No Fair: What's Fair and Unfair to Preschoolers

NO FAIR!! What teacher or parent has not heard that lament from children? I've been exploring the concept of what is fair and what is not fair according to preschoolers. Not fair can mean many things, including someone not what they wanted, being excluded from something or something undesirable occurring. In the world of art making, we teachers and parents have the opportunity to explore what feels fair to children. In the process, we get a glimpse into their unique worlds. Once inside, we can gather information for helping the children solve conflict or working together more joyfully.

I asked a group of 3 and 4 year olds what "fair" meant to them. "What is fair?" I asked. After a long pause, one 4 year old said, "It's not happy, it's not sad, it's fair." He then wrote his words, trying to grasp and express the abstract concept.

He grouped fairness with feelings. I thought about that and concurred that when something was fair we could feel it inside our bodies. It is kinesthetic, a sensation of well-being that accompanies our sense of fairness. While adults may not as easily access the sensations, children more-readily can. And unfairness is often felt intensely by children.

"What is 'not fair?'" I inquired of the same boy.

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Previously he had shown interest in a "No Parking" sign. When asked what a "No Fair" sign would look like, he thought for a moment, then sounded out and wrote "Fair," encircled it and drew a line through it.

When another teacher demonstrated "unfair" with objects, pretending to take all the markers, the boy used his sign to show "No Fair!!"

I've been using the coveted sticky jewels as a way of stretching the idea that ONLY equal is fair. Cutting the strips in a variety of ways (different amounts of jewels, different sizes, same or mixed colors, as well as different shapes) I ask the children to take a specific number of strips for their project. This amount can be arbitrary or based on the amount of gems and number of children present. I then tell the children, "The amount of jewels on each strip are not equal, take those strips that you really want."

I then ask, "Are you happy with what you have? Is it fair? Does it have to be equal; exactly the same? What if you are happy with less than other children have? Is that fair?"

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I acknowledge all their responses.

I found that with those directions they didn't fight or accuse each other of having more. Each chose what he or she wanted and seemed to be satisfied. If they wanted more than the designated amount of strips, I'd ask what their plans were.

One 5 year old needed just two more jewels to form the outer circle of her flower. It seemed "fair" to me to give permission for two more. While everyone at her table looked up, I took their silence as agreement.

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Something else I tried was to have the group decide on what was fair. When that day's allotment of "two strips of jewels no matter what the size or amount" was not heeded by one of the children, a roar went up.

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"She has much more than two strips," came the cry of injustice. Looking at what they pointed out, I could see their point.

When I asked the group what would make it fair, they decided that everyone else should get two more strips. I agreed and the children were again content. But, a few minutes later the girl with an abundance of jewels on her project asked if she could have just one more. "It's not for my folder," she said earnestly, "I need just one heart for another project I'm doing with my friend. I have a jewel heart inside my sticker heart and need just one more for the other sticker heart."

I turned the decision over to the group asking if they thought that would be fair, since it was for her friend. "Does everyone feel OK with giving her just one more heart shaped gem?"

"That's OK with me," one girl answered.

"Doesn't bother me," said a 5 year old boy.

One by one the children voiced their approval of one more jewel… until another voice was heard, "Well, it's not OK with me!" Before she could express why she felt this way, another child pointed out that this girl didn't have any jewels.

"Oh, you don't have any. Did you want some?" I asked. "Yes, I do," she answered, and a friend spontaneously brought over the box of sticky jewels.

"Can I have the heart jewel now," asked the child who needed just one more.

"You can," was the reply.

"Sometimes, when we get what we need, we feel more generous," I commented.

Guidelines:

When there are special supplies that are in demand, we can offer them in different sizes, shapes and amounts, asking the children to take what they really want. Some will say none, some will chose according to size or color or shape, and others will choose by the amount they will receive.

While it's developmentally appropriate for young children to see "fair" as always equal, as teachers and parents we can help stretch their concept of fair.

Intrinsic Motivation, Resourcefulness and Open-Ended Materials

'"Loose parts,'" as mentioned in my blog of May 3, 2013, describes a theory first proposed by Simon Nicholson regarding open-ended materials. These materials suggest no fixed direction other than what is imagined by the children themselves. Nicholson, and others who followed him, proposed that these materials empower our creativity. Focus and concentration are enhanced by combining loose parts with intrinsic motivation, that comes from within the child.

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Over a period of several weeks, I observed one five year old's interest in fabric. She began by covering her feet in cloth squares and wrapping them with colored masking tape.

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After several sessions of "shoe" making, she chose cardboard from the recycled materials and placed her shoe-covered foot on top. Voila! They became ice skates.

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She slid around the room on her ice skates with great pleasure. When she returned for the next session, she chose a large piece of cardboard and began decorating it. Instead of fabric, she cut up strips of available paper and again wrapped her feet.

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Having a variety of open-ended materials available allowed her to continue pursuing her passionate ideas. This time she created a snowboard.

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Her confidence and satisfaction with her projects grew with the challenges she gave herself.

An article on intrinsic motivation by the National Association of School Psychologists addresses some of the characteristics that develop when children are self-motivated.

  • Persistence: The ability to stay with the task. A highly-motivated child will stay involved for a long period of time. I've observed young children work steadily for 1.5 hours and put their project on a saving shelf for additional work at a later time. They learn persistence when they are successful at a challenging task.
  • Confidence: A developing ability to problem solve is the basis for motivation at this stage of development. Having the self-confidence to know that one can solve a problem motivates the learner to accept other new and challenging situations, which in turn leads to greater learning.
  • Independence: The decreased amount of dependency on adults is another indicator of self- motivation. Children with strong intrinsic motivation do not need an adult constantly watching and helping with activities. Since independence is an important aspect of quality learning, this decreased dependence on adults will greatly enhance children's ability to succeed in school.
  • Positive Emotion: As written in the article, "The last indicator of motivational level is emotion. Children who are clearly motivated will have a positive display of emotion. They are satisfied with their work and show more enjoyment in the activity."

Concentration and focus are greatly enhanced when children are self-motivated. Providing a variety of open-ended materials for creative expression expands intrinsic motivation. For children to discover and explore their interests and passions at an early age informs their course of self-study and choices for a lifetime.

Scaffolding

Instructional scaffolding is a learning process designed to promote a deeper level of learning. It is the support given during the learning process that is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals (Sawyer, 2006).

From Wikipedia:

Scaffolding comes from Lev Vygotsky's concept of an expert assisting a novice, or an apprentice. Though the term was never used by Vygotsky, interactional support and the process by which adults mediate a child's attempts to take on new learning has come to be termed "scaffolding." Scaffolding represents the helpful interactions between adult and child that enable the child to do something beyond his or her independent efforts. A scaffold is a temporary framework that is put up for support and access to meaning and taken away as needed when the child secures control of success with a task.

In expressive arts, where the art-making is child-generated, I use scaffolding with laser precision, though only when appropriate and after I carefully discover what the child has in mind. A combination of knowing the child, the delivery of suggestion, the child's readiness, and timing go into whether the child will allow for the scaffolding.

A 4 year old made a paper bag puppet with sticker eyes and a wonderful jagged-line mouth. As he'd left the body of the bag bare, I asked if he'd like to make clothes for it. He was excited and chose a piece of fabric. The difficulty of cutting the fabric soon became evident.

I asked if he'd prefer to make it from paper, to which he readily agreed. He chose a piece of orange paper and snipped two triangles off the corners. "Oh look, it's underpants." He smiled, recognizing what his cutting had unintentionally created. With that, he carefully cut a long piece of orange masking tape and attached it to the bottom of the bag. He snipped another triangle and called it a hat.

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The boy then decided to use a bench as a puppet theater and taped the puppet to the back of the bench. The little spark that occurred as a result of scaffolding grew into a fire of creativity.

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Often it is the children themselves who scaffold. When a 3 year old shivered in fright and asked me to put away the larger-than-child-sized Turtle puppet, I first explained what it was made of. (fabric, buttons, shoulder pads, etc.). I wanted her to know that it was not alive, although it seemed to be. Then, I folded Turtle back into his shell and put him away on the rocking chair, telling the puppet, "When the children are no longer afraid, you can come out and play." I used my "Turtle voice" to let the children know that Turtle did hope to become their friend as he'd never, ever hurt them.

"I'm not afraid of you," said one of the children. "I'm going to play with you now. I'll make something for you. Snowflakes!" She went to the shelf where the stuffing was kept and began to tear it into snowball-sized pieces. She put them all in a paper bag and brought it over to the rocking chair.

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Showering Turtle with snow caught the attention of other children, who then helped her pile snowballs on top of Turtle.

As they played and laughed, the child who had been scared came closer to the large puppet. She whispered to me that she had made something with arms for him. She wanted me to deliver it on him, while she remained at a distance.

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As the other children continued to have fun piling the snow, the girl drew closer and closer. Soon, she, too, was putting snow atop Turtle.

"We love your shell, Turtle. We wish we could get inside with you. Once we didn't like you. We were afraid. But now you are our friend."

Sometimes, an older child can scaffold the next steps with more ease than us adults. An alum visited expressive arts recently. She took a break from puppet making to explore the room. "Turtle," she said softly, upon discovering her old friend. "I used to love Turtle. I'm still like that."

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She began to animate the large puppet and interact with the younger children. "Who wants to give me a high five," she said wiggling Turtle's fingers. The 3 year olds, who had previously shown no interest in the large and rather unusual puppet, hesitantly came forward. The older girl continued speaking in her "Turtle voice," and soon those with finished puppets came forward and began playing with Turtle.

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Later, as she was leaving with a box full of her work, she said with all the wisdom of her 10 years, "I have the brain of a kid and the mind of an artist. Without art, my life is dull."

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Make Your Own Animal Puppets - Kit for 12

Colorations® Eye Stickers - 2000 Pieces

9" x 12" Colorations® Heavyweight Construction Paper

1/2" Colored Masking Tape - Set of 10

Entering Play: A Social Skill

"Can I play with you?" is often heard throughout our classrooms and school yards. This seemingly simple request can quickly become a lament when new children are stopped from joining the play in progress. While excluding is often a means of exerting power or defining friendships, it can also be sourced from a fear of the new person changing the play. Entering play is a social skill that can be learned with our repeated facilitation.

  • Ask the child if they'd like some help
  • Observe the play in progress with the child
  • Inquire as to what the play is about. What characters are the children portraying?
  • Ask what would add to the play in progress? What else might be needed, whether it's another character or a prop.
  • Stand by to see if they'll need additional help.
  • Validate their efforts.

Three children were playing family. They were riding in a car they'd formed from a wooden bench.

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(Note the "blankets," as San Francisco temperatures fell to freezing that week!)

"It's not ok for you to fight," said the child playing the mother. "You have to be kind. Mommy is going to sit down next to you," the child told her "children."

Another child was observing them from nearby. He loves animals and had been playing with a frog puppet until the dramatic play caught his attention. While he had been perfectly content to be animating his puppet, I wondered if he might want to join in. When I asked him, he nodded agreement, but remained still and continued watching.

I began to softly sing a song to him to the tune of "This Old Man."

Connect your idea

To the play

Then everyone will say hurray!

Friends are friends through thick and thin,

Play together we all win!

It was a tune that a classroom teacher and I had collaborated on as a way of encouraging children to enter play with successful outcomes.

"You could ask them if they might need a pet frog in the family," I suggested, as a way to add his unique play to theirs. "See if they can use that idea. I'll watch."

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"No, thank you," was the reply from "mom." For the older children, I offer or brainstorm other suggestions. With the youngest, if a coaching suggestion has been turned down, I often step in and help facilitate.

"He'd like to play with you, who can he be in the family?" The game initiator suggested that he be the daddy.

"Would you like to be the daddy?" I asked. He thought for a moment, then told me, "No, I have a daddy at home." And with that he turned and walked away to continue playing happily with the frog puppet. I forget at times just how real their play can be. And while we may try to scaffold, ultimately it is the child who decides.

As written in the blog of Dec 4, 2013, one child's idea for making a "sewing machine" continues to attract many of his peers.

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They each have a ball of yarn and invent ways of connecting and weaving and pulling on the yarn to create movement.

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Not all the children have learned to enter play in a way that keeps the original idea moving forward. I observed a child picking up scissors and moving toward the string-structure of his peers with a mischievous gleam in his eye.

He had been about to connect to the play by cutting the string that the other children had joyfully placed. In this instance, I intervened by coaching him with several open-ended questions:

  • What do you think will happen if you cut down the string?
  • How will the children feel?
  • Did you want the children to be upset, or did you just want to join in their fun?
  • What could you do instead?

He decided to exchange the scissors for a ball of yarn and was welcomed into the activity.

Learning how to enter play successfully is a life skill. Once inside the play, we can offer our ideas with a better chance of creating collaborative change.

THE EXPRESSIVE ARTS TRAIN and TRANSITIONS:

"All aboard! The Expressive Arts Train is leaving the station!" I announced upon picking up the children from their classrooms. Transitioning children into the next activity can be challenging when they are still engaged with their current one. "I'm not finished" is often the legitimate lament from many of the children. We want them to expand their focus and concentration, yet a schedule often has them stopping right in the midst of their play.

I was curious as to what would make the transition easier, particularly for the youngest children. Many had just arrived at school and were enjoying being in their classroom. It was in a staff development workshop that the idea for a fun transition came to me: the Expressive Arts Train.

When I told the teacher for the 3-4 year olds about my intention, she told me of hers. She had planned to use clothes pins as "tickets" to prepare the children for expressive arts. We saw the connection and put our heads together. Simultaneously, we thought to call the clothes pins "clippers," for in San Francisco we can purchase Clipper Cards to ride our public transportation. Be they tickets or clothes pins, children love knowing when it will be their turn.

The journey out of the classroom involved collecting their "clippers," which were pinned to their shirts, pants, dresses, shoes and other creative places. Then we made the journey through the yarn and up the stairs until we reached the doorway of Expressive Arts. Inside, chairs were lined up like a train awaiting them for next part of their journey. They rushed to their seats.

I put on the lights and the children began making train sounds and off we went. They often pass out tubes from the recycled supplies and pretend to watch animals as the train passes through different environments.

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When they "arrive," I am standing there waving a welcoming. If I have new directions for the children, the train helps to contain them while instructions are given. Sitting for a moment on the train offers a gentle emotional transition from room to room.

Then come the words they've been waiting for. "1-2-3 Go Play!!" Off the train they pile to play and create until it's again time to ride the train back to their classroom.

Once chairs were used for something other than simply sitting on at a table, they became loose parts in the children's eyes; additional open-ended materials. Starting with forming trains of their own, the chairs also became fire trucks, ambulances and other vehicles.

From there it was an easy jump to connecting materials to the chairs. Yarn and string were most often chosen by all of the children, from 2-1/2 to 6 years.

"Let's make a web. Let's make a trap," the children called out to each other. Groups of children gathered around the ideas and began their collaboration. One 4-year-old began wrapping yarn around a chair, then connecting it to other chairs.

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Pulling on one of the threads, he noticed it moved through the air and chairs. "It's a sewing machine," he shouted. "Let's make Elyse a wooly scarf." His enthusiastic peers joined him.

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The oldest class created a web that they could climb under or over. They tested their balance as well as their ability to keep themselves from getting entangled.

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This wasn't as easy for the younger children, but was just as much fun!! They loved being rescued and having a friend help cut away the yarn that was trapping them.

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RULES OF PLAY AND LIMIT SETTING: Establish guidelines so that creations do not take over the room. Your individual classroom rules will originate from individual and group needs. In collaboration, what one person contributes to the project affects the whole group. For example, rules may be needed to determine whether yarn can be cut down without the consent of all. Here are some general rules to branch out from.

  • Determine the number of chairs that can be used
  • Establish which part of the room can be utilized for a project
  • Establish what additional materials can be used. While the children love to use the colored masking tape, we had an abundance of yarn that had been both bought and donated. I suggested using this instead and saving the tape for smaller projects.
  • Determine a procedure for ending the activity. Can the project be saved for the next day, or does the yarn need to be cut down and chair put away? Keep in mind who else might be using the room later, and if the custodians will be able to clean it.

SAVING:

  • Move the chairs into a small cluster that will not take up as much space and can allow the custodians to clean around them.
  • Have the children create a "SAVE" sign to prevent the project from being mistakenly taken down."I'll make the sign," said one enthusiastic child who had not previously been involved. "How do you make an S?" he asked. Two children came over to the table to help him.

TAKING DOWN:

  • If it's necessary or decided upon to cut down the yarn, make the process as much fun as putting it up was. Clean up can become a time that children become mysteriously "too tired" to help. How could we cut down and gather all this yarn? A plan was hatched by the children for collecting the yarn in small bags from the dramatic play area. Soon the children were organizing their own yarn removal, handing out bags and gathering the scraps of wool. Not one child lamented how tired they were (therefore declaring themselves unable to help clean) after viewing the amount of yarn and the task ahead. I continue to be amazed and appreciative at witnessing the yarn-free floor and the fun they have cleaning up.
  • We gave some of the cuttings to a local organization who works with families experiencing divorce and separation. They use the yarn for hair in a puppet-making activity in their curriculum.

Once the room was in order, the call was again heard. "Expressive Arts Train leaving for your classroom. All Aboard!!" The children then climbed aboard for the smooth return journey back to their classroom.

ADDITIONAL GUIDELINES:

  • In classrooms, children can "ride the train" in between activities within the classroom itself. For example, they might ride the train between lunch and nap time.
  • This also works well at home with families. Riding the train may become an incentive for children to stay focused on getting ready for school or cleaning up their room.

I once heard a dad shout from his car window as the family passed me walking to school, "Hellooooo! We got ready early so we could catch the first train to Expressive Arts!" Love that community connection! Such fun!

And after having rushed for the first train, how could I resist their 4 year old's request to use a table, as well as the chairs! I love to watch the children's joyful faces as they create and play inside their creations.

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Puppets, Puppets, Puppets

"Where are the paper bags"?" a 3 year old shouts immediately upon entering the room. I show where they are kept on the art cart and he brings a handful to the table. "Where are the eyes? We need eyes, lots of eyes"!" cries another, as I bring the wiggly eyes down from a higher shelf. Some things are purposefully out of reach of the youngest. When it comes to small items, for safety sake, I like to keep my own eye on their usage. While these same materials were used in previous puppet-making sessions, as loose parts they can be used in many ways.

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"It's a smile, a green smile," laughs another child placing a piece of colored masking tape directly on the table underneath two pink eyes she'd chosen. She continues taping around her work, saying, "It's a bus. He's riding a bus." I chuckle at the little creature she's brought to life with only wiggly eyes, tape and her own inventiveness.

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I try not to ask questions that might interrupt or define their creativity, but sometimes I am unable to contain myself. As one 4 year old confessed about his "potty-talk," "It just popped out."

"Are you making puppets?" "popped out" to a resounding "Yesssssss" from several of the children.

As paper bags and wiggly eyes have been recently added to our open-ended "staples" in the art cart, I notice the 2-3 year olds choosing them repeatedly. Having materials from favorite activities available and accessible to the children encourages extended focus, exploring, self-direction and independence.

With accessibility and choice, many children are taking greater risks in their puppet making. Previously, only eyes and perhaps a smile were represented by most of the children. Now, they are elaborating on their creations.

They often choose materials that build on their last experience. They also taste (sometimes quite literally) the materials brought to the table by other children. Besides the staples, offering new materials adds excitement. More children become interested in the process as different materials are introduced.

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I watch another 3 year old deliberately choose and place his materials on a paper bag. The face itself was made from a piece of fabric that had been donated that morning by a parent. She was recycling her son's Rainbow Ghost Halloween costume, which included the striped sheet and wild, fake fur. Colored sticks became the catalyst for the "matching" stripes on his puppet's clothing.

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It was delightful to witness the creativity shown by the child. This 3 year old had found a way to express himself uniquely. That's the beauty of open-ended materials. Who would have imagined creating both a smile and striped clothes using the colored sticks.

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I've offered some of the same materials for decades and continue to be surprised by how each child uses them. As teachers, we provide the materials and assist as skills are being mastered. The children provide the endless creativity and imagination.

A 2 year old is mastering two skills, stringing beads and cutting sticky tape. Using the beads (also kept high), she made a necklace for her puppet and a shiny pipe cleaner. She then went back to the task of cutting the desired length of tape without tangling it. Children often take natural breaks and work on another part of their project. Those who persevere with neither breaks nor success have an opportunity to learn a new feeling for their emotional literacy vocabulary: frustration. This then becomes an opportunity for group learning, with the children volunteering what helps them when frustrated.

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Having observed these young children stay focused on their puppets for almost an hour of joyful creating, I felt hopeful and optimistic about the state of our future world. I couldn't help but think of how this self-directed play could be added to their repertoire of peaceful expression in their lifetime of learning toolbox.

SUGGESTIONS:

Your open-ended supplies, such as colored tape, wiggly eyes, feathers, string, yarn, oil pastels, paper, paper bags and markers can be supplemented with gathered and parent/community donated materials.

Families are very willing to bring in offerings for the children's art making. You may want to post or let parents know of your wish list. Beautiful wrapping paper, small cardboard boxes, packing foam, anything that does not dictate how it is to be used is a resource for the children's creativity.

We do not need to constantly change the loose parts, fearing the children will become bored. Their resourcefulness will utilize the same materials in many different ways. They have the capacity to expand their art-making as far as their imaginations will take them.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Rainbow or White Paper Craft Bags

Colored Masking Tape

Black Wiggly Eyes - 1000 Pieces

Super Feather Classroom Pack

Colorations® Acrylic Yarn- Set of 12

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels - Set of 28

Lightweight Construction Paper, 9" x 12" - 500 Sheets

Colorations® Mini Dabber Dot Markers - Set of 24

Observing and Sharing Competencies

Our school was recently graced with early childhood expert Deb Curtis, who did a presentation for a staff development workshop. One aspect of her "thinking lens" for reflection is that of children's competencies. (Harvest Resources Associates) Observing children's actions through the lens of what they were capable of, including what we don't initially see as such, sparked my thinking.

While we often share with parents and other staff members anecdotes about children's learning, less often do we bring the children themselves into the conversation. Since Deb's presentation, I have been increasing my comments directly to the children.

In particular, I am noticing the growth in what they are able to accomplish. Sometimes I offer them a memory, such as, "I remember when you were learning to cuttape. It's not easy to work with sticky masking tape that often gets stuck on the scissor or tangled before you can attach it."

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"You were so proud. I remember you shouting, 'I did it!' You kept cutting more and more pieces, and shouting, 'I did it!' each time. Then you learned to use the tape to connect tubes. Your smile was just as wide as when you learned to cut tape. And now, you can create amazing designs with those same materials. You're still using tubes and tape. But, look what you are able to do with them!"

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From making designs with tubes and tape, this same child stretched his exploring to create designs with the tape itself.

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Another child, who had recently become interested in recycled materials, quickly began to expand the size and purpose of his art. He went from handheld objects to those he could put his whole body into.

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E-mailing home photos and text of observations and appreciations widens the circle of encouragement. It brings in the perspectives of the parents and family members and strengthens the bridge between school and home.

By modeling appreciation for their growth and authenticity, we give children a framework for valuing their own experience and learning. Hopefully, it can assist in creating a structure not based on comparison with others, but rather on appreciating their own interest, progress and mastery. By doing this, we help set our children on course for a lifetime of authentic learning, as well as greater inner peace and happiness.

GUIDELINES:

1. Observations:

Making time to observe the world of children and what they are mastering is invaluable. While I am privileged to work with small groups, where witnessing each child's learning is simpler, the classroom teachers have observations built into their schedules. Hats off to the leadership of our director!

For those of you who are interested in this practice, I have a couple of suggestions:

  • Work with your teammates to create a regular observation time. You could observe a small group of children, while your teammates have the remainder of the children in your outside space. While a 1/2 hour is recommended, even 15 minutes will be of benefit.
  • If separating the group to be observed is not possible, have your teammates be responsible for the majority of the children while you observe a smaller group. Trading off being the observer will keep things fair.
  • You might want to wear a sign that designates you as an observer so that the children get used to your silent witnessing. At first, they will likely ask you lots of questions and try to engage you. You can let them know that you're doing important work: watching all the amazing things they do. You can tell them that you'd be glad to share your observations with them afterwards.

2. Recycled and Open Ended Materials

The same recycled materials can be an ongoing source of engagement for children. I remember thinking that the children would never stay interested in toilet paper and paper towel tubes. I am happy to report my error. These easily collected loose parts remain favorites.

For lenses of observation and many other wonderful ways of viewing children's play as connected to learning and development theories and research, I enthusiastically recommend Reflecting Children's Lives: A Handbook for Planning Your Child-Centered Curriculum by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter (Redleaf Press, 2011).

A B C D: Fostering interest in reading and writing through the expressive arts

Inside one of the art cart’s drawers are the alphabet beads. The children use them in many different ways, connecting them by elastic string or pipe cleaner if they want to take them home. I observed one three year old begin by writing an M on a piece of Manila paper. Matching an M from the letter drawer, he shouted enthusiastically, “M for me!” Indeed it was, as M is the first letter of his name: Matthew.

His delight was evident as he proclaimed, “I’m sooo happy.”

“What makes you so happy, “I asked? “School!  I’m so happy with my teachers and my friends. School!”

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He began using other letters, sounding them out and laughing. “This is a wacky game,” he stated as he realized the letters formed funny sounds. I was amazed at his ability to sound out the random letters. I asked if he did this at home. He nodded.

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He then noticed and asked about the letters on our art cart of loose parts. (Loose Parts: See blog of May 3, 2013: Open Ended Creativity)  Children from previous years, also interested in letters, had used colored tape to make the first letter of what was contained inside the drawers.  As the materials often change, at times the letters do not match.

“That’s an X,” said the boy, clearly puzzled, as he looked inside at the envelopes.

“Do you want to help me change the letter,” I asked. He did and directed the making of an E.

“You did it,” he cheered as the E became recognizable.

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I like to have letters, in many forms, included in our art cart of loose parts. Those who are interested will choose them, others will choose additional materials. As I see the children each year they attend preschool, I’m privileged to watch their interests grow and change.

One child who made letters using colored tape when he was three, (Photo in blog of May 3, 2013) now, at four, is able to sound out and write the words “Justin’s heart for mommy” on a large sheet of construction paper.

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The heart activity emerged when I was asked by another child to draw them a heart. Instead, I showed her how to create one of her own by folding a paper in half and drawing and cutting on a curved line. Those interested mastered cutting along the drawn line and unfolding the paper to discover the heart. “Draw LOVE on your heart, “ Justin said. When the other child wasn’t interested in writing, he decided to make a heart of his own.

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When left to pursue what engages them, the children have a diverse range of interests. While these two children were very interested in letters, others are not. Those who develop their interest early become the teachers when their peers are ready.

Later, when other children ask me how to form letters, I ask those who have mastered the skill to teach their friends. (blog of August 1, 2013: Young Children as Mentors)

On the preschool level, readiness is the key to mastering new skills. Being able to make choices according to individual interest paves the way for a lifetime of learning.

GUIDELINES FOR PARENTS AND TEACHERS:

In blog of April 8, 2013, I wrote of setting up open ended materials and tools for working with colored masking tape, elastic cord, glue sticks, scissors, etc.  I keep the loose parts in an art cart but, there are many other options for containing materials.

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Having letters and/or numbers also available as loose parts will offer additional opportunities as their interest in reading and writing grows. Children who may not appear to be interested in writing, may surprise us by their interest in forming words and names when letters, such as the alphabet beads, are available in your expressive arts center.

Being able to work with many open ended material, and having them available to use in different ways than traditionally intended, furthers children’s creativity. Their confidence is built by our recognition and appreciation of how they express themselves.

Working within small groups, where we can be present as a child’s ideas emerge is another joyful aspect of teaching young children.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Colored Masking Tape – 1 Roll (Item #34CMT)

Supply Cabinet (Item #X9510JC)

Set of all 10 Packs - Colorations® Colored Pipe Cleaners (Item #IPCSET)

Colorations® Construction Paper Classroom Pack - 2500 Sheets (Item #MAJORPAK)

Preschool Puzzles - Letters, Numbers and Signs - Set of 6 (Item #PREPZST6)

NEXT: More on larger projects with loose parts and recycled materials

Just the Right Size to Go Home (Navigating Creativity Within Limited Space)

With the new school year come new classrooms, exciting new work and new rules. The Expressive Arts room also has a new rule this year. Besides "No collecting without connecting" and "No weapons," we now have a height limit on take-home art.

While some teachers have bought art carts to accommodate the flow of bigger and bigger art, even those were beginning to overflow. The problem to be solved is how to encourage those children who had a creative urge for BIGGER while accommodating limited storage space in classrooms and homes.

One solution is to have the children measure their own projects. The Orange Arrow Measuring Wall was created for this purpose.

  • Use a horizontal piece of colored masking tape to designate what would fit into the art drawers.
  • Tape a vertical arrow pointing down to indicate the size that could go back into the classroom and then home.
  • Tape an arrow pointing up from the horizontal line to indicate the art that would need to be hung on the wall until their parents came to pick it up.
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  • For art that extends above the orange line, notes are given to the children for their parents. It gives the deadline for either picking up the art or choosing to have it recycled. Space allowing, it could also be left taped to the wall.
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I introduced the oldest class, our 5 year olds, to The Orange Arrow Measuring Wall and explained how it works. Other than one grumbled, "Oh, no, another rule," the children seemed accepting. Individually and in groups, they were empowered to monitor size on their own without need for adult intervention. They measured and discerned which art pieces could go directly home and which needed parental permission. The children were then able to enjoy making their art without size limits while still accommodating the classroom and home needs. They were also able to claim the Expressive Arts room as theirs with the art that they taped to the wall.

I continued to observe how this new rule was being received and was delighted when their playfulness soon surfaced. "Look, Elyse, I'm too big to go home," said one Polar Bear, measuring himself and pointing out how much he extended beyond the horizontal orange line.

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"We'll just have to Tape you to the wall and leave a note for your parents to come pick you up here," I joked.

The line-up of those measuring themselves began. Like a favorite story, I said the same comment to each and everyone laughed.

Then one child, wearing his newly made mask, crouched down low enough to stay under the height limit.

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"Look at me," he crowed. "I'm just the right size to go home!"

Again, a line formed with children repeating that they, too, were just the right size to go home. Spontaneously, they all began walking around the room on their knees, laughing uproariously.

Some days, new rules and limits can be a whole lot of fun.

Playing with Puppets and Children

Here we are, back to school! You've likely prepared in many ways to create a comfortable atmosphere for the children new to your classroom. You may already use puppets to bridge the gap into the children's world and help welcome them. If you don't, this topic is especially for you. Working with young children, you are already masters of improvisation. Working with puppets can be a natural extension of what you do every day.

Some of us are natural animators. We can pick up a sock, a stuffed animal, or a piece of cheese and give it a voice and movement. At the other end of the scale are those of us who are intimidated by using puppets in our classrooms or homes. We may feel self-conscious or simply think it is out of our skill range. But, if there's even a spark of desire to use puppets, it's worth navigating the process of getting comfortable with using them.

The concepts and practices I'm sharing were developed for a class at San Francisco State University. At the time, I was performing with life-sized woven puppets, including one called Ms. Tree. She was a scary and very unusual looking tree (birds were afraid to nest in her branches).

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I often used Ms. Tree to illustrate making friends with what or who we are afraid of. Getting to know those who appear different from us encourages inclusion. (Of course, for preschoolers on the first day of school, I'd suggest using a friendlier-looking puppet.)

To Begin:

Before engaging in collaborative puppet play with children, let's prepare ourselves with solo adult play. Start by choosing a puppet that you are attracted to. Your home or classroom likely offers many choices. There are many inexpensive and expressive ones that you can purchase. You can also make one of your own from socks, material scraps, or found/recycled materials.

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I. GETTING COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR PUPPET

Before engaging with the children, you will need to get comfortable with your puppet. Start by noticing your own levels of comfort or discomfort as you get ready to play with your puppet. If puppetry is a new tool, you will gain valuable insight into what we ask children to do day after day.

Our own experience deepens our understanding of what children may experience. It's certainly helped me gain greater compassion for their resilience and willingness for ongoing learning. Our adult play becomes a bridge to the child's world. An additional benefit of naming and navigating our emotions is that it becomes an avenue of developing the puppets character.

Remember dancing endlessly in front of your adolescent mirror before going out on the dance floor? Practice at home. When most uncomfortable, I think of all the things we ask children to do that they've never done before. It also gives me insight into the many ways we can respond to something new. And then I practice until the awkwardness diminishes.

Movement:

There is a range of movement that will be unique to each puppet. Play with it; see what is possible. Does it have a full body that is capable of varied movement you can explore? Or are there only a few parts of the puppet that are moveable? Does it have a mouth that opens when you speak? Or will you have to demonstrate who is talking by some gesture or slight movement when it interacts with another puppet?

Voice:

Explore and find a voice you can sustain without strain. I've discovered some varied and interesting voices through trying on different ones, but some chatty puppets cause my voice to strain. You want to enjoy this and create as much ease as possible.

Once you find a voice that fits your vocal range, you can strengthen it by having the puppet become a "tour guide." Move through your home, having it point out things of interest. You can have it tell stories of where items came from. Using memories or future plans, let your puppet speak aloud. It may seem awkward at first, but it is all part of gaining a certain level of comfort before you leap into working with children.

Developing a Character:

If we are willing to lean into either our discomfort or our sense of fun and curiosity, we will discover everything we need to enliven our puppets.

Feeling shy? Have the puppet move in ways that express this through movement or voice. Would it hide behind you? Whisper to you? Stay inside its shell? I've made a family of turtles that I've used for years to express both shyness and "sticking your neck out."

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How would your puppet move if frustrated, angry, sad, insecure or excited? Use the feelings you notice in yourself to give life to the puppet. The feelings we embody are also expressed through behavior we've observed from the children themselves. The puppets become relatable to the children when you enliven them in this way.

II. STRETCHING BEYOND YOUR COMFORT LEVEL

Once you are comfortable, you're ready to have your puppet interact with children. You might want to start with one or two children. It could be your own, your neighbor's, young relatives or any of the children new to your classroom.

What Makes You Feel Better: Have the children interview the puppet. In the process you'll continue to develop its character. You can pretend the puppet is a new student at school. It can be the puppet's first day as well. Have it express the myriad of feelings a child may have from withdrawal to elation.

With a withdrawn child, you can have the puppet ask for help. "What makes you feel better when feeling shy or uncertain?" The puppet may have to supply the answers, asking whether holding a stuffy, sitting on a lap, drawing a picture or writing a letter home to parents helps. In the process of the interview, you will learn much about what makes that child more comfortable.

When You Were My Age: Have the children ask something they'd like to know about the puppet when it was their age. There are no incorrect answers. You might want to use your own childhood or those of your children.

Again, you may prefer to have the puppet whisper to you as if shy, and you speak the answers. Empathy develops with the puppet as you express more of how it feels and speaks of childhood events. Expressing vulnerability and transparency through the puppet is a way to create rapport between child and puppet

III. READY, SET, LEAP

Chatting with Puppets:

I often use this exercise for the first day of school and many of the days that follow.

Children will often talk to puppets with more ease and confidence than they might an adult new to their life. They are more open and willing to share their thoughts and feelings. A puppet is a "door" into a child's world.

The more you practice and play with your puppet and children, the more you'll learn about it. As you build its character, it takes on a life of its own. At times, I am convinced that I'm simply standing back and watching. I often have to stop myself from laughing aloud at the unplanned antics.

Each of us has a reservoir of creativity within. We also have a storehouse of behaviors that we've observed in our children. Some of us will intentionally emulate the children and some of us will intuitively call forth movement, gestures and often the children's own words.

In the process of playing with puppets and children, you may find great enjoyment, fun and possibly a new passion!

Resource: Jacobs, Elyse. "Puppet Play Explores Feelings and Emotions," Scholastic Pre-K Today, 1989.

Below are some product recommendations, from Discount School Supply, to get you started:

Excellerations™ Tabletop Puppet Theater

Excellerations™ Standing Puppet Theater

Animal Hand Puppets – Set of 12

Around The World Puppets – Set of 6

Young Children as Collaborators with Parents and Teachers

I have been reviewing manuscripts written for or with my now-adult daughter from when she was a young child. One is called "Tell Don’t Yell." In total transparency, twenty years ago, I often expressed myself through yelling when I was frustrated. People who know me now are amazed that I was ever less than peaceful. Back then, I was less than peaceful, both inside and out. I had to learn how to find the peace I now teach others.

My motivation for change was my beloved 8-year-old daughter's response to my behavior. "Mom," she said one day, "Tell don't yell. When you yell, I feel like you don't love me anymore."

Tears spring forth from that memory, which sparked a journey into becoming a more loving parent, a more compassionate teacher and a better person.

"Tell Don't Yell" was a one of the manuscripts we wrote together. Our collaboration built a bridge between us that my yelling was knocking down. Effective communication between adults and children is something we all desire. Yet, old patterns and habits can be a roadblock.

I can still vividly recall when I attempted to hurry her morning cat-play, so that she'd get to the school bus stop on time. I was sprouting an abundance of words that began to grow louder as my efforts became less effective.

At the exact moment before my amygdala took over and my intellect lost control, my daughter took the cat off her shoulders.

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She stood and looked up at me, her earnest little face illuminated. She spoke aloud her young child wisdom, as if reading a page in our collaboration:

My mother yells too much.

She yells in the kitchen.

She yells in the hall.

I'd be on my way to school right now

If her words weren't blocking the door.

With that I laughed, hugged my brilliant co-writer and reached for a pen to capture her exact words.

Her words stayed with me until, with consistent motivation and innovation, I learned to tell, not yell.

We all thrive on loving connections. If there is a disconnect between ourselves and our children, we are very capable of initiating a reconnection. While we often feel uncomfortable, ashamed or embarrassed at momentarily "losing it," we need to forgive ourselves for not being the perfect parents or teachers we'd like to be and move forward. One thing I know to be true: we will always be given another opportunity for more generative communication with our children.

Guidelines for Collaboration:

  • Writing a story or book together is one form of adult/child collaboration.
  • Making up songs together are another way to collaborate. (See June 4, 2013 blog on Spontaneous Song)
  • Improvisation or puppet shows can be extremely fun activities for both adults and children. Here is one activity you can add to your collection of tools.

 Let’s Trade Places (You Can Be Me, I Can Be You)

  • Have the child play the part of the parent or teacher; the adult plays the part of the child.
  • Use a current topic/issue: such as "getting ready for school" for parents; "clean-up time" for teachers.
  • Set the scene: you can have the children determine where it takes place, what has just happened or is about to happen.
  • Allow the children as much responsibility as possible for setting the storyline. With very shy children, they may need prompting. Sometimes, having an extroverted child in a "director's" role will move the improvisation along. You can also ask for audience suggestions as to "What Happens Next?"
  • In expressing yourselves from each other's point of view, you come to a better understanding. I've had a very accurate mirror of my behavior reflected by children who pretend to be Elyse. Humor is so important when initiating change, reducing conflict or finding creative solutions.

In our collaborative story, Arianna was my teacher. I had daily homework: practicing telling, not yelling. Loving her as I do, I was a very willing and successful student.

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In the years following our collaboration, I've dusted that retro chalk dust off my hands and learned to be an effective communicator, especially when frustrated.

Peace in our homes and classrooms begins with us.

Peace,

Elyse

Next Blog: Playing with puppets and children. You'll receive detailed activities I used in teaching an adult class, Puppetry and Its 500 Hats, at a local university.

YOUNG CHILDREN AS MENTORS

  "But I don't knooooow the marriage dance," the 3 year old lamented, interrupting the ''wedding" in the dramatic play area. "Now I can't get married!"

The wedding party stood frozen. What would happen next?  I continued to observe as the “groom" stepped forward saying, "It's easy. I'll teach you." He gently took her hand.

She began to follow his lead and soon they were co-creating their dance. The others smiled and went back to work, laying down a paper aisle for the reunited couple.

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Children often naturally mentor each other. We, their teachers and parents, can support and encourage them by noticing.

I witnessed a more-hesitant child focusing on a very skilled classmate. The girl was designing a process for making a stuffy. When the shyer child was asked if he'd like to make one, he shook his head vigorously.

"But I don't know how," he qualified. I waited to see if he'd ask or if someone would volunteer to help him. He glanced at the others who were all attending to their own work, but seemed unable to ask for help.

I paused, and then asked the girl, "When you're finished, would you please teach your friend what you've discovered? He'd like to make a stuffy, too."

She agreed, and with great patience and generosity, mentored him. He was then able to join her in celebration, joyfully parading their stuffies around the room, singing with glee.

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As I was writing this blog, two alumni appeared at the cafe. I asked the siblings if they had ever taught each other. They each nodded. The older brother then demonstrated by placing a green clown nose over his own.  He just happened to be carrying it in his pocket after finishing a week of clowning camp!  I love synchronicity!

From that same deep pocket, he withdrew a pack of cards. He then mentored his sister through clowning tricks he had just mastered.

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GUIDELINES FOR TEACHERS:

  • NOTICING:
    • "Catch them doing good" is what I first heard it called, while I was teaching language through the arts in a public elementary school.
    • Call gentle attention to a behavior we value through oral appreciation of what we have observed.

"I noticed that when your friend felt sad because she didn't know the dance you taught her. Now she, too, knows how."

  • INCLUSION:
    • Partnering children of different practical or social skill levels encourages scaffolding and greater participation. It contributes to an inclusive environment.
    • When a child asks for help, encourage a child who has mastered that skill to be a teacher. "You were able to figure that out. Can you now teach your friend what you've learned?"

As teachers and parents we have ongoing daily opportunities to create a more-peaceful and integrated classroom, family and community.

FOCUS AND CONCENTRATION: Enhanced through the Expressive Arts

Once motivated, a preschooler’s ability to focus and concentrate can expand far beyond our expectations. At times, it is the mastery of the skill itself that attracts a child’s attention. Learning to cut sticky tape at 3 years old can be frustrating, yet the challenge is also exciting. Once the skill of cutting tape is learned, it opens the door to a new world of connecting. I am often amazed at how a young child can stay focused on the project of his or her choice. My classes are for an hour and a half. During one session, I observed the progress of a 3-year-old girl choosing her materials from the recycling boxes.

Green plastic berry baskets first caught her eye. When there is a limited amount of one item, I usually tell all the children to only take what they need. I suggest starting with one or two.  As we get to know the children, we can discern who might need prompting about "supply and demand" and who has made an intentional choice. In the case of this 3-year-old, I observed her careful selection of four berry baskets and made no comment as I continued to observe.

Her interest moved to segments of cardboard fruit holders. They’d been given to us, just that morning, by a teacher who offered her caterpillar project for expressive arts repurposing. Four blue cardboard ovals were chosen. This child had something in mind. She then chose the color of her tape and scissors with as much attention as she did the other materials.

After carefully cutting pieces of tape, she used them to outline the top of the berry baskets. I noticed that as she progressed from basket to basket, her estimates of the length of the tape that would fit each side of the basket grew more exact.

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She’d stop taping now and then to work on another part of the project. She decorated, also very precisely, the cardboard fruit ovals with sticky jewels (see "Sticky Jewels," blog; July 5, 2012) and then placed one oval in each basket. Then she’d return to the challenging task at hand, the tape trim for the baskets, with renewed concentration.

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I’ve attempted to teach this concept of "taking a break" from an arduous task and working on another part of the project. This child innately knew what to do.

She continued with her project for 50 minutes. When it was time to return to the classroom, she placed the four baskets, with great care, in a little shopping bag to take home. She looked up, smiled, and joined her classmates at the door.

TEACHER SUGGESTIONS:

Materials:

  • Keep recycled materials fresh.
  • New and interesting items for repurposing can be gathered by the parents and from your own and other classrooms.

EFFECTIVE PROMPTS I’ve used with children:

  • Take what you need and save some for your friends.
  • Start with one or two. After you connect them, come back for more.
  • “No collecting without connecting” began as a necessity because the children filled their pockets with the treasures from Expressive Arts.

ADDITIONAL SUGGESTIONS for teachers:

  • Being able to play with the materials in the room but needing to connect them in order to bring them home becomes the motivation for building with the materials. (See "No Collecting Without Connecting" blog; April 25, 2012)
  • As we get to know the children, we can discern who might need prompting regarding selecting materials and who has made an intentional choice. In the case of this 3 year old, observing her careful selection of four berry baskets, I made no comment.
  • When a child is able to master a skill or has found his/her own way to accomplish a task, we teachers can remember this for later.

I plan to be able to say to this savvy 3-year-old, when a classmate has become frustrated with an extended project, “Remember when you were making the berry basket art and you had four baskets to trim with colored tape? I noticed that you would stop and work on decorating the cardboard ovals with sticky jewels and then go back to taping. I liked how you gave yourself a break from the very hard work of taping. Do you think you could help your friend to learn how to do that with his project?”

  • Peer mentors are often more effective than our own instruction. They may be thinking, “If my classmate can do this, so can I.”

My next blog will be on Young Children as Mentors.

Love,

Elyse

Postscript: Upon seeing these photos, the 3-year-old's dad said jokingly, “I love that she's got her bike helmet on while using the scissors. Safety first!”

Skill Building with the Expressive Arts

"I'm putting them all out to see which one is my favorite," said the three year old. He was mesmerized by the assortment of shiny colored scissors, arranging them purposefully on the rug in the Expressive Arts room.

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"Which one is your favorite" he asked, touching his own personal choices and reciting the color of each.

Observing his beautiful arrangement, I sensed his visual enjoyment.

In the Expressive Arts room, it's difficult to distinguish the art materials from the tools used to work with them. The multi-colored scissors and brightly-colored tape add to the pleasure of art-making and the skills being developed.

"Look at this," his classmate called out proudly. He had just cut a piece of tape for his "ghost catcher." He grasped the ends of the long piece of tape in both hands and kept it from curling as he connected it to his artwork.

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Fine motor skills are developed and strengthened as the children are motivated to cut and connect in the making of their creations.

As he taped, the boy enthusiastically relayed a long story on the mechanics of his "ghost catcher." He elaborated playfully on how each part would first vacuum up and then trap the ghosts.

Storytelling and verbal skills, in addition to physical ones, are encouraged and strengthened as the preschoolers attend joyfully to their art-making.

SHARED THOUGHTS FOR TEACHERS AND PARENTS:

  • Bins of tools or a display that is accessible to the children encourages and invites their use.
  • With easy accessibility, safety rules are also needed. Use repetition to make clear what is allowed to be cut (paper, tape, fabric, etc.) and what is not allowed (hair, skin, clothing, etc.)
  • Younger children will need monitoring for safety reminders.
  • Strong limits are encouraged for misuse. In Expressive Arts, using a scissor as a weapon instead of a tool will result in putting it away for the day. Having to learn to tear tape, or having to ask a friend to cut for you, is a kinesthetic memory that encourages proper use.
  • Creating an environment of safety gives the children the freedom to expand creatively and have a lot of fun.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Fiskars® for Kids Blunt Tip Scissors - Set of 12 (Item # CLST)

Printed Craft Tape - Set of 10 Rolls (Item # PRINTED)

Spontaneous Song: Singing Magic for Classroom Management

After specializing in puppetry and the expressive arts for a long time, I surprised myself this year by discovering a new tool: Spontaneous Song. Having fun with music, particularly singing, did not come easily. Rather, it came from necessity, the mama of all inventions. I was experiencing a great deal of frustration when it came time for clean up or changing activities. All my effective tools had lost their edge as the children turned 4 and became more independent (i.e., began pushing limits).

I was losing some of my joy and delight in working with the children, and this was unacceptable to me. I could have put the blame on burnout, or told myself that, after 27 years, it was time to gracefully retire. I could have put the problem on the kids themselves. However, being an emotionally intelligent adult, I chose instead to change my response to the situation. I had the burning desire to make this change, but I just didn't know how to do so.

As is often true of burning desire, the answer comes from within (or from others). One day, during a particularly frustrating session where I'd been virtually ignored by the preschoolers, I found my emotions expanding. Here I was, a veteran preschool teacher, engaged in a power struggle with eight 4-year-olds, and I was losing. It's a known fact that even when we win a power struggle with a preschooler, what we lose is peace of mind.

For those of you who appreciate brain science, my emotions were about to hijack my amygdala. I needed to get back to a place of choice, to let my intellect catch up. I knew there were other choices, but I was clueless as to what they were.

I took some extraordinary long breaths and centered myself. It was then, from the depths of me, that a solution came to mind: SING! What? Me sing? I had been labeled a "listener" in my childhood for not knowing the purpose of a pitch pipe when I tried out for chorus. But I trusted my inner knowing. If "SING" was the message, then I would do my best.

And so, I burst into Spontaneous Song!

To the tune of "This Old Man," I sang out:

 That little boy, He's two plus two.

He won't put on his shoe. What can I do, What can I do? He won't put on his shoe.

The room grew silent. They were listening. Preschoolers love repetition, so I sang another verse:

That little girl She's two plus two. She will not put on her shoe.

What can I do, What can I do She will not put on her shoe!

The room of preschoolers burst into giggles. I had them now and invited them to help me solve the problem.

What can I do what can I do? They will not put on their shoes.

Within moments, the children grabbed their discarded shoes and put them on. Having fun with music had saved the day. And I had once again fallen in love with my preschoolers.

I laughed through the final verse:

I was frustrated, now I'm calm.

Thanks for helping shut off The Elyse alarm.

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With all of our spirits raised, I returned the children, with their shoes back on, to their classroom.

Now I make up songs about what I appreciate in the children, about what I value. I sing of the kindness I've noticed them offering their friends. I also sing about the behavior I would like to change. Singing about what I'd like to see them doing differently can create ease instead of struggle.

It's still a lot of fun to make up a song about my responses to their behavior, particularly misbehavior. Laughing at myself is a wonderful way to move through my frustration and get back to having fun with these amazing preschoolers.

HELPFUL HINTS for those of you who are not veterans to this practice:

  • Choose a tune that's easy for you to remember for spontaneous song writing
  • Note the behavior that is happening, either as modeling or something you'd like to change
  • Are there any feelings you'd like to name either in yourself or the children? Building emotional literacy is an ongoing value
  • Is there a need for change that you'd like to see, or recognition of an act of kindness or fairness? Our noticing these positive values, put to song (particularly rhyme), is something that will delight the children.

Music Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Growing Up with Ella Jenkins CD (Item # ELLA)

"All-Time Favorite Dances" CD by Kimbo Educational (Item # DANCE)

Rhythm Club™ - Set of 4 Drums (Item # CLUB)

African Music Instruments - Set of 6 (Item # AFINT)

STORY-MAKING

“Would you help me with my words?” the 3-year-old asked. “I’ll tell them to you and you write them.” He brought me a piece of paper and a yellow crayon; he then sat down beside me and began dictating. When we finished, he asked me to read his story. Afterwards, he smiled broadly and nodded his head in approval. Creating stories with young children can originate from many sources of inspiration.

  • The children may initiate the idea and dictate to us.
  • We can sit beside them while they draw and ask them to tell us about it. Some children’s highly representational work lends itself to a narrative. However, lines and scribbles on paper also come alive in the imagination of a child.
  • Observing their dramatic play, we can write what we see and read it back to the children. They will then edit and revise our written version, affirming or correcting our interpretation of their play.
  • Different mediums can offer opportunities for story making to ignite. Blank drawing paper can be a source of inspiration.

A 4-year-old asked for the drawing paper each time she came to Expressive Arts. She had made a series of drawings about her younger brother, whom she adores (with a healthy dose of appropriate sibling rivalry).

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Noticing the frown on the small figure, bottom left, I asked her how he felt.

“Sad, very sad. That’s my brother. He’s in a hospital,” she continued. “He’s sad because Grandma is leaving and he’s not home from the hospital yet.”

Knowing this story began as an actual event and was expanded through imagination, art and dramatic play, I asked if I could write her story. She agreed and began dictating to me. The story was very elaborate and meandered quite a distance from the original, real life story that sparked the one we were now writing. I continued to write exactly what she dictated, focusing on the feelings she expressed.

She chose a folder from the art cart and slipped both her puzzle and my transcript inside. She then chose oil pastels and began working on the cover.

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She told her story aloud as she drew her brother in his hospital bed. “I have to take care of him,”   she told me quite seriously, “So I have a bunk bed over his. “

“You love him very much and want to take care of him,” I interpreted.

“Yes, but he’s still very sad,” she said pointing to the upside down smile she had drawn on her brother in the bottom bunk of the hospital bed. “But, I’m not sad because I didn’t get hurt,” she said pointing to her smile.

She paused, remembering the real life origin of her story. “But, I cried when he really got hurt.”

“That’s called empathy” I said, knowing how fascinated with a new word a 4-year-old can often be. “You felt his hurt because you love him.”

“I do,” she somberly nodded. “But, he will still have to stay in the hospital for two years.”

Encourage story-making with young children by providing each child with a dedicated folder they can use to keep all words and pictures that relate to their stories. The children can draw on the front of their folders to make a unique cover for their stories.

GUIDELINES FOR DRAWING AND STORY-MAKING:

  • Set up a table with Colorations® construction paper, folders, Colorations® oil pastels and Colorations® markers and crayons.
  • Let the children know that, after they finish drawing, you are interested in hearing what the meaning of each picture is.
  • As the children complete their work, have them dictate their stories to you.
  • Some children may need more structure; you may want to suggest a theme. Some ideas could be: “Our Families,” “Animals I Love,” “The Funniest Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” or whatever is emerging in your classroom that interests the children.
  • Once you have all the children’s stories compiled, read them aloud to the whole group.
  • Be ready to have them chant, “Again!”

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels Classpack (Item # COPACK)

Colorations® Extra Large Crayons – Set of 200 (Item # CRXLG)

Colorations® Regular Crayons - Set of 8 (Item # CRS8)

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels - Set of 28 (Item # COP)

Colorations® Marker & Crayon Combo Pack- 400 Pieces (Item # MARCRAY)

Colorations® Construction Paper Smart Pack - 600 Sheets (Item # SMARTSTK)

The Ultimate Art Paper - 100 Sheets (Item # 9UP)

Pocket & Brad Folder (Item # BTS023)

Open Ended Creativity

In researching theories that aligned with the practical suggestions on this blog, I rediscovered Simon Nicholson’s theory of “loose parts.”  “In any environment, the degree of creativity and inventiveness is directly proportional to the number of variables in it." - Simon Nicholson

The theory of “loose parts” first proposed by architect Simon Nicholson in the 1970s has begun to influence child-play experts. Nicholson believed that it is the loose parts in our environment that empower our creativity.

Loose parts are materials with no definite direction; they can be used alone or combined with other materials, natural or synthetic. Loose parts inspire children to use materials as they choose, encouraging imagination and originality, which provides a wide range of opportunity, one that is not purely adult led. Children playing with loose parts are developing more skill and competence than they would by playing with most man-made toys.

To read the complete version of this article in which the above statements and information have been pulled from please Click here.

Looking around my Expressive Arts room with drawers of open-ended materials, I am reminded of the unlimited nature of children’s art-making. All they need is to combine their chosen materials, or “loose parts,” with their imagination, skills, creativity and ideas.

Inside one bin, the plastic numbers and letters fascinated a 3-year-old. He was able to pick out and order numerically with ease. When his search for a “2’ was unsuccessful, he made his own out of colored tape. Image

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He did the same, on another day, with the letters, constructing a difficult “h” quite skillfully with tape as well, as drawing a missing “M.”

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Another 3-year-old, was using the rainbow crayons to draw on one of the large boxes recently brought in by a parent.

“They don’t work,” she told me, holding up the crayon. Upon looking, I noticed that the colors were not as vivid as she wanted on the brown cardboard.

“You could try these bright colors,” I offered, presenting theColorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels Classpack. She took them and began to draw inside the box. I watched her place the colors next to each other and realized she was creating her own rainbow.

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As she happily sat inside the box she began expanding her rainbow into a very sophisticated and beautiful expression. For the next 45 minutes she sat quietly creating her own rainbow.

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At the end of our time together, I found her curled up inside the box taking a well-deserved rest.

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Concentration and focus are greatly enhanced when children are self-motivated to create from what’s available.

*For more information on setting up an Expressive Arts center at school or home, see the blog post from April 8, 2013 and October 11, 2012.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels Classpack (Item # COPACK)

Colorations® Extra Large Crayons - Set of 200 (Item # CRXLG)

Colored Masking Tape - 1 Roll (Item # 34CMT)

Uppercase and Lowercase Magnetic Letters (Item # LETSET)

Magnetic Numbers - 162 Pieces (Item # MAGNUMB)

Please share your favorite "loose parts" around the classroom.