Remote Control

One of the hardest things to learn when you are little is how to modify your behavior to fit the situation you are in. As adults, we know that when we are in an office meeting, we should be quiet and focus on the person who is speaking. We know that we are probably supposed to sit still in our chair and refrain from entertaining ourselves and our co-workers with noises and comical expressions, even if we think the discussion is boring. These are things we have learned about societal expectations along our journey to adulthood. For children, it takes many practices and many mistakes for us to figure out what we are supposed to do.

Today, we talked a bit about how hard it is to come in from playing outside to moving in to the carpet for a quiet whole group lesson. I explained that it is like watching a wild movie with lots of running and loud music and then switching the channel to a quiet stream with only the sound of the water running across the rocks. I told the children that we all have our own remote control inside ourselves that we can turn so we are ready for the quiet moments. However, it’s really not quite that easy, so I asked the children for some suggestions about how they help themselves switch to their quiet selves.

We can sing a song.

We can take deep breathes.

While both of these are great ideas, they are not easy to implement when we are in the heat of the moment. In the spirit of Ross Greene’s Collaborative & Proactive Solutions, I believe that “children will do well when they can.” With that in mind, I expect that my students will need lots of coaching and practice to be able to meet this societal expectation by the time they are grown-ups.

Stopping what you are doing and moving to a completely different tempo of activity takes many skills; noticing the change, holding the new expectation in your mind, inhibiting your current tempo, ignoring input from other sources (like your friends….who might just be way more interesting than what the grownups want from you), and moving your focus. These fall under a catagory of thinking called Executive Function Skills.

How can we practice this? Lots and lots and lots of practice. Here are a few of the activities we’ve used to support our learners as they navigate these skills. All of these provide opportunities to practice noticing change, holding the new sets of rules in their minds, inhibiting automatic reactions, and allowing flexibility in thinking.

Rhythm Walk

Using two sticks, I tap out a predictable rhythm. Each tap signifies a step across the room. Fast taps tell a child to walk quickly. Slow taps are for very slow steps. A child must listen to the rhythm and adapt their gait based on the tempo of the sticks.

The Opposite Game

This game starts out as a simple “Copy Me” game. The easiest way to explain it is with a script.

Me: This a a listening game. You’ll need to listen with your whole body, your eyes, your ears, your brain, and your body. When I say, “Head” touch your head. When I say, “Feet” touch your feet.

(I say “head” and “feet” many times in an order, sometimes with two “heads” in a row or the other way around.)

Me: Now we are going to mix it up. Ready? When I say, “Head” you’ll do this (touch feet). When I say, “Feet” you’ll do this (touch head).

(Now when I say either direction, the children have to think to remember which action they are supposed to do. An automatic response doesn’t work anymore.)

You can play this many ways. You can say, “Jump” and “Sit” or give each child a colored piece of paper and have them raise them up when you say, “Blue” and “Yellow.”

Freeze Dancing

Yep. The good ‘ole standby, this game cannot be done without self-control.

Their Perspective

The other day I found something exciting while walking in the woods.

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One of our trees blew down many years ago.  This treasure-trove was easily visible inside.  I had to share it with my class.  I wondered what questions they might ask. “How did those get there?” “Who lives here?”  “Why are there so many?”  I imagined our next research project drifting into animals in winter or animal homes.

I forgot that children bring their own perspectives to all experiences.

Yes, they looked inside this log and said, “Hey, there’s coconuts in there!”  However, that was as far as their interest led them.  Instead, they were very concerned about the “mushrooms” growing on the outside of the log.

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They decided the log provided a great place for some large motor practice, climbing back an forth across the large tree.  A few investigated the jump-worthiness of the stump.P1330354As we were about to leave, without any interest in the stash of nuts, one of the children felt the tree had not been fully explored.  So he went in.

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Obviously, some things are much more interesting than talking about some old nuts.  Reminder to self: trust the children.  They will find what they need.

Forest Building

We spent the morning in the woods on Friday. After a summer of heavy rains, our fort was certainly worse for wear. After removing all of the fallen logs and sorting them by size, we were ready to rebuild.

I put up the first few large logs, building the base, but after that, the children took charge of collecting sticks and deciding on placement. A few of the larger logs were farther from our construction. Team work was required to move these behemoths through the undergrowth.

One of the largest logs provided us with an addition, almost doubling the size of the design. While we built, the children used their forest journals for the first time. Many drew our new fort.

Once the children deemed the building complete, a few chose to add small details to decorate the inside. Flowers were added as well as a phone. Some of the leaves were swept away revealing a carpet of soft moss inside.

Our current forest fort:

Concrete and Abstract Thinking

Early each year I set out the dragon tears (flat glass rocks) and some simple line drawings. They are wonderful for fine-motor practice, but more importantly they are lovely, special things to play with. I added them to the art studio last week after observing many of the children placing a variety of toys in rows and lines.

On purpose, I didn’t explain how they might be used. I wanted to see the ideas that the children bring with them.

This year, a few children decided to use them to line the simple drawings. One child used the lines as boundaries and created their own design within the marks. As I walked around the room observing others, some of children took their exploration further.

Moving from concrete materials to abstract representations of those materials is a perfect example of the developmental growth we see in Pre-k. For younger children, it wouldn’t occur to them to re-make the activity on paper. Their learning focus is on the tangible, the feel of the rocks, the swoops and straight lines, the act of moving the stones. While the older children also found this enjoyable, they were driven to represent their experience in another medium.

We will see this in all areas of development throughout the year. Children will move from activities that involve direct manipulation to those that can represent their experiences. We hope to capture as much of this growth as we can to share with you.

Friendship and being little

Friendship can be messy. As grown-ups, we can easily forget how murky the “friendship” lines can be when we are little. Here are a few of the comments I overheard recently and a break-down of what was actually happening:

“I don’t want to play with you. You always play with me.”

Four and five-year-olds are naturally egocentric. They are designed this way on purpose. It helps them adapt to a strange world as they encounter new things every moment of their young life. One must learn to have their own perspective before they can understand that of another. When two children find that they have similar interests at the beginning of the year, they often gravitate to either each other or at least the same sets of spaces and materials. At first, it feels like a comfortable connection. As time goes on, one might decide that they would like to try something new with a different friend. This can cause confusion. The child left behind follows the new pair trying to join in, just like every other day. The child who wanted to play with someone else can’t see the perspective of the other and thinks they are just “copying” or “following them everywhere.” As grown-ups, it’s our job to recognize the feelings of both children. Children have a right to play with a variety of classmates AND they have a right to want to continue to play with the one friend they’ve made a connection with so far.

So, how do we solve this dilemma? Today I spoke to this pair to help them communicate more meaning than just, “I don’t want to play with you.” We found out that the follower simply likes the other child, that’s why they were following them. We also found out that the child who didn’t want to play would be happy to play with the other later. He just wanted to play with someone else right now. Once we had more information and language that explained our feelings better, both parties agreed to move off to other groups.

Fast-forward to later in the afternoon: The “I don’t want to play with you” child was holding the hand of the other, gently tugging and saying, “You are on my team!”

“I want to play alone right now.”

Sometimes, people just want to be alone. This is very hard to understand when you are in Pre-K. If you want to play with someone, it is obvious that they would want to play with you. If someone says they want to be alone, you often jump to the conclusion that they don’t like you anymore. We guide the children through these experiences by having both children talk together about what they want at the moment. Realizing that your classmate wants to be alone for a little while instead of forever helps both parties gain understanding.

“No one wants to play with me.”

We hear this comment very often in the beginning of the year. Digging a bit deeper, we find that the child who is alone is either unsure of how to join another group already in play or they want to play a different story or game. In the case of the latter, usually they have not actually asked anyone to play their game, instead just asking, “Will you play with me?” We teach the children two different strategies in the instances above.

If you see a group you’d like to join, we suggest asking, “How can I play?” This will give the group and the child a way to blend a new person into the game. It is also a question that cannot be answered with a single affirmative or negative response.

When you have an idea of what you’d like to play, we suggest telling others your idea. “Mandy, I want to play cats. Do you want to be a cat?” This opens up the dialogue if your classmate has a different idea or is fully interested in your idea.


Relationships in early childhood can be fraught with ups and downs. The good news is vacillating friendships help build the skills we need as adults to both empathize with others and speak up for our own needs. Everything that happens in childhood is learning. Our job as adults is to create a safe space for mistakes and growth to occur.

Who made these? (part 2)

On the path of the great vehicle mystery, we encountered even more tracks. Some, we identified quickly as deer.

Others we weren’t quite sure of.

We are going to investigate these prints further in the following weeks.

One child remarked, “Wow! This animal must have a lot of legs to have so many different foot prints!”

Gaga: it’s what’s up outside

On Monday we found something new on the playground.

For anyone that hasn’t seen one of these yet, it’s called a Gaga Ball Pit. Think less traumatic dodge-ball. While the older children are working with Mr. Cooper to create a set of school-wide rules, Miss Davis taught our class a simplified version. All players start on the edges of the court while one person tosses the ball into the middle. At that point, all of the players begin running around either avoiding the ball or trying to push it with their hands. If the ball hits you between your knees and feet, you are out and climb out to cheer on the other players. What makes this much more relaxed than traditional dodgeball is that the children are not allowed to throw the ball. They have to swat it toward other players. If the ball flies out of the court, the last person to have touched it is out. Although the big kids may eventually design more rules and procedures, this version is just fine for our five-year-olds. The playing field is more level for beginners than any of the ball grass games we’ve played and game time is fast. It’s also a great way to encourage the children to pump up those heart rates and get a little cardio in.