Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Do you see an airplane?

I love large cardboard boxes. Preschoolers delight in them, too. This past fall, someone donated one to our class and it became our bear cave - with a simple half-circle opening cut into one side. The box fit four preschoolers comfortably, and this became our respected limit. The box became another way to do that important social emotional work of taking turns. Plus, it was the best place to read a book or share a story with friends.

After awhile, it was time for a change. It was January, and that old cave was looking plenty ragged after our holiday break. What else might it be? There was a lot more conversation and play about  "cars, trucks, and things that go." I bet I could turn that box into an airplane! So I did. I cut another half-circle opening on the other side  - thinking it would be helpful for children to enter the plane from both sides. With a little help from another box or two, I created a 'nose' (not sure that's the technical word) and some large flat wings and even some tail wings, though these were particularly flimsy and inclined to break. Ah, the fun the children had! We maintained our cap of four children only, for the main body of the plane, but there was now room for a fifth, a pilot, in the front. 

(I still laugh out loud when I remember J sticking her head out of the body of the airplane, holding a map in her hands, and yelling at E in the pilot's seat - "Hey, pilot, this is where we are going!")

We played in that airplane for six fun weeks, and we worked that box hard. There were many repairs made, lots of tape re-employed. When I got into the classroom yesterday morning, I looked at the dilapidated remains and thought, oh my, this plane has got to go. 

I carted it out onto the playground for one last romp before the dumpster. I set it up for the children to see as they came down the steps - I just knew that they'd squeal with glee! This would be the farewell tour.

We'll find another box, create another design goal, later.

Bittersweet for me - 
my beloved maintenance man,
who helps me and everyone on staff with every possible need that we have, always going the extra mile, a true gem for our school,
he watched me carry that box out of the school and down the steps to the playground,
and I guess he thought I was heading TOWARDS the dumpster...that I was trying to save him a few steps.
When the children raced onto the playground, there were no happy laughs of surprise - they just raced about and played. Only I knew 
the plane was gone.
It had already been thrown away.

Here's the reality of teaching -
there are so many adults "in the soup" of it! We are all working hard, alongside one another, with our own duties and concerns, often overlapping and intertwining.
We do the best we can.
We assume good intentions.

There'll be another box.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Can we talk together?

This magic moment:

It is indoor recess and they play together, building with our large, foam, 'blue blocks.' They construct a simple structure with a long bench, which promptly becomes a shared bench for conversation. They pretend to be Momma and Daddy, and talk about taking care of the baby and the dog. One preschooler does all the talking, because, honestly, the other is developmentally delayed in speaking. What makes this first preschooler persist in the conversation? She has a sixth sense for her partner's delight and interest in the game, and a huge empathic heart that is not in the least bit stopped by lack of speech. It is beautiful to watch.

We adults have much to learn from children.


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.