Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What Children Teach Us About Vulnerability

There's a thing about hurting ourselves in little ways that often makes us want the attention of others. As adults, we will exclaim over small hurts and give them much more focus than they need. Knowing they are trivial seems to almost make them safe to examine and show off. When we are really hurt, though, when something cuts deep- we tend to hide it rather than show it. We find our shells of safety- whatever they might be- and climb in to them. I'm not sure if it's an act of pride or survival (it's likely a little bit of many different things) that causes this almost instinctual reaction, but we will push down the hurt. We swallow it and move forward with our eyes focused on the goal of forgetting, of acting as if nothing has happened.

Typically, these kinds of cuts aren't physical. They are not injuries that will heal before our very own eyes as time goes on but instead they are deep emotional cuts. They, too, will heal over time but not in any way that we will see. Often we will be going through our day and a something will happen to make us remember the injury- our incredibly complex brain will force the memory into the forefront of itself and we will realize, almost suddenly, that it doesn't hurt in the way it once did. Maybe it's a song that reminds us of a moment we'd rather not dwell on or the face of someone we thought we'd managed to forget. Perhaps it's something ridiculously small, like the smell of fresh baked bread or an inexplicable wave of nostalgia. Whatever it is, it brings to our attention the hurt and how we've moved past it. How we've moved forward without even realizing it. We've healed.

We talk a lot at Tumbleweeds about the amazing perseverance of children. How they can understand the complex world of adults and start to navigate it from the moment they are born. They begin to understand how to let us know they are hungry versus tired. They start to understand that there are certain things that are really important to mom and different things that are really important to grandma or dad. They can tell when your heart isn't in the words. They act out when they can tell you are feeling vulnerable, not because they are preying on your weakness but because that weakness causes worry and fear in their own little souls. The acting out isn't really "acting out"- it's their own way of processing emotions that they are still learning to understand- emotions that we are still learning to understand.

In short, they are emotional cuts. Children display more than anything how our attitude, our mood, our actions affect those around us. It's true for adults, too, of course, but it isn't as clear how you affect other adults as it is with children. My time working with children has caused me to become even more self-reflective than I already was. I've learned just how true it is that smiling when you greet someone can change their entire day. I've seen firsthand how a welcoming or patient moment can completely change the outcome of a situation. I've learned how to hold my tongue and listen when my head is racing with thoughts- because what the person I'm talking to is saying is important to them, too! I've noticed more. I've seen more. I've experienced more... all because of what children have taught me.

It is easy to get caught up in ourselves and be selfish not simply because it's the human condition but rather because we are all we know for certain. We can count on being able to define what we need, what we think, what we care about. Those around us seem more like a distant puzzle and figuring them out can be, quite frankly, extremely frustrating. Children have taught me, though, that if you are quiet and you really, really look outside of yourself... then even the toughest puzzle can be figured out. We can remember that we aren't the only ones who might be feeling those deep emotional cuts that take so long to heal. We can be okay with sitting in that hurt, with letting it take over.

Exploring music at the Preschool!

 Music has the power to stimulate the senses and at the same time foster learning. Music is entertainment that can be shared and unknowingly promote learning. Teaching happens a lot between children at the preschool but lately music has expanded our peer teaching in exciting new ways. Music elicits growth and development in so many areas. I have listed a few we have seen so far to go with the pictures below.

 Exploring the sounds of a table quickly gains interest and a group forms hitting the table with different objects they are able to identify different sounds and begin to play in unison.

When one child sings their favorite song other children often join in the singing and learn the lyrics to new songs along the way. It is fun to share the joy of music by singing loudly.

This is my bass!

Self Expression
This is my microphone!

Anything around the playground may invite a musical performance becoming a microphone or a stage.
Children have a lot to say at times. A marching band forms as the perfect way to combine musical expression and movement. 

In this pretend game sound making takes the lead role in socializing in play. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Toddler Negotiations

Two toddlers are playing together with a set of blocks.  At first, they are both working with their own pieces. Then one child reaches over and grabs one block away from the other.  The child who had the blog screams and begins to cry.  This is a wonderful opportunity to practice negotiating skills.

Remain Calm
While both children are having strong emotional reactions to the toy grabbing that just happened, the best gift we can give to the children is to remain calm.  By providing a calm space, their emotions are the forefront.  Watch for a moment to see what reaction the children might have.  In some cases, the toy grabbing works.  Sometimes, this is the most difficult for our adult rationalization of fairness.  For toddlers this is less the case, and often each party simply continues with what they were doing.  If there is a strong feeling of wanting to keep a toy, calmly hold it between the two children.

Say What Is True
"You both really wanted the toy!  First you grabbed it, then they held tightly."  When you focus on what is happening with a calm, even tone, the children's attention is on the facts.  

Model Language
"When they are touching it they are using it."  For toddlers the idea of physical touch meaning possession is a simple, concrete idea.  
"Can I have it?"  Invite a child to hold their hand out, palm up, and ask this question.  The important part is to wait for an answer.  Sometimes, a child needs an prompt that they can say Yes or No.  By inviting an exchange between children, they learn that what the feel and say or want or need matters.  This idea can continue through many topics and will evolve as their communication skills grow.  We are introducing the basic concepts of listening, waiting for an answer and responding
"I'm using it." When a child wants to keep a toy they are using, they can say this phrase.  It tells the other child that it is not available.  They can try to find a way to get the toy in a safe way. 

Toddlers will find every way that they can to practice these concepts.  They are searching to find ways to orient to the world around them, and they are curious if things are true and the same in various situations.  This means that the more consistent we follow this model, the more normalcy they will experience.  When a toddler experiences order, they feel safe, respected and trusted, which allows for them to feel free to be creative, explore and imagine. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Physics at the Infant House

On a sunny afternoon this past week, I observed several of the children spontaneously revisiting some experimenting we've done in the past with a long, black tube and various small objects that can fit inside.  Earlier that day, a couple of the children had worked to drag the tube out onto the pavement before moving on to other activities.  After our picnic, I noticed LC and LT collecting small cars and racing over to the tube, which LC propped up on a few steps.

"I will hold it at the top and you can hold it at the bottom." LC

"I wanna put it in!" LT says as she races over to the end LC is holding up with her tiny car at the ready.  They agree to help each other hold the tube as LC places the car inside.

AJ notices their work and immediately stands at the other end of the tube: "It's comin' out! Comin' out!" she shouts gleefully as she receives the car on the other end.  The children negotiate turn-taking so that all three of them are able to fulfill each of the roles in their experiment -- holding the tube, putting the car in, and waiting for the car at the other end.  When LT runs to go get the car she put in, she makes sure to collect everyone else's cars too, and brings them back to the group to pass them out.

Their experimentation happily continues, filled with negotiating, excitement, encouragement, and observations.  They alternate holding the tube just a little bit off the ground and sometimes as far as they can reach off the ground.  Sometimes the tube slides down the steps and lays flat on the pavement.  They notice that this doesn't seem to work for getting the car to come out the other end.  They quickly readjust the tube so that it's at an incline.

"This is a little slide that..."  LC

"It's comin' out! Oh... I can't see it!" AJ

"I'm gonna put this in after I raise it!" LC

"Put it from the bottom!" LT

At this point, LP and MH have finished eating in the backyard and make their way over to the steps where the work is taking place.  "What you guys doin'?" LP asks, and moves close to the tube to observe.  MH and LP sometimes touch the tube, and eventually each of them collect a car for themselves.  "I want a turn!" MH exclaims.  He moves to the high end of the tube.  LC and LT initially protest, as they are in the middle of dropping a car in already.  MH pauses to let them finish and then reiterates his request.  Everyone makes space for MH to try.  LP continues to observe.

Eventually the children who initially started this work move on to the exciting water play happening across the pavement.  LP takes the opportunity to investigate the tube more closely.  She picks it up from either end, rolls it a bit, and eventually puts a car through.  She pauses for a moment before picking up a piece of chalk and attempting to put that through.  It takes some work of raising the tube as high as she can, but it comes out!  LP smiles quietly and then asks me where the watering can is.  We search the yard and find it.  LP brings it to the big tub of water and fills it up before heading back to the tube, which is being held by another child so one end is off the ground.  LP walks up to the high end and pours water through the tube before moving on.

I felt so much joy as I observed the children that afternoon.  With no intervention from me, they calmly and clearly negotiated roles and turns during an exciting series of experiments they devised completely of their own accord.  They cheered each other on, suggested alternatives when it wasn't working as they'd anticipated, and made sure that everyone had access to the materials they needed.  When others joined, they felt confident asking for a turn or observing, each as they saw fit.  When the tube was totally available, LP expanded on the work she had observed by introducing new materials, clearly satisfied by having the chance to explore this activity with plenty of space.

This is one of the many beautiful moments of free play that we are so fortunate to observe everyday at the Infant House.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Workshop Begins

In the workshop we have been working on deconstructing an electronic keyboard and CD player.  It takes a great amount of focus and slow movements to align screwdrivers and screws and figure out how each piece can be taken off.
One of the best parts of this work has been the parts.  They have become integral parts in our imaginative.  The buttons from the keyboard have been money, candy, or keys.  Plastic parts of the keyboard have become eyeglasses and rocket ships.  The children collaborate to find new ways to put the pieces together in new ways as play evolves. 
What began as an investigation in the way things work, has become an impetus that has enhanced our storytelling and curiousity about the world around us.  Our questions wondering about the deconstruction:
"I wonder where this piece came from?"
"Why does the screw hold the pieces together?"
"Will we ever be able to get this apart?"
Have become imaginative explorations and storylines:
"Wait!  You need to come over here and be the rocket driver with me.  When this long piece goes up, then it is the computer which can fly the rocket ship."
"I am counting how many moneys I need before I buy more ice cream: one, five, six, nine, ten."
"Someday, once I am really good at being a screwdriver, I can maybe work on a car."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Problem Solving through Brainstorming

Outside today V and H discovered a pit used in our sand box had become stuck in another pot! While still in the sand box, they turned the pot over and tried to shake it out. It wouldn't budge. Then they found a stick and hit the pot. Still it remained steadfastly intact. They glared at the pot for a moment then shouted, "We need to fix this!"
H immediately had an idea about how to proceed, "We need somewhere to work!" V agreed and they begun collecting materials from around the yard. They set up shop by our bamboo bush- placing sticks around to partition off space. 

V looked at H, "We need tools!" Again they set off around the yard. They collected a spoon, an ice cream scoop, and a few smaller sticks. With tools in hand they descended upon their task again. 
They worked for a while and talked as they worked. What if we tried this tool? What if we turned it upside down? Can we pull it out? What happens if we use this stick? What if we hit it on the stage? They also tried simply telling the pot to get out.

They didn't succeed in separating the pots before it was time to head back inside but it didn't matter. Their work was about brainstorming ways to fix the problem. Not once did they stop or ask for help. Whenever I approached them they simply updated me on what hadn't worked so far. They were perfectly content to think, to wonder, to investigate... To problem solve with every fiber of their being.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ice is Water!

We are experiencing a hot spell during the beginning of June this year.  During these 90 degree days, we get the experience the changing state of materials that we know well.  Today we are playing with water and small bowls of ice.

When AK first saw me bring out the small bowls he pointed and said, "Wah-wah!"
We agreed that it is water, but it feels a bit different.

"Cold! Ooh!" Said G, as he picked up the slippery chunk with his hands and the bowl.

T worked hard to pick up the chunk near him, but it kept moving and sliding just as he got his fingers around it.

J enjoyed splashing in the larger tub of water that I also provided, and was surprised when he pulled up on the edge and the tub dumped onto his body!  At first he was unsure, then happily splashed in the cool water.

The children continued to explore the different textures and temperatures of the air outside, the cold ice and the cool water.  By offering these opportunities the children now have a deeper understanding of temperature, water and ice!  What a fun way to keep cool on a hot, sunny day.