Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hanukkah at Beansprouts

I just love the holidays and the built-in curriculum that goes along with them.  Here is what we did at Beansprouts this Hanukkah season:

Shoe box lids make great dreidel platforms as they keep them contained.  It was also fun doing on the table and doing spin passes to each other.

Candle crowns adorned with foil stars

The wooden menorah with wooden candles was fun and meaningful once they had seen us light the real menorah.

We also made a new Hanukkah candle work for number matching, counting, and one to one. They used the helper candle (or shamash in Hebrew) to light the other candles.

 We made latkes on the 8th day of Hanukkah.

 One of the families brought these great styrofoam dreidels with plastic colored pins.

 A menorah collage

 Making the star of David with triangles and decorating with glitter.

Each day at circle time we would light candles for Hanukkah.  We don't know the prayer to sing so we sang "This Little Light of Mine" while the teacher lit the candles.  We would let it burn during circle and then in a very untraditional manner would blow them out at the end of circle for "safety".  During circle, we would also sing different Hanukkah songs in English and Hebrew and occasionally talk about what our Jewish families do at home to celebrate the holiday.  We tried to keep the focus on spending time with families because sometimes the history behind the holiday is hard for them to understand.  By next year we will be able to give more meaning to the miracle of the lights.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Helping or Hindering

An out loud reflection:

We give the kids words as tools.  Then we teach them how to appropriately use those tools to be successful in communication.  This isn't just a preschool tool, it's a lifelong tool.  I firmly believe I am helping my students to be successful in life simply by guiding their social development here at preschool.  That being said, I recently observed a scenario that made me second guess how often I am coaching the kids to use their words.

First I observed this exchange:

"Can I play with you?"
"Okay.  Can I have a turn when you are done?"

Sounds great doesn't it!  I love when the kids use their words and it works!

Here's what happened next:

A different child walks up to the same group and just starts playing.  No questions asked and he is immediately accepted into the group and part of their game.

I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing that if that child had asked to play, the answer would have been, "No!"

Both kids are building social skills.  Is one more successful than the other?  More developed socially?  What about future social skills?

Both kids are doing what has been working for them.  Maybe this is just a question of development and age appropriateness.  I know teaching them to ask as a way to engage in play will benefit them in the long run.  I also know that learning to acknowledge and respect the boundaries of others will come in handy in so many other ways.  But, maybe just that once, I wish the first child didn't use their words.

The lesson for me is that I need to teach a balance of jumping in with both feet and proceeding with caution.  The best way for them to learn is to just try it out.  I will be here when/if they need me.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Bullying, Empathy, and Human Nature

Is anyone else having a seriously hard time recovering from that long Thanksgiving weekend?

Well, welcome back to the real world : )

I just came across this NY Times article Fighting Bullying with Babies.  The article talks about the problem of bullying in our country's children (it doesn't seem to stop there, though, does it?) and a group called Roots of Empathy who has attempted to combat the bullying problem by bringing babies into classrooms.  Yes, that's right.  They get mothers and babies to come and do classroom visits in order to create an  empathic and compassionate response by the students.  It's an amazing article that I encourage you to read.  The gist of what I got from it is that bullying comes from our natural tendency toward selfishness and aggression, but it can be replaced by developing empathic connections to others (an ability which is now believed to be hardwired in our brains).

When the trained instructors accompany the mothers and babies on the classroom visits, they point out new developments that the baby has made since the last visit (like sitting up, eating solid food, rolling).  They encourage children to try to understand the babies feelings, even having them lay on their backs and imitate a babies sense of limited movement.  They are trained to bring out compassionate responses from the students. 

The baby visits have proven meaningful based on statistics and also teacher's impressions.  Bullying rates go down, tough kids loosen up.  While on one hand, it seems that the baby visits might induce oxytocin, the bonding hormone that mothers feel toward their children, and that the empathy response it hormonal.  By empathy response, I mean that they have seen the incidence rate of bullying go down by 50% in one program studied.  On the other hand, it could also be that the baby visits call upon the part of the human brain responsible for empathy.  The author suggests that the part of the human brain that gets stimulated when a mother looks at her child is the same part of the brain that is active when someone sees a stranger get bullied.  There is an innate sense of empathy in humans.  Whether the success rate of this program is due to oxytocin or brain function (or both), the results were seen to scale as well as on a longer-term basis (three years after the program ended!).

As one reader of the article posted in the comments, this article has "restored my faith in human nature".  I have to agree.

I hope that our baby area in the classroom has elicited a similar response as the baby visits studies, even if on a much smaller scale.  It reminds me also not to take for granted that just because the kids are playing with pretend babies doesn't mean they are fully getting the perspective-taking opportunity of playing the parent role.  It is my job as the teacher and facilitator of play to bring in dialogues that involve the parents' role, the babies' needs, the child's thought process.  My job is to help that empathy experienced while playing with babies and pretend families reach the conscious from the subconscious.  The founder of Roots of Change, Mary Gordon,  envisioned their program as "a seriously proactive parent education program – one that would begin when the mothers- and fathers-to-be were in kindergarten."  I hope that's what we're doing here at Beansprouts as well.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

We made a Thankful Tree at preschool this week.  The kids actually seemed to get (and enjoy) the concept of being thankful.  Most of the kids started out with talking about loving their families, and then opened up into things they enjoy like "bikes" or "games".  We talked about our Thanksgiving Feast as a way to celebrate being thankful at preschool.

May your holiday be filled with gratitude and joy!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

A few weeks back Stephanie and I had a long chat about child-initiated conversations.  What does it mean?  How does it work?  What does it sound like to let a 2 or 3 year old completely initiate and lead the conversation?  There are many answers to these questions, so I'll just keep them rhetorical.

Instead, I will tell you a story about how I reflected on these questions and was surprised by what I found.

I decided to be more selective about initiating conversations with the kids.  I basically spent a day letting all the conversations come to me.  This was mostly business as usual until I saw this:

I definitely wanted to ask about this!  I was curious to hear the hows and whys of this little stamping party.  I fought the urge.  I didn't ask.  Why bring it up?  This decorating took place the evening before and her mind was far from the going ons of last night.  She was busy playing and there was no reason to initiate a conversation just to satisfy my curiosity.  So, I let it go.  

I swear not 10 minutes passed and guess who came over to me and said, "Hey look at this!"  Let the conversation begin!  

I learned a long time ago to be a wallflower kind of teacher.  I sit back and let them do their own things.  I don't interrupt an art project by inserting my own opinion or observations.  I don't walk up to children while they are in the middle of play and bring up random conversation.  I have respect for their concentration, even when it doesn't look necessarily important to me.

I'm not suggesting that you never initiate conversation with the kids, but I do encourage you to observe how often you let them initiate.  All you have to do is sit quietly nearby.  Before you know it, you'll be having all sorts of silly conversations!


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Don't say don't and never say never

This post is as much for teachers as for parents.  Stephanie and I recently attended an early childhood education conference where we heard a keynote speech from one of ECE's most acclaimed teachers.  It was useful for so many reasons.  I always enjoy hearing what other teachers are doing.  Talking to fellow preschool teachers is the best way to learn about cool new projects, ways to handle to behavior, how to arrange the classroom, etc.  Teachers are such a great resource for teachers.

Where it can be a challenge is when teachers start thinking that their way is the only way.  We are all teaching in different environments to a particular group of individual children.  What works for one classroom can not work in every classroom (this is one area where our public education system fails children AND teachers).  Truth be told what works for me on Monday may or may not work on Tuesday.

Calendar was thing we were told "never" to do with the kids.  The Beanpatch kids love when we do calendar....

I enjoy celebrating the different types of education out there.  I like to pull a little from each philosophy and apply it where it will work in our classroom environment.  I also believe I have more to learn from other educators who aren't tied down to one philosophy.

A surefire way to make a learning experience feel unnatural is to tell teachers or parents exactly what they shouldn't say or do.  How can I have a natural conversation with a child if I have a list of things that I'm not supposed to say?  I will constantly worry that I might say the thing I'm not supposed to say.  I will spend time searching for other words or other ways to interact instead of paying attention to the child I'm interacting with and letting the conversation flow naturally.

Of course, there are many wrong ways and many right ways to handle an interaction with a child.  What is the best way to teach a teacher how to teach?  I don't have much experience doing this, but from the students perspective I can tell you I learn best when I am given a goal and given the means to reach that goal on my own, without very specific instructions influencing my interactions.

So, don't say don't.  You can tell me what works in your classroom and your reasons for your practices, but simply telling me not to do something doesn't teach me anything.

And never say never.  Maybe something will never work for you or in your classroom environment, but my situation is different and my kids are different.  What doesn't work for you, might work like a charm in my classroom.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Bike Painting

I really can't believe I haven't posted this...we did it last week or so and we took lots of pictures intending to blog about it.  Must have slipped my mind!

We had some nice long pieces of cardboard left from our cardboard Halloween maze, so we used it as a road to paint on!  Shortly after starting this activity, we saw how beautiful the tire prints were and decided to "keep" the activity.  We lined the cardboard road with white butcher paper saved it when we were done.  It's on display in the classroom now!

 We started with Em using chalk to demonstrate what she thought would happen when the kids rolled their bikes through the paint puddles.  Bl looks like he's considering his own plan of what will happen.  Mitch, as usual, wants to watch from a distance.

 It would go all the way to the end

Here are the first two tire marks (or three)

 The paint wasn't making it to the end so we added more paint to the puddles.

 Sa wanted to walk his bike through the paint but that didn't seem conducive to our plan to keep the paint on the cardboard.

Then again, neither is letting dogs walk through paint.

Here is culprit #1 (Dexter), but they were both caught pink-pawed! 

Everyone got multiple turns who wanted them.

A "turn" was going around once and passing the bike to someone who was waiting.  Now that we've done this activity, we'll probably let kids take as many laps as they want before passing the bike.

Be chose to just watch but did a great job of moving the climbing structure out of the way so the kids could pass on the bikes.

Our print in its beginning phase.  Look how cool the pattern is, with different colors on different parts of the tires' circumference.  

Clean up was almost as fun as painting.  We washed the driveway so it wouldn't stain (the downside of renting our space is keeping things clean!).  Puddles are always fun, though, whether paint or water.

It looks like I must have left out the pictures where Ha and Te found that I had left gallons of paints (with pumps like you find on ketchup and mustard dispensers at the concession stand) sitting unattended.  You see them in the background going to town.  What was I thinking?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yoga Breathing at Beansprouts

You may have heard about (or seen) your child taking "yoga breaths" at Beansprouts.  Sometimes we use yoga breathing to re-center, start our yoga practice or to do something calming with our bodies.

A yoga breath is when we inhale, bringing our hands above our heads, and exhale, bringing our hands back to our heart.  We make yoga breathing into anything we want.  Sometimes our arms become the sun going up and the moon going down, or they become a big cookie or balloon...but it has the same effect.  It is a real and sincere thing we do just for ourselves.  Sometimes just the act of reaching over our heads can be a child wake up, it's often the first thing they do.

I was inspired to write this post after reading this post from Om School.  She talked about her daughter waking up afraid in the middle of the night when the cat knocked something over.  Her daughter told her that when she listened to her breath, she heard her heartbeat slowing down.

Yoga breathing is a tool to bring the awareness inward, which is a skill I constantly try to habituate with the children.  I choose my wording and handle situations with the knowledge that some day, the child's sole guide will be their "inner voice".  Short (very short for preschoolers) periods of silence and reflective breathing help to bring that awareness inward. 

This is also a way that I try to tune children in to their own spirituality, which in my opinion is something deeply personal and is driven by an innate inner wisdom.  Getting in touch with an individual sense of "who am I" and an internal sense of direction is a precious gift, considering how many of us were raised to constantly look to external sources of guidance and validation.  Maybe they will carry this forward into life, maybe not.  But it's my small contribution.

On a more physical note, this is the most yoga-enjoying group of kids I've ever taught.  They love it, do it spontaneously, and contort their bodies in a way that is truly brag-worthy.  I always trust that yoga is a way to meet their physical and cognitive needs, that it is a way to express what's inside and also to move and do what preschooler bodies were meant to do.

I occasionally see children implementing the yoga breath in times that they need it, with no prompting from me.  Yesterday was the second time I saw a child take a yoga breath to calm herself before naptime.  Taking a breath can be a self-regulatory tool for ourselves.  Sometimes I have to pause and take a moment before responding to a child (because an instant response can easily come out as a reaction rather than an appropriate response).   Seeing kids use breathing to relax themselves gives me hope that some of the tools they learn at Beansprouts will be applied to life, outside of circle time.


Wrestling is good for children.

Originally published Sept 2010 Many of our parents seemed shocked when they came to pick up their children from Beansprouts and found the...