Thursday, September 27, 2012

Exploring Rocks

We had the good fortune of receiving a really cool stone collection compliments of Joselyn a few weeks back and the kids have been having a blast with it. Many of the rocks are heavy so I put them in the sensory table outside to see what the kids would make of them. I purposefully left the stone collection out without giving the children any directions or restrictions on the project, I wanted to see how the children would interact with this material that is traditionally taboo. 
I was delighted to see that they were generally good at handling the rocks; they didn’t taste them or throw them at each other, when the kids did experiment by tossing rocks up in the air, we talked about the dangers of tossing rocks and they stopped. 

The children are pretty creative and they have come up with a variety of uses for the rocks. So far they have been used for groceries, fast food and animal food in pretend play. (Perhaps we need a morning snack?!?) The children have used a lot of muscle power carrying, dumping, sorting or transporting rocks in the carts. They have also tried stuffing them in various containers, experimenting with size of the openings, weight and volume of containers. They figured out which rocks fit into the containers and how many rocks are too many to carry. They have spent hours trying to break rocks, transporting them from one end of the yard to the other and covering them in water to observe the color change as get all shiny and wet. They have been very, very busy!

I’m not sure if the fascination with rocks is due to the fact that rocks  are usually off limits at home, that fact that they are cool because they were a gift from Joselyn or just because rocks are fun to play with. Whatever it is they are really having a lot of fun! 

In all of our experimentation with rocks we noticed that many of the rocks are white or varied shades of grey and that the colors of the rocks became more contrasty once they got wet. I got to thinking of how we could bring our love of rocks indoors to the art area to further investigate contrast and monochromatic color schemes.

We worked with black and white stones on black and white paper. 
Some of the children sorted, scooped or counted stones, others filled containers or looked closely at the colors. 

Later we used white paint on white paper or white paint on black paper then compared the outcomes.

In our final project we used black paint on black paper and black paint on white paper to illustrate contrast and monochromatic color schemes.

Some observations the children have made include: 

Sam - the white ones are brighter and the black ones are darker - he also covered every square inch of 3 sheets of black paper in black paint

Logan - Lined up the black stones on black paper then counted 11 stones, he also scooped stones in heaps on paper

Carmen - Tried both the wide and narrow brushes in her paint, later she sorted them into the correct cups.

Will - Coverd his arms in black paint and says “It’s shiny!” He also piled stones up on the lazy susan and spun them off

Addie - Painted with white paint on white paper looked closely at the paper to see if she could see the paint. 

Yoli - Correctly identified black and white then chose materials to explore paint. She also scooped stones into sectioned containers .

Once our paint was dry, we talked about how the white paint was difficult to see on white paper and the black paint was shiny while it was wet. Then I created a pattern from the artwork so the children could compare the similarities and differences of our color experimentation.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Busted Bead Bottles

This morning Addie brought in a purple, sparkly necklace to share with her daycare friends. Usually we have a strict “no choking hazard” rule in the toddler area but lately everyone has been pretty good about keeping toys out of their mouth, so I decided to let them have fun with it until breakfast. 

Addie was thrilled, she proudly showed it to all of her friends saying “ See! My necklace, See! My necklace.” After everyone had a turn to see how marvelous her necklace truly was, she stuffed it into her purse and set off to play. 

Carmen (our youngest) couldn’t wait to get her hands on that beautiful sparkly thing. She lumbered around after Addie dodging all sorts of obstacles, determined to make sure Addie knew she was waiting for a turn. After about twenty minutes, Addie saw Carmen was waiting and handed it over. 

You can probably imagine what happened to that beautiful, sparkly necklace. Moments after Addie gave Carmen a turn she was saying “My beads! My beads!” I looked over to see Addie’s brow was furrowed as she hurried around in a half squat searching for the scattered beads. 

Carmen just stood there blankly staring at Addie with her tiny fist clutching the remnants of the sparkly necklace.  

I was busy getting breakfast ready so it took me a minute to realize what had happened. Carmen had pulled the necklace so hard that the beads had flown everywhere. I watched Addie for a minute before reacting. I was struck by the fact that she wasn’t mad at Carmen at all, she was only concerned about finding all of her purple, sparkly beads. 

I got down to help Addie. As I worked I said aloud to nobody in particular, “Addie is trying to find all of her beads, who can help her?” In a matter of moments all of the kids were eagerly crawling around on the floor in search of the beads. They sifted through matchbox cars, pillows, stuffed animals, pinecones and board books, delighted each time they found one.

Addie seemed to be comforted by the help.I handed her a bowl and said, “I know you’re sad that your necklace is broken but maybe we can imagine a new way to use your pretty beads.” Everyone continued the search until Addie had a nice little pile of shiny beads rolling around in her bowl. 

After all the ruckus settled, the other children returned to their previous projects, Addie sat on her knees tilting the beads back and forth smiling to herself as they shimmered in the light. 

Carmen watched then handed her the broken string and toddled off. 

Addie took it, then she walked over to where I was sitting and handed me the broken bits and said “fix it?” I studied the beads and the string with her  for a moment then I said, “I don’t think I can fix it babe, would you like a jar to put them in?”  She shook her head up and down enthusiastically. 

I set her up at a table with a tray and a glass bottle where she got right to work carefully pinching the beads to the container. When she was finished she happily shook her bottle and returned to her play. 

Everyone else wanted a turn with Addie’s busted bead bottle so we got to work making one for everyone from a necklace collection in the teacher closet.  

We practiced cutting and pulling the necklaces apart...

and we experimented with sounds of beads on wood... 
.. then we put the beads in plastic containers and taped them shut so we could watch them scatter in our shakers. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Learning to Lead

There are so many things that I love about having a family home daycare but if I had to choose just one thing, I think it would be the magic of watching a child transform from a tiny infant into a confident preschooler right before my very eyes. I could watch that process take place over and over again, each time its magic. 

Yesterday I was watching our oldest preschooler S and marveling at how much he’s changed in the time he's been with us. Just last year S had so much to learn about respecting peer boundaries and working on collaborative projects, especially in the building area. This year he’s the clearly leader of the pack. 

Very often throughout the day S shared all the "big kid" things he knows with younger kids.

At the easel he stoped his play to talk a toddler through the process of peeling stickers then patiently demonstrated the process of folding the paper back before pulling the tiny stickers off and placeing them on the paper. No matter how many times the little ones asked, S showed them over and over.....

While we worked with water outside he hlepd another child figure out which lid belongs to a container then he showed her how she can match the color of the lid to the color of the container- so she'll know for next time.

Later he helped all the children find clothespins for a made up game. S showed each child how to pinch the proper end of the clothes pin, then grab a hunk of hair and let go so it would stay in their hair while they jumped....

Some of the children had a lot of trouble so after they did their“best try,” S clamped it in their hair for them.

 At home S may be the youngest member of his family but in daycare land he's everyone’s "big brother". Any time he’s needed for turning on the faucet, hugging kids with skinned knees, fetching wipes or "reading" stories - Sam is on it. It’s a great learning experience to be the big kid in our little world.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The evolution of play part 2: Introducing 3 Dimensional Shapes


Last week we worked on some easy “getting to know each other” activities and I noticed a lot of interest in 2-D shape exploration.  Many of the children were already familiar with shapes which may be why it was such a popular ice breaker activity. The daycare newbies and veterans alike could participate in activities such as peeling sticker shapes in the art area or spotting shapes around the room so we had a common ground for the beginning of our learning journey together. While planning for this week I wanted to find a way to extend that mathematical magic and start a new round of exploration with the kids.

During my observations I noticed that the following 2-D shapes are very familiar among all the children: circles, squares, triangles but few of them were aware of their 3-D counter parts: spheres, cubes and triangular prisms. I got to digging around in my teacher supplies and came up with the following collection of items to extend their play. 

Mirrored Triangular Prism: 

Our mirrored triangular prism kaleidoscope is always a hit. I created this for the kids a while back when we were working on light and reflections. We usually use this on the plexiglass panels but today in the interest of getting to know each other, I decided to tape a photo of Josh inside. The children are able to move around the room with the mirror or use it at the table with another mirror to create even more triangles and visual interest.   

Spinning Triangle mirror:

The spinning mirror offered the kids a different view of the triangular prism with the added dimension of motion. It was great for highlighting angles, repetition and the illusion of depth created when mirrors are reflected into each other. It also brought all of the kids together for lots of giggles as they searched for each other’s faces as reflections whizzed by. 
The children had to collaborate, take turns and be careful not to spin the plexiglass mirrors too hard or our cool new toy would  fall apart.

We also worked with the Montessori nesting cubes. I taped photos inside the bottom of the cubes then set them face down on a rectangular mirror. The challenge for the kids was to find the pictures without lifting the cubes. It was surprisingly tricky to do! The trick in working with the mirrors was that the children had to back up and look at the reflection in the mirror instead of standing closer and peering in the hole. Some of the kids figured it out and others opted to work with the cubes in the traditional nesting / stacking method.a lot going on so we will revisit this one another day for


The glittery sphere, (a.k.a. the disco ball) was lots of fun to play with! The kids had to work together by taking turns spinning it and thinking about how to move the ball without hitting each other. It was another great cooperation project because that ball is heavy and hard! Guessing the trajectory that the ball was going to take on proved to be too challenging so we decided that if someone wanted to swing the sphere everyone else would have to move away. When two or more children wanted to watch the sphere they took turns spinning the ball instead of swinging. Some of the children noticed the reflections dance across the floor and attempted to capture them.

Some other super nerdy math fun facts we will discuss are the definitions of dimensional objects.

1 Dimensional = is only a line- no length or width

2 Dimensional shapes are flat they have length and width

3 Dimensional shapes are solid they have length depth and height

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Evolution of Play

I never know how our curriculum is going to evolve but in the last two weeks the children have decided on a few things:

1.) The Iphone is awesome and it must become a part of our everyday reflective thinking practice.
2.) Communication both verbal and nonverbal needs some work so we’re going to focus on that.
3.) Mirrors, reflective surfaces, and 3 dimensional shapes are fascinating at the moment so we must explore more!
4.) Water is mesmerizing, soothing and a great way to ease tension if the group is feeling a little tweaky or someone is missing mommy.

So there we have it, the meat and potatoes of what we will be working on for at least the next couple of weeks, we will see where this takes us! 

At the beginning of the week one of our many projects was foam / paper shapes at the easel. My intention in setting it up was to give my new kids an ice breaker and a familiar diversion from missing mommy as she left for work. I was also hoping that bringing all the kids together in close proximity would spark some conversations and collaborative work so friendships could begin to emerge. Truthfully I didn’t expect too much more than a few fleeting moments through out the day at the easel but the kids worked on it for hours over over a three day period. 

Our first invitation to play was a bowl of foam shapes, some paper squares, plastic tabs and two salvaged strips of black trim used in office buildings - sticky side up clamped to the easel. The foam shapes have been around forever but the are so difficult for the kids to peel that they tend to get used for other things. 
On the second side of the easel I hung some regular paper to keep the kids from getting stickers everywhere. Some of the kids decided to peel the stickers and a trend started. Many of the children were not able to peel the stickers so they went to Sam to ask for help. Sam patiently demonstrated over and over again how to peel the backs off the stickers. They watched him carefully and figured it out too. Sam LOVES to peel things so he helped the younger children a lot.

Lots of giggles, peeking and chasing games started. Some disagreements about sharing materials and space were discussed and resolved.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Going for a Walk

  Three of the greatest gifts my grandmother shared with me as a young child were her charitable ways, her habit of reading daily and her unwavering commitment to health - especially her daily walks. As far back as I can remember my grandmother has been a walker and coincidently she is one of the most balanced people I know. 

In her youth, my grandmother cared for her own nine children plus an ever changing mosaic of children belonging to single working women in the neighborhood. After all of her children had grown up and left the house, she took on the role of caregiver to many of her grandchildren. No matter how many little ones my grandmother had under foot, I never remember her losing her cool. I have to imagine the stress relieving quality of her daily exercise routine and contact with the great outdoors had something to do with it. 

This month I am sharing grandma’s passion for health and fitness by teaching a whole new collection of children to walk in a group. Teaching twos and threes to walk together is tricky business! Lots of higher order thinking has to take place in order for them to hold the rules of walking together in mind while filtering out environmental distractions, curbing the urge to wander off and focusing on moving their bodies. All of this takes place while they are busy exploring the fascinating things we find along the way. Even though I am available to provide lots of support, it can be a Herculean task for children so young.

While walking with the children I’ve found it’s best to lead from behind. Positioning them in front allows me to keep everyone in view so I can give verbal prompts to help them stay on task. It also fosters autonomy by giving them a safe space to make mistakes so they can clearly see where their more experienced peers are and self correct.

One simple trick I use for keeping everyone together is to have them hold the sides of the stroller as we move from the yard to the sidewalk. (I also use this method for crossing the street or walking by loud areas where they can’t hear me very well.) Once we get on the sidewalk, the kids can choose to walk with a hand on the stroller or run ahead with their friends. If they choose to run ahead, they know they have to follow three simple rules: stick together, stay on the sidewalk and stop when I say “stop your feet”. The consequence for not following the three walking rules is that the child has to put her hand on the stroller for part of the walk. After a few minutes, they get to try again. 

It takes some time to shape the behaviors that result in a cohesive group walk but it’s a worthwhile endeavor because walking is good for the body, mind and soul.

Some important things we learn on walks include:

  • Exercise is important - we talk about the importance of exercise everyday and the kids learn that getting outside is important rain, snow or sunshine because we go out in all kinds of weather.
  • Bilateral muscle development - Many young children have variations in muscle development on either side of the body, walking naturally encourages children to develop muscles more evenly on both sides of the body. (climbing on hands and knees also helps)
  • Impulse control - No matter how excited the kids are to get to the park or be the first one to round the corner, they can only go so far before they have to wait until everyone in the group is ready to move forward.
  • Directional information - Directional phrases such as “move forward”, “turn left,” “stop at the corner” or “stand behind your friend” are often used during our walk. 
  • Paying attention to surroundings - The children always have to be paying attention to what I am saying, what their peers are doing and where their bodies are in relation to everything around them so they can react appropriately.  
  • Kinesthetic awareness - spacing themselves properly when they all have to hold on to the stroller to cross the street, carrying sticks or other treasures that might poke a friend are some of the way walks foster body awareness.
  • Compassion / caring - when one child falls, everyone rushes to give a hug or help them up.
  • Leadership skills - The most seasoned children help reinforce safety rules by reminding peers to stop if they go too far ahead. The children also take turns deciding where we should go on our walks. 

It would be simple to toss all of the kids in our super swanky six seat stroller but then the they would miss out on all the fantastic learning opportunities that present themselves as we move along, at our very slow toddler pace. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Each child moves into our group in his or her very own way, some are laughing, most are crying but they all eventually find their place and make our home their own. This year we have two new little guys and they are the exact opposite of each other in the way they are adjusting to our environment. Both boys are close in age but have completely different temperaments so the techniques I will use to help them adjust are going to be slightly different.  

First up is L. For his first two days L kept showing me pictures of his mom so I wouldn’t forget what she looked like when she came - super cute! I’m thinking he thought I was just giving children to random people when they came in the door because as each child would get picked up he made sure I knew he wasn’t leaving with anyone else by showing me a picture of his mom.

Like most two year olds he was a little anxious entering daycare, he tends to fall apart at drop off and he needs some extra reassurance that everything is going to be okay. Luckily he is my full time guy and he comes early so I am able to spend a little more quiet time bonding with him before all the other kids come in. 

Everyday when L settles in and is happily playing with his new friends, I take photos and video clips of him to provide some conversation kindling at home. (It’s also nice for mom to know that he really wasn’t sad all day.) I review the videos and photos next morning during our quiet time together so he remembers we that we actually are a pretty cool bunch of people. He’s usually laughing within a few minutes and chatting about all the things we did. 

Even with the videos, L tends to cycle through moments of sadness, then happiness, then interest in the environment again until breakfast. His behavior is very typical for his age and just takes time to work through. 

Once we are outside L is happy for the rest of the day, he loves being outside. Each day L learns to trust us a little more and he is starting to really get a sense of the daycare day routine making it is easier for him to soothe himself.

Some other things that help L ease into his morning are listening to Jack Johnson, drawing fire trucks with markers, showing everyone pictures of his family and telling us about his vacations. L also seems to find comfort in hearing me repeat the sequence of activities that will happen until his mom gets here. 

J, our second new comer is very low key. If he were a musical instrument would definitely be the bass of the group; super mellow and laid back. J is pretty talkative with me but he’s still getting to know the other kids so he’s quiet with them. My guess is he will be chatty once he gets his bearings. 

J doesn’t really need as much reassurance that his parents are coming back but he does need a little support entering play and setting boundaries with his peers. For example the other day my son Valentine was watching J play when one of the younger children took a toy out of his hands, J responded with a simple “okay” and moved on to something else. This immediately endeared J to Val and he dubbed him “the gentle giant”.  

In general J seems to be very observant, when people are talking he fixes his gaze on them and seems to be taking everything in, recording it for future use. He tends to hang back and watch the other children play or engage in parallel play, responding only when other children talk to him. In order to help him assimilate with the group, I have planned a few activities that involve 1 or 2 other children so J will have less to take in as he figures everyone out. My plan is to facilitate conversations in smaller groups and give J support in staking his space among the other kiddies. 

In both cases I think the boys will settle in nicely within the next week or two. I can't wait to see all these boys in action, it's been a while since the girls have been outnumbered!