Friday, March 18, 2011

A problem to solve or a solution to facilitate?

As teachers we are many things each day; nurse, librarian, musician, actor, listener, and so on.

My question is...should we be a problem solver?

I think not.  When you solve a problem for a child, you are removing an opportunity for intense growth.

We need to be "solution facilitators" guiding the child to become the problem solver on his/her own.

Conflict resolution is a wonderful technique for dealing with peer problems that arise.

But here I want to point out being careful about even solving what seem like insignificant problems for children.

Today C. was riding a bike.  As she came around the circle another bike was blocking her way.  She stopped, looked over at me and said, "There's a bike in my way."  I replied, "Yes, there is. There is a bike in your way."

Now she did look at me a little incredulous because I didn't rush over and move the bike.  When she kept looking at me, I said, "How are you going to solve that problem?"

She then got off her bike and moved the bike that was in the way.  It took several attempts as there was a slight incline where she was trying to move the bike, but it stayed just out of the way for her to get by.

As she rode by me, she exclaimed with pride, "Look, Dana, I moved the bike!"

I think next time C. encounters this problem she will remember how to solve it, because she solved it herself.

Pay attention to yourself next time you are in the classroom or home with your own children.  Are you a problem solver or a solution facilitator?

Yes, I'm a preschool teacher and I stink!

After my post yesterday, I received a suggestion from Child Central Station about trying to explode a plastic bag with baking soda and vinegar.  My daughter in seventh grade suggested we blow up a balloon with the reaction.

Today was a glorious warm day, so we celebrated by staying outside all morning.  We decided to bring our experimenting outside with us. 

So out came the trays and the huge amounts of baking soda and vinegar, along with the new additions of skinny bottles, balloons and plastic sandwich bags. 

It was interesting to see that the children remembered the experimenting from yesterday and most went right to the dumping of all of their vinegar into the cup of baking soda, rather than the "sprinkle it on the lid" method they had used when they first started. 

After a little exploring that way, we set out to blow up the balloons.  Well, getting baking soda into a bottle is an interesting feat with four year olds.  I should have had a small funnel.

The next hurdle to pass is getting the balloon on the top as soon as the vinegar is poured before the CO2 escapes.  And if your balloon has a hole it in the result is a geyser!  Hence the smell, as I was in the direct firing line of the vinegar explosion from several torn balloons.

Letting the children explore that further was interesting.  They tried to sprinkle more baking soda and vinegar on top of the balloon to get a reaction.  It is critical at times like this to simply observe and ask probing questions rather than correct.  Some of the world's most important inventions have come from people thinking outside the box.  My goal was not for these children to go home with a firm understanding of what causes CO2 to form; it was to learn about the process of experimenting.  We try something, we watch, we try again. 

The plastic bag was really cool and truly experimental as we played with amounts of baking soda and vinegar needed for the bag to actually explode.  This really should have been a video insert here, as getting the bag closed while the reaction is happening is comical.  After a few tries of this, I was absolutely covered in baking soda and vinegar.  It was in my shoes, on my coat and in my hair. 

But as I have said before, “a dirty kid is a happy kid”, and when I am exploring exciting science with my students, I get to be a happy kid. 

I simply had to ignore the wrinkled noses as I ran errands in the afternoon.  

How to Speak to Children About Natural Disaster

A big thank you to Maureen Murphy of The Children's School for this guidance.

Dear Friends,

Like you, we are stunned and heartbroken by the events that have been unfolding in Japan since last week.  The devastation and suffering are hard for all of us to comprehend, a fact that has given us pause here at The Children’s School because we know that children, to varying degrees, are aware that something “bad” has happened and no doubt have questions and concerns.  Even with limited media exposure, children are likely to harbor very real fears about whether or not the same thing could happen in the towns in which they live.  In light of this, we thought that it would be a good idea to send along the advice of some child development experts on how to deal with your children’s questions and worries.

Large-scale natural disasters—and the ensuing television coverage—can be very scary for children.  To help them process information about these types of events, Nadja Reilly, Ph.D., a psychologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston, suggests that parents turn off the TV and talk to their children in order to combat feelings of helplessness.  Why?  Although they may occur thousands of miles away, natural disasters can be deeply upsetting for children.  “In general, you want to limit kids’ media exposure immediately after a disaster and set aside a quiet time to talk about it,” Dr. Reilly says. “It can be traumatizing to see those images over and over again, so a talk with a parent can be a good way to help children put the extent of a disaster in context.”  Limiting the family’s use of media immediately after a disaster is also good for children in terms of seeing appropriate behavior modeled for their benefit. 

Moreover, limited media use can significantly reduce the number of frightening images that children are exposed to indirectly.  For children under 8 years old, Dr. Reilly says it is important to try to keep the conversation as simple as possible.  Do not go into details of the specific disaster but rather focus on the safety of your family and the people closest to you.  Assure young children that everything possible is being done to keep them safe.  “Knowing that adults have a plan if this ever happened here gives kids a sense of stabilization and control,” she says. “It can do a lot to help them feel safer.”

For children ages 8 to 12, Dr. Reilly suggests that parents talk in more detail about the disaster, paying special attention to the emotions this information may stir in them.  Typically, preadolescents are just beginning to understand empathy, so it is likely they are going to have a lot of questions about the people living in the area affected by the disaster.  Furthermore, relief efforts by world governments and organizations like the Red Cross should be explained in detail.  Children this age are also often intrigued by the mechanics of natural disasters, so explaining the science behind their causes can make these occurrences seem less random and frightening.  “Knowing the science behind why these things happen,” Dr. Reilly says, “can be a good way for older kids to feel in control of the situation.”  For adolescents, parents should ask what they know about the earthquake and then fill in missing pieces or correct misinformation.  Anticipate discussions around the question of whether a similar event could happen in the future.  Although adolescents have the ability to discuss events on a more sophisticated level, they are still likely to feel vulnerable and may need emotional support and reassurance about their own safety.

Regardless of a child’s age, parents should suggest ways that he or she can help with relief efforts.  This is an invaluable way of empowering them during a scary time.  Your children can run a clothing drive, raise funds for the Red Cross and write letters of support.  If your family is religious, say a prayer for those affected by the disaster.  The Children’s School will be collecting donations for the Red Cross the week of April 11–15.  The National Association of Independent Schools has compiled a list of resources that provide schools and families with a number of positive ways to respond to the crisis in Japan.  Some ask for donations of food, clothing and money.  Others take a more educational tack, as you will see below:

American Red Cross

Google News Search Feed – Japan Earthquake 

Dynamic Planet Interactive Map 
(Good for an explanation of what is going on geologically in Japan.)

United States Geological Survey – World Earthquakes in the Past 7 Days

United States Geological Survey Earthquake Information – East Coast of Honshu, Japan

Nadja Reilly’s own son was 8 years old during the Haitian earthquake, and he helped to organize an event that sent sleeping bags to the island.  The entire process was a very positive experience for him, which is why Dr. Reilly suggests that parents help their children get involved with relief efforts whenever possible.  “Anything kids can do to help alleviate the suffering caused by disasters is going to help make them feel less hopeless about the event,” she says. “It benefits the kids and people directly affected by the tragedy, so any activity of that nature should be encouraged by parents and schools.”

Finally, we are attaching a terrific resource that covers in great depth the best ways to communicate with children about natural disasters, as well as manage their—and your—feelings when they occur.  It is called What Happened to My World? Helping Children Cope with Natural Disaster and Catastrophe, by Jim Greenman.  This manual has long been a favorite at The Children’s School.  Should you desire another reliable, thoughtful resource, we suggest that you go to the American Academy of Pediatrics website at:<>.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns that you want to share with us, please do not hesitate to call The Children’s School.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the families who have been affected by this tragedy.


The Children's School
118 Scofieldtown Road
Stamford, CT 06903

Jurassic Sand Play

Jurassic sand is a great addition the sensory table.  It is a bit more expensive than regular sand, but it is finer and has a smoother texture.  Plus, the red color of the sand is quite captivating.

I found some really cool red and yellow gems in the fake plant section of Wal-Mart.  They look like huge diamonds. 

For the first few days, I put out small handheld mesh strainers for the children to sift the sand and uncover the buried gems. 

A few days later larger metal colanders were added.  This prompted a great deal of cooperative play as when filled with large amounts of sand, they are too heavy for one child to lift.  They were also highly intrigued by the “rain” affect of the pouring sand.  Experiments ensued as they tried to vary the force of the falling rain by varying how much sand they could scoop. 

Yesterday, one of my students spent a great deal of time counting all of the gems.  There were over 40 of each color, so my assistant took the opportunity to help her group them by tens to aide her counting.  It was a fantastic, spontaneous math lesson.

There is still so much interest in this experience that I am inclined to leave it in place for another week.  

What would you add to continue this exploration?  I would love to hear your ideas!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Project Approach-Culminating Activity

The final step in a Project Approach investigation is the culminating activity.  The question of “who ate our birdfeeders” led to a several month long investigation into the various animals that could live around our playground. 

The children were very interested in the different animals they had learned about so we made dioramas.  As a side study, we had several children who loved to perform, so we decided to put on a play of a story they really liked. 

In order for the children to share their “expertise” we hosted a museum for their families.  We created invitations and baked animal cookies and set up our dioramas around the room as if they were exhibits.  We also displayed our documentation panels, our artifacts such as our deer hoof impressions, and our science journals.

The parent, siblings, grandparents and special friends came to the event.  The children became the naturalists guiding their guests through what they had discovered and teaching them what they had learned. 

After about 25 minutes, the children went in to the classroom next door.  A few parents helped us move the furniture to set up for our play.  I put the scenery and props out while my assistant and parent helper dressed the children in the costumes they had made. 

The transition from museum to play was remarkably smooth and the children were absolute stars in the play.  We even had a last minute role change as one of our starring animals was sick.  His friend quickly learned his lines and no one was the wiser. 

The pride on their faces was incredible. 

It was a time to celebrate learning.  The parents came and validated the importance of their play.  They showed the children that they are the experts, that their learning is important.  

They gave them the gift of truly listening to them.  

Process over Product

I am a big believer in the mantra, "Process over Product".
(It is one of my favorite topics to discuss with perspective hires.)

Basically it boils down to valuing the experience over the finished product.

A recent easel painting experience is the perfect example of this.

Looking at the finished piece, one would see a yellow piece of paper completely painted orange.  It is not much to look at and probably wouldn't make the "art wall" or refrigerator in most homes.

But the experience this boy had was incredible.  He started off using various painting tools; a dishrag brush, a sponge and a plastic wire toy.  Then he smeared the marks these made on the paper with his hands.  Feeling the texture of the paint, he dipped his hands in the paint tray leaving the brushes aside.

He "drew" on the paper with his fingers, sometimes one, sometimes several.

He erased marks and created new ones.  In between he would squish his hands together and march in place full of excitement.

He would look at the marks up close and from far away and then dive in for more sensory painting.

After a good 15 minutes or more, he finished.  He left his painting on the easel and told us he was done.

And he was.  It wasn't about showing his painting to anyone for some external reward of praise.  The process was his reward.  His experience was joyful.

I am privileged to have noticed this and watched.

"Don't sit next to me, this is dangerous!"

Yesterday we made Irish soda bread to eat today for a St. Patrick’s Day snack.  At first the children were worried because as one little boy explained, “I’m not allowed to drink soda!”

After reassuring them that the soda being used was very different from soda POP, several children helped make the bread.  After making it, we talked about whether or not it had “soda” in it and what the bakers noticed about the soda.
Because they were so curious about this mysterious powder, I quickly pulled out two enormous bags of baking soda and stopped on my way to work this morning to purchased two industrial size jugs of vinegar.  It is important when children are making discoveries that they have access to a lot of materials and can recreate the experiment several times.

I set up the experience giving each child his own work space and materials.  I explained to the children that they could experiment with the baking soda and the vinegar to see if they could figure out why we would want it as an ingredient in our bread.  I showed them putting some baking soda on a lid and then adding the vinegar.  I did not show them the reaction.  I simply left it with, “I wonder what you will discover?”

At first the children were fairly tentative putting small amounts of baking soda on their trays and adding the vinegar in small amounts.   They noticed the bubbles and the powder “puffing up” and “getting bigger.”

 Then a few children started to notice that their vinegar cup was bubbling.  This led a few to think to add the baking soda to the vinegar……and wham!  “An explosion!”  They were so excited.

What was amazing was watching the children watch each other and try to duplicate what others had discovered leading to their own experiments. We made sure not correct them or make them only do the experiment one way.  They had the freedom to use the materials as they pleased on their trays. 

One time a little girl wanted to freshen up her supplies so she cleaned off her tray and filled her clear cup with water (not remembering that we were using vinegar).  She kept adding the baking soda waiting for the expected reaction that she had caused to happen earlier.  She kept adding more baking soda to the water and absolutely nothing happened.  I asked her about this.  With a few open ended questions she was able to discern that she needed the vinegar.  She reported to others not to get water in their cups. 

And I just loved when one of my students, who I had to encourage to come over to see what we were doing, finally came.  He looked at the tray and at me, and said, “This looks very dangerous.  You better move!”  When I asked him why he thought it was dangerous, he confirmed, “It just looks it!”

It was also exciting to see others watching their peers and being drawn in to the experience.  This is when you know you have a provocative, engaging center. 

We played with this for an hour today and they really didn’t want to stop.  One of my students stayed there the entire time.  She did all of her exploding but then moved on to creating different consistencies of dough with the ingredients and noticing the changes. 

The science concepts that we were playfully learning with two simple kitchen items were endless.  I am excited to see what my chemists will discover tomorrow.