Sunday, January 31, 2010

These Days

The last few days have found us relaxing as best we can, times of work intermingled with some house play and good walks. Yesterday I had time to sit with Kiddo while he played with a tape measure. I've recently reintroduced the unit blocks to the play area and so he spent some time, smoothing them with his hands and then measuring the longest ones. We then moved onto measuring the school table and he had a blast as we called out "Four feet! Three feet! Two feet!" as the tape retracted into the black plastic case.

Later we moved on to some cooking: rosemary Parmesan biscuits. He helped me bring in some rosemary, shave the cheese, dump in ingredients, and roll/cut out the dough. Kiddo is a lot of fun in the kitchen, even if we do have copious amounts of flour to sweep off the floor.

Today we took a family walk up and around Mount Tabor. We found the charming little hollow where the violets are blooming and collected some different mosses. Kiddo decided he wanted to "look for a dry leaf", which Joe helped him find and pack into his Exploring Bag. It's a leather fanny pack I picked up at an estate sale years ago; he wears it round his neck and crams all sorts of treasures into it. I like that he's interested in leaves, seed pods and 'prickly balls'--the seed pods from the Sweet Gum trees. We gathered a stroller basket full of the pricklies the other day. I am loving these walks... on Friday we even had time to stop for a short beer at Belmont Station while Kiddo took a short nap in the stroller.

Life is good. I'm glad to have such fulfilling work. I'm realizing that while the lesson plan is a nice reference, there's nothing like working directly in the thick of what the kids are doing. Sometimes this means being extra flexible and moving activities around, and I'm learning that less is more. The children just seem to know what they want to do, and I'm going to use some of this time to refocus on the classroom environments. Now that we've had a month of playing in the space, I will be making some small changes to try to encourage longer spans of play in certain areas. Playdough is still the hands-down winner when it comes to keeping children engaged for any length of time, and like blocks, a teacher can do a lot with playdough in terms of using it as a teaching tool. Letters can be created, items can be made and counted, stories can be acted out as the children create props or recreate the different elements or actions of the story onto the clay. I recently ordered a dvd on block play through the Community Playthings website (you can find it in their Resources section) and was amazed at the preK programs which based their curriculum around block play--nearly everything can be taught through unit blocks. This is what makes these open-ended toys so much more valuable than any sort of electronic device. Kids don't need computers or the latest gizmo--the best teaching toys have been around forever. We just need to rediscover them.

The best of all this is having Joe home. He's been pretty wonderful. He works the same hours I do from the home office, revising the resume and getting himself out there. The farther we move away from our situation with his old job, the happier I think we are. The outstanding issues are still unresolved, but we've discovered some time together and are determined to make the most of it while it lasts. He won't be home during the day forever, so I'm trying to enjoy it despite the lack of discretionary income. We have food, we've got the roof over our head and we're all healthy. Who can ask for anything more, truly?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In This Moment... son is tired and getting into some mischief upstairs with his Daddy. He's been watching a David Byrne concert at Union Chapel because my kid has absolutely no interest in Sesame Street. That's my boy.

...I am amazed I don't have stained hands from our Adventures with Food Coloring today. I made 9 dropper bottles of color for tomorrow and have more in my future. Hope this trend of no-mess continues.

...I am tired from being up at 5:55 this morning to take care of an early call regarding utter nonsense due to someone else's ineptitude. Some dolt owes me about an hour of sleep. (This includes the 55 minutes of worry from last night as I lay awake dreading the inane phone call I needed to make.)

...I'm looking forward to waking up tomorrow and truly enjoying my Space-Out Time. I am looking forward to going to bed first.

...Joe is finishing up the dishes, ready to head out for a game of crib with a buddy.

...I should probably get back upstairs and watch my kid so my husband can leave!


Friday, January 22, 2010

School as a Place to Play

There's a great article on the Empowered by Play website () regarding the state of recess and the absence of play even in the lowest of primary grades. Not the games that teach to the test, but real play where children are allowed to think for themselves, interact with others and which generally supports their creativity, curiosity and imagination. In short, the sort of learning which helps people excel at living and in life.

I found myself thinking of my morning. Kiddo and I had spent an hour visiting my dear friend Michele's preschool, The Garden's Noise. We've applied for Kiddo to go there next year and I'm looking forward to this. It would be great fun for him and such a blessing to me to know he was in such a great space while I was working.

If you think I'm nuts to pay to send my son to preschool, let me explain: many preschool teachers do not always enjoy having their own children in their class. The children want their parent to be their parent, not everyone's teacher. I'm sure my son feels a bit demoted during school sometimes; there are moments when other children need my attention and I hate to admit it, but I am rather pragmatic about this. However, it does not make this Mama feel all that good that she's pragmatic about it. When we have home time and something upsets him, even some invisible thing, I have more available time to soothe him and get him reengaged before I need to go off and do something else. When he's feeling mischievous, I have the time to be patient. Yet, at school, when he decides to take off his socks as the other children are getting their boots on, it's just annoying and holds things up. While it hasn't been a huge problem, I don't want things to continue as they are now. I like being back to work and would enjoy it more if I could just wear the one "teacher" hat.

And so we went to visit this morning. Their Morning Gathering was wonderful; the children sang with rhythm sticks, watching each other and following along as each child took their turn leading, keeping the beat in some inventive way. Some waved the sticks like antennae on the tops of their heads; others pushed them back and forth on the floor and some clacked or rubbed the sticks together. "Here we go round the Mulberry Bush" became a song of days of the week and the chores that accompanied them. Kiddo was a bit overwhelmed by the complexity of the rhythm activity, and so he looked around, exploring the space and quickly honing in on the drums and musical instruments. Then he was grabbed up to join the circle of skipping feet round the mulberry bush. He seemed willing enough to follow the teacher's lead and took her hand.

I won't go into all the details of his morning, but a few moments stood out to me. In the art room a group of children were gathered around the table, awaiting the teacher. She bestowed upon them enormous chunks of clay---more than a child could ever think of using, satisfyingly abundant---and an array of tools. The discussions that followed became a story about a treasure box and some jewels. What did jewels look like? What sorts of shapes were they? (This hearkened back to the Morning Gathering, where a few everyday objects were bordered with hazelnuts and walnuts: the teacher took the objects away and their silhouettes could be identified.) Later, a group of children were gathered. It had started with three, who were creating a story with playstands, nuts, wooden houses, trees peeled of their bark to look like mountains and wooden play figures. These children called others over "for the show". The children lined the chairs up and asked the other children playing nearby to be quieter(which they were) and then launched into a hilarious retelling of the Stone Soup story. Mountains carefully visited the audience members, making them laugh. Many parts of the story were explored nearly verbatim while others allowed room for some very creative--and collective--improvisation. The play grew and grew, off the stage, into laps, tables and chairs being moved back and then, without any real conflict, the group dissipated and the original three were given friendly directions not to 'clean up' but to "make it beautiful". The children already had such a degree of investment that is seemed to go seamlessly.

We ended our time outdoors visiting the chickens to collect an egg to take home. Kiddo ate it for his lunch, completely focused on being home and not at all interested in discussing his morning. Just visiting, witnessing the harmony of the group and the language and ideas in the stories the children were sharing, it was obvious that the children were learning plenty.

Play-based preschool is totally where it's at!*

Just a note:

*Play does not have to be about chaos or being aimless. I think that some adults take a dim view of play-based preschools because all this learnlearnlearn is crammed down our throats. Years ago all those reports came out about the brain's potential in the first three years and it's made a lot of people nervous. Nothing about human development changed after these reports arrived, we just got really freaked out and started doing the bizarre things that freaked out people do. If you don't believe me, consider the fact that there are tapes to play to your unborn child to 'teach them how to read'. You would have thought that these reports somehow made us dumber, because we act as if forgot what childhood was supposed to be about. Given the scope of history, the idea of childhood as a separate state of life from adulthood is actually a relatively recent construct, a social progress which protects children from being exploited in the worst ways. We as human beings fought for the right of children to be children, and there's nothing more important to young children than play. At least, there shouldn't be.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Not-So-Cute Fairy

Tinkerbell. Peter Pan called her "Tink". I never really thought too much about her, until recently.

About two or three months ago, my dear friend Laura was recounting her experience of taking her daughter to see a movie, only to be horrified at the trailers for a new movie. You know the one. Tinkerbell has a sexed-up, doe-eyed posse that Disney is hard-marketing to the young set. If you don't think she's sexed up, please go get yourself a new set of eyeballs. Seriously.

"It's as if the camera is panning up, starting with her feet and stopping at her butt. It was disgusting and slutty and totally inappropriate." Okay, I didn't press her for a direct quote for this, but I do know that the words "slutty" and "disgusting" were uttered. My sister Amanda concurred with this camera action; my nephews had seen the trailer as well and I'm very sure she was disgusted, only in a different way. She doesn't want her sons to become lookist, sexist pigs.

So, here's my question: why Tinkerbell? Is the Disney memory so short? Do we not remember that in Peter Pan, she was in love with Peter, an asexual boy who seems to be quite a bit her junior, especially if you notice that she shows signs of sexual maturation (breasts, hips) while he doesn't have the broader chest or lowered voice of a fully-realized male? If that isn't weird enough, pull this out of your memory banks--she did try to have Wendy killed out of jealousy. Not good. Not at all. Sure, she repented, but man, what a screwed up relationship.

And now this is the character they've chosen to hard sell to impressionable children. Yuck.

The merchandise is everywhere; you can't go to store without a phalanx of Pixie Hollow books aimed right at the eye level of youngsters. Laura and I shared a couple beers last night and she told me that when she dropped her child off at IKEA's play area, those 'slutty fairies' were on the dvd player. She was a bit appalled at the hold it had on her daughter, who had been excited about going on one of the play attractions and was instead enthralled at the craptacular vision onscreen.

Moms, seriously, some of you will think I need to lighten up, but keep your kids away from this garbage. If you have any trouble explaining this to your girls, tell them that she's wanted for conspiracy in an attempted murder and you just don't like them to play with bad girls. And then, go buy them something good. Maybe the Little House on the Prairie series (yes the book, not the Michael Landon distorted sobfest). Give them some imaginary friends they can look up to.

Plumtree, Online

T'is the digital age, and I've taken the opportunity to set up a blog for our preschool. We've had a splendid first full week. The children are enjoying each other, exploring our school--indoors and out--and I'm having a blast. It's been way too long since I was teaching a group, and now I know why I missed it so much. So, if you are wondering how we spend our days, you can click the link to the side over in See the Sites.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Powering up, Preschool Style

It's just a few short hours (okay, about 38 or so) before our little Plumtree Nursery School lifts off, and if you are reading a rocket analogy in this, well, that's just what our house has felt like over the last couple of days. Not that there haven't been fun spots, like the long walk we took as a family yesterday, but there's a lot of scurrying around, checking lists, childproofing once again as well as making sure that things are also child friendly. All the activity reminds me of NASA before a countdown at Cape Canaveral.

I'm loving how the space is shaping up. Little nooks for housekeeping play, for puzzle work, for blocks. A cozy place to sit and look at books. Our school table sits with it's little stools beneath, waiting for children to come and draw or work playdough or for us to eat lunch together. Lunchtime is when the children best connect, because there's all this relaxed time to just be. Lunch from home is even better; the conversations that surround food from home are usually pretty interesting and funny. I'm looking forward to seeing block structures or hearing the children pretend to cook or sit and read picture books to themselves and each other.

The backyard is exciting too. We had to make some thoughtful decisions in regard to some purchases. This meant spending less on some items (thank you, IKEA!) and spending more on what one might consider a silly thing: mulch. I asked quite a few questions at the nursery and chose shredded hemlock for the fact that it is softest and least likely to cause slivers. I want the children to have fun playing, and this was the perfect option. The hemlock is less chunky underfoot than playground bark chips and just looks and feels nice. The sandbox is filled with fresh, clean sand. I planted a row of bulbs up against the house where the children are less likely to play, so we'd have some color while we waited for our seeds to sprout.

There are lots of open places around: atop cabinets and on some shelves and on the walls. They look like blank, unused space, but I want this school to grow organically. This means that we're going to have to give the children space and time to "move into" the school. When this session is done, our little school should be a reflection of our time together and showcase what the children value. I've got some very fun plans for our first month of winter and each day includes some time to explore what interests the children. It will be interesting to see what the school looks like as summer approaches and this season ends.

Kiddo, in the midst of all this, is very tender and more tearful. He knows that he's to have friends come and play in the mornings sometimes, but little else. As circumstances have dictated that we start off small, many of our everyday toys--some are mine from my life as a preschool teacher and nanny prior to motherhood--will be out and circulating. The guitars and drums and his precious things are all being tucked away in his room, to stay there during school hours. There were some things I was willing to spend less on as the substitutes were suitable, but I am still saving up for a decent wool rug and for a separate play kitchen that I've had my eye on for Plumtree since I first saw it. I want my son to have some separation and feel a little guilty about having even his less-precious toys out, but we all have to deal with the reality of the situation and do the best for now with what we've got.

And we've got a lot. As frustrated as we've been about Joe's former job situation--they still haven't contacted us in regard to insurance continuance or his 401K, nor has his Paid Time Off yet been paid out--I think it's safe to say that it's been wonderful to have him at home and available to help. Today he dismantled the old bolt on the bathroom door so the kids can't lock themselves in. He's done so many things that I don't haven't a clue about, and been such great support. We are trying to negotiate the conflicting worlds of me wanting to feel celebratory that we're really doing our preschool thing (hooray!) and his feeling very rightfully screwed over and the sobering affect that calling up various state and federal agencies to report these violations has had. Having to repeatedly tell his story keeps those circumstances too present for us at times, and we have to make time to just be our normal, everyday selves as we were before. It's easy to let this kind of injustice consume you, but we can't. We've got a life to live, and we have to put it all in perspective and keep going forward.

And besides, we've got a preschool to launch.
10. 9. 8........