Sunday, February 9, 2020

Why teach about Black Lives Matter to preschoolers?

I am posed this question a lot.

Some have challenged me, saying that Black Lives Matter is inappropriate for preschoolers. When I begin to explain the work that I do, others have said - "oh, you are just watering it down. That's not Black Lives Matter. That's 'all lives matter.'"

Here's the thing:

What do we hope for high schoolers when they graduate, regarding mathematics? Don't we hope that they will be very strong in math, that they will be able to wrestle with concepts in algebra, trigonometry, calculus, and more? What about their literacy skills - aren't we hoping to create fervent readers? Aren't we hoping to create strong writers? Aren't we hoping that they can compose their thoughts into intelligible arguments, to be able to give bold speeches, to stand up for themselves, and to defend principles?

I do not ever speak of algebra or calculus in my preschool class. I do not ever speak about literary classics. However, I offer strong mathematical and literacy opportunities at the preschool level, laying the foundation for more challenging skills as they advance through their schooling.

Black Lives Matter can be treated similarly.

What are the skills that we want to foster in our young children so that they might be able to advocate for all? How do we lay the groundwork so that they are fortified to create a softer, kinder, inclusive world where all are supported and nurtured?

It is not okay to postpone or avoid this teaching. It begins now.

Friday, February 7, 2020

What about skin color?

Two young children, preschoolers, playing in our dramatic play center, which is all about travel these days. We have created an airplane out of a large cardboard box and this has been great fun. The two children are playing "Frozen." (How many years now has this movie been such a hit theme for our little ones?) I'm hanging out nearby, trying to catch their words and play, curious about what is going on.

The White preschooler, holding a large, old, broken calculator, which is kind of like an iPad if you use a little imagination, asks, "What color hair do you want?"
I think she is running some sort of salon, just outside that plane - maybe in the airport?
The Black preschooler steps out of the airplane and says, "Blue."
The White preschooler asks, "What color hair do you want, Ms. Ingram?"
I say, "I like my gray hair. I don't want to change it."
She laughs and says, "You have to have blue or white."
I say, "Well, let's go white. I'm almost there already."
The White preschooler turns back to the Black preschooler and asks, "What color skin do you want?"
The Black preschooler says, "Brown."
The White preschooler says, "No, you can't have that skin color."
I get the creepiest sensation up my neck.

Oh my.
The week of Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools has just ended. We had a very good, strong week, sharing developmentally appropriate activities with preschoolers. One activity I did was a reprise of something we explored at the start of the school year, as we thought about "me, myself, and I" - a focus on skin color. This week, we compared our hands with one another, noticing all the different skin tones, and how beautiful each of us was, in our own skin. We made handprints using multicultural paints, matching our skin tones to the paint that was closest. We made a sweet poem with our words, simple lines of affirmation, "I Am in This Skin."

One of my fears,
as a somewhat inept teacher,
always learning,
making mistakes,
is that I will somehow teach children a partial truth that they will hold on to and use in some ugly way.
we have so many examples of this in the world today.
How do I know that they truly
discussions of skin color?
How do I know that they will use these as a means of accepting all our beautiful differences and basking in this as a precious and wonderful thing?
How do I know they won't find ONLY a partial truth, and forever use skin color as a horrible tool, a bludgeon, of one being better than the other (as so many have done throughout time)?

To repeat...
The White preschooler turns back to the Black preschooler and asks, "What color skin do you want?"
The Black preschooler says, "Brown."
The White preschooler says, "No, you can't have that skin color."
I get the creepiest sensation up my neck.
I ask, "Wait - what?"
The White preschooler clarifies, "You can't have that skin color for Elsa."
All my fears jump out into my frontal cortex and I am in a heightened state of anxiety and I interrupt the play -
I say, "I am uncomfortable with this. Our skin colors come with us at our birth, they are so lovely and beautiful, each and every one. We don't get to change our skin colors. I don't like that you are asking this."
I am teaching the right way! Right?

The Black preschooler says, "Ms. Ingram, we are just playing!"
The White preschooler says, "Yeah, this is just a game!"

Oh my.

There I go again,
putting an adult lens on
children's play.

Ridiculous, I am.

Uncomfortable, I am.

Friday, November 22, 2019

What about the five senses?

Throughout this first trimester of school, the Big Cats have been exploring the fives senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. We have:

  • created our own sound museum (varied containers made of different materials, with five acorns each),
  • gone on listening walks (total silence, stopping to share what we hear, creating a 'sound' poem),
  • banged on drums,
  • worn blindfolds when playing Magna Tiles and painting pictures,
  • worked with pumpkin-scented playdough,
  • tasted a variety of apples (Granny Smith was a favorite!),
  • made visual timers (clear plastic bottles and mixtures of oil, glitter, paint, and waterbeads),
  • participated in smell tests (the children had the funniest words for smells they could not see),
  • listened to John Coltrane (he put sounds from his environment into his music),
  • hidden in a dark cave (well, a cardboard box...),
  • dared to take three growing bites of lunch foods we didn't think we'd like,
  • raced toy cars through paint (because, why not?),
  • explored birdseed, waterbeads, sand, shredded paper, and more, with our bare hands,
  • created a sensory alphabet (cover the cardboard letter with glue and then dip it into all sorts of different materials and textures),
  • on and on and on.
All the while, we think about which senses we are using, and why things are the way they are. Preschool is a time of wonder.  Children learn best when their senses are employed. Learning in the Big Cars classroom is hands-on, active, and process-oriented. There will be lots more experimentation throughout this year.

"Experience is not the best teacher, it is the only teacher. 
If it's in their hands, it's in their hearts, and in their brain." 
- Bev Bos

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Why are they having so many tantrums?

This question came up over and over again at my family it does every year...and I thought I might ramble a bit on this topic...

Families wondered -

Do they tantrum at school?
Every little thing seems to set them off.
They fall apart when they get home.
The smallest thing upsets them!
They'll dig in their feet and refuse to move on, screaming and crying, over and over.
There's been a real uptick in tantrums since school began.
They really don't do this at school?

preschoolers do NOT do this at school.

preschoolers save this for their loving families.

One part of these tantrums is simply due to the adjustment to the school year. It is such a big transition, to be in school all day long, with so many peers, following rules, keeping to expectations, trying to take a nap with twenty peers, going to aftercare with a different set of many new things, so much new learning. Home, where you are assured of love, is the perfect place to fall apart.

(This teacher is certainly thankful that this is mostly the case - children save their tantrums for home!)

My suggestion - make home a soft landing. Try to lessen the expectations on kids, have an easy and predictable routine - maybe some fun exercise together (a walk outside? a dance party?), favorite foods for dinner, a nice bath and some books, early to bed.

Also, ask yourselves how much power does your child actually have? How might you weave a little 'freedom of choice' into their time with you? No, they don't get to make the big decisions, but, can they have a little say on some things? A sure sign that your child needs to have a little more say is when you start having problems in one of three areas: toileting, sleep, or eating. Here, children can assert control and there is very little that you can do about this. If this is happening at your house, think about your daily routine with your child and find ways to relax some part of it - for example, lay out options for lunch and let them choose from these for their lunchbox; same for getting dressed -  keep 'appropriate' choices in their bureau and let them choose what they want to wear. Maybe you have ten minutes to play with them... let them decide WHAT you will play with them and then you follow their every command. This is so satisfying for a preschooler! Such a boost!

In addition to giving them a little say or power in their lives, look for ways to have them help with the household. They want so much to be a part of the action! These are excellent years for cultivating self reliance and responsibility. With your guidance, let them DO real work - set the table for dinner, take their plate to and from the table, push the vacuum...honestly, children are looking to DO.

And, truly, preschoolers CAN DO.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

What is nap time like, this year?

The quiet one.
He surprises me by singing loudly, a medley of our classroom jingles:
  • "Everybody's safe, everybody learns, everybody builds the community..."
  • "Find your square and sit right down..."
  • "Big Cats! Let's line up!"
I shush him, reminding him - it is nap time.
"Settle down, hon, it is time for nap. Let's take care of one another. Shush!"

To no avail.

The singing keeps on.

Is it louder?!

I get him up from his cot and walk him outside the classroom, into the hallway. I crouch down, looking at him eye to eye, and remind:

"John, we are quiet at nap. You cannot talk, sing, or be loud at nap."

He asks, "You take me for walk?"

He has seen me do this with others.

Me - "No. We are NOT going for a walk. You are able to be quiet and it's time for you to show me quiet. What will you do - sit and be quiet on your cot, or lie down and sleep and be quiet? Those are your two choices."

"Sit and be quiet," he says demurely, resignedly.

Me - "Okay, good. Let's go back in."

I am so proud of him. I am so proud of me. Yay! Mutual understanding, mutual respect achieved.

We walk quietly to his cot, he sits down, and before I can even walk away, he sings loudly - bellows, really -

"A, B, C, D, E, F, G..."

Sweet cheeses!

Game over.

Preschoolers are powerful beings.

Monday, October 7, 2019

What did I forget?

The weekly note from my principal included a shout out to a very long list of teachers, with the words "A big thank you to the following teachers who completed all their administrative paperwork for the new school year." I scanned the list to see my name - and, ha! Amusingly, my name was NOT on the list.

I just assumed it would be there.

You see - I didn't know I had forgotten to do something.

I thought this was hysterical. I immediately found myself in a weird kind of limbo - aware that I did not complete something, but I had no idea what it is that I hadn't completed.

In addition to all the other to do's on my list, I needed to figure this out.


Thursday, September 26, 2019

What is that in the tunnel?

Time to make a move forward. Listen to your inner voice and you will know exactly what you have to do.

The preschoolers raced out onto the playground, and up onto the playscape,
and the next thing I heard was screams from within the climbing tunnel.
I ran to the tunnel to see what was the matter,
to see who was climbing over whom.

No one was hurting; there was a grasshopper* in the playscape tunnel!
A big beautiful green grasshopper!
An amazing find!!

Thankfully (?), someone had left a trash cup on the playground,
so I was able to catch the grasshopper.
I moved the grasshopper down to the mulch, along the brick wall,
where it delighted the children for some twenty minutes or so.
I encouraged the children to work like scientists,
to stand back a little bit and observe;
we sang “What do you see as you look closely?”
The children were in both awe and fear -
especially when the grasshopper would unexpectedly fly.
Truly, the children swarmed the grasshopper, trying to get a very close look.
As the grasshopper climbed the wall,
I lifted children individually to see it up close.
We wondered why it kept licking its front legs.

Later, after lots of observation
(and so many students playing very close to the grasshopper),
I moved the grasshopper into a bush/undergrowth by the side of the school.
Time for it to have a little privacy!

Back in the classroom, quickly trying to think of a way to extend this learning,
I placed some simple coloring pages of grasshoppers in the writing center,
to discover during our centers play. While the children colored, they shared their thoughts.
Their thoughts form almost a story:

(Me, prompting) A grasshopper came to the playground. We found him in the tunnel.
What did you notice?
(T) He wanted to have a ride.
(W) He wanted to go down the slide.
(E) I saw it. He was walking. See that wall over there. He walked under it, on it.
(C) I was running away from the grasshopper because it was about to climb on me,
all the way to my head.
(J) Why was he licking his hand? Because he ate something - our lunches!
(B) That’s just what he wants.
(L) That it flew...I saw it walking on the tunnel and I went down.
(S) He flied and I run away and then I came back and then I saw him licking his hand.
(T) He so creepy.
(W) He want to climb up the wall.
(Sh) When I saw the grasshopper, it was trying to get in my eyes, and I run and run and run.

An unexpected inquiry about grasshoppers!! Totally exciting for all.

*Full disclosure - I found out the next day from one of my parents,
who is also an entomologist, this grasshopper was actually a katydid! Ah, well,
still great learning, all around!