Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I'm Growing Children Not Grass!

Don't let them climb branches, 
they'll hurt the tree;
but learning and growing is all I can see. 

Don't let them dig, they'll ruin the yard; 
but holes can be filled, that isn't so hard. 

"Don't jump in the mud!" I hear you exclaim;
but the learning that happens is more than a game. 

Don't pull on the flowers all perfect in rows!
But flowers; like children, 
 are not meant for just show.

"Don't yank it all out!" you holler so crass. 
But I'll tell you once more...

I'm growing children, not grass.

Friday, April 10, 2015

"How Does Your Story Start?" Inspired by Bev Bos

In 2011, when I finally made the effort to seek out and meet Bev Bos. One of the many things she told me to grab a pen and some paper and to ask the children.... "How does your story start?" Bev was very specific, Do not ask children IF they have a story.... Simply ask, "How does your story start?" and be ready to write.....

G. age 4-
"I saw the car looks like ours, but our purple car is SO BIG, but our car is purple and I saw Alex's van. I went to work with daddy and I saw a truck and a taxi. I saw the truck and I saw the police and I saw the snow plow. I saw a fire hat and the police and a pilot and a doctor and he was so mad he looked like a tiger and he was SO BIG, but I wanna be so big like my mom. Levin is my friend but Billy is my cousin. I love Grace and I shot it and is trying to get me all the time and Charlotte is a caterpillar and looks like a tiger and he's trying to get me and I saw hats outside and just went home all of the time and he is trying to get me all of the time and he is trying to get me and those are snowflakes and Delainey is my friend too and he is trying to get me."

D. age 4-
"My story is about me and all the cars and the taxi is blocking the way and all of the cars are going really fast. It was a bright day first and the great day was really hard and I went for a walk all by myself and my mom's taxi came and she was waving to me. My ring was up and then it was a really bright day and the sun was right next to me and then I burned myself and my skin got all burned up and I turned into a skeleton. That's it."

L. age 4 -
"A tree was falling down and a person was right below it and the tree was falling down (sound effects) It was in a dark scary woods. This woods was really scary. I was with my mom with Kathryn and Sally and then a monster came out and started to run at us and then another tree fell, fell, fell (sound effects). The monster was dead."

E. age 2-
"Jingle bell uhm milk. I want some milk some more uhm I am a stinker, stinker butt uhm cookie I want muffins. Momma called I want Evie and Ellie. I want Ellie. I want my baby. Ellie, Evie, uhm Ellie. my Evie.

L. age 4-
"One strange sound and I saw eyes peeking out a tree the eyes were so giant and something giant came after me. then the big arms and big hands reached out after me. That's all."

G. age 3-
"I found a deer one night and a bear didn't come though. Nope, that's it."

A. age 3-
"One of my favorite I wanna see it. Momma pick me up and dadda can come get Oliver and mom can nurse Oliver and Oliver can go all by himself and I can go all by myself."

C. age 3- 
"My car bumped into a piece of ice in my backyard and it falled BOOOM! that's silly and my sled broke all the way to the basement and my mom and dad stuck in the tree and it was 2 and was pulling right by mom and the branch and the leaves. Then my ball crashed all the way down into my door and my pants fell into my drawer and all the way into my sink the ball crashed. This is it not. (giggles)

As you can see- I write things down exactly as they are said. Let me tell you, sometimes it is really hard to keep up with the exuberant story tellers. Just do the best you can. Then, take a moment to read back what you have written and ask the child to help you fix what you may have forgotten or misquoted. When they stop, you can ask if there is anything else...  Some days your hand will feel like it is ready to fall off from writing- and then you will write some more!

The children absolutely love to have you write their stories down. Not only does it help them to understand that what they have to say is important. It also shows that words and ideas can be written down to be communicated to others, it shows in a real way that words have significance and meaning. Writing helps us to remember things that are important to us. It is real, it is meaningful language and literacy in action! Children will also be quick to follow your model-- and will spend time writing down their own stories as well.....

After prompting a few times with "How does your story start?" you will probably find that the children will come running to you saying: "I have a story" or "Write this down!"

Now, let me tell you a little bit more about meeting Bev Bos, and how this story started.....

I'm one of those early childhood professionals who spent some time living in my own little world. You see, when you work with young children, especially in your home. That is easy to do. We (home based child care providers)  work long hours with young children, often by ourselves or maybe with one or two other adults. It is easy to drift into our own little world- and do what we do best.  With the growth in social media and the availability to share information, to network, and find like minded colleagues, it is a little less secluded than it once was...

After running my home based program for quite a few years, someone remarked, "You know, you are an awful lot like Bev Bos." I think I kind of shrugged it off the first time it happened, but after hearing it a couple of times, I thought- well, I guess I aught to figure out exactly who this Bev Bos is!!!!! I did a little bit of research and watched a few videos. (This one here is my favorite... well worth the time to watch).

In 2011, I finally made the trip. It was a 6 hour drive to see Bev speak in one of the suburbs of Chicago. The day was worth every minute of travel! I didn't find myself learning or coming back with a ton of new ideas. I did have a few, but what was far more valuable to me was the validation. You see, there are so many times where the pressure is there to do things that I know in my heart are not what is best for young children. There is so much pressure to conform and to allow the push down of curricula and to place unrealistic expectations upon young children. Sometimes it is hard to do what is right-- and it seems like it is getting harder and harder to swim against the ever growing stream of developmentally inappropriate practices out there. The day was amazing, I left so energized and so ready to take on the world.....

On Monday, when I returned to my crew. I did just what Bev told us to do... and I put out the glass jars with oil and water, and I put out some table salt..... just like Bev said to do..... (You can read more about it  by clicking here....)

I also made sure to grab a pencil and some paper so that I could start recording the children's stories.

On a side note, as my story continued... In 2014, I finally made my way to Roseville to attend the Good Stuff for Kids conference spending some more time finding "my tribe" and connecting with like minded souls!

Now--- Do you collect children's stories?????

How Does Your Story Start?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Don't just do something. Sit there.......Part 2

This is the second post on facilitation in a two part series. 

In my forest kindergarten the children are very big dragon slayers - building and fortifying  their castles from dragon attack to looking for dragon tracks to actually (shudder) going to look for them in the dense woods, it is a huge group activity. 

Do I get involved? The short answer is no. The longer answer is if I am needed to as part of the facilitation process. 

Why? Here is one example. 

We have one boy who joined us after dragons had invaded our camp. His first day here visiting he and his parents happily took part in the dragon searching. After he had been at school for a few days he watched me instead. The children were communicating wonderfully, cooperating at building a ship to escape the dragons and needed little input from me. 

He pulled back and watched me for a bit. I wasn't sure if he needed something or if he was just in his own head so I waited. I stepped away - checking something out one of the kids wanted me to see. Then I stepped back. He was still watching me. He seemed to make up his mind as he turned around, grabbed a stick and started drawing on the ground. 

I should interrupt to say I was thrilled. I had sat and done forest art as a provocation on and off for what seems like years. Always the same  response - the kids would come see what I was doing, shrug their shoulders and go back to fighting dragons (or whatever they were engaged in at the time).  

It was at this point the magic began. It was also at this point I did nothing. I could clearly see this was his process.

He started to draw. First a Popsicle, then a tree. The others came over one at a time. Much like their reaction to me when I drew they shrugged their shoulders and went back to their play. At one point when he was finished he brought me over to discuss his drawings. To ask me to take a picture. I did but was very careful to keep my enthusiasm out of his exploration. He placed a high value on his work, he needed no facilitation from me to value his work. He asked only to document so he could show his mom. 

That doesn't sound very magical you may be thinking. But here's the most important part of the process. We waited. 

The next day at Forest Kindergarten another boy, who is an art shoulder shrugger, picked up a stick and started to draw. This is called for all our scaffolding friends the zone of proximal development. He drew a beautiful horse, then a house, then (of course) a dragon. The other children would pop over, look at the boys drawing, admire and return to their play - much more engaged with the art than with anything I had attempted. Since then his mother reports he has become obsessed with drawing, sometimes going through a whole construction paper pad in the span of two days.

This is magical and would not have been possible if I would have been involved to a larger extent in the art creation. 

Because I was not involved our artist was seen as the creator, the one with the great idea, the one who leads. At best with me involved he would be seen as co-creator, co-idea person and co-leader. At worst (and often the case when an adult is involved) his role in the activity would have been discarded completely by his peers.  If I had been involved with the dragon play I would have missed the art facilitation completely and likely kept the others children's attention focused on that and they, as well, would have missed the art. 

At this point some may say well what if you let him teach you. To which I respond - the kids in my Forest Kindergarten are not stupid. They know I know how to draw and me pretending to be taught would lead them to pretending to see him as creator and leader.  I want real authentic community, not pretend community. There are many times when a having a child as leader is proper facilitation. This is not one. 

By backing away and only responding when needed the newest boy was able to gain a valued role in the community from the other children which allowed him to learn about himself and his role in the group. The others also gained respect for the new student. Facilitating the group, not group involvement is what made real, authentic community. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Hogtied and Happy

This was a long morning of the type of play many would stop in it's tracks.. call it " not meaningful" and poo poo it.. We, instead asked the children if we should open the door so that they could have more space to run and hide.. It was a whole class deep meaningful game of, I don't know what to call it.. but "WAR" comes to mind. Although I didn't hear any talk of guns or bombs.. THIS TIME..I did know that there were three sides.. the boys, the girls, and the ones we call the flip-floppers, the flip-floppers are the ones who sway to the side of the winning team or play the part of the rescuers. I remember this type of play as a child, running wildly, almost feeling as though I was escaping real danger, breathing fast and deep, hiding behind rocks and logs to take a breath and then running off screaming " You can't catch meee!"

I am saddened by the thought that many children do not get to play in this wild unbridled way anymore. Adults are typically in the shadows or hovering overhead frantically asking for peace. Peace.. IS being tackled and giggling so hard you think you may pee your pants, peace is sitting watch after you just captured the leader of the other team. Let's take off our old adult lenses and put on our youthful eyes.. remember what it was about this type of play that called us to it over and over again as children.

The most peaceful part about this play is the fact that they know they can quit when they choose to. Each child is a willing participant; they all want the play to be sustained, therefore they are all playing to have fun and not to hurt. Does this mean that no one gets hurt? No, some days children go home with the proof of such play, scratches, scrapes, and bumps.. rarely do we have tears, the children are so enthralled in their play that they don't even stop to nurse their boo boo's. And I know I know I know, many of you are gasping in disbelief that we have rope on the playground.. that we let them play with it and that we let them use it to tie each other up.. Well to start, we did not offer them the string and say, "here go hogtie a friend". The ropes are used for many things including making our beloved swing, but that is a whole other story, I'll get to that later.

It is our job to monitor the play and ensure that the children understand the safe ways to play with the materials that we provide.

When stopping this kind of play we are not allowing the children the chance to use their whole bodies to play, heir whole minds to moderate that play. We are not also  allowing them to practice expressing and reading expressions. We are not allowing them to be the victor or feel defeat. We are not allowing them to be true to themselves. Children need to run, jump, push, pull, roll, hide and be the victor.

Now about that rope..

Here is the same type of rope, this time used to create a swing.

The Story of The Swing

The children created the swing, they asked me to connect the wood to the rope. it has been there for months. In the beginning there were issues with turn taking, as a class we came up with the 7 swings rule.. that quickly became an issue, no one can enjoy swinging in JUST 7 swings.. We as a staff decided to trust the children to govern their own swing. We decided that like with other items they did not have to give it up if they were using it. Every child knew they had the power to use the swing as long as they wanted. At first it was hard for the waiters to wait, but once they realized that when it was their turn, they had the same rights things began to simmer down. We witness children setting their own rules, their own games, and limits. No longer was there begging children posted near the swing, they waited, they waited until the swing was free and then they took their turn. It is so amazing to see the children share, communicate, negotiate, and relish in their freedoms.. the swing is just one example of this.

Again the story is that of children who all have a common goal. They are able to come up with some understandings and agreements in order to make their play community one that they all can live in. By allowing THEM to set their guidelines and standards, they gain the ability negotiate, rally for a belief, or settle from time to time.

So before putting a stop to an idea, type of play, or the use of a material, think about what can come of it, how it will benefit the children and why they are gravitating towards it. Ask yourself, What are they getting out of that play, or material?

here's to many more days of play and being hogtied and happy!