Thursday, February 21, 2013

Forest Room: The Gift of Compassion

One child in the Forest Room this year has insulin dependent diabetes, so we teachers carry a device called a "Dex" in our pockets which helps monitor his blood sugar. It vibrates and alarms when the child's blood sugar might be too high or too low.

Last week, just as we came in from the garden and sat down for circle, the Dex vibrated and alarmed. I pulled it out of my pocket and saw that it was alerting us to a potential low blood sugar count, and knew it needed immediate attention. My co-teacher was changing a diaper, so the theme for our circle became checking blood sugar. I showed the children the Dex and explained briefly what it did. Then I talked about each step as I pricked the child's finger and put a drop of blood on the test strip. The blood test verified the low and this meant the child needed a juice box to raise blood sugar back to safe levels. I went to get him one and saw the longing on every child's face as I brought it back to circle.

Helping with a zipper
I talked about how the juice would help this child feel better, that without it he would become sick, that I was sorry they could not have one. Not a single child in the circle protested, even though it was minutes away from lunch time and they were all hungry. That's a lot of willpower!

Because I had forgotten to push a button on the Dex to let it know I was aware of the possible low blood sugar count, it alarmed again, and one child pointed to it (I had yet to put it back in my pocket), saying, "Again!" "Again!" I saw what she was doing and thanked her for alerting me.

Later as I thought about this interaction I felt deeply touched about the children's handling of this situation. How lovely to be so deeply connected, to be in such a community!

As I grow older, I become more and more convinced that compassion is perhaps the most vital skill we can cultivate in young children. Having the ability to empathize with others, to understand their needs and feelings, is a great gift. These young children, aged two and three, already sense the ways we need to support one another. Whether it is sharing a toy, getting someone a tissue, or helping a child with his coat or shoes, children want to be in connection with one another. Children who are able to show kindness to others are also able to show kindness to themselves as well as to the world around them. This way of thinking is at the heart of what we wish for--and what we work for--with the children: that they exhibit tolerance, tenderness and consideration for every being in their lives; that compassion becomes synonymous with who they are.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Forest Room: Mapping the World

Many children have a good understanding of their spatial relationship to the world, even at the young age of two and a half. Often an interest in mapping crops up at some point during the year, and because we know this is an important skill, we are eager to nurture the children's interest.  This year some children found the plaid blankets covering the dolls and used them as rudimentary maps.

Looking at the communal map

After allowing the children to explore the maps they created themselves, we invited them to draw their houses on a large communal piece of paper. Without suggestion, some children began to add streets, their school, trains, and cars.  We hung their work up and noticed that they studied the map during the course of the day.

Drawing her family in her house

We then offered the children individual pieces of paper and asked them if they would like to draw their houses. Some children were eager to do this, adding important destinations such as Smoothie King, caves and the forest, as well as family members.
Child's map to Smoothie King, Alligator Crump, and the Garden
According to Professor David Uttal of Northwestern, spatial reasoning (being able to visualize things and then transform them into something else) is "critical to many areas of learning."  Being able to see the relationship between a symbol and what it stands for is one step toward spatial reasoning. Understanding that maps can show us the connection between important points helps children develop relational thinking.
Map from child's house to the fire station
A map showing the way from the child's house to some caves

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Forest Room: When Children Hit

Each year we find that parents wonder how we handle the problem of children hitting each other. It is not surprising that we occasionally see children hitting each other at school. This is normal behavior for young children since their first impulse is to use their hands: it takes children longer to come up with the words they need so sometimes they resort to physically expressing their emotions.

signing "stop"
Our policy is multi-layered. We always stop both parties, often with an arm around each child, and help them talk through what has happened. We give them the words they can use to talk to each other; we remind them that we cannot allow them to hurt each other. If we are unsure what one child wanted from the other one, we will try to make educated guesses to help them put their thoughts into words. (For example, "Are you trying to tell _____ that you want to play with him/her?") We also teach the children the sign for "stop" and remind them they can use that sign to stop other children from doing something they find unacceptable. The combination of the spoken word "stop" and the signed word feels very powerful to children.

As you know, in the heat of the moment impulse control and the ability to imagine what others might be thinking or feeling (called "theory of mind") can go out the window. Then it is our job to step in and help the children slow down their thought processes and express themselves verbally. If one child is crying, we invite the child who hit to check in and to see if there is anything the crying child needs. Often compassion is exhibited very quickly when one child gently wipes the tears of the other one.

Learning to be in community with each other is a lifelong practice session! Each day the children become more adept at working out problems in positive ways, and their identity as "the Forest Room" becomes stronger. It is a charming group we have and we genuinely believe they all care for each other.