Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I am Mad at You

The awesome thing about the following photo is not the good handwriting or the fact that this is the work of a 5 year old, with no adult help.
The awesome thing is that a young child expressed how she was feeling.  She recognized that she was mad.  She used words to express that fact. 

THAT is what is important about this photo.

 The incident was simple.  Five year old Bergen was drawing on the sidewalk.  Three year old Avery was scribbling over everthing Bergen was drawing. 

After several attempts to stop Avery with the words "Stop that!"  Bergen decided to try another method.

Did it work?



Avery is three.  She cannot read.

Was it still effective?


Bergen felt proud that she discovered another way to express herself.  It satisfied her enough that she left the chalk to go run and play something else.

With Bergen gone, and the realization that bugging someone makes them go away leaving you with no one to play with, Avery too ran off to play something else.

In the end, no one hit, no one tattled.  Discoveries were made.  Feelings and emotions were expressed.  One child felt proud of her new-found mode of expression.  Another learned that if you are going to bother someone, they will leave you and play with someone else.

THAT is what is important! 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Give the Ownership of Discovery to Children

Sometimes we are just like young children.  We find it difficult to keep our mouths shut and our hands to ourselves.

Take discoveries for instance.  How many times have you either:

1.  Observed children struggling to solve a problem....
2.  Observed children on the verge of a discovery, but just not getting there....
3.  Observed children heading away from a discovery you were anticipating they would make....

.....and you just couldn't resist jumping in to show the way, just to help out a bit? 

If you are like me, it has happened, and, when you REALLY think about it, it has happened a lot!  What you probably didn't realize is that in that one step, that one moment of seemingly "heroism" you actually took the ownership of discovery away from the children.

Think of what you have owned in your life.  Things? (like houses, cars, clothing, shoes)  Choices? (where to eat, when to go to sleep, what to do, where to live) Mistakes?  Successes?  Discoveries? How do those different ownerships make you feel?

In ownership we feel responsibility, pride, interest and accomplishment.  This is true for a young child as well.

In ownership we also learn.  We learn that with hard work good things can come.  We learn that doing things for ourselves feels amazing.  We learn that different causes have different effects.

I think it's safe to say that with each unique experience we own comes many different lessons.

Hopefully this blog post will encourage you to not jump in, to stay quiet and observe.  To give ownership of discovery to children.  A young child's ownerships are quite limited.  Discovery is something that we should freely give to them.

Here we go....

Last week I plopped a pulley system.  A VERY simple thing to add to your programs, and after reading the photo journal to follow, I'm almost positive you will be running to your nearest hardware store! 

  • screws with the eye thingy ma jigger on the end (see photo below)
  • drill
  • stud finder (MUST find a stud....this is not a dating blog, so I am of no help...ha!)
  • flexible neck
  • handy husband (not required by any means, but sure makes the job somewhat easier)
  • rope (I used paracord simply because my 12 year old son has made himself quite a business making and selling paracord bracelets and we have an excess of paracord in every color imaginable around here!)  The nice thing about paracord is when you cut it, you just use a lighter to melt the freying ends and then it never freys...and it's smooth....and it's pretty (if pretty matters to you) not to mention sturdy (and sturdy definitely matters)

I love my husband!  Oh the things he has done for me
and my daycare kids!

My husband is a stud....but he's not good at finding them! :)  This project
put three extra, nice-sized holes in the ceiling (see the extra hole? Whoops!)  This
is a close-up photo of both one of the extra holes, and the screw with eye thing-a-ma-jigger.

My son thought two ropes on one bucket would be a great idea.  It was
for a while, until they got all twisted together.  I believe we cut the second
rope off within 20 minutes of play.

Extra buckets ($1 a piece at Michael's Craft) and packing peanuts
ready for play!

Shovels, and a letter for this day's mystery word (see The Power of One Word):  "WOW" were
in the bucket...up on the ceiling.
I should have taken more pictures of the problem solving process, but, admitedly, those pics would have been quite boring.  Here's how it went down:
1.  Lots of jumping.  I found this stage to be both completely hilarious and 100% impressive.  They were SO FAR from the bucket, yet SO DETERMINED!!  Persistence and determination are GREAT life-long skills!
2.  Standing on chairs to try to reach the buckets...again, SO DETERMINED and independent!  Independent thinking is another life-long skill!
3.  Asking me to get the grabbers (see The Power of One Word) so they could grab the buckets with them.
4.  Discovering the ropes.  FINALLY someone discovered the ropes attached to the buckets!  I could not believe how long it took for them to discover the ropes!!  It took teamwork to get the ropes untied.  Working with others...you guessed it....is a VERY valuable life-long skill!

The entire time, I sat on my stool, quietly observing and enjoying the learning occuring right before my eyes.  Remember, even in failure, we learn.  Every once in a while I would remind them to ask for what they need. I was there if they needed me to get them anything to help solve the problem of getting the buckets down.  (I will not lie....this was extremely painful to observe.  The solution to the problem was SO OBVIOUS to my adult "been there, done that' mind....but to young children, who had never used a pulley, this was an incredibly difficult problem to solve.)

Give children ownership of discovery!

Cole is taking the initiative to attempt to release the buckets.

Alayna soon joined Cole in an attempt to release the much
anticipated and desired buckets.  I could have easily gotten them down.
I could have shown them.  It would have taken meer seconds instead of 25 minutes.
But the discovery would not have belonged to the children then. 

SUCCESS!! Amelia is discovering the letter "w" for our mystery word.
Jack is waiting patiently to grab the shovels that are also in the bucket.

Without realizing just how amazing the phenomenon of a pulley would be, I picked "wow" to be our Mystery Word on this particular day.  Little did I know just how appropriate that word choice would be!  I heard "wow" over and over again!
 Erik just stood there, in this position, pulling
the rope, watching the bucket rise, letting go and watching the
bucket drop....repeat process again...and again...and again.  Every
once and a while "wow" quietly left his lips as he giggled.

When children learn through trial and error they automatically go into scientist mode. When scientists get an answer, they don't accept it until they have gotten the same answer several times. Children do the same thing! Erik kept pulling the rope to see if the bucket would rise again. Of course, it did every time. You and I know that every single time he pulls on the rope, the bucket is going to go up, but this is new to him, and he needs to test this theory to it's fullest potential!

Let Them Play

Give children ample time to make further discoveries through play!  The hard part is done.  They figured out how to get the buckets down, they now own this discovery. Now give them time to dig in and enjoy the fruits of their labor!

I enjoyed watching this part tremendously!  Those packing peanuts were a HIT!  My camera battery went dead (grrrrr...) so I missed taking pics of the shower.  They asked for my step stool ladder so they could dump the buckets from up high (how clever....).  They filled the bucket with packing peanuts, then one child pulled the cord, another climbed the step stool, and yet another stood underneath to await their "shower" !!

Then they were firemen putting out fires with the "water" (aka: packing peanuts).  They had so much fun scooping up those packing peanuts into buckets and dumping them!  The poor packing peanuts now have an identity crisis as I'm certain they do not know what they are anymore!!  Mostly, they were water...but they were bugs (thanks to their static quality and ability to stick to you), macaroni and treasure.  Surprisingly, they were never snow!

Repurposing Previous Discoveries

I love when a child takes a previous discovery and applies what they learned to a new experience.  In the following photos we see Jack loading up the shovel with packing peanuts, but he has no intentions of simply dumping them into a bucket.  Oh no.  He has much better plans.  Recall the spoon catapults mentioned in a previous post, Learning Lurks Everywhere?  Well.....Jack is quietly realizing that shovels just might work the same as spoons...and packing peanuts might work as well as pom poms and foam blocks.......

Not one to be satisfied with the norm, Jack finds his own way of
getting packing peanuts into the bucket.

Notice Jack's eyes? They are able to track the slow moving packing peanut. He can
not keep up with a pom pom, or foam block that has been catapulted through the air.
A packing peanut, however, travels MUCH slower through the air, allowing him
to practice and perfect his visual tracking.

And now....back to the pulleys.  In the end, my entire crew was still thinking "wow" everytime a bucket

went up....
 ...and came back down. 
They just never tired of watching this same event happen again and again. They tested their new discovery hundreds of times....why? Because it belonged to THEM. They owned it. An adult didn't show them how, didn't tell them what to do....an adult simply PLOPPED something new, stepped back, and gave the ownership of discovery to them!

It's inevitable.....such fun play is usually followed by picking up the mess.  Even in this process there was valuable learning and practice time.  We set a goal...our goal was to eat lunch.  We were a team.  A team works for the same goal.  Once the goal was established, the daunting task of picking up all those now broken-into-at-least-a-thousand-pieces-and-so-full-of-static-they-stick-to-my-nose-hairs packing peanuts didn't seem so bad.  With occasional reminders of how much fun that was, and that we are all in this together the room was back to normal in no time!

As usual, I suggest you re-read this post. Take note of the learning! See the sense of pride, accomplishment and interest that comes with ownership?  As you re-read, be reminded  that the majority of the learning came about because an adult did not rush in to solve a problem. The children were given the time and support necessary for them to own the discovery. 

Admittedly, quietly observing and resisting the urge to "help" can be EXTREMELY challenging and down right painful at times.  But, I have learned the more I can step back, and the more I observe the positive results, the easier it gets to just say:
"Looks like you have yourself a problem to solve!  I know you can do it!!  I'll be right here if you need me to get something for you."

Give children ownership of discovery!!  It makes play count even more!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Inspiring Imaginations... Leprechaun Day Part 3: That Sneaky Leprechaun!

It is with a congested medicine head that I present to you,  the grand finale of the 3 Part "Leprechaun Day Series".   If this part is confusing, Sudafed and Musinex are to blame! 

By this point, you have certainlyl learned the importance of fostering imaginations and creating meaningful memories.  Your environment is close to enticing a leprechaun to search for gold, but what kind of mischief can a leprechaun get into?

Here is a list that our leprechaun, Lucky O'Shamrock McGee has done along with a few things I have heard about.  After the list are random photos of Leprechaun Days gone by!  Enjoy!!!  Feel free to add your fantastic ideas in the comments!  It's so awesome to learn from each other!!
  1. Lucky O'Shamrock McGee is not happy that we try to trap him.  So he leaves a HUGE mess.  Every green toy, marker and crayon is scattered all over the room complete with teensy weensy shamrock confetti and larger shamrocks (I find great things at www.discountschoolsupply.com )
  2. Some years Lucky even has gotten into the green paint and left us a message on the table....
  3. Green footprints are found all around the room
  4. Some years he leaves us a teeny tiny note (I print it out using a size 3 font so we need to use a magnifying glass to read it)
  5. Lucky magically turns the toilet water green.  My favorite thing to do is as the water fades back to clear, I add more food coloring in the TANK (not in the toilet bowl itself).  When you add it to the tank, it's the next person's flush that will cause the water to turn colors!!  Last year the water turned every color of the rainbow (it was BEYOND exciting!!!)
  6. Lucky always leaves us some green fingernail polish and tatoos which is always a hit!
  7. I know one leprechaun (Lucky has not done this) that leaves a "magical leprechaun treat" in a ziplock bag.  This treat comes with directions to "dump the magical powder into a bowl and add milk.  Watch what will happen!".   It is Jello brand pistachio pudding mix.  The mix is white, but when you add milk, it magically turns GREEN!!
  8. Another leprechaun I have heard of leaves a trail using rainbow colored yarn and has notes attached to the yarn leading the children to a pot of gold.  (I'm thinking Lucky O'Shamrock McGee might give this idea a try this year!)

Our trap....we put Skittles inside the trap.  Every year, the Skittles
are gone....and there is always a teensy tiny piece of
a torn green jacket left in the trap!  (We assume Lucky must tear
his coat when he's trying to escape from our trap!)

Magnifying glasses are a necessity when looking for leprechaun clues!

One year Lucky even left behind an entire pot of gold!!!

 Lucky ALWAYS turns the toilet water green!!  The best part?!!  It continues to
turn back to green throughout the day causing all the excitment to be reborn!  (I just keep
a bottle of food coloring in the bathroom, then, when I go in, I put it in the tank...so the
next child to flush is the one to witness the water magically change to green!!)

Last year, Lucky managed to change the toilet water to EVERY color of the
rainbow!!!  (I tell you what....this was a BLAST!!!  And created such
excitment and imaginations were flourishing!)  Jack, pictured, at one point was down
on his knees so he could get a better look at where the water was coming
from....trying to figure out how Lucky was doing it!!  Inspiring curiosity!  LOVE IT!!
Now go....have some Leprechaun Day fun with the children in your life!!
1)  Create a colorful, rainbowish environment.  How?  Explore the wonderful world of color!  Use a variety of materials...traditional and non-traditional.  If you missed Part 1 and Part 2 or Part 2.5 of this series, make sure to check them out for a few of my favorite color exploration opportunities.

2)  While creating a leprechaun-enitising environment, read some leprechaun books and sing some leprechaun songs:

  • The Luckiest Leprechaun  by Justine Korman   (my personal favorite!!)
  • Tim O'Toole and the Wee Folk   retold by Gerald McDermott
  • Clever Tom and the Leprechaun  by Linda Shute
  • Looking for Leprechauns  by Sheila Keenan
There are a great selection of songs all over the place.  The songs that have become our favorites are from  CC Circle Time  (great songs and fingerplays for all occasions!!): 
  • "I'm A Teeny Tiny Leprechaun"
  • "I'm Bringing Home a Baby Leprechaun"
  • "Leprechauns Can Dance a Jig"
All three of these are HITS with my kids!  Check CC Circle Time out!! 

3)  Be prepared for super fun day by loading up on shamrocks of all sizes (to toss all over the place), green things, tatoos, green fingernail polish and green food coloring!!

Build imaginations, make meaningful memories and have fun!!!  Remember this entire series is full of learning opportunities that can be used ANYTIME....NOT just at St. Patty's time!!  The activities mentioned in Parts 1, 2 and 2.5 are full of learning:  small motor skills, large motor skills, creativity, cause and effect, problem solving, trial and error, taking turns, patience, sharing and building self esteem!!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Play Time = Practice Time

How many times have you felt frustrated from hearing yourself say over and over again:

"Work together please."
"Can you please get along."
"Stop fighting!"
"Don't hit!"
"Stop whining."
"Stop crying."
"No tattling"

How can we expect young children to behave the way we want them to when we are increasingly taking away their practice time!?
Practice time is being replaced with "structured" things like Circle Time, Table Time, Letter Time, Math Time, Movement Time, This Time and That Time.  (hopefully this is a HUGE exaggeration, and no one really has all those seperate "times" scheduled!!)

Practice time = PLAY TIME!!  Children learn valuable social and emotional skills when given AMPLE time to play.  Independent play and "cooperative" play are both beneficial to the social and emotional growth and development of young children.  The word "play" has gotten a bad wrap. Some believe play to be what happens when an early childhood professional doesn't feel like doing anything.  When in fact, it's when an early childhood professional is being the best at their job!  A good early childhood professional trusts in the value of play, and knows how to defend that stance!

Too often, parents, the "powers that be" and therefore, early childhood programs trying to please the afore mentioned, have put the wrong skills in the forefront.  Getting along with each other has been replaced by ABC's and 123's. Suddenly knowing what letters and numbers are has become more important then treating each other with respect. Knowing that apple starts with "A" has trumped patience and sharing.  Sadly, we spend more time making and reading words rather then using them to express ourselves. Children know more about how letters make words then they do about using words to handle conflict and solve problems.   Due to the lack of practice time, children whine, scream or hit to get their point across.

When is the last time a parent has bragged to you that their child can cooperate with other children?  Have you ever heard a parent gush over the fact that "Little Susie can compromise."?  Most parents  show pride in how "smart" their child is.  "Lizzie knows her ABC's!!"   "Our little Freddy can count to 10 in English AND Spanish!!"  Very few parents boast: "Look at how well my Georgie shares.  Did you see him give that little boy the ball?!" or  "Just look at how patient Lola is.  We are so proud of her and the way she gets along with others."

Fast forward to elementary school.  Due to the lack of practice time in the early years, and partially due to over-involved, afraid-to-let-children-solve-their-own-problems, tattle tail-bait-taking adults there is more crying, whining, tattling and hurting on playgrounds.  Young children need lots of practice at 1) solving problems 2) standing up for themselves 3) expressing their feelings in words and 4) cooperation and compromising.  Adults are stepping in during vital "practice time".  They are taking the bait (obliging tattlers) and solving problems for children.  They are stopping conflict before it happens (conflict gives us practice at solving problems!!).  They are providing too much equipment and thus avoiding arguments that may evolve over sharing.

By using "preventative classroom managment" we are limiting, and in extreme cases completely eliminating conflict.  Conflict gives children the opportunity to solve problems.  It's a great learning tool! Being too preventative produces children that can't handle difficult situations.  We are creating children that can't defend themselves with the power of words.  Children who need a teacher to solve their problems for them and children that cannot share or compromise. 

Let's face it....lack of practice time creates children who will have a hard time succeeding later in life. 

Early Childhood Professionals need to give children a large amount of quality playtime, they need to provide an environment condusive to playing, they need to butt out and allow children the space and freedom to practice social and emotional skills.  They need to let conflict happen.  Young children need to be empowered by their own problem solving skills.  They need to know the importance of the right words.  They need to know how to be caring, and thoughtful by sharing and taking turns.

Here is a scenario I just witnessed this morning during a nice long, 3 hour span of "practice time":
Ethan and Gavin are in the midst of arguing over the magnablox.  Gavin thinks they should
each have the same number of blocks.  Ethan does not.  Ethan said "I am never
going to play with you again!"  Gavin responded (cleverly) "Never?" pause
"Never, ever, ever?" pause  "Never...ever...ever...ever...EVER?"  At this point
Ethan is smiling and laughing, both boys are grinning and it is clear that
Ethan has learned from Gavin that he did not mean what he said. 

Notice how Gavin handled a potentially hurtful situation with humor?  He could have easily burst into tears and tattled on Ethan for saying "I'm never going to play with you again"  But he did not.  He had the confidence to use humor to make his friend think.  He remained calm, and did not fly off the handle. 

This photo was taken a few minutes after the previous
one.  Ethan had a rocket malfunction, so the boys are trying to fix it.
Gavin "found" a rocket piece (see the blue one in his hand?)  Notice the vein sticking
out on Ethan's neck?  HE IS ANGRY.  A few months ago he would have hit
Gavin.  BUT, because we have lots of practice time, Ethan firmly said "HEY!  That
came off of my rocket!!!"  Gavin knew he was right and grinned saying "I was just
teasing."  (whatever works to simmer the situation Gavin!)
It's important to note that three months ago, Ethan would have smacked Gavin in order to get the toy back. He then would have come over and tattled on him. Notice how he handled the situation in a very socially accepted way?
Vein popping anger is over, and the rocket is getting fixed.  Gavin practices being
patient as he waits for Ethan to finish the job.
The boys continued to play rockets and even added flames by shoving some paper up the open end of the rocket and coloring it orange and blue with markers.  Cooperative play, problem solving, patience, consideration, caring and nurturing (Gavin repeating what Ethan said:  "NEVER?") are all skills young children are capable of, and need the opportunity to practice
Here is another impressive scenario....this happened on "ramp day".   The children organized themselves.  I was busy walking around snapping photos of all of their cleverness.  I turned around and to my complete pleasure, this scene was all set!  Patience and taking turns is a VALUABLE social skill to master!!  We master skills by practicing them!  Practice time = play time!!!

The children patiently stood in lining, waiting their turn as each child
assisted with the end goal of filling the tube with balls....all the way to the top!

They were careful to include everyone who had helped
accomplish the goal when it was time to release the avalanche
of balls! 
Thoughtfulness, cooperation, compromise, patience, sharing and self regulation are FAR more essential skills than knowing that bat starts with "B".  Yes, literacy, math and science are all important...but for on-going success in school, teaching young children social skills is FAR more valuable!

Evaluate your program. 
Are the right skills in the forefront of your time together?
Are you emphasizing the valuable skills needed for life-long success, or are you being pressured into highlighting the "braggable skills"? 
Are you educating your parents regarding the life-long importance of social skills learned through play?

If you find yourself resorting to those warn out commands from the beginning of the blog, try to replace them with a few of my personal favorites:

"How are you going to solve this problem?" 
"You need to tell him/her how that made you feel."
"We can't understand whining. You will need to find another way to tell us what you are thinking."  "Thank you for telling me, but what do you think YOU should do about it?" 
"You need to tell him/her you were not done playing with that toy and you would like it back."

Once again, I leave you with one essential phrase not to be forgotten!:

PLAY  (aka: Practice Time) COUNTS!!