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!



Foot Painting (A semi-wordless Wednesday)



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.

Simple Sunday – Child led exploration

I have become increasingly aware in the past few months that even though Collin’s time is mostly child directed, free play it is very much contained within the structures defined by our center.  We must be out on the yard by a certain time, move children around classrooms to stay in ratio, eat and nap together (check out my post on how nap has been going…) and be all cleaned up and done at a specific time of the day.  Not to mention he is rarely alone.  I do consider him to be someone who plays independently but that time is spent with other toddlers in pursuit of a interests not always driven by his independent thought.

I don’t see all of this as bad.  In particular I have seen his social understanding blossom far beyond most children of his age. However, I have been making an effort on our days off to offer him time that is completely his own.  Time for him to choose his direction, take his time and be free from the threat of another child imposing their wishes on him.  In short, simple time to just be.

Here was our walk today, it began as a leaf hunt and evolved into a berry hunt/smoosh session. Then we discovered dandelions in the wet field as the rain fell.   He gently touched the damp flowers, giggled as raindrops hit his silky blonde hair.  Collin found this to be amazing and you know what? So did I.

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.

Simple Sundays – Child-led fall fun

On Sundays I would like to regularly showcase photos, recipies, articles of interest or other tidbits I have come accross this week that I think you would like to see.  Other than a short introduction this will be a wordless blog entry.  Although I would love, as always, to hear your words in the comments below.

This is a photo gallery of two of our fall projects thus far.  They both evolved with Collin as a full participant.  The first, lights cut in the top of a box, literally got ‘flipped on its side’ when Collin got involved.  The second was our annual pumpkin carving which is now more fun, more messy and much less intricate than it was in our years before him.  Enjoy!

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