Thursday, March 26, 2015

Toddler Room - My North Star

It was a very busy and at times hectic morning in my classroom today - 13 toddlers (4 of which are 2 sets of twins), a visiting/trying it out 16 month old child, her mother weeping in the corner of the room saying she was watching her daughter growing up so quickly, another parent who wanted to speak to me in the hall and so much more. What I do when I feel the room falling into a mildly chaotic state is look for that one child sitting quietly and engaged in focused work amid it all. That child becomes my North Star. I focus on their calm self and slowly feel that same centeredness quietly spread throughout the room. Soon a shift occurs and peace returns to the classroom - all of the children working or playing calmly. The power of one focused child...wondrous beauty. The child in the photo is pairing shoes via first measuring them on her hand. She was my North Star today.


"The child simply takes up an attitude of profound isolation, and the result is a strong peaceful character, radiating love on all around. Arising from this attitude are self sacrifice, unremitting work, obedience, and at the same time a joy in living, like a bright spring that sprang up among surrounding rocks, and is destined to help all living creatures around it. The result of concentration is an awakened social sense, and the teacher should be prepared for what follows: to these little newborn hearts she will be a creature beloved." (Dr. Maria Montessori, 'On Discipline - Reflections and Advice', AMI Communications, 1991, 4, 22)

Toddler Room - Sewing 2

I was busy helping another student sew a crooked line up a length of burlap when two other children came to me with the cardboard sewing cards I wrote about in my Sewing 1 post. As my hands were already filled, I thought that perhaps one student could hold a card while the other sewed it. I briefly put down the work I was currently engaged in assisting, reached across the table and showed the two  how to hold upright the card and, again, how to insert the lace in order to sew. I went back to helping my original student, but kept an eye on the others. I was truly amazed how quickly they were able to work as a team. They were very patient with each other. Too, they did finished the card, collaboratively. Pretty cool!

Her turn:

His turn:

Her turn:

His turn:

 “The child is capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity. He has shown us the true process of construction of the human being. We have seen children totally change as they acquire a love for things and as their sense of order, discipline, and self-control develops within them.... The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.” (Maria Montessori - Education and Peace)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Toddler Engagement in Geography, Mapping, Habitats and The Naming of Animals - Part 2

After a fleet of hooves, paws, flippers and more where stamped into salt dough, the suggestion of a landscape with mountains and valleys emerged in the work. I had started with the intention of introducing the continent Antarctica to my students, instead the focus shifted to an unnamed land that we defined by its white (ice or snow) color and the animals which inhabited it.

In this way the work took on similarities of how the grammar material is presented in the Primary classrooms. We present a red circle for the verb and say that it is like the sun as it radiates energy. Words that have the red circle symbol above them in the sentence analysis work are "action" words. The word "verb" is not introduced until the children are in Elementary 1. They understand how it's used and identify words that are that, yet the child does not name/label it verb.

This is how my work attempting to present the continents to the toddlers is beginning to be shaped. They know the color the continent is identified with (white), they know a specific group of animals are only used on the white landscape and they can name those animals.

They have also begun to create habitats for those animals to occupy.  I had purchased some furniture from Ikea and noticed that their white packing materials would make excellent caves. This is what it was used for. They were placed on table length sheets of paper and flour was dusted over them to simulate snow. I drew blue lines and arches here and there to create a suggestion of borders and waterways.

They moved around it selecting an animal or two which they then placed and positioned here and there.

The children were very quiet while they worked. Nap time was just coming to an end. A student would rise from their cot, put their shoes on and then come to the table. Within seconds they were using the materials.

One student slowly lowered her face into a pile of flour "snow." Yes, her face. She raised her flour covered face, smiled and for a moment I imagined an arctic fox sitting there looking at me. It was so wonderful.

This work is also the first introduction to prepositions - inside, outside, above, below, etc.

Then, in conjunction with this continent work, I started to pool together animals for comparative use. A pig and a warthog share the same snout. Pigs and cows both have utters. An ermine and a harbor seal have similar faces. A wolverine and a wolf, although from two distinctly different taxonomic groups, share the same-type padded paw with five toes - as my student below joyfully discovered.

The children were fascinated by the details of each creature. They showed great interest when I demonstrated to them that both the cow and the warthog have split hooves.

Collectively, we made so many discoveries.

In the back of my mind, during all of the work, I also knew that language acquisition was one of the cornerstone elements of all the work in the toddler environment. I needed to listen to my students and to hear them vocalize words newly added to their vocabulary. I will always remember the day, only a few weeks after we had first begun this work, I heard one of my students, who was working with the salt dough, excitedly declare, "Baboon! Baboon!"

Hearing that child call out, "Baboon" confirmed this was the right, age appropriate work for them and it invited me to think about what else could be added. Next, I brought in a racoon to pair with baboon so as to highlight the oo sound. We started beating out the sounds - two beats for both baboon and racoon, one for both cow and pig. This continues to evolve.


My thoughts returned to my initial goal - to teach continent work to toddlers. My next thought was flags! I could give an introductory lesson on flag making. After the children made them, they could temporarily anchor them into a salt dough hillside or island before taking them home. It worked out so well. The children eagerly engaged this work, too.

Days later one of my older boys (2.5 years) was looking out a window in our classroom and started pointing. He called me over to him and said, "Flag. Flag." He was pointing to an American flag hanging on a pole in front of the senior center next door.

I excused myself and went to one of the Primary classrooms where I borrowed an American flag. I gave it to the observing child, who was still standing at the window, providing him the opportunity to wave it slightly and have a more tactile experience with it. It was a great moment. Again, I knew all of it -  the work with animals, the landscape work, the making of flags - was/is the Toddler Continent Work. Yes, I capitalized it as it is just that cool!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Toddler Room - Sewing 1

I introduced sewing to several of my toddlers two weeks ago and it has been such a hit. Initially, it was challenging for them to use both hands - one for holding the piece of burlap and the other for holding the needle. Too, they had to turn the burlap over each time the needle was poked through and then pull it out the opposite side. Their fine motor skills and eye/hand coordination were working hard. Yet, they were dedicated to mastering the act of sewing a line or a zig zag variation of a line.

Before I write anymore, let me first go back to the basics - the materials prepared for this sewing work.

A small tin for housing the plastic tapestry needle and thread. Several pre-cut pieces of burlap. Using a permanent marker, dash marks were made up the length of each - a guide for the child sewing.

The needle and one of the bundles of thread housed in the tin. 

I tied the thread to the needle. This prevented the thread from slipping out of the eye.

I also made the first stitch and then knotted the end of the thread to the piece of burlap. 

When I gave a child their first lesson on sewing, I named the needle and its eye. I also took the bundle of thread, unwound it and then carefully guided it through the child's closed fist so they could feel it and its length. Below, you can see a child repeating this independently. As they pull the thread up through the fabric with one hand, the other holds onto to the thread and feels it pull through their hand.

Too, when they pull the thread through and upwards, it is that reach of their arm - that length - that captures so much about the significance of this good work, as does that look upward.

The toddlers now sew everyday. Here are just a few photos of them doing so.

Here is one of the finished pieces:

Last week, I introduced sewing cards. These were much more challenging. The stiff needle for poking through the holes was absent. In its place was thread or lace with a plastic tip. This was hard for the children to manage as it often fell back out of a hole they attempted to push it through. Also, the cards weren't flexible like the burlap. This lack of flexibility resulted in the children placing the cards on the table and attempting to lace or sew it. This resulted in frustration - when they poked the thread through the hole it bounced back out when it hit the table. After much effort and determination, they figured out how to use both their hands, as with the burlap and needle, and to manipulate the sewing card and the thread/lace simultaneously. An amazing feat for a toddler. After a card was sewn/laced and the child returned it to the shelf, my assistant, or I, removed it, pulled the thread/lace back out of each hole and then re-placed it back on the shelf ready for the next child to use. In a few months, perhaps they will do this themselves.

Such focused work. Beautiful...all of it. 

The Toddler Room - The Washing of the Animals

We frequently use our classroom animals - anatomically correct figures of animals - with salt dough to make impressions and such. Often the animals are returned to their special basket with dough clinging to one side or the other of them. This hardens and is still present the next time they are used. I decided that they should all be cleaned before we closed for Spring break; that the children should give the animals a bath - a washing of the animals. I would also invite the participating children to dry the animals as their parents dry them with a towel after their baths.

I had no idea if my toddler students would engage this work or not. I was going on a hunch that they might. I knew they would enjoy playing in the water, but would they be able to resist just doing that and focus on the task of cleaning the animals. What I didn't imagine was how profoundly beautiful this work would be or that I would be reminded of Robert Coles great work, "The Spiritual Life Of Children."

Too, I did not prepare myself for the emotions that rose up within me as I watched my very young children devote themselves to the tender care of the animals. They engaged in empathetic actions towards each one. I do not think they believed them to be alive, yet after washing each, they named them and placed them carefully on the table. They never splashed the water or tossed the animals. These are objects that represent real creatures; living things. Unable to express their emotions with words, the toddlers expressed their attachment to these representational beings via tender actions. Too, their actions and engagement could easily be classified as play therapy

I sat watching them work. They were working with such concentration. At times their bodies  were bent forward and their shoulders lowered. Animal in hand, they washed and patted each dry. Beautiful; so beautiful. Toddlers as St. Francis himself.

A gathering of animals, all in the care of the wonderfully young.