Simple Sunday-How to Keep Your Toddler Busy (for a half-hour straight!)

In our classroom we use play dough with new accessories all of the time.  We use cookie cutters, pine cones, leaves, feathers, random parts to broken toys and sometimes just nothing at all.  Last week I was at a loss for what to do with a bunch of spirited two year olds and opened my cabinet to find some q-tips.  We also use these in many ways, for painting, in shaving cream, to mix paint etc.  For whatever reason it had never occurred to me to put these two together before.

What followed was pure magic.  The magic of toddlers completely engrossed in their work.  Working independently with out looking for guidance from an adult.  They worked with play dough, q-tips and their ‘training’ scissors for almost thirty-five minutes.  I urge to you give it a try if you haven’t already!

Tiny fingers grasp the q-tip with delicate precision.

Many discoveries came about organically like how to pull objects through the other side or how long the play dough will dangle on a q-tip before it falls off.

Porcupines, cakes and umbrellas all around!!

We tried all sorts of ways to insert and remove the q-tips including using the scissors as “tongs”.

They were lined up and counted.

Made into towers.

And proudly shown off (while blowing out the candles of course!)

A beautifully productive, child-led morning of play, learning and exploration.  Hope you all had a great weekend.  Here’s to another week of supporting the play and honoring the feelings of the littles in our lives!

Good Sunday night to you all!

Melissa

Actions Speak Louder than Words-Appreciating our Teachers

Alright, I admit it, I am burnt out.    Burnt out on spending at least nine hours every day with toddlers.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do but have you met a toddler? They have runny noses and they will actually run over to wipe on your pants (or shirt, hair, back…whatever is available) They need lots of physical affection and often go about accessing it in the most interesting ways (today for example a little girl put her finger in my ear!? Yep).  Also, they cry….a lot.  I’m comfortable with crying, showing emotion and even encourage it but…it is LOUD sometimes.

I’m burnt out on teaching.  Burnt out on working in a less than supportive environment.  All of the above wouldn’t matter if I was working in a situation where  I had proper support.  Staff development, meetings where we were able to discuss questions and concerns we have about particular children.  Paid time off and the ability to call in sick all would be helpful.  I wish I could say that my current center is out of the norm but unfortunately it is not.  There are far more centers like mine, with exhausted teachers out of time and money to continue professional development.  Frustrated with their lack of professional or personal fulfillment they take things out on the children.  Teachers who aren’t well supported don’t make good teachers.  They either leave the profession or they start to care less.

Luckily I am on the path to personal and professional renewal as I leave my time at this center.  What about everybody else? During this teacher appreciation week I couldn’t help but think about all of the other teachers out there.  Working moms, working students, caring people who probably should have had the pleasure of retiring years ago.   What do we really need to do to show our teachers we appreciate them? Do Starbucks cards and flowers really get the point across?  I admit this is better than nothing at least for a second we feel as if we are appreciated.  Day after day, year after year it just doesn’t cut the mustard.

In their book Professional Capital Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan argue that what we need is a fundamental change that allows for a community of educators to emerge.  This is as true in early childhood education as anywhere.  In some cases I would argue even more so.  Early childhood educators are in the unique position of laying the foundation of our children’s emotional and educational future.  Teachers don’t have the luxury of being able to just ‘phone it in’ ever.  Even if we don’t feel like it how we act and speak is constantly being absorbed by our littlest friends.

I know this question is bigger than this post.  I also know I am not alone in feeling overworked, underpaid and just plain exhausted.  As more and more children start ‘school’ before the age of one and private care/preschool programs move ahead in a largely privatized and practically unregulated manner what can we as teachers do to change the tide? What role, if any, should our society play?   What type of movement will it take to really place educators at the forefront of our country (as they do in Finland)? What are the consequences if we continue the way we are?

Thanks for reading as I vent! 🙂

Melissa

Toddler Tug-of-War; Why the toy is only half the battle

Two tiny toddlers make circles around the table, clomping in their oversized heels.  Around and around they go until one’s heel slips off.  The other one curiously leans over and picks it up, clomping on.  Upon noticing the loss of their shoe the other one throws her self on to the floor in tears. Out of curiosity the clomping buddy returns only to inadvertently begin a loud, tear filled shoe tug of war.

What exactly are toddlers looking for in this situation? What do they need from us as caretakers?

Many of us have been in the middle of a toddler tug of war.  More often than not we operate on instinct doing what is ‘right’ in an effort to keep everyone happy.   We often become right fighters, taking toys away or labeling children with abstract words like nice, friendly, mean etc.  Particularly with toddlers these attempts to impose what we see as socially accpetable behavior leave them confused.  The actions we hope will teach them confuse them often leaving them feeling deeply misunderstood.

So what are toddlers looking for from us when they are embroiled in an emotional tug-of-war?   They need us to stay calm first and foremost.  This can be really difficult if you see what seems like an egregious act of toy stealing.  We have to remember that toddlers are always examining the world and with it all manners of cause and effect.  What we see as “mean” or “aggressive” is simply a toddlers expression of their curiosity.  It may also be an outward manifestation of a difficult to manage emotion.  In any case all toddlers involved in the situation deserve to be heard and respected.  Our job isn’t to fix the situation but rather to help both children get back to a state of emotional equilibrium.

In a broader sense we have the responsibility to use these opportunities as teaching moments.  We can do this by talking through what we see.  By avoiding judgements and narrating the scene in front of us.  In the moment it can be hard to let the judgements go especially if one of the children is your own.  Everything inside of you screams “That was so mean! He was playing so nicely with that! How COULD you?!?” But if cooler heads prevail you will be able to give your child, as well as the other child, a better sense of how to properly handle themselves in future situations.

You will find that what toddlers really crave is to be understood.  If you can reflect back what happened to them and how you think they may be feeling this can calm the storm faster than grabbing a toy and handing it back.  When they are on either side of the emotional turmoil what they really want is for you to speak what they are feeling.  Not give them a toy. 

Foot Painting (A semi-wordless Wednesday)

 

 

Simple Sunday-Simply looking beyond the “seen”

Last week at nap time, admitedly the roughest part of my school day with Collin, we lost connection.  He was yelling at the top of his lungs, other children were trying to sleep, my co-teacher and I had things to do (wash dishes, take lunch breaks) and he just. would. not. stop.  In anger I walked out of the classroom leaving him with another teacher to help him fall asleep.  I am sure this may seem fairly benign to some, but I have NEVER left him without a proper ‘bye-bye’ I always let him know where I’ll be even if it means a few tears and he is usually fine with this arrangement.  On this day however I said “Fine! If you don’t want mommy to put you to sleep then Sandra can” I grabbed the dishes and left the room as he began to scream and sob for me.

I wasn’t gone long, I did my dishes and came back to the room to my boy sweating, sobbing, and gagging.  He wasn’t just angry that I left he was heartbroken because in essence I had said “Fine, if you won’t listen to me you don’t get my love right now” He was confused, sad and disconnected from his Mamma.  It hurt us both.

The beauty of something like this though is that we can grow as parents.  Our relationship can grow as Mamma and son.  We can reconginze our selves as fallible human beings with emotions that pass through us.  As the emotioal cloud lifted I looked to others for support and discussion.  My husband is always great at talking me down and reminding me that it is no good for a child to have a mother who never feels, mistakes happen and you will work through this.  I checked my phone and found this wonderful writing from Lu at Parent2ParentU

Imagine that, instead of LOOKING at our child’s BEHAVIOR, we thought of what is happening behind the scene…BEHIND THE SEEN. 🙂

So, our child is screaming and writhing on the floor, and we think immediately about the state of her BRAIN in that moment. 

Or our child is sullen, anxious, withdrawn, and we think immediately about the state of his brain and what’s weighing on his HEART.

Our child is agitated, hiding, dangerously impulsive, quick to blame, and we think immediately about his learned STORY, his internal TURMOIL.

Behavior is NOT automatically a story of (im)morality, future trouble, failure, or deficiency. But, if we don’t practice “parenting BEHIND THE SEEN”…we can unwittingly co-create this story! ♥ Lu Parent2ParentU

Aha! That is exactly what I was doing! I was focusing on just what I saw, just the immediate moment of him not being quiet.  I was already worked up and ready for a break.  This was a beautiful reminder to look beyond what is going on right in front of us and look deeply into our children’s emotional lives.

I don’t know about you but it can be hard for me to ‘take a deep breath’ or just calm down when I have anger coursing through my veins.  My mind knows I am not reacting in the most compassionate or considerate way but I need a tool to get me back to ‘home’.  After reading this I jotted down three simple questions to ask myself next time I was in a similar situation (read: a situation where a power struggle was brewing and a behavior was escalating)

So for next time, my “Three questions to see behind the seen” :

  1. What need of mine am I expecting him to meet? My need to not have people or property harmed? Alright…but my need to have calm and quiet? How can I reasonably expect that from a 23 month old? In many cases where a power struggle is brewing we see a parent expecting some need to be fulfilled by a child.  A need for order, a need for quiet, a need for them to eat ‘healty’ food.  This reflection allows me to look more deeply into what may be causing him to behave in a certain manner instead of continuing down a path of control.
  2. Have I stopped to think about the his need behind the action? If I have yet to stop and think about why (in this case Collin is rarely if ever tired at the time I was trying to lay him down for nap) If I neglect to take this step I will be fighting a losing battle from the beginning.
  3. Who has the ‘burden’ of solving this problem? If Collin reaches out to hit someone I hope to be able to hold his arm and say “I can’t let you hit him” The burden of solving the issue should be on me as I am the adult in any situation (even if I forget to act like it on occasion) As he grows he will be able to take more responsibility for himself and his problem solving but I will always be there to offer support and suggestions.  I never plan on leaving the entire burden of solving any major problem on him if he is making it clear (with behavior or otherwise) that he needs the help.

There you have it…here’s hoping I’ll just do better next time!

Thanks for reading!

What the Teacher Taught the Mamma (1 of 2)

When you are a preschool teacher with no children there is a phrase you hear on a regular basis. It is not said with disdain but it is said with confidence. Uttered by the mothers (and fathers) we work along side, the single teachers among us hear the phrase and secretly think they know better. It goes something like this…

“It is different when it is your own child.”

I admit that when I heard it I always thought something along the lines of “Yeah, but I’d still never let my child do [fill in the blank with some undesirable/socially unacceptable action]” but guess what? It is oh so different when it is your own child.

Years and years and YEARS of teaching preschool, directing preschool, nannying and babysitting couldn’t ever prepare anyone for becoming a Mamma. Being a Mamma isn’t being pregnant, it isn’t setting rules or just wiping noses and buns. It is so much more and no one else will ever be able to be your child’s Mamma.

As I grow into my Mamma self what I thought I knew has fallen away like a discarded cheerio. My teacher self has grown alongside my Mamma self as I view the world of children in a new, brighter light. There are large parts of my teaching history that have informed my parenting thus far and my parenting style has begun to change my teaching for the better. This is the first in a set of posts where I will attempt to reflect on the major ways each side has influenced each other.

What the Teacher Taught the New Mamma:

  1. Environment matters and it matters a lot. The Reggio Emilia teaching philosophy calls the environment the third teacher. I respect that notion in my classroom and my home. From the youngest age children need a simple selection of open ended toys that they are able to access and work with towards mastery (of the toy or a particular skill they are working on). When setting up an art activity, sensory exploration or playing with play dough keep in mind how easily the children can reach the materials to be used. Do their feet touch the floor, can they adjust themselves easily? How are materials presented? Try to imagine everything from your children’s perspective. Things like lighting, noise, and temperature of a room can enhance or interfere with a child’s experience. This goes for all times of day or parts of your child’s schedule. Calm music, dim lighting and a warm room go a long way to a relaxed sleeping baby.
  2. Modulate your voice Using your voice properly can be your best parenting or teaching tool. Speaking in a soft whisper can inspire a room of twenty two year olds to gather, stop and listen quietly. Or it can inspire your own child to focus and listen more closely to what you are actually saying to them. Turning directions into a song can get shoes on more quickly and children out the door. Firmly and evenly expressing that a behavior is inappropriate has a much more meaningful effect than yelling ever could. If you are yelling in a effort to get your child(ren) to calm down it usually has the opposite effect. Children feel before they listen. If they feel heightened energy in the room they will respond in kind, if they feel happiness they will join in the activity (even if it is cleaning up!) if they feel calm they will slowly calm down too.
  3. Children need structure and flexibility and they need them at the same time. Structure or schedule without the room for a little extra time spent chasing an ant up a tree or finishing a block tower puts limits on a child’s natural desire to follow their curiosity, learn, explore and play. All children, however, deserve an environment that (on most days at least) is predicable, safe and helps meet their needs. I see it as schedules without stress. Let your child guide you, they will show you if they need an earlier nap, are hungrier than usual or if they are learning so much from digging in the sand they need an extra ten minutes.
  4. If you feel like something isn’t working, its not You carefully plan an art activity but your toddler would rather throw collage materials on the floor. You sit down for snack and your child repeatedly asks to get down, smooches food around and throws it on the floor. If something is too hard, stop it. Let it go. Give up your idea of how things should have gone and give it up quickly. There is no point in trying to convince a child they are hungry or trying to get them motivated to do an activity they are not interested in. Move on or in the case of an activity let them show you what the activity was supposed to be in the first place.
  5. Actions speak louder than words Whoever first spoke these words was most likely working with children. If you tell a child from across the room to clean up while standing still, hands on hips staring at them its likely you’ll get the same in return. If you begin walking towards the toys and hand them a box to put them in they’ll start throwing toys in. You need to put yourself into action. Speak with your body, your eyes and your heart.

While we try to teach our children all about life, Our children teach us what life is all about. ~Angela Schwindt

2011 Best ideas for kids (Linky party!)

Alright, this is my first attempt at joining into a ‘linky party’.  I really have no clue what I am doing but I love the idea of being able to learn, share and explore with other like minded playful people.

As I am just beginning in this world of blogging I don’t exactly have a plethora of posts to choose from.  For 2011 I feel like one of the most relevant things for me to reflect on was how, when or if we allow our children to take risks.  I’d love to hear how other mammas, daddas and teachers allow or scaffold their children’s risk taking.  Here is the post.

Falling can be great!

Now….as for this party, it seems I can’t use java in my wordpress format so here is a link to all of the wonderful links so you can hop around and find the best of 2011.  I loved hopping!


Happy 2011, may your days be filled with peace, patience and play!!

“Don’t bang that chalk” and other things I DIDN’T say

Everyday in the classroom I fight against some ingrained notion of how things should be done. I fight against my need for cleanliness, order and control. I fight my own unrealistic expectations in order to allow my class the freedom to have power over their own learning.
I have always had a deep appreciation for play based learning but in the past I felt it was also my role to direct children in the proper way to move about the classroom.
Now we have one basic rule. Respect. Respect the materials. Respect your friends. Respect yourself. In a toddler classroom this is exhibited in daily interactions with those around us, gentle care of books and more fragile toys as well as having the space to say “No!” or “Stop it!” when needed.
For me this means thinking before I speak. Remembering the rule of respect. Respect for exploration. Respect for child led play. Respect for a toddlers needs, even if I don’t know what those needs are.

Today I didn’t say:

Stop banging that chalk on the paper!

Instead I evaluated what was really happening, despite the quite deafening sound of six toddlers banging sidewalk chalk on paper. They were exploring all parts of the chalk. Some gently rubbing their fingers in the chalk dust left behind. Others testing out different rhythmic patterns. Some just enjoying the mimicking of a friends behavior and the power of making such a loud noise. Not one was doing it to irritate me, they didn’t seem to have me in mind at all.
🙂

Puzzle pieces go in the puzzle. This is how the puzzle works.

This quote is part of my repertoire of quotes I say despite myself. It drives me nutty to see pieces all over the classroom. There are really lots of neat things that can happen for a toddler when they are allowed to explore with those pieces. They match like items by category, color and shapes(early math skills anyone??). Fill up purses and bags (hello spatial awareness) Use them to feed babies and other animals (yay for ALL that comes along with dramatic play!!)
Not to mention when I go to show the child how to use the puzzle it almost inevitably ends up with me doing the whole thing while they move on to something interesting to them.

Please stop whining, you are fine

Alright, to be honest this one crossed my mind but I rarely say things like this anymore. I will admit I used to, in an attempt to control the noise level of the class. Now I have a better grasp of what it means to let children own their emotion. I also believe deeply that this is an essential life skill. Even if it might irritate me in the short term, they have a right to feel what they feel.
I was put on edge by the fact that my Collin was having a particularly needy day even though I felt I was being very responsive. I wished for just a moment that I could ask him to knock it off and that he actually would. Then my compassion for his tiny emotional self flooded back and I knelt down to just hold him. As I hugged him and rubbed his back before nap I was able to put the dots together and surmise he may have been getting sick. Sure enough he woke up with a fever. What if I had dismissed his feelings or worse yet yelled at him when he was actually trying to show me something?

I feel as though everytime I close my mouth the children teach me something. The children and I would both have missed a bunch of great opportunities had I tried harder to control the order in the classroom. I also may have missed connecting to my son while he was coming down with something and really giving him the gentle words and cuddles he needed. I feel grateful for the training that has helped me learn to teach outside the box. I am also grateful to my class who forgive me when I do say the wrong things so I can try again tomorrow.

Let them climb!-Risk taking in early childhood

Among the other teachers that I work with I occupy a strange role.  I am the teacher who doesn’t worry.  If a child climbs to the top of the slide and stands up smiling, I wave back.  If a group of kids find a pile of sticks I sit down encouraging exploration.  When another teacher comes over and quickly takes one out of someone’s hands I feel a pang of sadness.  Balancing on the edge of the sandbox? No worries.  Running while holding someones hand? No prob.

I am a firm believer in modeling and I don’t see it as effective to critique another teachers style right in front of the children.  However, in this case I don’t see my modeling going anywhere.  In many cases I think that other teachers may see me as being unaware of what the children are doing or even lazy for not rushing to their side.  I don’t blame them.  It is in the job description to protect all of these chubby flush-faced little people.  If they fall or scrape themselves we need to comfort them and clean them up, a job that isn’t always quick and easy.

I guess the reason teachers don’t seem to pick up on what I am doing is because it doesn’t look like I am doing anything.  No one notices as I take a few steps closer as I wave to the boy on the slide.  No one catches it as I gently ‘save’ a special stick for a little girl before she goes running off, but after she has had time to really check it out.  They also can’t see the quick evaluation I go through as I see those kids run off together.  What are they running on, near or around that could hurt them? Or is it really just fine that they run off laughing holding hands until they collapse, even if one of them may get a little scrape in the process?

I have noticed less and less swings on the playgrounds at schools, new schools (especially preschools) are rarely built with them due to safety concerns.  Inside there are clean floors, bleached tables and toys in neat boxes.  Glass is hidden far away along with scissors and anything else deemed dangerous. I know these other teachers think they are being helpful by stepping in to save them.  Save them from themselves and possible danger, but are we really helping them?

Starting from birth we all try, fail, and try again.  It is an innate trait in all of us that helps us stay motivated to learn to crawl, walk or hold a crayon.  As these children explore their world I see it as my job to guide them but not stop them.  To allow them to climb and fall.  Learn about their bodies but also learn about perservance.  To allow that innate desire to discover the world around them by their own power.  An article by Jackie Sinnerton states “It’s vital for emotional development that they are allowed to trip up, pick themselves up and learn from the experience. They need to build up resilience.”

The world our children will enter upon adulthood is not one of safe clear boundaries and constant protection.  To the contrary they will find a world of gray areas, amorphous relationships, virtual professions and vague job descriptions.  It is not as simple as letting them take whatever risk they want.  There is a delicate dance performed between me and the kids.  They know I am there to help them stay safe, but they also know they are free to try things and I will understand. They need to be allowed to takes risks, fall down and have someone there when they need help getting back up.  The amazing thing is a lot of the time if they know you are there that is enough for them to pick themselves up.