Monday, June 25, 2012

Happy Belated Package Day!

I am not a fan of the way some companies insist on using oversized boxes and way-too-much packing material.  However, this particular day, the children capitalized on the excessive packaging that came in the mail to ceremoniously create and celebrate Package Day.  This was certainly a "holiday" worth celebrating!

These traditions have become ever more meaningful as the children grow and begin to graduate.  Recently, we are seeing a lot of turnover in our enrollment as our original Beansprouts move on to kindergarten. During the last week as new children start their Beansprouts journey, we have witnessed old Beansprouts passing along traditions (games, Beansprouts slang, "rules", jokes, chants) to our newer members of the community. It's a beautiful thing to watch as these almost-kindergarteners, once toddlers and young twos, rise into the role of mentor.

Package Day probably won't become a tradition, but it got me thinking of how culture and traditions are formed. These kids do what is in their hearts (usually something that is universally "fun"), and it sticks and it spreads to other group members. It's so much more rich and satisfying to watch this type of play unfold than to enforce a teacher-driven agenda.  These are children who absolutely own their preschool experience, and it shows.

So, in Ha's words...

Happy Package Day!!!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Consensus Problem Solving

First of all let me tell you about my latest hobby: Yard Sale-ing! I have found some great treasures for pennies. Here is one of my latest scores. It is a building set using pool noodles with magnetic connectors and pieces of fabric that clip on to make partitions. I got it for a whopping $3 at a yard sale.

It is however only one set. The typical preschool classroom requires at least equivalent to two sets of things to maintain harmony. Once there is an insufficient amount of material to work with, children start getting a little, er, grabby and argumentative.

In any case, the scarcity issue has been a great opportunity to practice working together, problem solving and thinking outside the box. (There's always a silver lining, right?)

Working together, listening to and sharing ideas, and employing the use of other sets of learning materials all led to independently solved problems.

Of course, there was the occasional disagreement that required teacher intervention.  In my ECE classes, I have heard this protocol that has always guided the way I help children solve conflict:

1. Listen as each child identifies the problem
2. Ask if either child has an idea about what to do next
3. Use their ideas to propose a solution
4. If no solution can be reached between the children, offer a solution for them.

Well, one day after visiting my friend Liat's preschool program, I saw a wonderful new way to modify the last two steps.  At the end of each conflict negotiation, she would ask each child if the proposed solution was okay with them. She didn't offer ideas, and she didn't impose judgment. She simply allowed the children their process and made sure there was consensus among them before proceeding.

It's a subtle difference, but brought about a huge change in the way I manage conflicts in my program.  By not imposing a last resort strategy (step 4 in the above sequence), I am forcing myself to step back and allow the children to take 100% responsibility in their own conflict. I am the facilitator of discussion rather than the final decision maker.

Sometimes, the children simply get tired of talking and will give in or walk away.  But who is to say that this also not useful for them? Learning to compromise is a great way to practice coping when things don't go our way.

Sometimes, the outcome will not be what I consider to be "fair", but since both parties are okay with it, my opinion is irrelevant.

Usually, children come up with a solution beyond what I would have imposed.  And the older they get, the more creative they are with how they manage their own conflicts.  Although I expect this now, I am still taken by surprise to hear how they use outside-the-box thinking to manifest solutions.

Further, by requiring consensus, the children are given a last little nudge to meet in the middle.  When I was resorting to the enforcement of a "fair" solution, I robbed children of that last little piece of the resolution process--that which offers a true learning experience. And, of course, I was robbing them of the opportunity to take ownership of their own process.

I am fortunate to have been exposed to a more consensus style of conflict resolution.  It has opened up areas in my teaching that have benefitted both me and the children.  My mentors are everywhere when I stay open-minded and receptive.  I've been doing this teaching thing for over a decade now, yet I have so much to learn.

Bl enjoys being able to go inside the structure that they have worked hard to build, and fine tunes its construction from inside.
Have a good week!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Put your hands in some cornstarch!

If you are a preschool teacher, you have probably experienced the wonderfulness that is "ooblick". 
(Those of us in the preschool world think the mixture of cornstarch and water is so great that it deserves its own name.)

We put out bins of cornstarch and water in different ratios to create different consistencies.  We also added cats and dogs as props for dramatic play.

Some children did the dramatic play thing, some did the sensory thing.

We also put toothbrushes and a bin of water for a little cleaning station.  Inevitably, that water became part of the entire mix of stuff.

One beach towel laid on the table allowed me to remain at ease when minor splashes and overflows occurred.

Offering this activity (and participating in it as well) reminded me of why sensory experiences are necessary for preschoolers of all ages. Children learn through their senses and these types of experiences create the pathways in the brain that are necessary for learning. This activity itself offers learning opportunities in many domains.  Children socialize and engage in pretend play.  They also must negotiate space with one another. They engage in scientific exploration as they experiment with amounts and ratios and consistencies, explore the movement and momentum and of water with different levels of viscosity based on the amount of dissolved cornstarch, and experience solubility levels and capacities (you know what I mean if you've ever played with ooblick).  Gross and fine motor skills are engaged depending on how the children interact with the media.  

About cornstarch:  Cornstarch is available in bulk at any whole sale grocer. We have several in our area.  Buying those tiny boxes just doesn't make any sense to me. Be sure to discard the wet cornstarch at the end of the day, though. It gets pretty smelly after a day of being wet.  Last time we left it in over the weekend, it took us several rounds of sanitizing to get the smell out of the sensory bin.


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...