Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Deconstruction of (Living) Things

Deconstructed bumblebee
A few weeks ago a person* in the Rainbow Room tore apart a dead bumblebee that was available for viewing under the loupe (a large magnifying glass on a stand). People nearby were very upset: Hey, you hurt the bee!!

The teachers, too, were concerned. Please don't break our classroom materials. This bee was for everyone to see under the loupe.
Admittedly we don't want people to destroy or dismantle items in our classroom, but these types of events occur in a preschool classroom. When a person knocks down someone else's magna tile ship, we ask the person to rebuild the ship for his or her classmate. Or if a toy gets broken, intentionally or accidentally, the teachers invite the person involved to help repair it. By bringing people back to a  destructive event, we are encouraging a reflection on one's actions; creating awareness of oneself and their surroundings. We also are supporting the growth of empathy: even if one's inadvertent actions (or purposeful, for that matter) impact someone else in the classroom, we check in. We promote the care for each other, the things around us. This process is an everyday occurrence in the Rainbow Room; par for the course.

Showing Anna a bug
caught in our classroom

A depiction of a dead spider a group
saw in the basement
Choosing a favorite butterfly on our poster
But the bumblebee incident brought up questions and feelings that I had not before considered.... somehow this "deconstruction" felt different. Why? Is there more to this event than just someone tearing apart a classroom material? It's not alive any more- is the fact that it once was alive making us more sensitive to it's safety? Should we expect the children in our classroom to feel the same way? Aside from the social norms about breaking something other people are investigating- that's not what I'm wanting to discuss here- is there learning to be had by actively deconstructing a dead bumblebee? What can this person share with the group that we had not before noticed? Is there a fascination with seeing the parts of an organism separately that we had not considered? Maybe there's an interest- an iconic, age-appropriate interest- in exploring living things, especially accessible things like bugs- and dead things.

The more I reflect on how we treat small critters, particularly bugs, I'm realizing how much presence insects and bugs maintain in the Rainbow Room (literally and figuratively). We find bugs all the time and usually catch and release them. Our warm windowsills often exhibit the occasional dead fly, a living stink bug, and to the children's delight, the beautiful ladybug.

Grub worms mysteriously appeared in our
acorns in the sensory table
Releasing the grub worms
on the playground
Making a home for the grub worms
Sometimes living bugs become the object of protective nurturing, as in the case of the grub worms "hatching"(?) from our classroom acorns. The same people whom I've observed stepping on bugs outside on the playground have been seen sensitively and carefully caring for these grubs in the classroom, making homes for them out of magna tiles and hollow blocks. Some specimen were collected to release on the playground- even the details of the grubs' comfort was considered when crafting the transporting environment (note the acorns in the bowl).

People noticed a spider on the playground
climber and quietly watched it move away.
For further exploration of living things,
a giant leopard moth caterpillar
was discovered and saved. An
enriching habitat will support its life
functions until its metamorphosis.

Providing space for the spider
while observing it.
After one person killed a granddaddy
long leg spider, a group was
invited to help the individual bury it.

Occasionally living things are deliberately killed on the playground. We aren't comfortable with this behavior, so we remind people that the playground is the animal's habitat; move away if you don't like it, but please don't hurt it. Drawing one's attention to the reaction of his or her peers can be a learning opportunity as well: were people interested in this bug? Were they observing it? 

When a particular episode occurred recently, a group of people were asked to help their friend bury the spider he had squashed. What resulted was a devoted group of friends working to create a lovely place in which to bury the spider. They rallied around each other, working toward a common goal and were satisfied with their collective result.

The spider's grave

Now I'm thinking of the Rainbow Room's next bug-related provocation: examining the parts of a bumblebee together.


 *I am deliberately using the terms people or person because generally that's how Rainbow Roomers refer to themselves (versus "children").


"I'm looking at the way you made it so I can make it"

Zoey to Berkley

Learning from each other is basic, and it is important for reasons that may not be immediately apparent.  Contagion, as we like to call it, is where one child's idea catches the eye of another, and sometimes another and another.  With it we see the development of new skills, the sharing of knowledge and the spontaneous growth and transformation of an original idea.  Adding one to another, sparks fly.  The creative process is made into visible steps as it is shared between children.  

But the part that is not so obvious is that an idea passed on to another child increases our shared experience and thereby our connection to each other. Before long there are common mythologies in the room, familiar props for play, and joint investigations into new concepts.  It creates a culture in the classroom that ties us together.  It is dynamic and continuously evolving.

It starts with a moment of noticing and being inspired by someone else's work.

"Can you help me draw what Cal drew?"  Kai

Bridges inspired by Berkley's trip to California:

Monday, October 13, 2014


Why do children call each other names?

Last week name-calling seemed to spring from out of nowhere.  First one child, then another, and another.  We are working to help the children identify the motivation behind it and find more appropriate ways of communicating and getting what they need.  Most of the children have gained enough control to refrain from physically lashing out; they are just beginning to realize that their words are also powerful.  We have been talking about this with the children, and Kelly and I did some role-playing in circle the other day.

Very often children lash out because they feel excluded, feeling out of connection.   Though it is counter intuitive, it is often a desire to connect that drives divisive behavior.  When children hurt each other, physically or emotionally, we ask them to check to see that everyone is okay, to see if there is something to do to help the wounded child, and then we help them come (back) into connection with each other.  In a conflict, we also teach children how to tell someone to "stop" when they are uncomfortable with what is going on.

We decided we will follow the same strategy with name-calling.  There is also an opportunity for playfulness around language and rhyming if the situation is light enough.  As parents, you can help too by arranging play-dates with a variety of children because the more they get to know each other, the more they find in common.

But this is a bigger problem; not only with the children, but also with us.

In our discussion about this we noticed our own attitude; we considered this a "childish" problem, as if we were above their behavior.  But our attitude that this is a childish problem created an instant divide between us and them.

But wait, do grown-ups call names?  At first we laughed at the thought of calling each other "poopy pants", but we actually do; just silently, in our heads, all the time.  Our name-calling has just become internalized.  Even the more benign labels have an edge, - feminist, conservative, teenager, - they diminish the other and separate us.

And quieter than the labels are the silent voices, the thought voices.  Can you hear them?  As we drive our cars, as we wait in lines, as we watch the news, our inner voices constantly judge other people's choices, their actions, their affiliations, the way they look, what they wear.  We strengthen our own sense of right, our sense of self, by making "others" from brothers.  It is as if we can only know and appreciate ourselves by knowing that we are NOT THEM.  Any little difference will do.   And even more amazing is that in all these things we constantly judge ourselves as well.

Kelly asked, "What happens when we start to believe the names we call"?
And we do believe them, we cling to them.

And then she said, "When we exclude others we exclude ourselves."
Which prompted an image for me - we set out to build fences to keep the others out, one section at a time - but a fence that goes all the way around is no more than a cage.  We become trapped in small thoughts.

Kelly added, "So we have to be mindful of what we say, AND what we think.  Because everyone matters, and we belong to each other."

How can we raise our children so that they don't just remake name-calling into it's internalized equivalent, lowering their voices but still raising fences?  How can we reach deeper to relieve them from the judgment and separation?  If we can do that, well, that will be something.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Power of Kindness

In the Meadow Room, we've been drawing the children's attention to acts of kindness. We encourage them to perform acts of kindness, and to notice acts of kindness. Children are so inspired by, moved by, and emboldened by kindness.

Sometimes acts of kindness emerge in this group spontaneously, and sometimes we suggest it.  The children do seem to have a natural ability to notice when someone is in need of an act of kindness; for instance, when someone is trying to clean up a big mess or tackling a task or project that feels overwhelming.  A sad face is often the first thing children notice about someone who needs kindness.

One of the best things about kindness is that it's a gift to both giver and receiver.  Kindness seems to unlock the doors of their hearts, and make their feelings visible.  Pride. Wonder. Deep satisfaction.

It is amazing how big-hearted children are, how easily they access their kindness, how openly they offer others kindness, and how they, in equal measure, openly receive kind acts from others. It is astounding how seamlessly kindness seems to connect them, even across their differences & disagreements.

The effect of an act of kindness--for example, the successful completion of a difficult task or the change in a child's demeanor and expression--is immediate and tangible, which is perhaps why it is a concept so eagerly grasped by children of this age. In our classroom, we pause and notice the act of kindness, and the entire class is quieted, moved. The effect ripples out. There are more and more acts of kindness. They notice more and more.

It occurs to us that kindness is an excellent place to start in building trust, in building relationships, in building our classroom community.

But the satisfaction, for both giver and receiver, transcends age. We are all transported by kindness into connection with one another, and it is a profound feeling--and a revolution and transformation in our beings, and our relationships--when we are touched by kindness.

Perform acts of kindness. Notice acts of kindness. Be kindness. What better fulcrum of community? What better starting point of love?

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Story for the Girls, Part 2: A Theory

Pretend play based on the movie Frozen continued for the entire year.  We read a beautiful version of The Snow Queen and after finishing the story, which took more than 2 weeks, the children immediately wanted to read it again.  We have gone on to other Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales.

The children also wrote their own stories and performed them in circle.  These stories combined many characters from disparate sources; movies, invented characters, and video games.

Robyn and I went to see the movie Frozen earlier in the year so we would know the story the children were playing out.  There were some parts that we questioned, and we were surprised that the children were drawn to Elsa, when Anna seemed a more likely hero.  After all, Elsa was challenging - "she couldn't control her system." (Caroline, 5)

This is what I have come to believe:

Many people celebrate the fact that Frozen is, at last, a Disney movie in which the princess is not rescued by a prince; and that is refreshing indeed.  I think it has captured the children's interest for a variety of reasons, (beyond dresses and costumes) including the love of two sisters.

But I believe there is a deeper reason that this movie has taken their attention so completely.  I do not think it is a coincidence that the children, who are all working hard to learn to control impulses and make generous choices, who sometimes make mistakes and hurt others in spite of their love and desire to nurture, who may be separated from their closest connections as a consequence of not having that control; are drawn to a hero who has power that is at first beyond her.  She is a hero who unintentionally hurts someone they love, who suffers, and regrets, and tantrums, and puts herself in "time-out".  But in the end, a hero who offers hope and reassurance:  transgressions can be righted and power can be harnessed.  Maybe they too can gain control, as we know they will, and transform that unruly, unpredictable quality of their own power at this stage in their life, into the capacity to bring wonder and joy to others.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014


Towards the end of each school year we create a chain of paper links, one for each remaining day that we will be together.  This helps children comprehend, a little more, the elusive quality of time.   This is the beginning of saying goodbye, it is hard for all of us.

“Hey Indie, come and look, I can show you how many days we have left to be together.  It’s not that happy, there’s not that many days, come and see”.
Noah, 4-30-14

We begin to talk about saying goodbye, about ways that people stay in touch.  We also begin to talk about kindergarten to check on common misconceptions, like kindergarten begins the week after preschool ends.  They often don't realize the long summer between.
There are also fears about kindergarten; it is a mysterious thing that they hear about a lot, but they dot know what to expect.
Next week a kindergarten teacher will come to circle so that the children can ask her questions.  Then on another day we will visit the Sabot kindergarten because the children asked to hear what it is like from the current kindergarten class.
We invite you to send a photograph or something your child might like to share about the school they will attend next year if they would like to.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Big Questions and Superhero Play

What happens when a superhero dies?
Just how powerful is a superhero?

Superhero play has taken over our classroom.  Every morning many children want capes and masks.  Immediately they are transformed into Batman, Spiderman, Superman and Wonder Woman.  They all seem to have some familiarity with these characters, which makes it easy for them to connect with each other during this type of play.
Can a superhero push a grown up without even touching her?
Offering a teacher some popcorn while she is in jail.  Is she a good guy or a bad guy?
Can superheroes fly?

These three-year old children are just emerging from parallel play, and they are newly aware that peers have ideas and feel emotions which might be different from their own.  I wonder why one of the first things that happens when more socially engaged play appears is that children begin dividing people into categories:  are you a good guy or a bad guy?

When Chris was in our classroom, she willingly took on the role of Bad Guy.  The children loved it when she said, "Oh!  Your power is pushing me into a corner!"  They seemed to feel great satisfaction over their ability to control an adult.

However, the children are unable to tell me what makes someone good or bad.  Is it the clothes they wear?  A mean looking face?  Can someone be both a little bit good and a little bit bad?  Even the four-year olds who visited our classroom couldn't tell me…and quickly changed the subject. Perhaps these older children are just becoming aware that some things don't have a simple answer.

What does it feel like to take on another role?
This child wrote, "You are in jail and you will never never never never never get out."
"We are fighting without hurting."

Our studio teacher, Anna, supported the children in creating a Bad Guy.  They eagerly took tools she helped them create (hooks, spiderweb shooters, ropes) and attacked the Bad Guy.  They showed remarkable restraint when hitting the paper.  I've noticed when we play this game, no one wants to be the bad guy.  Even at their young age, these children seem to have a moral compass. A paper representation was the perfect solution, and carried over from the studio to our classroom.
 Were the children connecting with Anna as well as with each other?

In the classroom, the children wrote a story about superheroes and bad guys.

Yesterday two Batmans and Flash and Iron Man were walking down the street and they saw a bad man.  He saw the Batmen and Flash and Iron Man and he tried to gobble them up!  They knew he was a bad man because he looked mean.  He was wearing black pants and black shoes.  The bad man hit all of the superheroes with his fist.  Then the Batmen threw their battle wings on the bad guy.  The bad guy hit all of the heroes again.  That made the superheroes mad.  Then the superheroes threw their powers and then they hit him.  They took him to jail.  The bad guy escaped from jail the next day.  The bad guy ran away and ate all of the beads up.  The superheroes opened the bad guy's mouth and took all of the beads out.  They carried the bad guy above their heads back to jail.  He stayed in jail until Wednesday.

The children seem to be wrestling with a lot of questions.  How can I identify a bad guy?  How strong am I?  How powerful am I?  What does it feel like to be dead?  What does it mean to be bad…or good?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Story for the Girls, Part I

A couple years ago a group of boys in the Meadow Room were very interested in super-hero stories.  We believed that these stories filled an important, basic need common to all people; a model for living like a hero, rising to meet the challenges and changes of life, making moral decisions even at great sacrifice and risk.  We studied Joseph Campbell's work and saw it's relevance to so many of the stories that the boys were playing out.  That year was not unusual though, it happens this way quite often.

But at the end of that year we were left with this question: 
"Where are the stories for the girls?"  

We read many fairy tales and myths and although these are well loved, we longed for the story that would take the girls by storm, like Star Wars had for the boys.  We wanted a story for them that would become the culture of the room, that would draw all the girls together because the story, it's characters, and message were so compelling.

There are always a few girls interested in this or that princess, and even though they may be derived from rich fairy tales, the interest in Disney's portrayals, (which they are or course most familiar with), has always seemed superficial and fleeting.  

But finally, this year "Frozen" has captured the interest of every girl in our room.  They sing and dance Frozen, they quote it's lines, "only an act of true love can save her" in their play.   Almost every day they ask to hear the music, and they have begun to add silver curling ribbon to their hair to transform themselves into Elsa or Anna.

The story is based on The Snow Queen, by Hans Christian Andersen, which we are reading now with the children.  We wonder if the children will recognize it as the same story and notice similarities and differences between the fairy tale and the movie.     

The boys  are growing tired of Frozen, just as the girls in prior years were so weary of Star Wars. 
Now that we have the story we have been waiting for, we have new questions:
Why has this movie/story captivated them so much more than others? 
Why do they identify with the particular character that they do? (Anna or Elsa)

What is it about the song "Let it Go" that has so taken them over?  

(We also played the Star Wars theme song:)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Abiyoyo is Coming! Run For Your Lives!"


A small group found the book Abiyoyo and brought it into the classroom. Children gravitated like magnets to this book and wanted it read to them over and over.  They commented on Abiyoyo's sharp teeth and fingernails.  "Here he comes!"  "He's a giant!"

Our stick collection
Another day we collected sticks outside which turned into magic wands.  Children went around the classroom and outside, pointing their wands (particularly at teachers) and saying "Zoop!"  We would obediently disappear, just as Abiyoyo does in the book.  Big grins of delight spread across the children's faces when their powerful wands made a teacher vanish (if only to hide behind a tree).

Making magic wands

Throughout the day we heard strains of the song: "Abiyoyo, Abiyoyo, Abiyoyo, Abiyoyo…Abiyoyo, yoyoyo, yoyoyo," and children hid inside a tent/house in the classroom, calling, "Abiyoyo is coming!"

It was scary and exciting to hide inside the house.

Outside they would call, "Abiyoyo is coming!  Run for your lives!" and we would all run away, just as we did earlier in the year when we ran from dinosaurs and monsters.

Children typically love this story because Abiyoyo is scary:  long fingernails, sharp teeth, hints of blood on his face.  He eats cows and sheep.  But a small boy with a ukelele and his father with a magic wand make Abiyoyo disappear.  It's empowering for young children, who have so little control over their lives, to hear about a child who bravely faces something scary and overcomes it.  Fairy tales can be similar, though in this story Abiyoyo simply disappears, unlike Hansel and Gretel's witch who gets pushed into an oven.

One child made sure she drew Abiyoyo's long, sharp teeth.
"He's as tall as a tree!" He's a giant!"
Later we made Abiyoyo and hung him in the classroom.  What other stories might the children take and make their own?  How else can we help them explore scary ideas and discover ways they can overcome fears?

Making Abiyoyo disappear with a magic wand
Measuring Abiyoyo

A child bravely approaching Abiyoyo