Sunday, May 26, 2013


They say that we need introverts because in their quiet reflection, they often provide the ideas and inspirations that lead us.  We love that in Emma’s quiet way, she unknowingly, while following her own interests, changed the course of our classroom.  We could not have anticipated how things would change when she simply brought to school a few fans that she had made with Joyce in after care.

The fans sparked the “Fans and Guns” game that brought the once separate boys and girls of the Meadow Room together.

Even with this, Emma and her close friends remained out of the frenzy, quietly enjoying their own type of play with each other.

Emma took on the challenge one day of making a fan as big as she could by attaching many fans together.  Sophie said “if she keeps working on it everyday it could be a whole circle”.

The fans have also made a circle of our school as we have now connected with many of the other classrooms, all the way through middle school.

fans in second grade classroom

Thanks Emma!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Levels of Moral Development

 Why do you do the (right, good, nice) things that you do?

Here is what the meadow room children said:

Cause it’s nice

To make somebody feel good

If your teachers said you should, then you have to, like clean up

To make someone happy

It’s kind

 If someone’s crying

Share.  (teacher – why?) – cause its really nice

Because it’s nice

Because sometimes you share toys with people that you don’t need any more, to be kind

We could share so somebody else shares, if you share maybe they will share with you

Some people are poor and they don’t have toys.  You can give them toys cause they have nothing to play with.   (teacher - Why would you give them toys?)  To make them feel better

If someone is dying you should help them, cause if they die then that would be sad

If someone is nice to a mean person then it’s hard for the mean person to be mean

This is the second year that we asked this question to the children.  We became interested in Lawrence Kohlberg’s model of the levels of moral development after hearing Rafe Esquith talk at the Richmond Forum last year about using this model with his 5th graders.  Kohlberg's stages are adapted from of a psychological theory introduced by psychologist Jean Piaget. 

The theory proposes six stages of moral reasoning, each more adequate at responding to moral dilemmas than its predecessor.  Reasoning at level one does not mean that one's actions are "less moral" than someone reasoning at level six, only that moral behavior would be more responsible, consistent and predictable from people at higher levels.  In other words, two people may make the same choice with different reasons behind the decision.

So, we wondered what the meadow room children would say about what drives their decisions, or at least what reasons they could think of, even if it wasn't the driving force in the moment of action.  

Here are the levels, with simplifications given by Rafe Esquith:

Why do you do what you do?

1. Obedience and punishment orientation - (to avoid punishment)

2. Self-interest orientation - (for a reward, what's in it for me?)

3. Interpersonal accord and conformity (to please someone else, the good boy/good girl attitude)

4. Authority and social-order - (because of the rules, law and order morality)

5. Social contract orientation - (to be considerate of other's feelings)

6. Universal ethical principles (because of an internalized code of conduct - I'm nice because I am, I work hard because I do)

Rafe Esquith said that with his 5th graders, he was happy to see level 5 thinking.  See how many levels you hear in the Meadow Room children's conversation.



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Two Year Olds Solving A Problem: "How Can We Get Bryce's Journal Out From Behind The Radiator?"

We had problem in the Forest Room: 

              "How can we get Bryce's journal out from behind the radiator?"

Bryce:  "We can use a rope."

George:  "Beads!" (He uses it like a fishing rod)

Bryce:  "Maybe we need longer ones!"  

George:  "Maybe a hand can do it."

Bryce:  "Maybe my hand.  (It doesn't work)  "A bear! (He tries.) We're never going to   
           get it!"

Vivian M:  "Maybe something long."

George:  "I'm going to get something long!" (He goes to the kitchen to get some 

Penelope: " Look, my journal is behind there too!"  "I found something long!" (She tries longer beads and then uses her hand to pull it out of outside edge behind the radiator.)

All:  "Yeah! We did it!"

All still thinking of long strands of beads... for Bryce's journal.

Bryce:  "I found something very, very, very long!" (Longer strand of beads.)

Zoey:  "I know how we can get it.  Team work! Yes we can!"

Afternoon Circle Discussion: April 24, 2013

After reading ideas tried earlier that morning new ideas emerged.

Bryce:  "We need longer beads!"

Samuel, holding his hands far apart: "Like that long? Use my journal!
                                                     Something that can pinch a journal."

Madison:  "Like scissors and beads! We could tie beads on the holes."

Vivian S:  "At my home I can get something very, very long...a sword!"

Zoey:  "My dinosaur can help."

Madison works with beads and scissors:  "I can tie a double knot!"

Vivian S:  "A double knot is like a circle."

Morning Circle Discussion: April 28, 2013

"We are still trying to figure out how we are going to get Bryce's journal out from behind the radiator?"

Bryce:  "We could get some rope with scissors.  We could tie it to the holes."

Penelope: "I have a long toy at home."

Madison: "Try a long toy up to the ceiling, up the long stairs and use a flash
             light to light it up."

A Small Group explores suggestions:

They tried the rope tied to dropped behind the radiator too.

Bryce suggested to use a hand to get Penelope's journal (which somehow was found behind the end of the radiator again). Using a hand worked!

But what about Bryce's journal? 

I asked: "Vivian S., Would you like to write a note home to remember to
              bring your very, very long sword?"  

Vivian:  Shook her head no.

Fran and I invited Anna to help us think about our problem.  She joined us for circle and began by asking what we were trying to figure out.

Bryce:  "My fournal is behind the radiator."

Samuel:  "I want to get it out before it gets hot."

Penelope:  "My journal is out." 

Anna:  "Vivian S. has a sword idea."

Vivian:  "You could use it as a fishing rod."

Scarlett:  "We could tie a magnifying glass to a rope."

Zoey:  "My dinosaur umbrella might help."

Anna:  "Zoey's umbrella is long.  Hey, we could go to the studio.  Come on 
          everybody so we can go to the studio to make some long inventions.

    "It got bent."

"It's not long enough."

                                                                       "It's too big."

Making it longer

"I made it longer, see?"

                                           "I know!  We could move the radiator!"

                                                       "I can see what's back there."

Trying out Scarlett's invention.

"I see beads!"

                                                                "Our hands work!"

"There's my journal."

"I'm cutting the hair off."

All of the things pulled out from behind the radiator.

The floor was very dirty where the cover had been.
George: "A sponge can clean the floor!  It's in the sensory table."

Bryce's problem quickly  consumed the collaborative efforts of the Forest Room children.  The process of figuring out how to retrieve the journal took place over many days.  The children thought of ideas and accepted trying all of them! Fran, Anna and I never knew quite how they would get Bryce's journal out. The persistance of trying each idea more than once and listening to each other is evidence that very young children are capable of developing strong relationships through collaboration which sustains their learning. Together they are the genius of discovery and mutual respect.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Forest Room: Expanding Perceptions

This year's Umbrella Project centered around relationships.  We've brainstormed ways we might see relationships emerge in the classroom: relationships between children and their peers, children and teachers, children and nature, and children and materials.

I didn't think about those between parents and other parents' children.

Yet that is exactly the relationship that came to the fore at our last Parent Dialogue.

We invited parents to choose a wood sculpture made by a child not their own, and reinvent that work on a piece of black paper, using colored tape.

It's more challenging than it sounds!

The parents created beautiful works that spoke volumes about what they had seen in the three-year olds' pieces. They approached the task with compassion and reflection.

And then they took it a step further.

One parent chose to write a note to the child whose work he had studied.

When he read it aloud to the rest of us, we couldn't help but applaud, and then, not to be outdone, we all wrote notes to the artists who had inspired us.

 We left them up for the children to see the next day.

Each day we will be sharing one collaboration: a child's wood sculpture, the parent creation, and parent note at our circle.  The delight on the children's faces is palpable when they hear their personal note read to them.


"I believe that each of us must come to care about everyone else's children.


 We must come to see that the well-being of our own individual children is intimately linked to the well-being of all other people's children. 

     After all when one of our children needs life saving surgery, someone else's child will perform it;

 when one of our children is threatened or harmed by violence in the streets, someone else's child will inflict it

The good life for our own children can only be secured if it is also secured for all other people's children.

But to worry about all other people's children is not just a practical or strategic matter;

 it is an moral and ethical one; 

to strive for the well-being of all other people's children is also right."   
-Lilian Katz, Intellectual Emergencies: Some Reflections on Mothering and Teaching

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Teachers Collaborate String III

Part of our work as teachers is to help each other think about investigations,  raising more questions to decide where we could support the children's thinking or direct them to another question for exploration.  We brought our experiences to a staff meeting to share the children's work through pictures and videos. 

The teachers asked: Did the children feel powerful when they used the string to come into relationship with each other?  Is there power in asking others to do something exciting?  Does it feel powerful to invite children into play?

Did the string give them a source to test physical properties such as figuring out the amount of pull or force it takes to move something?

What would happen if we turned the tables upside down. Would that be another way to explore the question of force? 

Would the children find more ways to build their relationships with each other if they were given a ball of string and invited to explore the building?  Where would their unwound string take them?  Who would they meet along the way?  Would it take them to the other classrooms in our preschool, the kindergarten, outside or to other buildings on our campus?

Anna and I decided to begin with the suggestion to turn the tables upside down.  Large balls of yarn displayed in a clay bowl seemed irrisistable. 

Madison gave Zack one end of his string. Zack smiled and said he would like to tie Madison's string to his own. I was excited to see this friendship deepen as they continued to enjoy the endless possibilities string offers. 


Another day Zack began unrolling a ball of yarn and proceeded to encircle the studio many times making a "web to wrap us all up in" and then continued out the studio door to our classroom.  Everyone got tangled up along the way.  Friends helped each other and giggled at the challenges they faced.  Could it be that the children were exploring the power string provided them with, using it to connect objects, friends and places together?  Did the string unraveling from the studio to our classroom represent our growing relationship with Anna in the studio?

Following the children's fascination with string has been exciting.  They have become familiar with so many possibilities of what string can do.  Interactions with string have continued to bring them into  
relationship with each other .  I learned about how a material can become a language by knowing the many ways it can be used and as a result can become a vehicle for communicating with friends. In this experience, collaboration of our children and teachers evolved into a community of learners as we explored the many affordances of string together.


Two and Tree Year Olds String II

Anna and I reflected on our observations of the children with string and wondered if the practice of wrapping string around things might be their trying to understand the properties of a circle and circumference.

 Another visit to the studio found Anna with a large circle on the circle table table.  She played a game by initially drawing close to the edge of the circle, going half way and then passing the marker to a child across from her.   

One of the children found a bowl in the middle of the room with some fabric pieces that were tied into a "rope" but this kind of rope did not seem pleasing to him.   Anna asked why he didn't like it and he said he just didn't and asked her for some string to draw with.  He pointed to the red plastic string and then announced  it wouldn't work.  Was he saying he really wanted to play with string instead of markers? Was he not wanting the string anymore because it couldn't draw?

 Anna invited him to go to a smaller circle paper on a very large spool of rope to glue string on the circle. Could this be a way to "Write" with string?

Anna and I decided to take this query to the other teachers to ask them for their ideas to extend the work of the children.  You will see our collaborative work in the blog entitled Teachers Collaborate String III.

Two and Three Olds Experiences With String

I wondered if Madison was trying to understand circularity when he explored the pumpkin.  He was persistent in trying to cut long enough lengths of tape to join all the way around it. He repeated this process several times and seemed to continue his thinking whenever he found string or rope.  Children were drawn to him and actually invited by him to participate in his quest.  

His fascination with long "string" seemed to be a shared interest among
the Forest Room children as they discovered a root in the garden.  They explored its various properties as each child held onto the root (which they called string as they kept pulling, trying to free it from the ground.) 
Another day he found a black rope in the garden and invited a friend to join him in exploring his find.  "Come on!  Let's tie up that tree!"  They ran to a very large tree. Scarlett helped him wrap the rope around the tree and they attempted to tie it.  They chanted, "Tie up that tree!  Tie up that tree!  Tie up that tree!"  They began pulling on the rope together as hard as they could.  Were they trying to pull the tree behind them?


Other children joined them. They created a form resembling an amoeba of bodies running from tree to tree.  They lassoed each seemingly with the intent of pulling the tree as hard as they could behind them. "Tie up that tree!", they shouted. 

Each effort appealed to more children as they surrounded a tree pulling the rope into points of a square which morphed into a rectangle.  I pointed out the shapes they formed with the rope. Did they notice them? Were they interested in tying or pulling the trees?

   I decided to explore my questions with Anna (our Alterialista). 

We discussed the children's explorations in the garden and we decided to have the children visit the studio and see what would happen if there were many different kinds of string.   The first visit, Anna  provided them with a variety of spools of different kinds of rope and string.  Balls of string were available to them among the other materials in the studio. 

 This child who took leadership by inviting so many children in the garden into his play,  pulled a wooden figure and an empty plastic bottle across a table with string.  I noticed that the plastic bottle was easier to pull and fell over. This seemed to be frustrating to him and his attention shifted, searching the studio for something else to explore. 

He saw the bowl of string and chose one, wrapping the string around a door knob. He pulled on it and then turned his body pulling as he had the trees in the garden. Was he trying to figure out the amount of force needed to move different objects?  Was he making connections between the ease or difficulty of puling  a tree to moving a plastic bottle across the table? 

His attention shifted to wrapping the legs of tables in the room. He connected each leg  as he circled the room with his ball of yarn.  Other children joined him as they found their own yarn.  His experimentation continued to whirl them into contagion, connecting the legs of each table. What was he trying to figure out?

Anna and I asked Cat our math specialist, to join us in our thinking.  She was immediately struck by the children's fascination with wrapping the rope to pull on trees, door knobs and  table legs. She told us that she thinks of  "mass as resistance to acceleration" which is a  description of how humans really interact with objects.  Pushing and pulling on a tree feels different from pushing and pulling on a small sculpture.  One takes a lot of effort and gets you nowhere and makes you tired.  The other takes little effort, and the item might actually move.  To be fancy, the acceleration of an object is inversely proportional to its mass.  (Newton's F = ma can be rewritten as a = F/m.)  Assuming the force stays the same, as the mass increases, acceleration decreases." 

Anna and I continued to put our heads together to come up with new provocations.  We decided to explore the idea of circularity based on their interest with tying around something.  You will read about our learning in the next blog. Two and Three Year Olds String II.