Friday, December 13, 2013


Last week we introduced tempera paint in the mini studio.  We started with a large piece of paper on the wall and a limited palette of color -  black, white, blue and green.  After a day or two we replaced the blue and green with red and yellow, leaving the original paper on the wall.  The finished painting is hanging down the back stairway if you would like to take a look.
(a side note- Painting or drawing on a large vertical surface helps develop the larger muscles of the shoulder and upper arm.  Children strengthen these muscles first, and then the smaller muscles in the forearms and hands; all necessary for proper pencil grasp) 
A few years ago Robyn and I had the good fortune to work with Fran (Forest Room).  At circle one day she showed the children that they could make the outline of a shape with one color of paint and then fill it in with another.  We repeated that demonstration for the children this year and they have been trying it out in their painting.  It helps define their image and thereby make it more "readable".  

Ultimately we would like the children to develop some skill with a variety of materials.  Some materials will even become a "language" with which they can communicate their questions and ideas.  Throughout the preschool the teachers offer a range of experiences with a variety of materials so the children can explore many.  Not all materials will become languages for all the children, but finding the one that matches your voice can be transformative and is richly valuable throughout life.  Exploring a broad range increases their options, their skills, and their understanding of various materials. 
Magna tiles continue to be an extremely popular material for many children, and so we have decided to take them on as an intention this year - to learn as much as we can about what they can offer, their limitations, how we can support and extend their usefulness.    Are they an "intelligent" material, one that can be transformed?  Can they become a language for some of the children?  We have seen that they support their pretend play, but do they inspire and challenge?  Does their ease of use make them undesirable?   These are some of the questions that we are thinking about. 
We know that as parents you make decisions about materials and toys all the time too.  We would love to hear your questions and thoughts as we explore this and other materials. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"You do stuff better when you slow down!"

Shayna recently wrote a story about fairies:
Silvermist and Rosetta
They laughed and laughed because Rosetta tickled Silvermist.

Rosetta went home and Silvermist followed. The door was locked, so they used the key, but the door was still locked. The door stayed locked!

So Rosetta went to Silvermist's house. They went inside and played and played and played. They had so much time.

And then it was tomorrow.

Children spending time with a
special tree- part of an ongoing
classroom project

Like adults, time is on our children's minds. We are all feeling rushed, particularly at this time of year.

I asked Shayna if Silvermist and Rosetta enjoyed all the time they had that day to play. She nodded yes.

Do they feel rushed when they play?
Again, she nodded yes.
Do they ever run out things to play?
She shook her head no.

I asked the group around me at this point if they also feel rushed when they play. Generally they agreed that, yes, they feel like they don't have enough time to play.
Why is that? Do we have too many activities in the classroom? Are we scheduling them too much during or after school? Or is there more to this that didn't manifest in the conversation? Perhaps play feels unsatisfactory sometimes (which happens frequently with young children) and there's a perception that more time devoted to a particular friend or narrative will improve the potential for fulfillment; that at some point everyone will play in harmony. "More time" in this context means we're still working at this, not we don't have enough hours in the day. 

Eventually questions about adults and rushing circulated around the snack table. A full discussion about time developed involving the whole group.

Children enjoy quiet time in
the classroom with each
other's company.
Question: What do grown-ups do too quickly?
Looking at the black bunny
Getting dressed
Brushing teeth

Why should grown-ups slow down?
They might fall down and hit their head
They might hit their children
They might eat and vacuum at the same time and food will spill

Children have the time and space in the
classroom to explore and investigate at
their own pace.
What about teachers? What should we do slower?
Walk more slowly
Eat more slowly
Drink Slowly

What's the good part of slowing down?  (I really wanted some comments that were positive about slowing down, not just about getting hurt or making mistakes. This was a hard question for them to answer).
You might do something wrong if you go too fast!

These girls are using the playground
space to continue their fairy game
that originated earlier in the classroom.
What about me? What do you want me to do slower?
Writing (my arm will get too tired if I write quickly)
Eating (I think someone noticed me eating and walking at the same time)
Shushing at circle. Slow down how you shush. (This child is right! It makes a difference to quietly and slowly blow your air out with a shush. This is a new part of our circle routine!)
You do stuff better when you slow down. If you do it fast, you might do it wrong.

These comments were really enlightening. I had no idea that the children are noticing how quickly adults move around them. It's like we're all moving in a particular orbit, but the adults are spinnng around the children at a high speed while the children are moving at the "just right" speed. There's a collective understanding among these 4-year olds that moving too quickly, or rushing, can have bad outcomes. And I was reminded to slow myself down, to breathe properly and calmly at circle, and to always listen to those hidden gems in children's stories. Thanks to Shayna for bringing time to my attention!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tree Exploration

Children's theories about trees

Sometimes trees are attached to each other.
Trees grow like vegetables, very big.
When big trees come the little trees get cut down by the big trees.

Trees are plants.

How can you tell if a tree is old?
When a tree has been there a long time.
There are old leaves on the tree.
They have big branches.
Young trees have bumps on their bark.
Old trees, their bark comes off.

How do trees drink water?

It rains and the water gets sucked into the soil, then it goes up all the way.

Rain comes from clouds, it dribbles on trees. 
 The soil goes into the trees and then into some little holes, that makes trees grow.

The rain goes into the soil and trees grow big and strong and they are Daddy and Mommy.


Why do trees have bark?
Trees have sap.  Bark covers the trees.
Baby monkeys, daddy,mommy, brother and sister have boo boos on their hands.  They use the tree sap for medicine.


The children noticed this tree and wondered why it had bricks inside it.
One child said it was a secret passage.
Another said you can climb up it.

As we were walking the children noticed the leaves were different colors. When it is Fall the leaves change colors and after Fall they don't change color.

Trees grow every day and every night.

Here you see some of the first drawings by the children.  Notice that they do not draw them as they see them but they draw their relationship with them.

How do trees eat?
The food drops into the stems....they are growing....the Summer is hot...the sun comes up and the leaves fall off.

Using oil pastels they revealed 
the bark of the tree on the paper.

Colors all over, mixed together.
It looks like a rainbow tree.
We colored it.

The next day the teachers set up the paper to form a tree, for a provocation.  The children begin to play inside the structure.

The children integrate their thinking of trees into their play.  They also seem to relate the trees to family.
The teachers and children will continue this inquiry.   How will the children continue their relationship with the trees on our campus?

As the children were drawing they discussed more of their theories.
Some of the children believed that the tree was a girl, (with a princess inside) some said it was a boy.
One boy thought there should be faces on the tree.
A few girls said there was blood inside.

I look forward to seeing the direction the children will take next.  Will they represent trees in other mediums?  Will they write stories?




The Forest


We are so fortunate to have the beautiful forest right at our doorstep.  It is here, more than any other place, that the children challenge themselves physically, engage their imaginations in pretend play, extend friendships, and explore treasures from nature.  This year we noticed the children's ease and comfort, even on our first outing into the wilderness.  In most years, the first few times we go into the forest we hear many references to scary things - Are we too far away? Do we know the way back?  Are there bears in this forest, or wolves?  They also often recall people and things that bring them comfort, like parents and stuffed animals and blankets at home.  This fear that we usually hear, and can even feel, draws us closer together.  

But this year we did not hear those questions about scary things and so we wonder what is different.   Is the feeling of connection that we noticed in the classroom at the beginning of the year extending into the forest as well, and providing a sense of comfort and safety?  

For the teachers, our love of the forest started years ago at our Grace Street campus.  In that tiny wooded area adjacent to the parking lot, we noticed how differently the children played than on the playground.  The wild space provided a completely different landscape both external and internal.  It sparked so much rich and varied creativity, imagination, and enthusiasm. 

We see every year, in the natural environment, that children willingly push and test themselves.  

They take on just enough challenge, not being too risky, but definitely going to the edge of their own comfort.  We marvel at their intuition and bravery in choosing challenges that seem to suit their individual needs.

And we see them work together on big challenges, moving heavy branches to build bridges and dams.  
We see their persistence and resilience as they try again and again on their way to mastery.  Is it because nature is impartial?

"children come to know themselves through their transactions with both the physical and social worlds. Unlike people, the physical world does not change in response to a child's actions, but simply reflects his manipulations, so it offers a particularly valuable domain for developing his or her sense of competence"

Hart, Volkert and Walch, 1983

This blog was written in collaboration with Robyn, (who always makes it better).  And thanks to Anna for providing the above quote.


Sunday, October 27, 2013


 Here in the Garden Room we are observing that the children are intrigued with the idea of connecting things together.  We first started noticing this in the early days of the children's paper exploration.


Children immediately started figuring out ways to join pieces of paper together.

 As they found new ways to put things together, they saw new possibilities
Connecting animals with beads

Connecting tables together with tape       
Connecting rulers together

Connecting your house to my house

Looking more deeply at the work of the children, we see another form of connection taking place:

Our shared experiences are connecting us together.




“Tug on anything at all and you'll find it connected to everything else in the universe.” ~ John Muir

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Super Hero Doggies

One day Emmett introduced the idea for a game of "funny puppies" at the magnet table. I'm not sure exactly what the story was, but I remember all his friends really enjoying this narrative. Even when Emmett was gone one day, Cal built a "funny puppy" game where he rolled magnet balls down a block tunnel. Lately we've noticed that many of our Rainbow Room boys (and the occasional girl) have been playing “super hero doggies” in our classroom and on the playground. The funny puppies game has disappeared (evolved?) and now super hero doggies is the exciting play. Many of the same people are involved.  Here are two of their stories:

Acting out themes of good versus evil are common at this age.
Super Doggies!

Written by Samuel, Madison, and Cameron (10/16/13)

One day Green Lantern Doggie heard a noise and said, “help! Help!” Superman Doggie came to the rescue. Then Batman doggie came the way he went and now he’s in the police car. He drives the police car. He goes to the rescue. He’s going to rescue the Superman Doggie from a fire. (Another) police car came and it was Mr. Freedog with Joker Dog and Scarecrow. They tried to defeat the Super Hero Dogs, but they couldn’t. The Super Hero Dogs defeated them. Batman doggie shoots his bat blade and threw it at the bad guys and they got hurt.

 Notice the theme of rescue and safety in this story. Friends help each other out, even if it means fighting bad guys. The theme of good versus bad often surfaces in the play of preschool-aged children, particularly in the Rainbow Room. At first glance, this play usually looks disorganized and kinesthetic. By slowing the children down to compose a story together gets everyone one the same wavelength and provides many learning opportunities (which could be an entire blog post!). It also helps me to scratch the surface of this play: what may look like a lot of crawling around on the floor or chasing on the playground has much deeper meaning for these children.

By asking children to illustrate and narrate their stories,
the process is slowed down. It also helps the adults
understand the deeper meaning behind their narratives.
Next story, recorded 10/18 and 10/21- I’m going to combine them into one story.

 Written by Oliver, Cameron, Emmett, Berkley, Carter, and Zack

Cast of characters: Batman Doggie, Green Lantern Doggie, Raccoon Batman, Buzz Lightyear, Superman’s Doggie Crypto, and Rhino

Batman doggie destroyed a robber. Then he and Green Lantern Doggie shoots and goes to jail and there’s an X in part of his jail and he finds treasure. He has to dig it.

First of all, Mr. Crow (Scarecrow from previous story?) never died, so Super Doggie Batman shot a laser at him. Rhino comes, then puts Mr. Crow back together again. And then Joker Doggie comes and Superman Doggie and Rhino turn him into a nice guy. And then Superman Doggie turned all bad guys to good guys. They broke into 3 pieces, and Rhino put them back together and they were nice guys. The end.

So I wanted to ask about this bad guy to good guy transformation. How does that happen?

Oliver tells me that He throws his Batman shirt to bad guys and they turn into good guys. His laser beams have goodness in them to turn bad guys to good guys. It fills them with goodness.

When writing a story together, the narrative becomes more of
a shared and organized effort.
When I read these stories, I can’t help but think to the lecture I heard on Friday of last week. Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor and author in the field of education and child development, spoke at CMoR about the influence of media and increased screen time in our children’s lives.  She points out that children’s television programming, often a source of inspiration for preschoolers' play, can be violent (as in super hero cartoons), and fighting is the only example of conflict resolution. The play that manifests may be imitative, rote, and unoriginal. But this play is different. Or by digging deeper into this "power play" do we just understand it better? While these children have created characters based on popular figures, they have added original features. The doggie idea is their own. And so is the part about making bad guys good. They don’t just conquer bad guys, they try to make them into good characters. And they showed a unified front with this part. Everyone wanted the bad guys turned good. That piece deserves a lot more exploration. This play isn't just about exerting power, it's about interacting with scary forces and trying to make sense of them.

I have more questions about this process and will revisit this aspect with the storytellers. What are bad guys? What are good guys? What makes somebody good vs. bad? This is rich material at this age- the world is now turning a shade of gray. It’s not all black and white any more. It can feel scary. Maybe these narratives help figure some of that uncertainty out. I’m not entirely sure, but it’s a common theme at this age.
(To learn more about Nancy Carlsson-Paige, visit her website at