"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.