Friday, July 18, 2014

The Garden

The ever evolving,  yet constant presence of the garden at the Infant House is something I look forward to every year.   I follow a similar pattern for how I approach introducing and including the children in the inception, tending and harvesting. I like to use the garden as a focal point outside because the opportunities for hands on ways to interact with life are seemingly endless. Here are a few things the children are most interested in this year.

Our investigations almost always focus on the cycles of life.  This begins when we plant seeds in the garden, but I also enjoy having other ways to invite children to watch how a seed changes.  We also have plants that live in our classroom which we take care of and watch as they change.  Every day we go outside and tour the yard.  In the spring the seeds began to slowly make their ways from the soil.  A bending stem pushing up the first leaves.  The children are astounded and excited as they grow bigger and bigger.  Then the flowers open in many different colors.  We practice touching the leaves gently and carefully.  When the flowers fall, we are reminded of the seeds we planted months ago.  I tell the story of the cycle of life in the garden: We planted a seed, it grew from the ground, it became a plant, then there were flowers and the flowers become new seeds!  Some seeds we eat: beans, strawberries, raspberries, peas, squash.  Some we allow to grow old and harvest so that we can plant again next year.  

During our observations of the garden there is another constant that attracts attention: Insects.  Bees, lady bugs, grasshoppers, earwigs, ants.  And other small creatures such as spiders and pill bugs.  These all make up the busy environment of the garden and the children want to know more.  Why are they there?  What purpose do they serve?  What do they eat?  Where do they live?  Why is it in the flower?  They also create stories about what they notice.  We are especially interested in the ants that climb up and around and over the tall sunflowers.  The children grab the stems gently and say "Ant house!  Sunflower ant house!"  The joy in the discovery that this plant creates a home for these tiny creatures.  Other times they are a bit more concerned, so we talk about moving around ones they feel nervous about, or watching quietly so that the insects feel safe.  Bees sting because they are scared.  So do spiders and other insects.  I wonder what they want to be doing and how we can give them the space they want?

We finally are in the summer months, which means harvesting the produce is in the front of almost every child's mind.  We approach this with intention and wish to create a respect for not just the plants and creatures of the garden, but for what we can harvest and how it can be used.  We have special harvesting baskets, we teach best harvesting techniques and of course how to decide what is ready to pick.  It is an exercise in trust and patience with varying daily results.  Our goal is only to pick things together as a group, but there are times when berries are eaten or we invite children to graze on kale or beans.  I feel like we are able to have this variance, because the expectation is set, so the times when there is less rules the children are still respectful of the plants and what they pick.  There are times when they are the ones who find the harvesting baskets and ask to pick because they noticed some things that were ripe.  

The bounty, both fruit and enjoyment, of the garden has just begun.  Each day we look forward to watering, pulling weeds and noticing how it changes.  It grows with us and offers us new experiences as we care for it and learn from it. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Patterns in Preschool

We are sitting around the table. Everyone is silent as we study the lines on the paper. Some are jagged and some are curved. Some are thick and some are thin. At first the kids had simply pointed out what's different about the lines. AK says, "Look! This line is long and that one is short." AS notes, "That line is BIG! This one's just little." I try to write fast enough to keep up with everything they are noticing, but their brains work much faster than my hands. Then I ask, "What do you notice about these lines that makes them special?" Normally, I get a rush of responses. Today, though, everyone is engaged in quiet observation. I wait.

After a moment, MR speaks up. "Well... I mean... the thing I notice is that there's two fat lines then a thin line then two more fat lines... That's a pattern. Like we talked about yesterday."

This causes WK to chime in. "Yeah! And here it isn't just a bunch of green and red lines. There's two greens..." She pauses to count the red lines, "Five reds! Then two more greens! Then I bet that's five more reds so I'm not even going to count them."

From that moment, voices explode. Every child has something to offer on what patterns they saw. Our discussion about patterns from the day before, though mostly theoretical, seemed to really take hold. After everyone has a chance to notice a pattern I pose a new challenge to them. "When we look at this collection of patterns we can see some rules about patterns." I don't ask them anything further, but rather state this fact and wait a moment.

WK speaks almost immediately after I fall silent, "Yeah, like all sorts of things make a pattern. Color or fat or thin or long or short or wavy or curvy... just one little thing can make a pattern and that's just how it works."

"And they have to repeat! Like we talked about yesterday! If it doesn't repeat it's not a pattern." TB notes.

I ask my last question for group that day, "What else might have a pattern?"

WK studies her arms and hands for a long time then looks at mine. While she is observing MR speaks up, "Music can have a pattern!" AS likes this idea, "Yes! Music!" After their interaction, WK is ready with her observation, "Patterns can happen in nature. Like the freckles on your arm, Melinda. They are kind of a pattern... aren't they?" I glance down at my arm and notice that the seemingly speckled randomness does indeed have a sort of pattern, "They do, WK. There's a big one there and a little one... then another big one here... and another little one." I point as I talk so everyone can see what WK has discovered.

It's interesting what happens when we start to look for patterns in the world around us. Patterns are such a graceful extension to the study of lines because, just like lines, they are found everywhere in our world. All we have to do is open our eyes and phenomenal patterns are everywhere. There are patterns in visual arts, in nature, in music... and in the way we interact with one another each day. They are this amazing predictable thing in our world that we can always rely on.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Art-Based Exploration in a New Space

Last week, the children of Cohort 7 engaged in an exciting exploration of materials in our new studio space.  It was late afternoon, and I had set out basic, familiar materials:  palettes, brushes, white paper, and yellow & blue tempera paints.  The children began mixing colors and trying out different strokes, but it wasn't long before I sensed them all wondering what more could be added.

I had placed a bucket of water at the entrance of the studio for washing up after we were all done, and AJ walked over to splash in the water a bit, before noticing a small pitcher floating in the water.  She dipped it in the water and returned to the table, adding the water to the palette.  I'll admit, my adult brain felt inclined to redirect her with thoughts of: "These aren't watercolor paints!" "The paper isn't strong enough!", etc.  I held my tongue though and challenged myself to simply observe.  LC and LT immediately noticed what AJ was doing and went running to the bucket in search of more pitchers.  There was only one more, so I went off to find another so that all three of them could pour.  When I returned with a third pitcher, I was amazed to see their level of focus as they took turns adding more and more water to the palettes.  There was now so much water covering the table that it spilled over the edges of the palette, soaking the paper underneath.  The colors were running everywhere, some quite faded, while others had collected in bold, vibrant pools.  LC gratefully accepted the third pitcher, and began her own trips back and forth between the table with pitcherfuls of water.

After some minutes of focused water-pouring, the girls started to alternate pouring with painting, experimenting with the altogether new painting environment that they'd created.  LT noticed that the paper was now very easily torn and seemed taken aback at how silent the tears were.  This was not like tearing dry paper!  We talked about the characteristics we noticed:  "The paper is soft and wet.  When you lift a corner it tears in many places."  Everyone paused to try ripping the paper a bit, before beginning anew with painting and pouring.

Eventually, LC's older brother arrived for pick-up.  He was interested in our work and joined the table.  He focused on making bright swirls of color on one of the pieces, noticing the way in which the colors trickled out from the center of his swirls, becoming more faded as they edged across the paper.  Like LT, he also noticed the greater ease with which the paper could be torn now that it was so laden with water.  He flipped his brush over, using the end to run across the paper, making long jagged tears in the paper as AJ and LT looked on.  Eventually, everyone decided they were finished and asked me to hang the work alongside paintings done by Cohort 6.  AJ was interested in the process of displaying the artwork, as it was very tricky to lift the paper while still preserving the whole piece.  We managed to hang two pieces, and will be very interested to see what they look like after a weekend of hang-drying.

I felt so excited and fortunate that afternoon to have this amazing space, which allowed the children to explore materials in this new way.  The outdoor space makes these kinds of explorations feasible -- the canvas-covered table and rock floor can withstand all sorts of experiments, which allows us to be less concerned with preservation of the environment, instead encouraging complete engagement in the creative processes led by the children.  This is only the beginning -- I can't wait to see what adventures lie in store for us in our beautiful new space!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Outdoor Art Studio

During our summer break, the teachers at the infant house created a new, outdoor art studio to provide new avenues and enhance focus in our continuing exploration into art mediums. 

On Monday we began by offering small marbles and buttons to scoop and pour into small jars and pitchers. This have us the opportunity to being limits and discover new ones. For example we decided that materials that we use in the studio stay in the studio, the rocks on the ground are for walking on (vs scooping, digging, throwing), bikes can be parked outside of the studio, as well as our continuing practice at negotiating space with each other. 

Today we began with a good amount of corn starch in a tray. The same scooping and pouring tools were offered and the children immediately began manipulating the unique powdery texture of the corn starch. After a while I dripped some liquid water color in and the children enjoyed chasing the drops with their fingers and seeing then disappear into the white.  
The final step was offering a few jars of water.  Naturally they were dumped, and a new texture element was added. 

The thing I found interesting was that despite what I offered, the children continuted to scoop, spoon and pour, as well as feel with their hands.  
Our final addition was to offer a bucket for hand washing that is always available.  Children could wash their hands off in the water as much as they like and inevitably this meant that the water became a part of our play. 

We look forward to what this space will become as we build it to fit our needs and desires.  We invite our families to bring items to add to the studio which might enhance what we have but also make this new space a collaboration. If you have any small jars, found natural objects, beads, yarn, statues, art, scarves, spoons or other things that you would like to add to our studio, we look forward to finding a place and use for them!  

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Exploring body symmetry

Lately mirrors have become prominent part of exploring provocations. The image reflecting back at each child leads to many interesting questions. Why the human body looks the way it does? What features make us look different, the same? This lead us to do a group body symmetry, what makes bodies the same?

After we warmed up with songs that got our bodies moving, we began by each looking in a mirror. After discussing that we have different sizes, shapes and colors, W said “we all have hands and feet”.  How many do we have? TU said “two hands” and C said, “two feet”. We all agreed we have two, one or many body parts. If we divide ourselves in half (we put a hand up to our noses), what do we see on each side of our body? Are there any body parts do we have only 2 of? Are there parts on us that we have only one of? We started to count all the body parts from the top and discovered that many body parts come in two. There are also some parts of us that only come in one. “Why do we have the one eye on each side of our body” I said.  We are born to look the same on each side.

Do we have body parts that have more then 2? We then counted our fingers and our toes. We have five fingers on one hand and five fingers on the other and we have 5 toes on one foot and 5 toes on the other. Is each side the same? We all agreed yes. Is that the same as our eyes? Are they the same if you split yourself in the middle?

We have just been talking about symmetry. Symmetry is when something looks the same on each side. No one seemed to know understand we looked at shapes. First we put our hands in front of us. Are hands symmetrical? "Yes!" said M. "Why?" I asked. "They both have five fingers" said W.

I took out the pattern blocks and started to put both sides together. Each time someone would say no or yes if they were symmetrical.
Can we make a painting that is symmetrical. We all folded our paper in half and I told everyone to just paint one side. When everyone was finished we folded the back over to sandwich the painted side. “What do you think will happen when we open up the paper?” I said. “It will be the same”, said M.

As I showed how to open the paper with the paint side up everyone’s face light up as they saw what happened. We made each side the same. Kind of like us.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The power to give and take away..

This is the real secret of life, to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play. -Alan Watts

As our skies begin to clear and we can once again feel that warmth the sun brings, a bounty of excited energy has bloomed as well.  Often this energy is channeled through expanded outside play and small groups activities but sometimes it is difficult for children to handle and therefore we have experienced a lot more bumps, falls, broken plants, etc then usual. So many emotions come up when this excited energy overwelms that we as teachers need to reflect and develop new ideas to channel this behavior.

One idea that came up was why feelings are so hard to talk about. This descriptive cycle seemed perfectly synomomous with our current situation.

"Frustration leads to a destructive behavior, which leads to Sadness and Embarrassment, which leads to concern, which leads to understanding, which leads to Love." ("Oh to feel")
We see this cycle play out again and again.

Lately I've noticed children go through part of this cycle but forget how to move past embarassment. We encourage every child to talk and offer solutions verbally so that they can express needs and feelings in a safe way.

When a child feels the need to destroy a block structure by throwing blocks, how can they alter this impulse and express their frustration in a cathargic way?  It is our innate human condition to need understanding and acceptance even from the very beginning. Even as a child grows and becomes more confident they are still struggling to attain these two needs on a daily basis.

I wonder if outlets can be taught to children to use as tools when they know they are feeling unsafe in their energy.

Just as we have beautified our yard and gardens we have also refreshed our play opportunities in the yard and this has created the challenge of caring for our yard and keeping it beautiful. Just this week a couple of our children were busy picking dandy lions and eating the leaves. This quickly turned into pulling out our flowers as well as whole plants as if this game of destruction needed to escalate.

T said, "Well V was pulling them first".  V said, "I was just getting flowers".

This seems to be the first excuse for explaining why a destructive act just took place. Someone always seems to be pulling a flower or plant first. The passing of the blame also does not need to include order such as "AZ was doing it". The energy has manifested itself in no greater place then in using patience. What is patience? Many of our children dont have a clear grasp of how to be Patient.  I offered a suggestion to get the gears going.

                "Could caring for the plants especially just the little vegetables be patience?" 

Many of the children seemed to agree and began to offer there own ideas. "Waiting for the swing" shouted M. "The stairs" followed T. When we want to go up or down the stairs from the tower sometimes there is someone on them. After some clarification we all agreed being patient is caring for people and things abound you and using words to show that.

After asking all our class how we can show patience to people and things around us we worked out that it would hurt the plants if we just pulled off leaves or vegetables whenever we wanted to. We decided it was not nice to our school or other Tumbleweeder's to take away things whenever we wanted them and if we just cared for everything around us we can give so much more joy and beauty to not only ourselves but others.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Experimenting with Color

In Color Group today we experimented with color. I set out the materials for our experiments and invited QM, TB, and LC to join me at the table. I sat quietly for a moment as they explored the materials and talked among themselves. They were keen to discuss which colors they liked best and theorize on what the empty jars might be for.

TB pointed to blue and then green, "These are my favorite colors, Q."
QM pointed to purple, "This mine!"
As LC joined us she announced, "My favorite is pink! I'm having Pink!"
"What are the jars for?" TB asked me. I looked at him quietly and he suggested, "For the colors??"
LC nodded, "Yeah! For colors! For making colors! I'm putting pink in one!"
TB looked back and forth between QM and LC, "We could share all the colors."
QM nodded in agreement, "Yeah!!!"
LC shook her head, "No! Then I won't have any!"
TB said, "I'm going to use green then."
"I want pink!" LC announced.
"This one mine!" QM said.

I chose this moment to speak up, "It sounds like you've each picked out a color you want to use. That definitely works. We are going to do some color experiments and we need one color to be a base color so we can compare the colors we make to it at the end. Since blue hasn't been picked, that can be our base color."

I carefully put a few drops of blue into the first empty jar then added water to make it a rich hue that we could see light through. It was important to be able to see through the color so that we can more easily compare it to the colors we created. Everyone watched very intently, silently taking in what I was doing. I slowly took my very full jar and added our base color to each of the jars in equal amounts speaking as I did this, "I'm going to add the same amount of blue to each jar. We want to be able to tell what happens when we add our color so we try to keep everything the same as possible in each jar. The same amount of water, the same amount of food coloring." Once I was finished everyone was eager to add their colors!

"Before we add your colors we need to talk about what we think will happen! Let's look at LC's jar first. It has blue in it now and LC will add pink to it. This jar will be Jar B. What do you think will happen to Jar B?" I recorded our thoughts in our experiment journal. TB said "It's going to turn it red!"

"Okay, and what about your jar, TB? It's blue now and you are adding green. Let's call yours Jar C. What will Jar C do?" LC spoke up this time, "Red or green or pink!!!" I recorded her ideas.

"And last is Jar D which is QM's jar. It's blue now and we are going to add purple. What might happen?" All three of them had a different idea this time! QM said it would be yellow. LC said it would turn red. TB said it would be pink! Now that we had recorded all of our assumptions, we could begin our experiment.

We started with Jar B. LC carefully added a few drops of pink. The pink added to the blue made the color dark again so we added tiny amounts of water until we could see through it. Then we placed it next to our base jar (Jar A). All three of them studied it for a second discussing what color they thought it might be. We repeated with Jar C and and Jar D before recording what happened.

Before closing up our group we made a base for the pink color. Using this, I showed everyone how different the color in our base pink jar looked from Jar B. TB noted, "You can see blue in all of our jars!" We talked about how even though the jars were now light purple or pink, green, and dark purple we could still see a blue hue in each of them. This was because we started with blue in each jar! TB wanted to test out whether or not blue would remain if we added more pink to our Jar B. We added ten more drops, but we could still see the blue hue. We added ANOTHER ten drops but we could still see the blue hue. We added one last round of ten drops.... but we could still see the blue hue! No matter how much pink we saturated our jar with, the blue hue remained. I can't wait until our next color experiment!