Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Bamboozled Adult Brain

Ever been bamboozled by the ideas of children?

Have you noticed how our adult brains are tainted?   I dare say, to some extent, our adult brains are ruined.

They aren't ruined by drugs, alcohol or too much TV.  They are ruined by too much wisdom (yes...you read that correctly).

Knowledge can sometimes damper the imagination.

Ever noticed how freely a young child's brain can imagine?  Ever notice how easy it is for them to WONDER IF?  Their brains have not yet been ruined with knowledge.

For a young child, ANYTHING is possible.  Leprechauns can really make shoes for fairies and hide gold at the end of the rainbow.  Santa can actually fly around the world delivering toys to all the boys and girls in ONE NIGHT.  Bubbles can be the shape of the blower, NOT just circles.

Nothing ruins a young child's brain faster then an adult who can't keep their "ruined brain" from stealing the innocent wonders and imaginations of a child.

What am I suggesting?

Am I suggesting we adults should invest in some duct tape and use it when necessary?  Well... sort of.  I am suggesting we keep our mouths shut, and sometimes, that is easier to do with a little help from 3M. (side note:  I am joking.  No need to email me nasty emails)

Here's a tale of my "ruined brain" being completely and totally bamboozled today:

My story begins with the drilling of holes into an innocent pumpkin.  Why?  So we can fill it with baking soda and squirt colored vinegar into it.  The resulting fizz will pour out the holes of the pumpkin.

It.will.be.epic......... or, perhaps my brain will be bamboozled.....

After the holes were drilled, I added the baking soda, and plopped it on the table with cups of colored vinegar.  I then waited for the first child to make the discovery and start to investigate.

I did not have to wait long.

Realizing that the reaction was not really coming out of the holes, and they were having a hard time seeing inside the pumpkin, we moved the action to the floor.

Then we moved it back to the table.  Don't ask why...I am really not sure.  But I am glad we did!  This mess was far easier to clean off of a table then it would have to clean off the floor!

Notice that scoops and bowls have been added to the fun.  Scooping out the mushy, vinegar-soaked baking soda was so fun, and it was beautifully colored as well!

 I emptied the bottle of vinegar, which this child was quick to request.  He had big plans for that big jug!  As he was scooping and pouring I realized that the reaction was all used up.  SO, being the nice teacher that I am...I took it upon myself to grab more baking soda so they could do more squirting and fizzing.  (I know....I know..... WAIT FOR THEM TO ASK FOR WHAT THEY NEED!!!  I broke my own rule...sigh.  That adult brain is SO hard to re-wire, and regression happens!!)

 To my adult brain's SHOCK,  instead of gathering colored vinegar and watching more fizz, they scooped up the baking soda with their fingers and used it as cheese for the pizzas they had apparently made!

The internal struggle that proceeded between my brain and my mouth was quite interesting.  My mouth and hands wanted to so badly cause more fizz -- but my brain wasn't allowing it.  My brain was saying "STOP!  Do not ruin this child-led imaginative moment!!"

I am so glad my brain won this one!!

The baking soda turned into so many different things, and there was SO much learning and imagining going on!!  It was a most amazing moment!  It took my bamboozled brain a second to grasp what was going on.....but once it did, it was like "How clever are they?!!! Do not ruin the moment!!"

So, there you have it.

Whether you agree with me or not on the "ruins" of the adult brain.....the adult brain CAN shut down some pretty amazing little imaginations if it doesn't keep itself quiet!

The next time you are observing children doing something that completely bamboozles your brain....keep quiet, observe and enjoy the cleverness and fenceless imagination they possess and do not take it away!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Delayed Gratification.....Goop Style

We live in a rush, rush, now, now world.

Need supper NOW?  Throw it in the microwave, it will be ready in seconds.

Need the answer to a question?....Google it.

Need to find out what time your husband will be home?....call him at work.  He doesn't answer?  Call his cell phone.  Still no answer?   Text him.

Children are shoved into our world and are observing with sponge-like brains and memories that trump ours so badly (not sure about you, but I get SCHOOLED every time I play Memory with a young child....and I am not a believer in "let them win"!!!).   They quickly learn that adults don't wait for much, this in turn makes them not want to wait for much.

Children need opportunities to experience delayed gratification.
They need opportunities to be patient.

This is a tale of how one thing always leads to another, and each "another" is usually filled with pure genius-ness when children are leading the way.  It is a tale that ends with a beautiful moment of delayed gratification.  It is one of those moments that I did not see coming, and was enthralled by it!

I will forward through the "boring stuff" as to not delay your gratification any longer (I know...how kind of me.  If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know I CAN be long-winded :D )

Here's the order of events that led to said "delayed gratification":

1)  Smack painting  (giant paper, fly swatters, paint)
2)  Color changing ramps  (colored water in squeeze bottles with a plastic rain gutter ramp system with rubber duckies for good measure)
3)  White goop (aka:  ooblick  aka:  cornstarch and water)
4)  Colored water from the color changing ramps meets the goop -- the results create more independent thinking.....
5)  Paint from the smack painting meets the goop -- the results are awe-inspiring
6)  The resulting chocolate-milk-colored goop meets the plastic raingutters and ducks
7)  The moment of delayed gratification....

Smack painting

Color Changing Ramps (as the water runs down the ramp, it mixes with the other colors and "magically" changes!!)

This clever 4 year old decided to catch the colored water in the ice cream scoop.....hmmmmm....what is his plan?  Scroll to the next pic...

He decided the white goop was a bit boring, and it needed some color!

And more color.....

And more color....

And more color....

And now here is when the: 
"whoa, I didn't see that coming" moment occurred...

the results were FILLED with value!!!

This child was SO anxious for the duck to go over the edge.  The ducks had moved fairly swiftly when the colored water was being used.  The goop provided a completely different transport speed for the ducky.  If you look closely you can see this child's finger moving towards the duck to help him along..he just couldn't stand to wait!!

Luckily, his brother convinced him to be patient, and they added more goop behind the duck to see if that would speed things along.  Their problem solving skills were successful!!  Over the ducky went.  E-v-e-r s-o S----L----O----W----L----Y.

At this point one of the children exclaimed "HEY!  It's like an elevator!!!  Before it was like a water fall, and now it's like an elevator!!"  (this picture was not taken with a fast shutter speed -- this ducky moved SO SLOWLY!!!)

And there you have it.  Delayed gratification....goop style.

Delayed gratification can be that simple.  It happens all the time, all around us.
Snag those moments and see them for the valuable learning opportunity that they are.
 Play counts....it is filled with valuable moments like this.  We just need to open our eyes and look a little more closely at what is really going on!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Learning Lives in the Process (This is not a tale about an art project)

Just as the journey is not about the destination, the learning is not about the end product.

The important part is not the fact that 2+2=4 ... the important part is how you figured out how to figure that out.

Here is a simple tale about a light and it's hard-to-reach light switch.  It is a tale about the fact that the learning is in the process, not the end product. 

The important part is not the fact that the light was successfully turned on....the important part is how a young child was allowed the time to struggle, solve problems and finally succeed.

Sit back, and enjoy (I might suggest you pop a little popcorn and grab yourself a beverage...)you are about to entertained by a lovely thing called:  "The Process":

 I could have easily done this for him.  But why?
It would have taken me a second to reach with my bare hand and turn on the light in our fort space.  But I did not.  I am so glad that I chose to step back, document and give this child ownership of the process.
Young children need to own the process.

The learning lives in the process.

The learning doesn't live in a teacher's plans.  The learning doesn't live in the end product.  The learning lives in the process.

You could spend hours coming up with the best laid plans for your littles.  BUT...if you do not let them own the process, there is little to no learning...no MEANINGFUL learning, in your plans.

You could spend hours helping your littles create the most amazing art product, dictating how much paint, directing where to put the paint, telling them they are making a fish.  BUT...if you do not let them own the process, there is little to no learning...no MEANINGFUL learning in the end product.

The learning truly lives in the process.  Good early childhood programs recognize this fact, and give their littles ample time to own the process.  Programs with tight schedules and strict lesson plan guidelines tend to (note I said tend to...that does not mean always... if you are afraid you may fall under this second category of programs, then do something about it...make a change) stifle the process and focus more on the product.

Take a look at the learning I would have stolen from this little 2 year old sweetheart had I just simply done it for him:

Recognizing that he had a problem to solve, Trillian got a chair from the art area, and carefully dragged and carried it across the floor. 
Let's dissect this part of the process.  Dissecting play and processes is the most valuable skill an early childhood professional can have.

1)  Look at the muscles he is using.  We are not born with muscles that know how to work together to solve problems.  We need to learn how to use them by manipulating our world.
2)  He is empowered because that chair is not light, and he is doing it by himself!!!
3)  He is needing to patiently wait for the other child to get out of his way.
4)  Let's not overlook the fact that he first realized he had a problem, and learning through observation, knew how to solve it.  He had witnessed several children, using different techniques, turn on the fort light.  He stored that information away for the moment he would need it.  That moment finally arrived, and he was ready for it!
5)  Finally, there is a lot of risk assessment and management involved in standing on a chair in order to solve a problem.  Children NEED risk.  I will say that again:  children NEED risk.

Here's more of the learning I would have swiped away had I just turned the light on for him (again:  it is not about the product..the light ON is not where the learning is)

Having watched the older, taller children time and time again use the car tracks to turn on the fort light, he thought that technique would work for him as well.
Let's dissect this part of the process.  Dissecting is the best tool for "selling" play:

1)  This child is about to fail.  He is not going to succeed.  There is a tremendous amount of learning in failing.  I dare say there is more learning in failing, then there is in success.
2)  Failing gives children an opportunity to persevere and practice determination.
3)  He is learning a bit about math.  More specifically, measurement.
4)  Here is a chance to practice some vocabulary words.  "This one is too short.  I need to make a longer one."

And yes....there is more:

Did you notice the blond haired child in the previous picture?  That is "Mama Avery".  Mama Avery takes the job of being Denita very seriously.  Whenever I am not stepping in, she has me covered!  The Mama Avery's of the world need to be dealt with carefully.  They are so proud to help, but must know when to help, and when not.  I decided to let her help this time.
Dissecting away:

1)  Failing, as Trillian did in the previous picture gives a young child the opportunity to ask for what they need.  In this case, Trillian decided he needed help, and "Mama Avery" was all too happy to oblige.
2)  The learning for Mama Avery is a sense of pride and importance.  SHE IS HELPING SOMEONE, and that feels good.
3)  Look at how carefully Trillian is studying Mama Avery's technique of hooking the track pieces together.
4)  Trillian is feeling special because an older child is helping him.

Oh yes.....there is more:

Uh boy!  That is a large load to carry while climbing up a chair.  Children need a little risk in their lives, they need to have opportunities to be careful.

Let's take a closer look at even more learning I would have stripped away had I just turned on the light for him.  Again, this is called dissecting play and it is the KEY to educating parents and administrators of the power and value and necessity of PLAY.

1)  Muscle coordination (I mentioned this earlier)
2)  Confidence
3)  Risk assessment and an opportunity to be careful.  Too often we tell children to be careful, but then we take away the very thing they need to be careful with, thusly removing the opportunity to practice caution!!  Say "be careful" and then LET THEM BE CAREFUL!
4)  Math...specifically measurement
5)  Physics.  This longer track is going to be far more difficult to hold up then the shorter one was.

Yup.  Another picture, another learning moment in the process:

Ta-da!!!  SUCCESS!!!
Without further adieu:

1)  The sweet taste of success.  Not the sweet taste of someone else doing it for you.  There is a huge difference.
2)  Muscle coordination.
3)  An "I did it" moment that will get tucked away in the brain and retrieved whenever another challenge arises.  Trillian will recall this moment and remember how good it felt to not give up.  He will remember he can do things for himself.

Again I tell you, it's all about the process.  This phrase does not just relate to artwork.  It relates to EVERYTHING. 
Step back.
Allow time for the process to occur.
Do not stifle or under-value the process.
Give ownership of the process to young children.

The learning lives in the process.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Messy Play for the Messy-Intolerant

Picture it:
Eight little hands covered in drippy, droppy, messiness....in your house....with 15 ft of carpet between them and the bathroom.  Add to this picture six more children engaged in various play, needing your attention at random moments.  No.  This is not a nightmare.  This is reality.  It is a reality that I didn't think I would ever be able to fully embrace.

To say that the thought of messy play made my skin crawl is an understatement.  Not only was it sensory overload for me, but it was also patience overkill as well.

I was a family child care provider for 16 years.  I provided care for up to 12 children at a time, ages 2-6.  I provided this care with three co-workers:  me, myself and I.  I could not wrap my brain around the logistics of offering messy play opportunities when there was just me, myself and I to deal with the side effects of said messy play.

What side effects was I concerned about?
  1. The mess getting on my carpet.
  2. The mess getting on the children's clothing.
  3. The mess getting on me.
  4. The mess getting on a child who did not want the mess on them and the unknown behaviors such a catastrophe might spark.
  5. The inevitable cleaning up of the mess.
  6. The thought of what the little people in my care would be doing while me, myself and I cleaned up the messy play residue.

Add to these concerns the simple fact that me, myself and I were not fans of cleaning and you can clearly see why I suffered from messyplay-intolerance.

BUT then....I heard Lisa Murphy (aka:  The Ooey Gooey Lady) speak.  She said that messy play was ESSENTIAL to a child's development.  She said that sensory experiences were something that needed to be offered every single day. (insert guilt trip...ha!!)

The only messy play I had been able to embrace at this point in my career was playdough, flubber (borax and glue...kind of like silly putty) and ON SPECIAL OCCASIONS ONLY:  shaving cream and goop (cornstarch and water).  "ON SPECIAL OCCASIONS ONLY" meaning only on days when I had an extreme amount of tolerance and patience.  And I mean EXTREME.

On the Monday immediately after hearing Lisa's message, I offered messy to my littles.  I went for the big dog on this first attempt at embracing play:  shaving cream and glue.  The sensation of this stuff was amazing.

My littles were beyond themselves with excitement.  One child literally shook as she squeezed the concoction and loudly exclaimed "I LOVE YOU NITA!!!"

Ahhhh yes......Lisa was right.  Children NEEDED messy play.  They needed to explore with all of their senses the amazing textures of our world.  They needed the freedom messy play supplies and the fenceless opportunity for imaginations to wander and soar.

It did not take long for story lines to form, the process of figuring out the social rules of messy play and amazing vocabulary to emerge through the child-led play.

I stood on the sidelines....prepared to catch that child who was done being messy and quickly and carefully whisk them away to the bathroom so I could wash them up and return them to their mess-free self.  I will admit I was on edge.  But I kept breathing.  Deep....deeeeep....deeeeeeeeeeeep breaths.  I kept reminding myself this is good...this is good...this is good.

Over the course of time, I learned to embrace messy play, and I learned some tips that I feel may be helpful to other messy-intolerant early childhood professionals out there.

1.  Be present.  Only set up for messy play on days that you have a clear mind.  Do not do messy play on a day that you are waiting on an important phone call from the Dr. with scary test results.  Do messy play on a day that your brain and body are fully present in the moment.  (Let's be real...we know we need to be fully present, but there are days when that is a very challenging task.  Do not attempt messy play on a day when presence of mind is challenging.)
2.  Structure the environment.  The better job you do at structuring the environment, the more free your little people can be with their play.  Set them up for success. Structuring the environment lets children be in control of the experience.  It lets them be the organizers of themselves and it sets them up for empowering success!

See the structure in this picture? 
The yellow bucket contains goop (equal parts cornstarch and water...or, do the "Denita Method" and just dump and see what happens)  The purple bucket to the right is the "Default Hand (or feet and leg) Washing Bucket" .  My crew has learned that if that bucket is out, let the messy play begin!!  See the little girl in pink right in front?  She has ice cream scoops.  ALWAYS have tools for those that want to play with the messy, but do not care to have it all over their hands.  To the back where the child in blue and the child in green are playing is another messy choice.  Again, there are tools present for them as well.  They are playing with itsy bitsy pieces of sidewalk chalk that have been soaking in water.  They have potato mashers for tools.  When smashed up, this makes a great paste that is perfect for hand and feet prints!!  (SIDE NOTE:  I am a state registered program.  In SD, children CAN play in the front yard, and we can have 12 children with one provider....I get asked that a lot when I show this photo during my keynote presentation)
3.   Give ownership to children.  Find a way for your littles to be able to own the entire messy experience from start to finish...including the clean up part. Giving ownership of the entire process to young children is not only very empowering for them, but it also takes the stress of "how am I going to clean up all of these mess-covered children?????!!!!" from you...because, you are not going to clean up all of these mess-covered children when they are perfectly capable of doing it themselves.
Messy play fosters independence.
This messy-play opportunity was inspired by the book I Ain't Gonna Paint No More by David Carrow.  Notice the structure of the environment, most importantly,  the cleaning station in the background, not far from the mess-making area. Give children the tools they need for independence and watch their self esteems and sense of self soar!

From messy-to clean...all owned by children.
I am proud to say that I did not wash off a single child.  My littles, ages 2-6 owned the entire experience...from messy to clean!  They left just enough residue in strange places (mainly arm pits) to send the message that they got to do something pretty awesome that day!
Cleaning up is empowering!
Children thrive on trust.  They love to be trusted.  This child was empowered through my trust and he loved getting to own the responsibility of cleaning the bucket we used for messy play on this particular day.

4.  Do not force.  All children, just as all adults, do not enjoy messy play.  Do not force a child to "just touch it, I know you will like it" (please tell me I am not the only one who has done this!!).  I have done that.  It has back fired almost every single time.  Allow children to explore as they are comfortable.  TRUST THEM.  Be patient and let the natural process of curiosity happen.  Make sure to have tools available so the messy isn't as threatening, and give lots of time for a young child to learn to trust the messy opportunity.

Always supply tools for messy play.
This natural clay was plopped with plenty of tools so children who did not want to get messy could still play.  Notice every one's hands?  Pretty clean...this was at the beginning of the play.  Now scroll to the next picture.

Freedom of Time
The freedom of time is of utmost importance for messy play.  Children need time to warm up to the sensations of new messy play opportunities!

5.  It's okay to claim it.  It is okay for a child to hog the messy experience and declare that they will be there until pick up time. First of all, that's a huge pat on the back to you.  You have offered an opportunity that this child clearly LOVES.  Second of all, there are a lot of social lessons involved in that simple declaration of commitment:  1)  The child declaring their loyalty to the messy play that day learns that you respect them.  They also get an opportunity to be responsible and considerate when they remember to tell the next child that it is their turn (in the event that the messy-loving child over estimated how much they love the messy play and finish before pick up time)  2)  the child that is waiting their turn gets an opportunity to practice patience, and the experience of disappointment and delay of gratification.  It's a win/win for everyone.


Now that you have some tips to help you embrace messy play, here are a few of my favorite messy play moments:

1.  Scoopy Doop
Inspired by frozen, colored vinegar on top of baking soda, "Scoopy Doop" was a spontaneous random concoction created out of "I wonder..." moments.
The frozen vinegar on baking soda did absolutely nothing.  My littles watched it with eyes full of anticipation.  It was a genius moment of delayed gratification.  After a child wondered what would happen if we squirted warm water on the vinegar cubes, one thing led into another.  "I wonder what would happen if we added more vinegar?"  "I wonder what would happen if we added more baking soda?" Pretty soon, all of those "I wonders.." led to an amazing concoction!!

2.  Wet Chalk Smashing
Rather then throw away those itty bits of sidewalk chalk.  Soak them and plop them with potato mashers.  Little people will know what to do!! 

3.  Baking Soda and Colored Vinegar
When given the freedom of time, baking soda and colored vinegar can become a fabulous messy play opportunity!

4.  Set the Shaving Cream FREE!!
The first time I set out the actual bottles of shaving cream, my littles picked it up and handed it to me, telling me I dropped it.  I quickly corrected them and said, "No, I set this down for you to play with"  They thought they had died and gone to heaven!!  THE ENTIRE CAN?!  FOR THEM?! 
Oh the many ways our muscles work!
Setting the shaving cream free is an awesome opportunity for young children to learn the many different ways their muscles need to work together in order to accomplish tasks.  There was a lot of shoulder shaking going on, with zero success.  This child had not yet figured out how to use the muscles in his thumb.

Shaving cream is motivating.
After lots of failed attempts and shaking shoulders and arms, this child FINALLY discovered a method that worked!
Hmmm...been watching mom shave her legs lately?
Children NEED play to make sense of their world, to try the things they see and express themselves!!
5. Sprinkle Dough
Not messiest of mess-making play, but it's a grand one none-the-less.  Simply mix flour and baby oil until you reach a consistency of moon dough.  Once all the flour is saturated with oil, add liquid water color one color at a time, and mix.  The colors will form sprinkles, and the different colors will NEVER mix!  This is a favorite for ice cream shop play!

 BONUS #6:  Colorful Suds
Yep.  It's that simple.  Plop a bucket of water, add some cheap shampoo and watch the messy (ha..it's soap!!) fun take over!  After lots of fun playing with suds, my crew added sidewalk chalk to the suds they were making on the sidewalk.

Okay, ye messy-intolerant ones....how are you doing?  Was this post successful in giving you some tools in order for you to go forth and embrace messy play?

I certainly hope so, otherwise, I just wasted a good 2 hours of my life I won't get back (ha...it's always my pleasure to share my journey in this blog!!)

Take a deep breath in....read this blog several more times....and go get messy!!

Interested in having Denita speak at your next early childhood educator training?  Contact her at steelerfan.dd@gmail.com. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Are You Addicted to Themes? A Tale About Themes, a Caterpillar and Change

For whatever reason...adults (well intentioned adults, mind you) feel that young children need to learn in themes.  They feel the brains of a young child are actually organized enough to see the world thematically, and not only that, but desire staying with the same theme for sometimes weeks at a time.

For whatever reason...adults (still well intentioned adults) feel that everything a young child learns while in a preschool type program should be all bundled up nice and neat in the form of a theme.  Whether this is to appease misinformed parents, inspire bulletin boards or help children with their life long skill of categorizing, themes have ruled the preschool world for years.

For whatever reason....adults (and yes, still well intentioned adults) work tirelessly after hours to bring a theme alive for young children.  I stapled (yes, you read correctly) roughly fifty greeny vines to the ceiling of my basement to replicate a jungle for our jungle theme years and years ago.
HEAR me now...if you can't bring children to the jungle, a teacher-led jungle theme is not an effective way to give children an opportunity for MEANINGFUL learning.

These same well intentioned adults choose their themes wisely, taking into consideration the interests of each child in their program...and therefore, they call their program "child-led". This is not what child-led means.  
Child-led means the children are the curriculum.  Child-led means the adult carefully observes the children in their program and follows their lead and enhances the discoveries owned by young children.


Listen closely, all of you theme lovers out there who are squishing up your faces, gathering your feisty response to this post:
 I USE TO BE ADDICTED TO THEMES. (insert group therapy: "hello....my name is Denita Dinger.  I was addicted to themes.")
I lived and breathed for themes.  I dare say I was a self-declared "Queen of Themes".  In fact, if you look back at my very first blog posts, you will see the remains of my themey self.

What changed me?

A caterpillar.

An innocent caterpillar that did not fit into my grand theme...but would in two weeks when I had "Caterpillars" in the lesson plans.

A caterpillar, that I was not going to bring inside so young children could observe and learn from, simply because he did not fit into my adult-led theme.

What was this theme that was so much better then watching a child-discovered caterpillar metamorphosize into a butterfly?

The Five Senses.  (ahh yes, trumped by those darned senses)

On this particular day, my plan was exploring the sense of smell.  We were just outside playing for a little bit before heading inside to get to the "important stuff" when my crew goes and finds a caterpillar.   (sigh.  I have changed....OH HAVE I CHANGED!!  Play IS the important stuff...never forget that!!)

To make a long story short, I said "no" to the requests to bring the caterpillar inside.  After watching every single shoulder and eyebrow of hope slouch in disappointment I stopped and had myself a little "aha moment".  Up until this moment, I had not realized that I was THAT ADDICTED to themes that I couldn't allow an innocent caterpillar to interfere. What would happen if that caterpillar poisoned the brains of my littles with CURIOSITY  and MEANINGFUL LEARNING!!??  (the crowd gasps).  What if they were no longer interested in the five senses?  (insert appropriate dramatics)

After much chit chat with myself, I went back to my crew, and said I made a mistake.  We brought the caterpillar inside and this particular moment will always be known as my biggest and most beneficial "aha moment".

And so began the metamorphosis of my program.  From that day forward, little by little I gave up on my "themey" ways.

(Anyone else see the irony of a caterpillar, a creature who is known for how it changes, being the creature that caused great change in the way I viewed how young children learned and how I ran my program?)

What did I discover as I let go of themes, step by step?

I discovered a child's brain does NOT work in themes.  Well, I take that back...a child's brain does not stay on one theme for very long, and certainly not in synchronization with all the other brains in the room.  I might have ONE child interested in dinosaurs for weeks, another that shows interest for five minutes here and five minutes there, but nothing consistent.  I might have 4 children who are enjoying a picnic lunch..when suddenly, as often does in child led play...one thing leads to another and the dinosaur lover, in his dinosaur ways has come to destroy said picnic....and the picnickers play along for a few minutes until a bright shiny object catches their eye and they are off to another topic...perhaps even splitting into twos as the world of curiosity beckons each child in unique ways.

I discovered that children learn even without the leadership of elaborate themes.  In fact, they learn more because there are no adult-set limits. (whether you notice it or not...themes have boundaries, themes can limit a child's natural curiosity)

I discovered that I could still get my theme-fix during the holidays.  I learned to "set some bait" so to speak.  If the bait didn't inspire the direction of the traditional theme, I learned that was okay, and I could ditch the theme and follow what the current interests of my littles were.  For example:  after Thanksgiving, teensy gingerbread boys just start appearing.  First one.  Then two.  Then three.  This particular bait is always taken and leads into our tradition of gingerbread boy fun.  BUT, if they were to not "take the bait" I would be okay with it (well..truth be told, I would sort of be okay with it ... I'm not perfect after all!!!).

I discovered that all the time I took to organize my supplies and books into themes over the years was still helpful because when children are allowed to lead, we sometimes visit up to 5 different themes in a given day.  It just depends on the interests of each individual child.  Organization is the KEY to following young children.  I need to know where my stuff is at a moments notice!

I discovered that I should not be feeling guilty that I was no longer sending home theme-related notes and having theme-related show and tell opportunities and theme-related snacks.  I discovered that if I continued to do that, it was not to benefit the children...it would instead be all about pleasing the parents.

I discovered my job is to educate parents, not to please parents.  My job is to create an environment that allows young children to learn in the way they were wired to learn.  Research proves young children learn best through child-led explorations and play.  My job is to provide a learning experience that benefits the children.  My job is to then educate the parents the reasoning behind why I do my job the way I do it.

I discovered that my job is to educate parents, not to please parents.  A child-led program looks much different then a teacher-led/controlled one does.  Changing from teacher-led to child-led can come across as the teacher is "not doing their job as well as they did before".  Do not assume your parents "get it".  Do not assume your parents are reading your blog or other information you send home.  Assume that you cannot educate too much.  You cannot show them too much research or too many articles that support play based and child-led programs.  You cannot talk to them too much about how their child is learning.

Take a deep breath.  Reflect.

I know from personal experience, change is hard.  I also know from personal experiencing that recognizing the need for change is harder....sometimes it takes several, slap ya in the face, "aha moments" to alter your perspective and open your eyes.

Caterpillars make change look so easy and effortless, when in all actuality it is challenging and somewhat painful.

Are the rewards worth the effort?

The change this post suggests gives children the wings they were wired to use.  
Following young children and trusting them as learners gives each child the freedom to soar at their own pace to heights unique to them.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Six Ways to Cause the Fizz

Hands down, two of our favorite supplies when it comes to messy play that is full of empowering, reaction-causing ownership is none other then baking soda and vinegar.

Baking soda and vinegar is also a GREAT starting place for those of you that may be a bit skittish about messy play (read below for some "embracing messy play" tips I have learned through the years)

Children have a deep rooted desire to cause a reaction, to appease that desire, I have discovered MANY different ways to play with the never-ceasing-to-amaze combination of baking soda and vinegar.  Sit back, and enjoy the variations.

In order to give the full benefits of all the learning to young children, I encourage you to resist the urge to give direction, I encourage you to NOT show, I encourage you to set up whichever variation you are most excited about, then step back, and hand the control and the ownership over to your littles.

1)  The Original:  Rainbow Volcano
  • colored vinegar in cups or bowls (I color mine with Liquid Watercolor from Discount School Supply)
  • pipettes (I get mine from Steve Spangler Science)
  • a container with a mountain of baking soda dumped in it  
The pictures from "The Original:  Rainbow Volcano" are from about 4 years ago, back when I was just first "embracing messy" (yes, that's right, I have not ALWAYS embraced messy). 

Here are a few tips I have discovered through trial and error on my journey to fully embracing messy play (as fully as I am capable of embracing it, anyway!)

Embracing Messy Play Tips from Someone Who Use to Break Out in Hives Around Messy Play
(long title, I know... I tried to make it shorter, I did, honest, but American Idol was starting and this was the final piece I needed to add to this blog post, so I didn't have much time to tinker. )
  1. Be organized.  Organize your stuff so you can quickly find tools that the children may request.  Organize the space so the children can successfully control the play without causing you stress from the mess.
  2. Along with being organized, have a hand washing system directly next to the messy play.  Not only is this for your sanity, but it also opens the door for that sensory-shy child who NEEDS the security of knowing that the absolute SECOND they need the ick off their hands, they can accomplish that on their own, and then hop right back into the play.
  3. Have spoons and scoops available for the children that want to dig in and play, but do not care to get their hands completely covered.
  4. Be smart.  If your early childhood space is also your living space, don’t set up messy play on your carpet….set up for success!
  5. REEEEEEELAX and document all the learning!

When this table of children asked if they could touch the baking soda, the "old" me would have said "no, this isn't for touching"...however, the "new" me was "embracing" messy and the wonderful learning opportunities it is full of, so my answer was a YES!!

Had my answer been a "NO" ... the children would have missed the wonderful sensation of the fizzing on their hands!

This table realized that the other table was getting to dive in with their hands....and so they asked if they too could stick their hands in as well.  Having just discovered this new wonderful world of saying "YES" to messy, I said "YES!  Of course!"  (this was before I saw what theirs looked like!!!  HA!!!)  This was a huge "aha" moment for me, as these boys had a BLAST playing in their "swamp".   I would have SO said "NO" before!!

2)  The Original S-L-O-W-E-D Down
  • The exact same as The Original, but with a bit of Dawn dishsoap added to the colored vinegar........watch the reaction SLOW....and GROW!!

3)  Fizzing UP!
  • This is very similar to "The Original", with the only change being the use of clear straws instead of pipettes to gather the vinegar with.  This not only allows your littles to organize their muscles in an entirely different way -- but it holds a big surprise that is SO WORTH WAITING for!!!  
  • VERY important that you NOT show!!  Be patient and let your littles own the discovery of the exciting thing that is possible with these materials!!!  
  • What is so exciting?  If you STICK the straw full of vinegar INTO the mound of baking soda and LEAVE it there -- the reaction will climb right up the straw and out the top!
There isn't a TON of delay of gratification, but there is some as the children watch the reaction climb up the straw.  We live in such an instant, now! now! now! world...it's VITAL to put some delay of gratification into a young child's environment every single day.
I think this picture speaks for itself!

The cups of colored vinegar must be filled as full as possible for the best results (otherwise the straws cannot collect enough vinegar to spark a reaction)


This is what happens when the play continues, the colored vinegar is gone and ice cream scoops have been requested to replace the straws!

4)  The Shake and Spray
  • Put the baking soda in salt shakers
  • Put the colored vinegar in spray bottles

If you cherish your grass, or do not have a dog to blame the large patch of dead grass in the middle of the yard on (I have NO idea who would ever blame something on the innocent dog.... (guilty)) you will want to set up VERY clear boundaries for this version of baking soda and vinegar play!

Our boundaries are simple: You may shake and spray on the driveway, not on the grass.  The vinegar will kill our grass. (I always find it beneficial to tell my littles the WHY behind the boundaries.  I want them to know I'm not just making boundaries because I want to squash their fun, I make the boundaries for a reason.)

At first this was an individual activity.  With some of my littles shaking AND spraying.

This is a motivating way to work on those all-important squeezer muscles!

THEN, suddenly, this individual activity became a team one, as my crew discovered the fun of mixing the colors!

As always happens when children are in control of their play...one thing leads to another.  Jack was the first to enjoy the feeling of the fizz on his feet!!

Teamwork at it's finest!!

Feet need sensory experiences too!!

5)  Fizzing Trails
  • Fill a container with plain vinegar roughly 1" deep (we aren't launching rockets, so you do NOT need to be precise)
  • Make a watery paint with water, liquid watercolor and baking soda
  • Add paint brushes and observe!
  • NOTE:  this "paint" needs to be mixed often as the baking soda will settle... I usually add roughly 3/4 cup of baking soda 

6)  Growing Fizz
  • Fill a container about 1/2 inch deep with vinegar.  Add coloring and some Dawn dish soap (can use any dish soap I am sure, I just always use Dawn)
  • Put baking soda in salt shakers
  • Add some paintbrushes and step back and observe the exploration!

And there you have it.....baking soda and vinegar, six ways.

Now....go PLAY!!!