Micro-Blog Round Up: the one about interconnectivity

Hello out there!!  Lately I have been finding my writing mojo through micro-blogging on Instagram.  At this moment in my life I can pretty smoothly produce a couple short and I hope meaningful tidbits each week and now and then round them up here.  You can follow me on Instagram @fromtheplayyard by the way!

Pulling these together one theme I notice is interconnectivity.  In the first (oldest) post below it was as simple as an idea sparked from a Pinterest post, later a song learned from a visiting facilitator, an interaction with an artist’s exhibit and the sustaining of community connection through shared celebration.

The post about our bus adventure gets to the underbelly of this idea.  I think our ideas, our practices, ourselves are always connected to other people.  Sometimes that sense of connection might be hidden away, which is how I feel driving in my car through Southpark alongside all the other people driving their own cars.   When I use public transportation, walk or bike the city I have a more visceral understanding of my connection.  It’s a good feeling!  I think it’s the same with ideas, practices and identity; they are always connected to a history and geography of other people.

In the chemistry lesson post below I was reminded of this oneness on an atomic level.  Our physiological makeup at the micro is, according to Einstein and Bohm, part of a wave/particle energy field that connects all of us through the very fabric of our being to our world, the universe and one another!   This life is a shared experience, whether we are pinning someone else’s idea to our bulletin board or pinning our trust of children and other humans into the fabric of the universe.

Here we go!!

Cooking day plus folk song: 🎶Snake baked a hoe cake and set a frog to watch it. Frog went a dozing and lizard came and took it! Bring back my hoe cake you long tailed nannyio!🎶 Thanks to our friend Sara for teaching us this quickly beloved song! Playing innocently with this small rebellion of name calling is not only cracking us all up but is an important way to toy with power. As children play they learn to modulate aggression in a safe space. We also hope they see the adults in their lives as not so serious and people who can be trusted to understand and talk openly about emotions and needs without judgement even if you called a name or stole somebody's cake for real. #whatsanannyio? #earlychildhoodliteracy #nvc #alc #glutenfreevegan

A photo posted by Lacy Manship (@fromtheplayyard) on

 

How to Become a Master Player

IMG_8631Play in the stream at Hideaway Woods was definitely a highlight for many kids on our field trip to the Museum of Life and Science in Durham this week.  Hideaway Woods is a fantastic new exhibit within a really wonderful museum.  It is totally worth checking out.  The museum folks there really understand children and play.

A museum volunteer stopped by for a while to watch the kiddos  from our school in the stream and told me excitedly that this was the most action she had seen in the stream so far (The exhibit opened in late September).   All kids are natural players and given the IMG_8616opportunity, and especially great settings like Hideaway Woods, they will engage deeply in play.

The kids from our group are master players, though, when you see them in action you know that what is happening has them deeply engaged and committed.  On the drive to Durham my van made an unplanned stop for a potty break and nursing baby.  The only option for the kids to play was a hill and patch of dirt.  They immediately created a game and came back to the van dirty and ready for the rest of the ride.   We have witnessed this over and over, especially as we field trip around our city and state.

Of course, we love awesome spaces intentionally made for open ended play like Hideaway Woods.  In fact we are willing to drive across the state to enjoy them!!  Now we just need to have this kind of simple play setting throughout public spaces, like elementary schools, and not just at museums and parks!

So what makes the kiddos in our community master playeIMG_8627rs?  Just a few things that we make available to them that are really the right of every child.   And I don’t mean the right of every child before she turns 5 and heads off to kindergarten.  I mean the right of every child birth through adolescence.   The ideas below are most tuned into age birth through age 8, but the need and right doesn’t stop there.

  • Multiple opportunities to play every day   20 minutes of recess at school is not enough.  Playing in the neighborhood after school and after/before homework is not enough.   Children under 8 need much of their day for play.
  • Extended time to to play  Sometimes it takes children a while to become productively engaged in play.  Particularly indoors, it seems like “center time” or free play time is chaotic when teachers are only able (because of mandates and schedule requirements) to reserve 30 to 45 minutes (if they can reserve any time at all!) for play.  It can take 30 minutes for children to settle into play.  So by the time children have become engaged, it’s time to clean up, which naturally they are not ready to do.  Whenever possible children need a block of at least an hour and half or MORE for a play period.
  • Open ended play materials  Children’s play thrives when the children, rather than the materials, lead the play.  Characters from media generally and toys that only function in one way can thwart children’s creative ideas.  Still we can give kids lots of credit, because they can and do pursue creative play with even the most mass marketed toys out there.   Still simple toys (like wooden unit blocks or sand in the sandbox or sticks and rocks) inspire freethinking, so that when more media-bound stories enter the picture, children can disrupt the narratives of others in favor of their own.
  • Support from loving and empathetic adults Through play children find so many opportunities for social growth.  Much of the time the social challenges that arise during play solve themselves as children use the play scenario and other tools to work things out.  Sometimes, though, an adult’s role is to enter the playworld to offer empathy and support.  This is, of course, a life’s work unto itself and hardly to be managed in a single bullet point!  For just a smidgen more check out Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen
  • Freedom Kids need freedom to get dirty, to take manageable risks, to try things out for themselves, to fail, to create their own fun.  Children have a right to be free to play.

Did you know, in fact, that the United Nations has a set of child rights: The Convention on the Rights of Child.  Article 31 specifically names the right to play.  Did you know that the United States is the only country who is not “party” to the convention?

Article 31

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

 Let’s all tune into seeing this right of children in embodied in our world.  The Museum of Life and Science is doing it.  So can the rest of us.

Playing with SuperVision

I am so grateful to one of our families this week for bringing up a question and concern around supervision!   This kind of open communication with each other supports our thrive at school.

I was reminded of this last night as I watched Margaret Heffernan’s TED Talk Dare to Disagree.   One thing I took away from her was that our approach to seeming conflict can powerfully change our experience of it!  Heffernan sees conflict as an opportunity for growth.   Here is a little bit of what she says: 

When we dare to break [the] silence, or when we dare to see, and we create conflict, we enable ourselves and the people around us to do our very best thinking.  Open information is fantastic, open networks are essential. But the truth won’t set us free until we develop the skills and the habit and the talent and the moral courage to use it. Openness isn’t the end.  It’s the beginning.

Wow, this was really true for me this week!  I’ll explain some of the creative thinking that ensued from the supervision conversation in this post.

As I engage with children, families and facilitators in our community around concerns, questions or seeming conflict, I can experience growth, more connection and more clarity from our interactions.   As a parent myself who has long sought a school space that trusts my child and that trusts me as a parent, it is really important to me to honor concerns, questions and intuitive ideas from all community members.

So here is a little background information about how we think about supervision at Roots.

We have some basic boundaries that children know and then we have some wiggle room.  The wiggle room is where our conversations around supervision usually muddle about!  Just as in many homes, as children grow, their boundaries grow.   Also as we get to know the individual children we can change our practices to meet their needs: who is likely to want to be off by herself and so would need our special attention to her whereabouts (even it is just going under a table), who really likes to stay with an adult anyway, who presses the boundaries and needs our support to stay safe.

With children of all ages our trust in them is a very important piece of our work in creating space for their ideas, their freedom and their empowerment.   We trust that children are capable, insightful people.  We watch and observe to see where support is needed before jumping in and offering it.  We want kiddos to take risks and try things out within the loving container of our space and community.

We also try hard to trust our own highest instincts to discern how to support children.  In the case of supervision I most like my decisions to be made from a place of Love/centeredness/connection rather than fear.  From the outside I don’t know if this looks different or not!  But from the inside it feels very different.  It feels very good to me to be near the kids as they play and work at school because I want to offer support for physical and emotional safety as needed (and I also want to support their ideas, document their learning, etc!).  This feels different to me than wanting to be with them to prevent xyz danger from happening.

Alongside my own feelings and those of children, I trust the intuition of other parents in our community so much!  I want parents to feel totally good and at ease about a child being at school.  I generally have no problem offering additional supports  when a parent expresses a gut feeling about support needed.  The important change I need to make is always a change within my own mind and heart- the outside practice with children (and adults) then flows with ease.

 The opportunity with parents this week led me to play with and change my own thinking around the idea of supervision.   I have sometimes come to the idea with mistrust and evaluation.   In the past I have sometimes thought that supervision is at odds with freedom as a power over others kind of activity.   Now I am tweaking my relationship with this word and so with my experience of supervision!  Here’s how:

 I realized that the word supervision holds some fear-baggage to me, and I usually think of the meaning as watching to be sure things don’t go badly.  An alternative  way to think about the word could be the two parts super-vision.  Super could be connected to the supernatural,  the spirit-minded, the metaphysical… Super as in the highest.   Vision is a little more obvious: this is seeing, our way of seeing the world.  Studies in metaphysics have long taught that our power as observers, as she who sees, changes that which we see.  So SuperVision could be to watch others with our highest mind!  For me this is from a place of spirit, connection and Love.   I would adore to offer SuperVision for our children at school in this light- to SEE them Truly through a highest sense of Love.

This tidbit of creative thinking comes because of the opportunity provided by openness not only to an idea just like mine, but openness to questions and concerns that might have at first felt disruptive to my thinking.

Where does the water in our rain barrel go? Making meaning with the ecology of place

IMG_7040In this first week back at school I saw some kiddos new to school exploring the rain barrel and heard some returning kids sharing memories of rain barrel play from last year.  An interesting conversation ensued about where the water in our rain barrel should and does go. One child said that the water is for watering the garden because the rainwater is better garden food than hose water.  Another child pointing to the garden said, “but the garden is dried up!” (It’s true! The dry summer has all but some returning zinnias and our potatoes totally roasted! We’ll be ready to plant the winter garden before long, though.) A younger child entered the conversation, “But we ALWAYS dig canals from the rain barrel! Remember when we made the path all the way to the hill?! It went down!!”  A child new to school this year has listened and eyeing the full barrel says, “Maybe we can build it to the garden…”

As I am in the process of wrapping up Roots’ year long participation in the Intersections Project (a collaboration with Discovery Place science museum to better understanding science and literacy learning), this little snippet of conversation reminded me of the eco-literacies activated as children engage in authentic Make activities in our own school yard.  Sometimes when I am thinking of science learning, I do not go immediately to thinking about the emotional, embodied and metaphysical.  My engrained, go-to story is that science is technical and logical.   I am so glad the children remind me through their making and reflecting that science is much more fluid!

Of course, a lot can get in the way of this fluidity, including figuring out where to start science explorations.  IMG_5722Sometimes science learning (or any learning) starts with standards or topics that are created farther and farther away from children and children’s lives. When these goals from others come first, it can be harder for adults or children to make connections from learning to our own lives. A different way of going about science learning is to engage with the places we live or go to school and see what inspires us to create, play and ask questions. This is the basic idea of place-based education, to see how our immediate local environments can provide opportunities for learning.

IMG_4885At Roots in figuring out “where to start” we take cues from both an inviting playscape and the natural world.   We have a pretty thoughtful balance between offering beautiful, open ended materials and leaving lots of open space for play to develop with found natural objects.   Every week we celebrate making as a rituIMG_5182al, Tuesday is making and science day. I offer some kind of experience that gets kiddos acting as makers of their world.   These offered opportunities are just a small fraction of the making that happens every week. The most interesting and developed makes come directly from the kids engaging with the environment through open and unplanned play. And this is how interest in the rain barrel makes began.

IMG_4073When children entered into making and science learning around rain water, it didn’t start with a science standard or with a weather theme, it didn’t start with an offering from an adult.  We started with our place, where we spend hours everyday, sometimes entire schooldays: our play yard. We started with where the children are playing and what they are interested in doing. We started with the rain barrel.

In the first rains of the new school season the children begin to observe and IMG_4887interact with water in our yard.   They play in the puddles and after the rain has come they play with the water from the collection barrel. They begin making  canals, longer and longer trenches, with more thoughtful construction, with dams, with off shoots, using various tools. They test and retest and sometimes destroy (purposefully and not) their creations. They work on the canal make throughout the school year.  They sometimes run into the play yard the morning after a night of rain full of intention around making canals! It’s not a one shot activity. It’s slow, over time, again and again, iterated in many ways from August to June and then again with new friends and their fresh ideas.

The kids experience the fluid and messy process of inspiratiIMG_5394on, tinkering, planning, building, rebuilding, reflecting and starting again. They go on tangents, like making origami boats, they investigate problems like finding the best kind of tool (broom, shovel or stick) for particular tasks (digging a trench, moving a boat, shoring a dam) and they create their own keystone moments like “the day the canal was made all the way to the hill.”

I have observed that the children seem deeply in flow as they build IMG_4248canals.  It seems to hit the sweet spot of just enough challenge and
stimulation.  There is a sense of work and play intertwined in harmony.  There is a sense of a sort of easy going creativity where just adding a loose board as a bridge extends and deepens the play.   I spend a lot of time as a “feelings detective,” uncovering how kids feel so that I can support them in articulating and expressing.  The feelings I pick up on while witnessing canal making are joy, invigoration, facination, wonder, and content.

As children work on making canals as an iterative process through IMG_5271the seasons they deepen their connections. This sense of connection and understanding is part of eco-literacy, in which connection to the natural world is part of how we make meaning of our lives.  One could learn facts about or even skills in nature, but becoming eco-literate is engaging as an ecologist, having a deeper, more personal, and yes messier understanding of one’s own connection with nature.  Just as we make meaning from (rather than finding it implicit in) groups of symbols, we make our own meanings of the natural world.  And this is the primary work of ecology, to see and feel the natural world and our relationship with her as meaningful, not meaningless.

IMG_2804 Young children create meaning of their world through play. Play is a literate act as children (or adults!) construct, deconstruct and tinker with stories and ideas from their lives in both physical and fantasy play.  When children at Roots play with the rain barrel by making canals for days, they are making their own connection with rainwater, forging a relationship with nature that is the basis for stewardship.  As children physically engage by playing in nature they are making not only canals that engage them in physics and engineering learning, they are also making their own relationship with the natural world in an intangible, highly emotional way that is all about the meaning.

IMG_6964The beautiful thing about our way into this eco-learning through place-based thinking is that in this paradigm, learning can and should happen exactly wherever you are right now, you don’t have to be in the forest, maybe you have a gutter or a ditch or a single tree or a window or neighbor’s garden to visit rather than a rain barrel; wherever your local is that’s where you start.

 

 

Are There Lessons?

This week a visitor came by Roots for a short while at maybe eleven o’clock ish.  As we chatted happily about the school, she asked me, “Are there lessons?”  I figure what was meant is: do we all sit down at once to do the same thing at the same time— not so much.  We do get together as a group mostly for the purpose of building community connection.

But are there lessons?   Oh yes!  Here are a few that popped into my head from just this one morning.

On the Map

On this Friday morning a child arrived to school and shared about the trip his family was taking to Atlanta, Georgia right after school.  His mom spent a few moments with him looking at the U.S. map we have on the wall and talking about the journey.  Later I noticed this child looking at the map again and saw another child join.  They  talked about several places of interest and their connections to them.  They asked each other questions and pointed to the map.

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Crocheting

Also on this Friday a talented mom joined us for the day and brought extra crochet hooks of various sizes and styles and some lovely chunky yarn.  She was quickly joined by four kids who worked for a bit with their hands and talked about their past experiences with similar handwork.   There were opportunities to watch a model and try out a technique for ourselves, to hear new language around this craft and to manipulate small objects in intentional ways.  This mom spent as much time accessing what the group already knew as she did showing them “how to.”

IMG_5681Building a Ramp

It was a rainy day and chilly, so kids were spending less time outside and as I noticed a few kids trying to figure out where to engage, I remembered their interest in drawing on white boards earlier in the week and invited them to join me with this again.  A few kids took me up on this.  After a while all but one drifted away as did I.  When I returned my attention the child remaining had hacked the small white boards for his own purpose of creating ramps.   He added the nearby wooden trucks and a box to prop up the end.  I was drawn away elsewhere again, but in a few minutes he asked me to return to see his creation.  I sat nearby for a few minutes watching him build, play and rebuild.  The ramps would fail sometimes, so he would try a different way or he would come up with a new idea he wanted to play with, like making a ramp going up so that the truck would “jump.”   He tried different angles and different supports with the purpose of continuing his play.

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So that’s three small events before 11 am, and I am noticing some key features.

  • They happened organically.  That is they occurred in their own time and way out of a natural inclination.  Children joined because of their own interest in the ideas and in the personal connection possible.
  • They involved support and relationships.  None of this happened in a silo.  These spontaneous lessons were tied to children’s relationships with their families and school community.  Even in the last example of independent ramp building, this child began to engage with the material at an invitation from me.  He continued on his own, in his own way and then requested a show of support in having someone to share his work with.
  • They all involved a lot of language- a lot of talking and sharing experiences and ideas.  The informal talk around the “work” of crocheting, designing a ramp or pointing out places on a map created an authentic context for the “content.”
  • They involved different amounts of time.  From two short conversations around a map, to a somewhat short lived crochet experience to an extended time of ramp building.  “Time on task” isn’t really all it’s been worked up to be.  I do note when kids engage in a particular idea of activity for an extended time, but sometimes, instead, kids come back to an idea multiple times for short bursts and sometimes whatever a kid needed from a learning situation happens really fast and didn’t need to be dragged out.
  • They all involved informal learning around important but intangible skills like  following your own interests, sharing knowledge with others, failing, revising, and making connections.
  • They were all informal lessons but ones that included engagement with traditionally formal skills or knowledge.
    • The discussion of geography around the map may be the most obvious.  The kids in that scene also engaged lots of oral language skills as they asked each other questions and engaged textual literacy skills as they specifically referenced particular places on the map in their discussion.  Literacy nerds [don’t judge!] call this referencing the text.
    • The crocheting kids also engaged in oral literacy practices, but what might be more hidden is how through handwork they were developing their fine motor skills that are directly tied to writing and handwriting.  I myself don’t care much about handwriting as a skill in itself, but as young children improve their fine motor skills, they become more adept at flowing their thoughts from their minds to the page.  Fine motor skills create more ease in doing the work of composing.
    • Finally in the ramp building example this child is engaging with physics and design principals as he builds and rebuilds and with narrative composition as he tells and retells a story with his play pieces.

Here’s to reclaiming and renaming and undoing the traditional lesson!

Beyond Never Land: Philosophies of Childhood

PETER PAN:
Are you ready for today’s lesson?

ALL:
Yes, Peter!

Yesterday my family saw a great production of the musical  Peter Pan put on by Northwest School of the Arts.  As I watched my kiddo see it staged for the time my thoughts became a bit philosophical .  As I listened closely to the lyrics of Never Grow Up and watched the story  of Never Land, unfold I thought a lot about our school, about what it means to be a kid and to grow up.  In some ways we are creating a Never Land at Roots, where play and fantasy rule, where children are honored and we create our own wonder with nature’s abundance. In a world where these things are traded in (particularly at school) for adult directed living by age 5, this is precious space.

PETER PAN:
Listen to your teacher. Repeat after me:
I won’t grow up,
(I won’t grow up)
I don’t want to go to school.
(I don’t want to go to school)
Just to learn to be a parrot,
(Just to learn to be a parrot)
And recite a silly rule.
(And recite a silly rule)
If growing up means
It would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree,
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me!

But I think that at schools like ours we are doing something more than Never Land managed.  Remember at the end of Peter Pan Wendy is all grown up.  She won’t or can’t fly anymore, not even for a short trip off for “spring cleaning”.  The best she can do is prepare and allow her daughter, Jane, to fly off temporarily (“just for spring cleaning” says Jane) with Peter as the final curtain closes.  But Wendy herself?  Man, did she depress me!  Dour and heavy footed, so much so that Peter Pan dissolves into the same tears he started with at the beginning when his shadow was lost.

What I think we are working at everyday at Mosaic is not just a space for children to thrive but a place and community where adults are thriving, too.  And the children see that and can participate with adults as they engage in things they love like music, gardening or play.miguel2

I won’t grow up,
(I won’t grow up)
I don’t want to wear a tie.
(I don’t want to wear a tie)
And a serious expression
(And a serious expression)
In the middle of July.
(In the middle of July)
And if it means I must prepare
To shoulder burdens with a worried air,

As I was ruminating on all this Zach Slayback’s blog post, Let’s Abolish Childhood, popped up in my feed.  He is saying a whole lot of what Peter Pan says and more.  He questions the artificial social divide between children and adults that empowers one group and makes the other submissive.  He notes that much of our conceptions of childhood comes from the “childhood-as-studentdom” trope while our conception of adulthood is connected to the “adulthood-as-crisis” one.   Here’s a quote that is at the center of my read of Zac’s idea:

So, Let’s Abolish Childhood

We don’t have to just accept this lot as the one which the universe gives us…. This requires us to do away with the artificial division of life into childhood and adulthood. Children are simply persons growing into adults, and adults are simply persons who have grown past a certain point of biological development. They do not wield inherent authority over children that is not given to them in virtue of some other role (i.e., parent). Similarly, children are not something odd to be looked down upon and sequestered off. As soon as they exhibit an ability for sound judgement, they ought to be the primary decision-makers for those things in their lives over which they can exert agency.  They ought to lead their own learning and exploration, and only pull on adults when necessary for further instruction or for last-resort enforcement reasons in the rare case that children are naturally disagreeable.

Yes!  I am all for ridding ourselves of binary divisions and hierarchal dualisms like adult/child.  I believe strongly in treating children with respect as fellow humans.  I am very interested in disrupting the dominant paradigm model of authority over children.  Kiddos making decisions is at the core of the work I do everyday at Roots.

And! Remember why Peter Pan took Wendy to Never Land to start with?  And why the lost boys all came back to live with the Darlings at the end of Act II?  They wanted a mother and a family.  They wanted support and love.  (Okay, it is very dominant paradigm  that the Lost Boys had to agree to be quiet and do as they are told to get that, but stay with me.)  There is possible a new kind of relationship between adults and children that is supportive, active, respectful, empathetic and yes two-way, but not really the same on each side.  I think adults can be with kids in ways other than Zach’s named tasks of “when necessary for further instruction or for last- resort enforcement.”   I think this rather still secludes childhood from adulthood actually.

carla

I am good with my role as a person who has spent more years on this earth (in this life 🙂 than children.  I am good with the experiences this time has offered me and what I have learned and how I can share my excitement about these things with kids, including what I have learned about living with other people, empathy and finding rhythm in life.  I like being able to share those things with kids in authentic ways 🙂  Happily for me I have found this community of people through which I am seeing my adulthood as  something other than tie-wearing, serious expression, worried-air crisis of adulthood.  I see it as a valuable.

I am also good with the role children have as people who have spent less time on the earth (this time around, of course ;).  I value and learn from their connectedness, authenticity and fresh-eyes.  Adults and children don’t have to be just the same for us to value both and create active, respectful, loving relationships among us.    I am with Zach and Peter, that we need more shift- less student-dom and less crisis, more lands for play and whimsy!    And it’s not just about giving kids the reigns, it’s about actually LIVING together in families and communities, which requires a lot of love, support and empathy all around.

And Never Land will always be
The home of beauty and joy

What We’re Reading at Roots: On The Importance of Everyday Whimsy and Magic

I’ve been reading aloud the chapter bodownload (1)ok, Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones,  to the kids at Roots lately.  Many afternoons with a few minutes to spare after tidying up at the end of the day, you’ll find us in various states of lounge listening into the little girl, Twig’s, adventures with Elf and Mrs. Sparrow.  From the number of times they request its reading, the kids seem as delighted in this sweet book and her characters as I am.  The gentle adventures with the magic of talking animals and a spell that shrinks Twig are whimsical, light-heartIMG_5126ed and seem to inscribe on the pages the spirit of a natural childhood.  Twig is a mashup of simple everyday things that become part of play, like a tomato can and a drainpipe, and trust in a magical world where the lines between pretend and reality are smudged.

It’s rather perfect to me because that’s exactly where I want to live myself and where I see the Roots kids playing everyday.  Like Twig they take simple, open-ended toys, natural materials and found items and create stories, worlds and relationIMG_4482ships.  Having or retaining or realizing the ability to transform our own lives into something that feels exciting,  challenging and magical is a pretty fine objective for all of us.  This is what I mean by wanting to be in this zone myself.  I think adults who have a sense of playfulness are able to be creative, flIMG_4558exible and inspired.  We can see challenges as opportunities to play with and change the rules we are living by and we can see the magic of knowing our powers to create our own world.  Just like Twig.

A friend asked me about this book tonight and it got me thinking about what makes Twig and other books  like it so special.  So here’s a short review of some great read aloud books for young children that I think sparkle with whimsy and are gentle enough to suit young children who adore longer stories, but often are not ready for some of the suspense and intrigue of many children’s chapter books.

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The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Ryland

This is a sweet little book about a girl, Clara, and her father, whose lives are intwined with a magical little diner, The Van Gogh Cafe.  I love the expectation of magic from the characters in this book.  They just know that something interesting is going to happen!  I like that outlook 🙂

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Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

This is one that my six year old has listened to as an audio book no less that a hundred times in the last 6 months.  He listened to it three times through on the snow day this week!  It’s funny, set in the 1930’s and full of quirky adventures for the Popper family and their pet penguins.  I like that things seem to happen to the Poppers “against the odds,” and that they live in the moment, going on instincts for adventure, care of others and the flow of opportunity that presents itself.

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Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt

This is another favorite audio book of my kiddo and has been since he was 4 years old.  Fredle is a house mouse who ends up adventuring outdoors and meeting lots of new friends and foes and friend-foes.  What draws me so to this book is that it shows a really complicated picture of what it means to change and what it means to be known as “bad” or “good.”   In fact the main journey of Fredle is his own realization that he can change himself and that to do so his own independent mind is important, just as are the relationships he forms with others.

Angus and Sadie

Angus and Sadie by Cynthis Voigt

This is the prequel to Fredle, which stars the two dogs on Fredle’s farm, Sadie and Angus.  We loved the way Voight showed the dogs’ thinking so vibrantly, humorously and realistically.

love that dog

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

This is a rare little book to me and one that is great for children who are also exploring poetry.  It’s a really meta book written in free-verse poetry about poetry all from the perspective of the main character, Jack.  The death of Jack’s dog is a main feature of the book.  I really like that death is taken up here in a way that is caring, natural and up front.  The sense of poetry can’t help but permeate the mundane, as Jack narrates his world in verse.

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Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The first book in the Little House series is the best to me.  Children love the descriptions of life in the woods, the way daily life is described and Laura’s perspective shared with such an authentic voice.  You really get a sense of the rhythm of life that is captivating for me and the young kids I’ve read or listened with.

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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I love this whole series of books, though the first is the only one I have so far read to a younger audience.  I love the mix of science and mystical adventures and especially the importance of Charles Wallace, a young child himself, as an intelligent protagonist.   The end of the book cuts close to the edge of what might feel scary or too suspenseful for some young children, but the climactic un-battle scene at the end is carried off with such love that I’ve noticed most children remain positively connected.

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RIght now I am reading The Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Meloy download (5)(yep that the guy from The Decemberists 🙂 (Thanks for the recommendation, Nicci!)  I adore this first book in the series so far- especially the awesome mix between magic and everyday, the girl protagonist, Prue, and the setting in Portland 🙂 I am curious to find out what the role of the parents in the story will be (Oh, that’s another thing I love about A Wrinkle in Time– the parents are active participants in the story, even as the children take the lead in adventuring.)  And I am curious to find out how dark the tale becomes in terms of thinking about younger kiddos listening in.  So maybe a Part II to this post to think more about Wildwood, stories and play about darkness.

Please comment with other favorite whimsical and magical books for children!

 

You Can Take It (Nature, Your Interests, Life) With You (To School) AND Book Club Anyone?

The icy days at home this week put me a mood to write, ponder and get jazzed about new ideas and connections.  I had the opportunity one day to email a bit with another Charlotte mama and blogger who just got to visit Cedarsong Nature School in Washington state, the quintessential Forest Kindergarten in the US.  We both have an interest in nature based play/learning/being, and with just a tiny bit of connection, I got totally excited about creating more community around this thinking by gathering some others to read and play with me.

Since the roads were covered in ice and Amazon will take a few days to deliver the used copies of Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, and Forest Kindergartens the Cedarsong Way that I bought, I eventually ended up on my front porch with my daybook and some of Luke’s watercolors.

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For the past few weeks I have been reading a beautiful book of nature journaling, Drawn to Nature, by Claire Walker Leslie and I realized I have a great desire to do my own nature journaling.   I have kept a journal or daybook (a little messier, a little more well rounded, a little more like a writer’s notebook than an everyday journal) for many years and have spent a lot of time working with kids and other teachers on thinking about how this tool can support our writing lives.  Seeing the pages with snippits of beautiful nature watercolors surrounded by scrawled notes, observations and bits of poetry in Claire’s book really resonates with me.  These are little pieces she has found in the moment and saved through her words and visuals.   I bought the book because I thought it might be an inspiration to invite the kids to do some nature journaling… and now I am even more eager to try this for out myself!

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This is a page from Clare’s book, Drawn to Nature. You’ve really got to flip through this to see the amazing ways she visualizes.

So I decided to jump in and see what it would be like.   Mostly I just played around with getting the colors to resemble the colors of the leaves on a “red tip” bush in my front yard, figuring out the ice that was beautifully clinging is like 4.0 to my .06, but it felt really good to try.

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Exploring this tiny bit of nature journaling myself reminding me of an aspect of school I am finding so joyful.   I am finding the space while being with the kids to take up things that I have long wanted to be part of or more part of my life- being outside, doing handwork (making things with my hands), and visual arts.  I am becoming more and more cognizant of how my home and school lives intertwine.  So while a snow day or other day away from school gives me the time to linger over my reflections by myself or with other adults  long enough to let things slowly collide together into inspiration, I don’t need days off school to work on most of my interests and passions- I get to do these things at school and the kids sometimes join or they just see an adult trying out something new or practicing at something to work on her craft.

So my new-to-me books are on the way.  Wondering if any Mosaic, ALC or other folk want to read and talk some more about nature based playing/learning/being with me and/or maybe join along in trying my (or maybe for you extending your) hand at nature journaling.   Who’s in?

Either way, you’ll find me sitting alongside these writers in the woods at Roots, maybe adding a little watercolor to our words 🙂

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Tinkering with the Maker Movement in the Early Childhood Years

In the late fall five year old Izaiah spent weeks recreating and IMG_4192extending scenes from the game Angry Birds by building small block structures and knocking them down with the toss of another small block.  Eventually he decided to construct a catapult to launch items into his structures.  He had already spent some time playing around with the catapult idea when for about an hour on this day he used various materials and the support of a thinking partner (me :)) to try to get the catapult to work in the way he wanted.  First he tried a zig zag arrangement of yarn.  Then he hot glued popsicle sticks as a platform.    When this didn’t create much forward motion, he backtracked and tried just one piece of yarn and Catapultadded support blocks to keep the catapult stable.  As he worked, Izaiah and I talked about the materials he was using.  We talked about how the yarn seemed tight, but then would loosen and become slack.  Izaiah decided he needed something stretchy.  I offered the idea of elastic and fished a piece out of the sewing basket.  This worked a bit better and the block did get some launch movement.  Another child came by and offered that we needed something like a rail to keep the block on the platform during launch.  So we tried to attach pipe cleaners to get this effect.  With each small adjustment Izaiah tried launching a block.  Usually with little forward movement, but with a lot of joy IMG_4194in building a structure to knock down, making noises to launch the block and storytelling about what was happening with the pieces. We got some okay launches in by the end, not perfect launches, before Izaiah decided to turn his attention elsewhere.

This story of Izaiah and I working with the catapult is a story of tinkering.  We tried a lot of different things, we didn’t adhere to a set of directions, we did try out advice offered, we worked with various materials and tools, scrapped ideas, started over, enjoyed the process, added details and talked to each other in both technical (“This side is too wonky… it needs to be stable.”) and fantastical (“Kerzoom!!  I’m the launcher, you’re the bird!”) terms about the story of the catapult we were creating.  We were tinkering with making a catapult.   And tinkering is one of the big ideas of…. dun dun dun…. the Maker Movement.

“Tinkering is not a field like chemistry or physics, yet it is worthy of study, particularly by those who want to engage kids as makers today.  Tinkering is to making as running is to sports, as tapping your foot is to music.  Tinkering is a process.  It is an attitude.  It is the means to fix, make, change, modify, and customize the world.”(Doughtery, 2013 in Gabrielson)

Tinkering is one of those words that hits the sweet spot for describing what the maker movement is all about.  The maker movement is and isn’t about creating a product.  In fact it’s that rather squishy and happy place in the midst of both process and product that tinkering describes so well.  The place where a sharable product is a goal but not the end goal, the place where the process rules and yet doesn’t become naval gazing (so entangled in reflective and meta processing that you never get to the sharing. 

And in fact, this idea of tinkering and being in the midst of process and product is totally aligned with what play is like for young (and old) people.  As children play they change the rules all the time, tinkering with reality, they intermingle process (“Now I’m the sister, okay?”) with product (“Hello, my dear.  Would you like to go to the park?”) in a way that requires no pause or definition between the two.  This being in the moment, in the middle of, is what tinkering is all about.  And I guess this is why I feel so at home in Make.

Funnily enough when I first heard about the Maker Movement through my work with the Connected Learning community,  I was momentarily irritated.  After all, I am a deeply rooted play-based early childhood teacher, having spent the last decade (at the time) advocating for play in the primary grades.  I was a little hot to see that suddenly play seemed like a good idea when adults and older students are doing it!   Pretty soon I was excited to see how play was being made visible and uplifted by Make.   I got to know what was happening in the world of Make and saw the way this movement could bring together the early childhood play-based cause in collectivity with other important interests, like informal learning and open-sourcing.

Ultimately it felt juicily right up my alley.  The maker movement is about thinking of yourself as a maker rather than a consumer; make is a culture and a communal mindset that encourages creativity, failure, products, mentors, innovation and tinkering.   So this year as I have had the opportunity at Roots to partner with Discovery Place educator, Carla, we have intentionally brought our own interests in make.  We have also tuned our senses towards noticing the way the kids acted as makers of their own accord.  What follows is a photo curation of some experiences in make from this year so far.

 

“Beaded Braids” An Authentic Reading Conversation

Over the last few days I have noticed a particular interest in decoding words in two of our oldest kiddos.   Today the three of us had a series of really productive conversations about how words work, all of which was based on a rather short, but significant, moment of inquiry.

This morning I noticed these two kids flipping through a book of yarn craft projects.   A few minutes later they came and asked if we had any beads.  While another facilitator fished these out of the supply closet, I observed the kids talking together about the title of their chosen project as printed in the book.   They decided the first word was about beads and were debating over the likelihood that the second word was “bracelet.”  They pointed to the letters of the word for each other, talked about the sounds of various letters and pointed to various photos on the page.

Lots was happening here before I entered the conversation at all.  They were using context clues from the pictures and from their prior knowledge about craft projects.   They used phonetic knowledge to decode.  They referenced the text as they talked, pointing out features of the words and the page to one another.  They worked together to share knowledge about the text.  They had a clear and self directed purpose for reading this text.

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Friends, that is a lot of productive stuff going on before any guidance from a mentor came into the picture!  When I did enter the conversation, I supported the kids with what they were already doing- we looked at the second word first, since this was their point of curiosity.  They were back and forth over whether the word was “bracelet.”  They seemed to feel like this made sense contextually but not phonetically.  We zoomed into the word noting the /d/ near the end of the word.  Then using more context clues they quickly decoded the word as “braids.”  We talked a few more moments about the two words, “beaded braids.”

This whole conversation took a couple of minutes, just long enough for the beads to be found in the closet by my colleague.  The kids then spent almost an hour engaged with making beaded braids using the craft book and an adult facilitator for support.

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The second conversation happened in the afternoon as I was writing some notes about the day in the kids’ reflection books that go home daily.  These two kids joined and asked about the notes.  I read them the one I had written about the reading and braiding experience.  They decided to write some notes in their reflection books as well.  As they worked, talking with each other and me about the ideas and concrete writing, one of them asked for support to write the word “came.”  We talked about this word for a bit and how the long /a/ sound works in the word.  This led us back to “Beaded Braids”, and a more in depth discussion of how the vowel sounds in these two words work.  Again this conversation took all of a couple of minutes and was based on the kiddos’ choice to write a reflection and their own inquiry into words.

This bit of engagement from today has stirred several ideas about  reading development for me.   Here’s the run down:

  • These conversations about reading were pertinent because the kids involved had shown interest in decoding and because they had an authentic purpose in reading texts.
  • Reading is connected to other things happening in our lives.   Here reading and talking about the title of a craft project was part of the making process as the kids made beaded braids.
  • Reading is a social act.  The collaboration and discussion between the kids and the kids and myself was as important as the actual decoding of a word.
  • The conversations and my input as a mentor were centered around the children’s inquiry into how words work.   Their specific points of curiosity drove the conversation.
  • The quality of the engagement around the reading was more vital than the amount of reading.  The short conversation about a short two-word text elicited ideas and new knowledge centered in higher order thinking processes, particularly creating one’s own meaning.