Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Made in Chinamimus"

We try very hard to pay attention to the interests of the children in our care. One of the children has been very interested in dinosaurs. He loves to read dinosaur books and to play with the toy dinosaurs that we have.
I am not, nor do I claim to be a dinosaur expert. Although, with all of the hype about dinos at various points in my early childhood career, I know a bit about some of them. I do know, that many companies who make the dinosaurs often label them with the name on their stomachs or undersides.
Today, one of the children ran up to me....

"What kind of dinosaur is this?"
"I don't know, let me look to see. Hmmmn... It doesn't say" and I handed the toy back to the child. His prompt response was,
"It is right here!" pointing to the letters on the dinosaur. I looked again and smiled.
"That's not the dinosaur's name. It says MADE IN CHINA."

With quick wit, and a smile..... He replied:
"It's a Made in Chinamimus"
And there you have it.... the name seems to be sticking, and the adventures of the Made in Chinamimus continue.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Weekly Lesson Plans? Shakin Bones

The research is out there.... If learning is not real and relevant to the child, it is pruned... almost immediately.  
This means that efforts to drive children's learning with predetermined themes and teacher/societal driven ideas is futile. Our brains don't keep that information... so keeping weekly lesson plans or hooking onto monthly themes and teacher driven lessons is pointless and in most cases not developmentally appropriate.
You can hear more about this from Dan Hodgins and I in the 7th episode of the Shakin' Bones podcast.

Dan and I are not saying that planning goes completely out the window. What we are saying is that planning needs to happen daily, and careful observation of the learning that is taking place and conversations with the children will yield more developmentally appropriate planning and encourage classrooms to thrive based upon the needs of the children right now.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Fresh Coat of Paint Outside- Update Music Area and Sand and Water Wall

Every spring, out outdoor space needs to be evaluated. After the winter, many of our learning spaces need a bit of maintenance. Sometimes this is in the form of sanding or repairing... and sometimes they just need a little sprucing up with a fresh coat of paint!

Some of the spaces in our outdoor classroom need regular upkeep do to the effects of the weather. The children are happy to jump in and assist with giving everything a fresh look with a coat of paint!

If you are looking for the instructions or more information about our outdoor space and the various elements there, you may be interested in these posts:
A Sand and Water Wall
Making Music in the Yard (This is one of many posts on our outdoor music area)

Our outdoor music area has evolved a bit from the beginning. The posts from our banging post station started to rot, so the post was removed and we attached some of the items to our fence instead. As nice as the post was, the fence works just as well and provides a more open space for running and jumping!  Our tire drum has had a variety of different drum heads, but the one most durable and currently in use is made of treated plywood.

Our sand and water wall hasn't changed much since our original installation. The only thing we changed was to use 2x2 supports instead of the thinner garden stakes. The original didn't rot or break, we just wanted something a little but more sturdy.

Friday, May 20, 2016

"I'm Sorry!" The Get Out of Jail Free Card - Shakin' Bones

BUT, I SAID I WAS SORRY!!" after yelling this at me, she dashed off. Moments before, she pushed a child over and I was helping that child speak with her.  Was she sorry??? Of course not. Maybe she was sorry she got caught... but she definitely wasn't sorry that she knocked over the other child. She was too busy and too egocentric (which is clearly understandable and developmentally appropriate at 2 1/2 years old). She did learn quickly though... that if you say you're sorry then it is okay.... but really it is not okay.  But, for her saying sorry was like a "get out of jail free card."
I have heard a lot of different people talk about the importance of teaching young children empathy. Although I highly agree that empathy is important and is something we strive to assist in developing. I find it highly discouraging that the idea is out there that empathy can be taught. In my experience and observation, empathy is a characteristic that is developed over time and comes about after having experienced and witnessed empathy from others.
Simply defined, empathy is the ability to understand and feel the emotions/perspective of another. What we know from research and child development is that young children are egocentric. Simply defined this means thinking of oneself without regard of others.  Piaget noted that children generally are not able to see or understand the perspective of another until between the ages of 7-12. (Although there are many adults who sometimes seem to still have problems with this). So, is it really developmentally appropriate to expect young children to say that they are sorry or to expect them to understand the perspective of another?
So..... what do we do when a child is knocked over then?
First, I wait and observe. Sometimes I do nothing, because I trust that children are capable, and that they can solve their own problems. If it is clear that they need my help, I move in closer. I talk with the child who was pushed.  If they are hurt or have hurt feelings, I may say "I'm sorry you are hurt. How can I help?" Often my presence is enough.  Sometimes it is a hug, and most often the child wants me to help them talk to the other child. Typically the conversation goes like this...
Child who was pushed: "I don't like it when you push me. That hurt!"
Sometimes that is all. Sometimes if the other child continues to push, I need to remind them... "I heard her say she doesn't want to be pushed. Maybe you can ask and see if someone else wants to be pushed." Most of time, around here it is pretty easy to find a pushing partner, but if no one else wants to be pushed and this child has a clear need/desire to push, it is my job to help provide things that can be pushed.
Dan Hodgins and I talk more about this in the 6th episode of the Shakin' Bones podcast. (If you click on more episodes and choose episode #6 you can listen to our discussion).

Sunday, May 1, 2016

And... So We Evolve.....

I have been on the road a lot lately. Most often, I am either flying or the passenger in the van. (Mr Allan prefers to drive rather than be a passenger). When we travel for work, I am usually presenting and we have an opportunity to meet with and learn from other early childhood professionals. I know a lot of people have moved toward online versions of training and some people only attend conferences close to home, but I have found the greatest value to my professional development in traveling outside of my local area.

Coming from a smaller area, local trainings tend to consist of the same people. Even if a different trainer is brought in, the audience tends to be similar. As a trainer, I know that even though the trainer coming in can be an important piece of the puzzle, the opportunity to meet and network with other early childhood professionals far outweighs anything I have to "teach." (I honestly prefer to consider myself a facilitator rather than a teacher, but that is a whole different topic!) Having time to really connect with others in the field, to share ideas, and ask each other questions is invaluable.

Attending an amazing training and connecting with others gives me a chance to question my practices. Yes, I said question my practices. I believe that when you stop questioning your practices, if you truly think you are doing it all and you are no longer wondering if you are doing what is best for children, you need to get out of the field! This journey with children is not static, the world continues to change, and when we stop questioning, when we stop learning and working to do things just a little bit better, our programs suffer, and our children are far too valuable to let that happen.

Spending time with other professionals not only allows me to question my practice, but finding similar people and programs is also validating. It helps "give you permission" (for lack of a better phrase) to keep doing what you know is best for young children even with the outside pressures to push practices that are not developmentally appropriate.
I love gaining different perspectives and really having an opportunity to learn and grow. I love knowing that I have found my tribe and that I will continue to learn, to grow, and to change. I love to watch the change happen all around me, and I know that all of these connections and small changes at up, and this is truly how we all evolve....

Friday, April 29, 2016

Everyone Wants to Be a Superhero- Shakin Bones

  Swinging on your belly! Flying like superman!
Everyone wants to be a superhero! Here, at Child Central Station we embrace super hero play, and we define it broadly:
Any powerful play where children pretend to be someone or something else.
Heroes are everywhere, not just on the big screen or from television shows. Moms and dads are prime examples of powerful heroes and many of the children engage in playing house and taking care of the babies. Additionally, children often dress up and pretend to be doctors or fire fighters. These heroes are prevalent in our program as well, as children are often doing their best to "save the day!"

Some of the powerful make believe play also revolves around "bad guys" and "super villians" and most often "monsters" and "witches." Children work through their world via play, so it only makes sense that they also bring the "bad guys" into the picture. It gives them an opportunity to work out social situations and deal with the dichotomy of good and evil.

Dan Hodgins and I, discuss super hero play in episode 5 of the Shakin' Bones Podcast. If you have not listened to it yet and would like to, Here it is! (Click on Episodes and choose episode #5 Superheroes. Please note this episode has some interference, but the sound quality does get better with later episodes!)

 I had such a difficult time chosing which photos to share with you in this post. Super hero play happens on a daily basis! Here are a few shots highlighting a couple of our favorite kinds of props!
Hooded bath towels make fantastic capes. I know some people worry about chocking with capes, especially with younger children and these hooded towels eliminate that fear/risk. They come in all kinds of varieties. Sometimes the children use them as the character they are intended to be, and sometimes they are just capes!

Pool noodles are awesome! In addition to being great swords, they also make great "ropes" as seen in this photo. HOLD ON TIGHT! I'll save you!

These capes pictured above were found at our Dollar Tree. They are awesome. Super simple, attach with velcro and we have an abundance of them so that that everyone can be a superhero!
How do you promote super hero play in your program? I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, April 25, 2016

"Loppers!" - Using Real Tools

We have been on a journey to provide more real experiences for children. More opportunities to do real work.  More access and use of real tools.  Lately, one of the tools of choice have been loppers!

The children have spent hours chopping up the various Christmas trees we "planted" in the play area this winter. The trees have been used as loose parts and made a small forest for the children to play in. Now that the snow has melted and the trees have begun to brown, some of the children have decided that it is time to chop them up.

I love to watch their facial expressions while they work.  The looks of determination as they struggle to push the handles together and the triumph of a successful chop.

For some children, a turn with the loppers takes a very long time and for others, the activity is short lived. We don't force "sharing" here, so a child can take as long as a turn as they would like before allowing the next child who waits to have a turn. This time around, I heard a lot of children saying... "Wow, they are taking a really long turn. I am going to to take a really long turn too." They would come close enough to see what was going on and wait to see if it was almost their turn to try them out and run off to find something else to do while they waited.
Do the children in your program use loppers? If you're interested in purchasing some, these are the ones we have (affiliate link):

I'd love to hear more about your children's experiences with real tools! Leave me a comment or find me on Facebook!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Can Your Child Wipe Their Own Butt? Kindergarten Readiness: Shakin' Bones

Why are we spending so much time focusing on Kindergarten Readiness? Why are we rushing childhood and trying to get children ready for the "next" instead of being present and accepting children where they are? Why are we not trusting play when the research clearly states young children learn and thrive through play?
I guess I can understand to a point, parents want the best for their children and they want them to be successful. However, I am really concerned in regard to the focus on "readiness" and the push down of academics that keeps happening for young children. The research keeps reiterating that children learn through play, and that earlier pushes for academics have long term negative consequences, yet we continue to have unrealistic academic expectations for young children. (There is an article in Psychology Today that discusses the harmful effects of early academics you can access by clicking here). The system is broken, but you have a choice.
"Show and Tell" in my kindergarten class.
Michael Leeman from the Roseville Community Preschool talks about re-framing our question. Rather than asking "Is my child ready for kindergarten?" we could ask "Is my child done with this preschool?" In many countries children are not placed into a formal education setting until they are seven years of age. Did you know that kindergarten is not mandatory in many states? This means that you have a choice, if you don't feel like a setting is appropriate for your child you do not have to settle. There are many options including opting to wait a year before enrolling your child. There are additional options with private schools, charter schools,  homeschool or to enroll in public school at home. (Regulations and options vary from state to state).
I think the most important things I can do to help children is to truly trust them, and to truly embrace and know that play is what the young children in my program need to thrive. Through play all is possible. Children are developing a strong sense of self, they are working out problems and developing their social skills. They are developing a love of learning and gaining personal power. It is not so much "what" they are learning, but most importantly they are investigating how to learn.  By facilitating an environment where children can play, I am not only helping them to be "ready" for school, but ultimately giving them an opportunity to thrive throughout life.
Dan Hodgins and I discussed this very topic in the fourth episode of The Shakin' Bones podcast. If you have not listened to it yet and would like to, Here it is! (Click on Episodes and choose episode #4 Kindergarten Readiness. Please note this episode has some interference, but the sound quality does get better with later episodes!)

The bottom line (pun intended) is that the most important skills you can work on with your child prior to kindergarten are life skills. Things like self-care and developing a strong sense of self are important for starting school and basic human survival! These skills are not only helpful for your child, but also make the job of a kindergarten teacher with a larger number of students much easier!
Do you have any thoughts on Kindergarten Readiness??? I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"A House of Sticks"

The snow appears to have vacated the yard. (At least for the time being!) The children were quite excited to find the pile of Sticks that was covered by the snow and have been spending time making a house of sticks! 

The story of the 3 little pigs has been popular for quite some time. It has been a daily request, often multiple times a day, so upon discovering our giant pile of sticks it made perfect sense that the children "piggies" decided to build their house of sticks.

The children found it easy to push some of the sticks into the dirt. At other times they dug holes and then buried the bottom of the sticks.

It has been an ongoing project for a couple of days. I am not sure what the next step will be, or if the house is now complete. We will have to wait and see!

Oh, and I almost forgot!! All of that digging in the dirt lead to some worm discoveries too!!!

Friday, April 15, 2016

"Ma'am Your Monkey's Dead!" Shakin' Bones: Death

"Five little monkeys jumping on the bed. One fell off and bumped his head. Momma called the doctor, and the doctor said.... Ma'am your monkey's dead!"
The children were singing five little monkeys a few weeks back and one of them decided to create their own version. The new lyrics were finished with some giggles, and sparked a matter of fact conversation.  Many of the children in our program have experienced a death in their family (grandparent or great grandparent) or a death of a pet in the last year.  Death is one of those topics that can be hard to talk about, but like all things, children tend to work through those tough topics with play! During this particular conversation, the children stopped playing and had a serious talk. One child said... "Well, maybe the monkey broke his hip like my Nana." Another child chimed in with "maybe the monkey was just really, really sick." Children are very observant, they know more than we often give them credit for. Death is a part of life, and is a topic that can be difficult to talk about, but the more natural we approach the topic, the more children understand.
Dan Hodgins and I talked about death in the third episode of The Shakin' Bones podcast. If you have not listened to it yet and would like to, Here it is! (Click on Episodes and choose episode #3 Death).

Some of the ways that the children work through death here is by playing dead. The children are often pretending to die and other children often assist in their burials. In the wintertime, they bury each other in the snow. In the summer, our large sandbox is often home to numerous funerals. Dan mentioned in the podcast, we often set up dramatic play areas for the children, and having a funeral parlor or cemetery may be just as important as setting up a grocery store. Children work through their feelings and practice rituals through play.  We don't have specific areas set up for dramatic play here at Child Central Station; the children define and create their own spaces while playing.  Through their play, the children also take on care taking roles, as they pretend to be doctors and nurses.  It is almost a daily occurrence for the children to pretend to be sick or dying.

Please remember that when talking about death with young children that they are very egocentric and concrete learners. When they ask questions or are faced with the death of a loved one or pet, be direct. Use the term death, or died. When you say things like passed away or we have even heard in some cases "sleeping" it is confusing to the children. Also, talking about death in terms of what people can and cannot do. Someone who is dead cannot eat, they cannot sleep, they cannot poop... normal activities that are typical for children. Often times, children are most concerned about death in terms of "am I going to die?" One of the things Dan mentions in the podcast is teaching children to learn to feel/listen to their own heart beat. It gives them immediate reassurance that they are not going to die right now.
Every child, every person deals with grief and loss differently and on their own timelines. Children may just need to know that you are there for them and need a lap to sit on.  Feelings are often difficult to express, and not all children have the words to describe how they are feeling all of the time. Children who are experiencing a loss may have some behavior changes.
There are a number of great books out there that you can make a regular part of your child's library. Here are the ones we discussed during the podcast. (Books are best BEFORE a death happens and help lay a foundation for later discussion.) Please note these are affiliate links:

Do the children in your program pretend to be dead or dying? Do you have any great resources for children and families? I would love to hear about them !

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mud Paint House

You're probably confused as to how I have a post with all kinds of snow and then days later have a post with mud... and grass... and then have a post with more snow... Well, welcome to Upper Michigan! This time of year can be super unpredictable with the weather. This year in particular we had an early thaw.. and much of the sandbox and grass has been showing! However.. that doesn't stop the snowflakes from falling! Each morning/day is a new surprise as we are uncertain what mother nature has in store! The other day, it was "warm" (in the mid to upper 40s Farenheit), with a chilly breeze, but we had a lovely patch of mud on the hill!

As you can see, there are various patches of mud among the various patches of  snow :). This was a lovely patch of mud for oozing between your fingers, but it was still a little chilly on your fingers... So most of the children decided to explore it with their mittens. It wasn't long before some of the children decided that our plastic tree house needed to be painted....

The children carried mud back and forth from the puddle to the house. Most of them using their mittens as paintbrushes... They worked to cover the house both inside and out with a a fresh coat of "paint."

There was a lot of team work and cooperation happening. The house was just big enough for most of the children to have some space to work. Almost all of the children opted to use their mittens/gloves as paint brushes, but for those who did not... they carried small scoops of mud over to the house and just dumped the mud right on the side and watched it ooze right on down :).

The children worked on this task for much of the afternoon, having to stop primarily because it was time to go home. The next day.....

They came to find that the house was STILL painted! There was so much excitement over the fact that the mud which was now dry and hardened into dirt was still on the house. (We adults knew better than to clean it!) Painting on the second day was a bit more challenging as it was a colder day and patches of mud were harder (but not impossible) to find....

The third day of painting was much warmer and sunnier again! The children continued on their mission of painting the house.
This week, there has not been much going on with the treehouse.. mother nature has been as unpredictably predictable as ever... It has been raining! I wonder what will come next? Will the children be as interested in continuing the mud paint when they have to start all over? Are they even still interested in painting with the mud? I wonder if a adding some other kinds of brushes to the space would be appropriate? (or am I making this more complicated than it needs to be?... Maybe I need to let them explore on their own and wait for them to ask for what they need......)
Have your children been painting with mud? It was interesting to see that as soon as I posted a photo from one of the days on my Facebook page.. another provider shared a photo of a child who opted to paint with mud in her program the very same day!
I'd love to hear about your mudpaint adventures!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mining for Gems

It is no secret that we like to spend a lot of time outside. This winter the children have really enjoyed painting the snow. I know I have shared numerous posts in the past in regard to the various ways that we like to paint this snow. This year paint seemed to be requested far more frequently and the paint of choice has been watered down tempera. The beauty of this paint versus some of the other choices we have used in the past is how vivid it is, and how long the snow holds the color, even when it is covered up by inches of fresh snow!

The children found the "gems" by accident after a fresh snowfall..... We have lots of shovels in various sizes and a small "yooper scoop." After one child stumbled across a colored chunk of hardened snow, the "gem rush" was on. Where could we find more gems? How did they get there? Why were some big, and some small? and How did we get so many different colored gems in the yard?

Without any prompting... there were claims to various sections of the yard.
"You dig there! I'll dig here! Hey... that's my spot to dig!"
And of course, children found various places to hide or save their loot as well... One of the children was more enthusiastic about the hunt than most of the others and after awhile, they deemed all of the gems to belong to her.  As gems were excavated, they were promptly delivered and stored near our mudpie/snow cake kitchen. 

The children used the gems as treasures and they were closely guarded. After a few days, the gems were used as props for all kinds of different things... They made the perfect wintertime loose part!

Do your children like to paint the snow? Have they ever dug up their art as "gems" days later? I'd love to hear about your experiences with snow painting too! Leave me a comment here or hop on over and find me on Facebook!

My friend died

 I learned a hell of a lot from Dan Hodgins.  He was mentor, a friend, and a "bone shaker" for many of us in the field of Early Ch...