  • flower deconstruction.
  • investigating and discussing pictures of bees and their homes.
  • art materials, with colors and textures inspired by what we noticed about bees.
  • books about bees and their environments
  • videos of the waggle dance and what it looks like inside a beehive