Wednesday, January 28, 2015


I sometimes get stuck on my ideas.  Getting stuck on my ideas and refusing to follow the amazing ideas of young children is a hard habit to break...BUT, I am proud to say I have broken it, with the exception of a wee bit of regression here and there.  I am human after all, and the important thing to note here is that I LEARN every time, as every time I butt in and try to change their thinking to my thinking I ruin the moment.

I use a technique in my program called "plopping".  You can call it what you like:  plopping, play invitation, provocation, setting the environment.....there are MANY words that are similar to "Plopping", but, to know me is to know that I do not like to do things EXACTLY as someone else has done. know me, is to know that I live in "my world" and, until recently, and outside of my college courses a "few" years ago, I don't really pay much attention to what other people (aka: programs) are doing.  I do what works the best for the children that are in "my world".  And so, I plop.

When I was transitioning from a VERY teacher-controlled (only I did NOT know I was controlling...interested in hearing more about my journey?  CLICK HERE) to a child-centered, play-based philosophy, "plopping" was one of my many stages.  And plopping, is still a very valuable part of my philosophy. (Learn more about "Plopping")

To know me is to also know that my adult brain has ideas, and it really likes it's ideas.
Therefore, I sometimes have a VERY hard time biting my tongue and allowing children to take what I've plopped and run in an entirely different direction than my adult brain imagined. OR...worse yet, when children don't even explore the plop at all -- just basically look at it, squish up their face and saying "eh".  (insert sigh and a tremendous amount of self-control to resist the urge of saying "BUT..this was suppose to be GRAND!!  WATCH ME!!  I'll DO IT FOR YOU!!")

With that background information, I bring to you what happened in my program today:

My story begins with YESTERDAY.

Towards the end of our day, I introduced the children to a new story:  "Stuck" by Oliver Jeffers.  I finished this book to a chorus of "AGAIN!  READ IT AGAIN!"  Upon finishing it the second time, the chorus was repeated:  "AGAIN!  READ IT AGAIN!"  (note to self:  this book is a WINNER).

SO....based on their love of the story, "Stuck", my brain went to work imagining  HOW can I bring the concept of stuck into their child-led play?

How can I prepare the environment for the following day, in a way that will enhance their love of the book "stuck"?
I constructed what I call, the "Ball-o-Stuck-Stuff", here out to be referred to as the "BSS".  I put recognizable items in the BSS such as our beloved alligator puppet.  I knew that would tug at their heart strings and they would want to get him unstuck.  I also added items I knew my littles would love and had never seen at school before.  The pink flowers for my lover-of-all-things-pink, wagon wheels for my lovers-of-all-things-that-make-you-go-huh? and a new puppy toy for my puppy lovers.  I carefully added foam letters of each child's names (they are BIG into "their" letter right now), more puppets, jewels and random bits and parts.

I also added a PVC frame to the environment with the intent of wrapping masking tape around it and putting out sparkly fluffy pom poms and sequins and spangles for the children to stick on the tape.  As I set that out, I decided to wait until they arrived to add the masking tape.

Finally, the letters to build the word "stuck" were hidden.  I was taking a big chance by starting with the word I hoped to inspire, but I felt like this was going to be a hit.  And so...I did it.  The new mystery word (What the heck is a mystery word?  CLICK HERE) would be "stuck" and HOPEFULLY it would be attached to a meaningful experience.  (generally the mystery word is inspired by whatever the children are actively doing, and a lot of times, I ask them what our new mystery word should be....but occasionally, I start our day out with one)

I then went to bed ANXIOUS for morning, but trying hard to HUSH my adult brain.  I did not want to get too STUCK on what I thought would happen the next day that I controlled the learning.  I wanted my littles to own as much of it as possible.  I also like the children to feel like their ideas are fabulous (no matter what inner struggles my adult brain may have when the the idea of a child is no where close to where my adult brain anticipated they would go).

The homerun did not happen immediately.  In fact, I feared for the worse as only one child asked what the BSS was.

I gave my usual answer:  "I have no idea.  What do you think it is?"

His reply:  "Flowers"
(insert a "no shit sherlock"  PLEASE tell me you have SILENTLY said that phrase in your head hundreds of times while working with young children...if not, then I am a horrible person.  I will make myself a t-shirt "I AM A HORRIBLE PERSON" and on the back it will say:  "NO SHIT SHERLOCK" (to know me, is to know that I have an odd sense of humor...bare with me)).

As the children got more and more into their play, they started to find the letters to our mystery word.  They asked me what the word was, and so I told them.
As the children find each letter that is needed to build the mystery word during their play, they then hang it up in the appropriate spot.  This is an interesting process as some understand the need to leave a space for the missing letters while others do not.  In the end, a whole lot of teamwork is used to correctly create the word.

That was my cue to add the masking tape to the PVC frame.
As I was doing this, one of my littles took one look and said "That looks like a spider web"  She was RIGHT!  IT did!  AND...guess what?   BUGS get STUCK in spiderwebs!  SO..I scratched my adult idea to add the shiny, sparkly stuff and grabbed the basket of bugs instead!!  BRILLIANT (and, nice job unsticking from my plan)

After about 50 minutes or so of PATIENTLY waiting for SOMEONE to show a little more interest in the Ball-O-Stuck-Stuff, I sat down with the book, "Stuck" and had an instant audience (this is always so good for the self-esteem :D).  When I finished reading, the connection was made between this thing dangling from the ceiling and the book, "Stuck".  There were LOTS and LOTS of things STUCK in that big ball-o-stuck-stuff.

My crew is accustomed to solving problems, and sometimes solving problems requires standing on chairs.

Children need opportunities to assess risk and practice being CAREFUL.  Too often we yell from across the room "BEEEE CAREFULLLLL!!!"  Then grab our capes, and run with the speed of a super hero to remove from the hands of the child that in which we just told them to be careful with...therefore REMOVING the opportunity to
Children need to know we trust them to be careful.  I'm not talking about scaling the side of a frozen water fall "Be careful, it might be a little slick" ...I'm talking about standing on a chair that is 12 inches from the ground in order to do something they would otherwise need an adult to do.  THIS kind of risk assessment and management is EMPOWERING for a young child.

Another opportunity to be careful.
Children CAN be cautious with scissors.  Again, we need to give them the opportunity to practice using caution.  There was NO running, NO waving scissors wildly about. This was a very calm time with VERY focused children.

I carefully selected the items I placed in the BSS (Ball-O-Stuck-Stuff in case you whizzed past the beginnings of this post).  I knew this cute puppy would motivate a few of the children to work hard at removing the tape.  (side note:  this is the child I figured would go for well as the pink flowers :) )

A motivated and focused child.

This child had his sights set on unsticking the wheel.  He was working very hard on that task.

WHOO HOO!  The wagon wheel is successfully unstuck!  See the child in the blue shirt?  HE SO WANTED TO GET THAT WHEEL.  Luckily, the child in the red was all about the process of just getting stuff unstuck, and further exploring the wheel was not more important to him than getting more stuff unstuck.

I LOVE this picture.  That's all I have to say about that. :)

Let the investigating begin.

And then, SUDDENLY, the BSS was no longer hanging.  Both of these children realized it at the same time.  "HEY!  It fell!"

These two pumpkins are going after "their" letters.  Talk about motivating! :)

And then it was down the Mr. Alligator and a frog.  This child was ELATED to discover the frog was under all that tape too!
So....there you have it.

I encourage you all to be intentional with the materials you place in an early learning environment, but not so intentional that you are so STUCK on your adult plans you can't allow yourself to follow the whims of young children.

This story showed an example of both leaving my adult plans behind (the spider web) in order to follow an awesome idea from the mind of a young child as well as keeping my adult plan because the children did exactly what I thought they would.

SIDE NOTE:  what DID happen that I did NOT see coming was the use of scissors for this activity.  I had imagined they would just use fingers to peel the tape.  I loved the initiative the children showed by grabbing a tool to solve a problem.  I carefully observed and discussed safety with the children throughout...HOWEVER, at the end, when we were down to just the alligator and a few other items, and just two children working away on the BSS, a child's finger did get snipped a bit (enough to teach them all that scissors are something we must be careful with)  SO...I would suggest that when it gets down to such few things to put the scissors away and use fingers for the remainder of the task, or just one pair of scissors for all to share.  I would definitely do this activity again.