Quiet and Loud

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Who needs books when you have pillows
Who needs books when you have pillows

I was renovating my book area in my classroom. It’s small, no room for a chair. But that was OK. I wanted to make it cozy. I put a cushion along the wall with matching pillows. I pictured children sitting together or with an adult, leaning on the pillows or each other and looking at books in a quiet and peaceful setting. I knew this was a great way for children to bond with each other or with a teacher.
Within a few minutes, Nate picked up a pillow and threw it at Calvin. Soon they were both tossing pillows back and forth. Time to put away my intentions and observe the intentions of the children. I could become disappointed that I failed, or I could open my eyes and see that they are bonding. It might not be a book. It might not be quiet. But with each bop of a pillow, they are creating bonds that are the building blocks of friendship.
This was the only way I saw Nate express friendship. Nate and I had a good relationship, but he was not what I would call cuddly.
One day, Molly was wearing a red cape with a hood. Nate told her he was the Big Bad Wolf. She started to run and he chased her. My first instinct was to tell him that they can’t run in the classroom. It’s not really a rule. We use guidelines not rules and the guideline is “WE TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER.” So I watched closer to see if they were taking care of each other.
The two were in control enough that they didn’t bump into chairs or tables. Then I noticed something even more impressive. If someone walked in the path they were using, Nate would change paths about ten feet before he reached that person (By this time Nate had run so far ahead in their circular path that Molly was now chasing him). He did it three different times so I know it wasn’t just a fluke.
They continued this game for about ten minutes and then Nate stopped at the book shelf. He grabbed Little Red Riding Hood (the book, not Molly) and breathlessly asked me to read to him. I leaned against the cushions in the book area and Nate rested his head on my arm while I read. We read three more books.
Nate and I did bond while sitting quietly, but he needed to play boisterously first. He didn’t have to choose between a quiet activity or a loud one. He needed both.

Catching Up with Duke

flying
flying
hanging upside down
hanging upside down

000041251I am currently working on a book called Teaching with the Body In Mind. It is a book aimed at teachers and caregivers of young children. The book addresses the need for more rough-and-tumble play and Big Body Play for young children. My blog will be focusing on some of the same topic for the next few months.
I want to start with a story from early in my teaching career (about 23 years ago). It’s about a man named Duke. I haven’t thought about Duke in a while, but I was speaking at the MN Fatherhood and Family Services Summit and the story came to me.
Duke was one of the Dad’s at the childcare center I worked at in the early 90s. Duke was unemployed at the time when our cook left. Our director offered him the job. Duke gladly accepted and we were soon enjoying the lunches he cooked as well as his visits to the classrooms. The kids loved having him visit, and Duke clearly loved being there.
After a few weeks, the director asked if he wanted to substitute for one of the aides in the afternoon. Soon he was subbing a few times a week in one of the classrooms. Our classrooms were fairly typical of the time. There was a block area with plenty of blocks, a dress up area with lots of costumes, several choices of toys and lots of art supplies. But when Duke was in the classroom, most kids forgot about all our precious materials. They wanted to play with Duke.
Duke offered the children something me and the other teachers did not. Duke loved to roughhouse. If he was in the room, he usually had one kid in his arms (often upside down) with two or three kids grabbing his legs, everyone shrieking in delight.
I hate to admit it, but we other teachers often asked Duke to tone it down. At best we tolerated Duke’s roughhousing, but we certainly didn’t try to emulate or even learn from him. Looking back, I can see that Duke was giving children something they desperately need.
Research now shows what Duke instinctively knew. Rough-and-tumble play is good for children and it is a great way for an adult to connect with children. It only took me 20 years to catch up with Duke.

The Whole Child, The Whole Day

We were moving. I was an enlightened teacher. I knew children need to move as part of their healthy development. It was morning group time and I was having the children move to music, creating a story that matched the mood of the music. We were lions waking up and then running and leaping. All of the children were moving and contributing ideas. Well, almost everyone.

Greg had ducked behind a shelf. I tried to get him involved, but he said he was tired. I gently tried a few more times, but didn’t want to pressure him. Maybe next time I can get him moving, I thought.

Soon I had the lions wash their paws for snack. Greg waited until the others were done and washed his own hands. As we finished snack and got ready for freeplay, Greg told me he was going to “attack the bad guys.”

Suddenly, this quiet child put on a mask and pretended to shoot at all the bad guys. He leaped to his right, ducked behind the couch, rolled on the ground and stuck his wand out again. Soon a few other boys joined him.

Greg added a police hat and a tool belt, and he was ready for round two. Sometimes they attacked the bad guys. Sometimes they jumped and rolled on each other. It was as if something inside Greg had woken up. Something I was unable to do with my planned activities. I thought I was an enlightened teacher, but I realized I knew nothing.

I am exaggerating, of course, but the thing about teaching is that just when you think you know what you are doing, you realize there is more to learn. I knew children need to move, but I didn’t always reOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ready for the bad guys
Ready for the bad guys

cognize it. The truth is, a few years ago, I would have told Greg and the other boys to calm down when they started roughhousing. The very thing that got them moving, for Greg the only thing.

Planning movement activities is not enough. Getting children outside for long periods of time is not enough. Having a mat set aside for boisterous rough-and-tumble play is not enough. Children need a sense of power, a chance to take risks, and a choice in how they move their bodies throughout the day.

Greg, and many others like him do need to move their bodies, but they might not do it when the teacher plans it. We can’t address a child’s physical development for fifteen minutes and then move on to the child’s literacy skills the next fifteen minutes. We need to be aware of the whole child the whole day.

Real Confidence

climbing a rock
climbing a rock
up a tree
up a tree

Kids like to take risks, some more than others. The adults can make sure the risk is acceptable, but we can’t eliminate all risk nor should we try. Children gain a lot from risk including confidence.

Too often we try to boost children’s confidence by heaping praise on them. But saying “Good job!” a hundred times is fairly meaningless compared to letting a child climb a tree or run up a slide. The challenge followed by the accomplishment (maybe after several tries) is much more fulfilling.

It is true that children may get a few more bumps and bruises, but they will make up for that in pride. But that’s not all–

A few years ago I had taken my preschool class to a picnic at an assisted living facility that we visit every other week. I was on one end of the outdoor area playing parachute games with several children. On the other side, some of the children were going up and down a rocky slope (maybe 4′ high) that led to a dry overflow ditch. One of the workers from the facility asked if that was OK. My teacher-brain immediately thought I shouldn’t let them, but I thought about what I have been learning about the need for risk, so I said, “Maybe I should go over and see.”

I walked over and watched the kids go up and down on the rocks. As their confidence built, some of the kids quickened their pace. I did mention that some rocks might be loose, but I doubt anyone heard me. They continued going up and down for about five minutes before sitting down for food.

I know that if this happened five years earlier, I would have stopped it, and maybe had them go down on the grassy part of the slope. But they chose the rocks because it was a challenge and more risky and therefore more fun. They ran for about five minutes, smiling the whole time. Not only did it boost their confidence in themselves, it boosted my confidence in them as well.

Ways In Being Kind

My preschool class graduated today. They will start kindergarten in two days. This year for graduation, I wanted to make sure that I recognized each child for a time they were kind to someone. This stemmed from my last post where I talked about children thinking their parents cared more about their academic and athletic accomplishments than about their children being kind.

I wanted each one to be specific so I asked the class about times they were kind. Most children came up with something, but even better, they also came up with examples from other kids. I also liked hearing what things they found important. At the graduation ceremony, I read the child’s name and their act of kindness. Here is a sampling:

Danielle found Tracy’s ring and gave it to her, twice.

Tanya said sorry to her friend Lucinda when she bumped her tooth and asked if there was anything she could do to help.

Lawrence said, “Hi Chloe,” in a gentle voice.

Vanessa sang a song to a baby that was crying.

Lou talks to his baby brother and sometimes gives him toys.

Ned shared his balls with Lou because he had eight of them.

Nigel played one of Ken’s games that he made up.

Nikki shared stickers with the whole class.

Eduardo told Thalia, “It was really nice spending time with you,” when Thalia visited the classroom the first time.

Gordon and his family helped with the elementary school’s new garden.

Percy let Eduardo borrow his transformer, Bumblebee.

Sadie asked, “Do you want a hug?” when Tracy got hurt.

 clean up crew 008

We Don’t Have to Wait

0 Superhero huddle

We often think of preschool as getting children ready: ready to read, ready to do math, ready for school. We hope to set them on a path to be good citizens who care for others.
But I have been thinking about this past year and all the ways my preschool students have cared for others. They help each other when one classmate is sad or upset. They like to help the toddlers whenever they can. They also help others in the community. When a neighbor was having trouble with city inspectors over her garden, the children told her how important the garden was to them. They gave her drawings and showed her photos of the garden. She told them the pictures made her garden look magical and the children told her it was magical.
Last month, on our bi-weekly visit to an assisted living facility there were just a few Grand Friends. We greeted them and learned a few new names. Then we headed downstairs to see their gardens. We looked at the gardens for a while, and ran around the circle path. Then someone spotted one of the regular Grand Friends and shouted, “She’s here.” The Grand Friend wheeled over and told them she got to the activities room late, but she didn’t want to miss them. Most of the kids came over and greeted her before running around the path again.
On our way out, every child said, “Goodbye.” She smiled as they left. A few weeks later, she passed away. It was our final goodbye. The way she had come out to see the kids and the way she smiled, I realized how much the children meant to her and the way they rushed over to her, how much she meant to them. We don’t have to wait to be good citizens who care for others. They already are.
A new study came out that showed that children perceive that their parents care more about grades and athletic accomplishments than they do about their children being kind to others (which actions do you think most parents celebrate the most?). As preschool children grow, there will be many accomplishments to be proud of, some of them academic, some of them athletic, but the children will never learn or experience anything more important than bringing others joy and helping others.

Now or Never

Adults often find children’s concept of time amusing. A child will use the word “yesterday” to mean anything that happened in the past. It isn’t that children don’t have a concept of time, it is simply that their conception is not fine tuned. “Yesterday” does refer to the past. Young children simply generalize the meaning of “yesterday” to mean everything in the past. They will eventually differentiate the past into more segments of time (last week, before you were born, last Spring, etc.).

The other way children use “time words” is to refer to how strong an emotion is. When a child is angry and says, “You’re never going to be my friend,” they aren’t referring to how long their anger will last. They are talking about the extent of their anger. An adult can tell them that they will be friends with the other child in a few minutes, but that doesn’t mean anything to the child. They are experiencing their present state without regard to the near future.

Young children look at the world like a slide show rather than a movie, one thing at a time (a metaphor introduced by Diane Levin). They can understand a sequence of events, but they don’t necessarily look at one event leading to another.

This slide show approach to life can be hard for an adult watching a child who is sad or angry. It can also be wonderful when the child is happy. This sense of the here-and-now is why a child can forget about the walk to the park when she finds a butterfly. Suddenly, the whole world is just a butterfly and the breeze bending a flower as it sips the nectar. The world becomes magical shifting from one experience to another.

When a child is upset, adults often have the best intentions when they tell them they won’t be experiencing this moment soon. What is more effective is to acknowledge the emotion. “I’m sorry you are sad. You don’t like to get your shirt wet. I will help you.”

No matter the exact words, the adult is saying, “I am here with you now.” And really, that is all that matters.