"Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home." - C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

When They Just Don't Mix: Helping Toddlers Welcome New Friends

We were as ready as we could be. At least we thought so.

Our summer session kicked off last Monday with four new friends joining us as well as a semi-new teacher (she is familiar with our class but this was her first day back as "one of us"). We had labels ready. We assured parents as they dropped off their little ones with us for the first time. We showed our new friends the play kitchen, the train table, and the bus in the parking lot outside our window.
All four of our new ones were much calmer than we expected. Our director commented at breakfast that no one was crying. We couldn't believe how easy it was going! It was like we had prepared for a hurricane only to have a gentle rain shower.

And then there was "Aiden" (all names changed). Aiden has been with us every day for several months now. He knows our routine.  He knows us.  He knows where to find his favorite books.  But he didn't know our new teacher, our four new friends, or where to find his other friends who moved up. We had caught him off guard, and he began to do the same to us.

Aiden hit. Aiden bit. Aiden threw a screaming fit. And hit again.

As the day went on I found myself annoyed with Aiden. We had so much going on and these new kids had so much to adjust to, and here Aiden was throwing another wrench into the day.  If only kids could have rough days when it's convenient for us, right?

But as the day went on, through others' input, I realized that Aiden had a lot of changes to navigate, too. We had made preparations for our new kids' adjustments, but not for Aiden's. We often hear about parents helping their young children adapt to life with a new sibling. And here Aiden and our other older toddlers just got several new "siblings" without any real warning or preparation.  No wonder we had a Monday to remember.

For the rest of the week we tried a different approach. We looked for ways to show Aiden attention, reading books with him and taking him with us for special "jobs" outside of the classroom. When he was frustrated we responded quickly, asking him to use his words. Even if we couldn't help him right that minute, we acknowledged his emotions and let know he was heard. When a new child near Aiden started crying (again), we talked with Aiden as we responded to that child. "Why do you think Valerie's crying, Aiden? Is she sad? Does she need a hug?" We respond to the crying child, but we make sure Aiden realizes he is a high priority to us, too.

One morning, without prompting, Aiden picked up a toy train and handed it to one of our new friends. It's a start! He's still adjusting, and we continue to see some signs of aggression - though not as much as we did at first. We'll get there.
So next time, when today's newbies are this fall's veterans, we will have some ideas for how to welcome everyone in a way that is healthy for all of us.  It will still take time to adjust, but now we have some ideas for the process.

Thanks, Aiden.

Friday, May 27, 2016

First Days: Helping Toddlers Adjust to Your Classroom

Ah, the first day in a toddler class. Anxiety, apprehension, and tears. There are always tears. Sometimes Mom and Dad are a little teary, too.

This week marks the beginning of our summer session, so six little one-year-olds joined our class these last few days. It has been a week of stepping back, lowering expectations for each day, and going with the flow. This group seems to be adjusting very well. Honestly, some of our veteran toddlers are struggling with the adjustments more than our newbies (more of that story coming on Tuesday).

First days aren’t easy on anyone.

Some things will just be hard no matter what. But we can make it less hard. Here are some practical ways our team has found to smooth the way for our first-day friends—both toddlers and their parents.

1.   Smile! Let parents see that you aren’t surprised or overwhelmed by rough drop-offs. Assure them that the tears are normal for a first day and they will soon pass.

2.   Have toys ready to show children, and be aware of any toys that seem to interest them. Even if they choose toys you didn’t expect. I found a ball for a little boy on Monday and he went straight for the toy kitchen. Never mind.

3.   Assure parents you will send pictures when possible, and give them a reasonable expectation for when that will be. In our classroom we rarely have time to send pictures before naptime, so we set that as our goal.

4.   Use your happy but calm voice. Be upbeat but consistent: “It’s okay, Cooper. Mommy will come back. She always comes back.” As the child intensifies their emotions, keep your own calm.

5.   Have back-up ideas ready. We often look out our window that faces the parking lot. Because the school bus is always interesting. You can also look at photos, a classroom animal, or try to figure out where Lily’s shoe went or Emma’s hairclip. Sometimes they like to help look.

6.   Pictures! Share pictures with Mom and Dad, preferably before they come to pick up their child in the evening. Smiling pictures are the best, but if their little one doesn’t smile much on their first day, an action shot will do, too. E-mail them to parents, or post them on any photo-sharing app you may use, like Seesaw. Also share about their child’s day, honestly including when the child seemed fussier or more upset, but make sure you mention happy times or activities the child enjoyed.

7.   Celebrate. Everyone survived Day One! So it’s possible. Day Two will likely still have a crying start, so plan a relaxing few hours before greeting your adorable little friends again. It won’t be long before they come smiling into your room in the morning!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Messy Mondays: Stomp Painting

On Friday we were finally able to try this art idea I saw on Pinterest!

I wanted to do this the week before, but it rained. An art activity this messy works best with a smaller group of toddlers, as opposed to the entire class at once. Since Friday was gorgeous outside, one of our teachers took five of our toddlers to the playground. The other two of us helped the other five toddlers do stomp painting, and then the groups switched places.

But first, I set the scene while they were in music class. Another teacher and I had moved our snack tables to one side, creating a border between the carpeted area of the room and the tile. I spread a shower curtain on the ground and then a long piece of paper for door decorating. Although once it was laid out it didn't look as long as I had thought it was.

Then I squirted different colors of paint onto different plates. Given the ages of our toddlers (this group is 18-27 months), most of them don't have a strong preference about paint colors. A few have started requesting their favorites - purple, green, etc. - but most are just excited to see paint! We did blue, green, and black today.

When we were ready to begin, we took off all the toddlers' clothes. Everything except their diapers. Toddler painting is a messy undertaking, ya know.

So don't forget these. You'll need a lot!

We helped each child step onto a plate of paint. They only put one foot into paint; walking in paint can be slippery and that way they at least had the other foot to help them keep their traction.

And they were off!

Toddler Stomp Painting
Supplies Needed

l-o-n-g piece of paper
paper plates (for paint)

 My fellow teacher and I stayed close to help everyone stay on the paper - which mostly happened. But our "explorers" made such cute little prints on the floor! You can barely see the toes on this one.

 It looks like they liked it.

This was one of those art projects I didn't even try to keep. It's about the process, anyway, right?

This was a fun one to try, but I don't think we'll do it again anytime soon. Our group enjoyed it, but they lost interest faster than I thought they would. Couple that with how much teacher involvement it called for, and we will probably wait a few months to try it again.

But I'm glad we tried it. You never know what activities will become favorites, and it's always fun to try something new!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What is Process Art?

He was ready. I gave him a tray, a paper, and a paintbrush. Next came what he was really waiting for. I set the bowl of shaving cream, glue, and pink paint in front of the 16-month-old. He grinned so wide his eyes closed. Then he plunged right in.

The end result was a puffy-ish sort of abstract image that looked like raspberry sherbet had melted and spilled all over his paper. And the 16-month-old was pinker than he will probably ever be again, with paint up his arms, all over his paint shirt, and on his face.  It may have been in his hair, too.

It was an absolute mess. But it was a good mess.

Process art might be more easily defined by what it isn't. Process art is not coloring pages. It is not adult-directed art projects with specific steps and rules. It isn't right or wrong. These would all describe product art.

In contrast, process art is open-ended, allowing each child to explore their own ideas and make their own, completely unique masterpiece.

"[W]hile product-oriented projects could teach a child to follow directions or develop hand-eye coordination (both undoubtedly useful skills), they probably won't help a child develop the higher-level skills of curiosity, creative thinking, problem-solving, imagination, or innovation that are so important for 21st century thinkers" (Rachelle Doorley).

Until a couple of years ago, I had never heard of process art. As a teacher, I have found it much easier to implement open-ended art activities than it would be to try adult-led projects. I don't have to trace, draw, cut, or hole punch anything to prepare our art activities. I just give the kids the materials and let them do all the work!

"If we want our children to thrive in the highly unknown future, they’ll be best equipped if they can learn to think for themselves.  These higher-level thinking skills won’t develop through copying or following directions, but through the processes of problem-posing that goes along with invention and experimentation...When children have the opportunity to explore new ideas, test a theory, and iterate, they develop a strong sense of self and learn to think like innovators. And isn’t that really the point of education?"  (Rachelle Doorley)

Why do we do art with young children? Are we trying to instill impressionist or realist techniques in one-year-olds? Are we trying to create another Rembrandt? Michelangelo? They don't have that capability. (Who are we kidding? I don't have that capability.)

When these kids are little, what is more important - to learn professional art techniques? Or to learn how to explore, make choices, and approach projects creatively?

Maybe we should paint with raspberry sherbet next.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Messy Mondays: Train Painting

A few weeks ago my toddler class learned about trains! These kids love almost anything transportation, so a unit organized around things that go seemed to be a good fit.

When I first learned about process art vs product art (new post about this on Thursday!), something that caught my interest very quickly was the easy set-up. Process art is more of the child's work than the teacher's. This means teacher preparation for process art is typically simple: just give the kids the art materials and let them at it.  They'll do the rest all on their own.

For this activity, I modified a painting-with-cars activity from Pinterest. It couldn't be more simple!

Art smocks or old t-shirts
Toy trains

Squirt some paint on the child's paper (or pour some paint into a bowl) and place it in front of the child. Give the child a toy train.

And that's it!

Toddlers love rolling cars and trucks and trains, and adding paint to the equation makes it even more fun. One of our little boys figured out that of he tilted his tray, he could make his train slowly roll across his paper. I love watching how their little minds see things differently - and you can see those differences in their finished products, too.


Friday, September 5, 2014

The Gift

Going to the theater is still very exciting to me.  The anticipation as the previews roll, the huge screen and dark room, the smell of popcorn - it was all there when my brother and I went to see The Giver a couple of weeks ago.  I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed it and spoil the ending for you...but I'll try not to.

In the movie, Jonas comes of age in a synchronized community where all differences, emotions, and idiosyncracies were abolished generations ago.  Only one person, the Giver, has received decades of memories of music, snow, and home - as well as memories of war, pain, and loss.  It is his job to hold these memories and counsel the community elders when situations are beyond their experience.  Now it is also his responsibility to transfer his role - and memories - to Jonas.

So we watch Jonas discover dancing and love - as well as death and euthanasia - and form his conscience along the way.  In one poignant scene (I really am trying not to spoil it), the Giver informs Jonas that a friend of his -  unenlightened to what Jonas has learned - will soon learn how to euthanize babies.  "She wouldn't do it," Jonas insists.  "Not if she understood."

Reminding Jonas of his community's naivete of right and wrong, the Giver argues, "You and I are the only ones who understand."

"Then it's our fault," Jonas retorts.

It's a challenging scene.  It may make some of us want to shout from the rooftops that wrong is wrong, or storm abortion centers with pro-life slogans and graphics.  It may make us want to yell our convictions loud enough that others can't help but notice us.

But is that what we should feel about this scene?

There's More to It
There is no question that Christians are called to declare truth in this world. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus makes our responsibility very clear:

"'You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others'" (Matthew 5:14-16a).

Light never hides from darkness.  It can't; instead it liberates those who live in it, shining into every dark place and exposing darkness for what it is.

Just like the citizens of Jonas' community, the unbelievers among us do not see things the same way we do - they can't.  It used to be that we viewed the world the way they did.  But all that changed when God took our sinful souls (and minds and opinions and convictions) and liberated us into light.

Changing a heart (and mind) is God's work, not ours, so point-by-point arguments are not always our priority.  As Christians we certainly have a responsibility to stand for the truth, but we have never been asked to stop there. 

You see, there's more to the verse.

'"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven'" (Matthew 5:14-16).

Notice that Jesus doesn't ask us to conquer others with our arguments or debilitate them with our logic - though there is certainly a place for well-argued defenses of Biblical truth (1 Peter 3:15).  We are called to shine, yes, but how?

With good works.  That others may see those works and glorify God, not our knowledge or rhetoric.

How Far?
"Then it's our fault," Jonas says, taking our pointing fingers and directing them back toward us.  When people make terrible choices without fully understanding the consequences of their beliefs, we are responsible to shine in that darkness.  Instead of looking down on others because of their decisions, how are we called to treat them?

No spoilage here, but Jonas and the Giver do take action - both to protect the endangered and enlighten the uninformed.  They stand for truth and defend the defenseless - all without belittling those who just can't see things the way they do.  They plead with their community to listen, and ultimately risk everything to open others' eyes to the truth - even when the very citizens they seek to help fight back.

How far would we go - not to destroy those who disagree with us, but to love them?  How much would we risk - time, appearance, public opinion - to humbly open the eyes of those who simply do not see?  What would we sacrifice that they might have what we have been given?

Because it is a gift.

"I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might" (Ephesians 1:16-19).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

God's Not Bored

We had been over this more times than I could count.  How many times must we repeat ourselves for this pre-k drama queen to understand that the world doesn't revolve around her friends' opinions of her? "I'm afraid other people won't like me," she told me.  I had tried to talk her through this before, consoling her and offering encouragement. This time I had had enough.  "If you don't want to play with your friends, that's your choice," I told her kindly, but firmly.

But a few minutes later, as she still wiped crocodile tears and looked to me for consolation, I tried to talk her through it one more time.  "Does God love you?" I asked, only slightly impatiently, to encourage her to think through this on her own.  "No," she answered.  "I think He gets bored of us."

Even in the Deep Blue Sea
There really is no other way to put it.

Disgusting. It had to be disgusting. There in that great fish for three days and nights with seaweed, saltwater, undigested plankton, and whatever else it ate - the smell alone must have been repulsive.

As easy as it might be to feel sorry for someone in that predicament, Jonah had no one to blame for it but himself.

His own choices, his own decisions, his own disobedience brought him here.  He should stay here - a long time.  Maybe forever, don't you think? God is under no obligation to rescue Jonah from the prison he brought on himself.


Prison Life
Just a few short hours before I found myself counseling my five-year-old friend, I had flipped the pages to my daily Bible reading assignment: Psalm 69.

Just like Jonah, our little drama queen was in a prison she had fashioned for herself. But they were never alone there. "For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners" (Psalm 69:33).

Here I was, with a little girl in a "prison" of fear of man - a prison where I have made my own home far too often.

Time and Time Again
Does He get bored of us?  It would make sense if He did.  Day in, day out, the same mistakes over and over.

Every day I get myself in another mess.  It's my fault, my problem.  What if I have the same problem as Jonah? As our drama queen? As nearly everyone in the history of the human race?  Does He grow weary of rescuing us time and time again from the same predicaments?  Does He get bored of His creation of man?

I would.  But He doesn't.

He does not despise His own people who are prisoners...