Now that Applefest has wrapped up, we are finding lots of treasures left behind on the playground. Yesterday morning, the children discovered a few dried corn cobs that had fallen off of the decoration stalks. The cobs moved to the outdoor Maker Space where a makeshift factory was set up. Small fingers patiently and diligently removed every kernel.
This activity continued in the afternoon. Sadly, we discovered that our original corn collection had been accidentally misplaced by the older students. (Chalk it up to practicing perseverance.) No worries! We found more ears of corn to work with and many more classmates joined in on the project. In addition to the kernel factory, an airplane was built nearby where corn kernels could be delivered via leaf plates for hungry passengers.
As we worked, a few of the children came up with a plan for the corn. One child wanted to know if we could cook it. Hmm….we’ll see how that experiment works a bit later. (Don’t worry, we don’t plan to eat it.)
Three children play in the sandbox. Two are pushing trucks, moving sand out of the way as a road is formed. Another child stands nearby with an excavator. He watches the other two and tries digging where they have cleared. One of the bulldozer drivers is frustrated and tells him he can’t play with them.
Remember how we spoke of misunderstanding communication at this age? The bulldozer child sounds as if he’s being mean and the excavator child seems to be being destructive. However, neither of these is the case. The child with the excavator was carefully watching the other two children. He wanted to join in but didn’t have the language to find out how. Our friend with the bulldozer had the language to tell the excavator that he didn’t like what he was doing, but didn’t understand what the excavating child’s body language said of his motives. Neither child is yet adept at viewing a perspective beyond their own.
This is where play comes in as practice. An observant adult can join the group and help each member find out what they want from the situation. We can discuss together what the problem might be and find solutions. Practicing these conflict resolution strategies in play builds the communication skills children will need as they grow.
One of my favorite ways to help children communicate their needs while including others in play is by adding one word to a very common question. Instead of asking, “Can I play?”, try
“How can I play?”
Adding “how” creates a completely different dynamic.
***Note: The picture at the top of this article is from a previous day. It is not of the three children referred to in the story.*
Yesterday was our first official Forest Four Day. Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten spent about two hours exploring our Northbound Trail. The undergrowth sprouted up beyond our knees over the summer, leading to a lovely, wild excursion.
Yesterday we experienced many firsts. Foremost was the weather. While we expected the rain in the afternoon, we were caught off guard by the on-again-off-again torrential downpour from 8:30 until around 10:30. Some of us had raincoats, most of us had boots, and none of us melted. All of us had fun regardless of the persistent precipitation.
In addition, our City Campus Pre-Kindergarten class came out to join us for Forest 4s. All together, we had 29 four and five year-olds exploring the wet and drippy woods. Before heading out, our North Hills Campus students made plans for introducing our new friends to the fort, squirrels, sticks, moss and snails.
The weather provided us with added observation opportunities. The extremely damp conditions encouraged previously hidden wildlife to cross our paths, sometimes quite literally.
This little creature, a Northern Spring Peeper, was spotted by one of the children as it climbed slowly up a tree. We had enough time for all of the interested children to stop by and marvel at it’s agile upward movement.
While hiking with Mr. Cooper, this lovely Eastern Box Turtle was spotted by one of our visiting Pre-K students. It was simply ambling along the trail.
(I personally thought this one was quite exciting. I haven’t seen a wild box turtle since I was little.)
A little while ago, we realized we had a visitor in our class. This little friend was attempting to pick out a lovey (we think?) Being kind hosts, we created a special place in our classroom for our visitor to hang out safely.
We learned that our new friend needed special food. Hamburgers were just not going to cut it. We also found out that it required hiding spots to feel safe and a small capful of water to drink.
Many names were considered including Buggie, Boogie and Spiderman. After a class vote, “Ellie” became the official name of our new friend. (Although many still call her “Buggie.” I’m including a picture at the bottom of this post, but I should warn you, if you are not a fan of spiders…..close this window now.
Ellie inspired us to find out what type of spider she might be. At first, we thought she was a Grass Spider. Then we realized that her abdomen is not the right shape. We’ve also observed that she is not making webs. Our current thought is that she is a wolf spider. If you have a different idea, let us know in the comments. We can always take ideas from “the experts.”
A few times each week, we go foraging for food for her. We’ve put in ants, mites, pill bugs (isopods) and unidentified teeny tiny bugs. Soon, we will need to let her free to roam before the cold weather hits.
A while ago, one of the students posed a curious question about what happens to the water after it rains. We discussed many possibilities, but eventually came to the conclusion that somehow it ended up in the clouds. One of the most creative methods for this molecular travel was via invisible pipes in the trees that carry the water from the ground to the sky.
This week, we read more information about where water goes and how it travels. The water cycle made sense, but it was still a bit confusing. Hmmm…maybe a little music can help?
This week, our class got a little too close the pond than our protective Daddy Goose would have liked and he quickly let us know to find another way around with a perfectly-timed hiss or two. The students handled it well and slowly backed away to give the goose some extra space. Once we were a safe distance away, I explained that the geese have recently laid eggs on the island in the pond and are now very protective of their home and their growing babies. I continued by saying that the geese don’t know that we won’t hurt their babies and sometimes they get upset when we get too close to the pond. Then, one of our youngest students looked at me as said,
“Yeah and the goose probably doesn’t know that this is Winchester Thurston and we ‘think also of the comforts and the rights of others’ so we would never hurt their babies.”
Proof that caring for others and nature go hand in hand!
Sometimes we just can’t finish a plan without some assistance. The children have lofty goals when we are exploring the Northbound Trail. Quickly, they realize that their plan requires more hands than they have available.
Asking for help takes both language and cognitive skills. The children must interpret the sensory input they are receiving and accurately weigh the possible outcomes they are faced with while working alone. A tipping point is reached when they decide that another body would be helpful.
The next big obstacle is verbalizing their need to a nearby peer or adult. Knowing “how” to ask for help may seem like a no brainer, but it’s harder than we expect . There is more than one way to ask for help. Some ways will get you the assistance you desire and others will not. For instance, would you agree to help someone who is yelling at you? What if they were talking to you in an exceptionally quiet voice while looking at the ground? One of the most common ways for young children to ask for help is to stand near an adult or peer and stare at them. For reasons I’m sure you can appreciate, that doesn’t always work out.
Guiding children as they develop the skills they need to ask for and receive help is an exciting part of Pre-Kindergarten. Luckily, we’ve got plenty of opportunities for large scale projects and risk-stretching experiences on our Northbound Trail.
In the pictures below, you will see a few examples of Helping Each Other. One child decided that he wanted to place a very large stick so that the tip went through a “Y” in a nearby tree. The mark just happened to be located about 10 feet above the forest floor. Asking a teacher for help got the job done. Mrs. Pless helped carry the stick and aimed while our 4-year-old placed the point in it’s designated spot. This child’s idea inspired a few others to try this plan, as well.
Another child found a detached, curved vine and was determined to make it into a tunnel. However, it was impossible to hold the vine up while experimenting with arrangements to stablize the log. After a few tries, this child enlisted a number of friends to steady the vine. Eventually, she found that using large rocks, she could prop the ends in a manner that would make the tunnel usable.
Near the end of our Green Day, or Forest Four, the children discovered one last tree to climb. Many of the children became anxious about coming down once they perched along the first junction. The branching point that they enjoyed standing on wasn’t very high, but it appeared to be a big drop once you were standing there. Asking friends for help and receiving assistance became very important to the children. Happiliy, many friends rose to the challenge.
Beginning a new school year is rife with uncertainty. An unknown routine, strange surroundings, and rooms full of unfamiliar people all contribute to a high level of stress for both children and adults. Will I know what to do? Will I like what I’m asked to do? What will happen if I’m afraid to try or, worse, try and fail? Luckily, the reality is that our species has learned to adapt quickly. Unfortunately, our emotional brains frequently forget this, leading to a fear of risk.
Within our educational bubble, we define risk as an opportunity to take a chance or explore an unknown. It can involve physical, mental, and emotional tasks. It becomes an acceptable risk when the consequence for failure is not life threatening nor seriously detrimental to the health and welfare of others. A risk worth taking must present a substantial benefit that is not off-set by possible treacherous outcomes.
Our children encounter a multitude of risk-taking opportunities everyday. Some of them seem benign to adults; putting marks on paper, talking to a peer or adult, trying out a new material in play. Others can make adults nervous, but are important for child development; jumping between two rocks, attempting a joke that ends up embarrassing your parents, hanging upside-down, judging the speed needed to run downhill, using scissors to chop chop chop.
Our job is to assess the risks they encounter and balance the potential of the outcome against the possible danger.
Within our classroom, we recognize the risks children meet everyday provide an opportunity to either learn something new or reinforce previous concepts. Our job is to assess the risks they encounter and balance the potential of the outcome against the possible danger. Our students should leave school comfortable with taking reasonable chances and willing to try something new. Innovation cannot happen without a moderate comfort with risk.
We want our children to be able practice assessing risks, as well. While making decisions about small risks such as drawing something you’ve never drawn before, their neurons are practicing for the bigger risks they’ll need to evaluate later. In this way, children practice making choices based on weighing the options.
Interested in learning more about risk in childhood?