Sunday, November 27, 2016

Our Humanity Depends on It

This summer we traveled to the West to revive in the midst of nature. We felt the rhythm of the Pacific tide, were humbled as we stood in a cathedral of Redwoods and procured strength from the ancient land-forms rising from the Earth. The beauty and stillness of the natural spaces seeped into our depleted bodies and provided  nourishment and serenity. As our human days spin, it is comforting to know that there are spaces in the world that exist without expectation or demands.

As we traveled, we read the stories and histories of the collaboration between the many naturalists, environmentalists and the philanthropists who protected these spaces for future generations knowing that the  survival of humanity depended on their work. 

Will our children be compelled to fight for these spaces? 

What do these spaces mean to our children? Have they spent idle hours laying in the grass looking up at the sky, climbed a tree when feeling lonely, jumped into a leaf pile after raking it and played without interruption with peers? Have their bodies felt exhausted from scaling the banks of a stream, carrying rocks to build a damn and walking back up a hill after sleighing down it?  Do they understand that a walk on a path can clear their mind, slow their beating heart and reassure their anxieties?

Children understanding science or mastering facts will not ensure stewardship of natural spaces. The next generation must have a deep love, connection, respect and reverence for nature. They must PLAY in these wild spaces.

Richard Louv, co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network and author of Last Child in the WoodsThe Nature Principle, and, most recently, Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich the Health & Happiness of Your Family & Community, writes the following:
"If nature experiences continue to fade from the current generation of young people, and the next, and the ones to follow, where will future stewards of the earth come from?Past research has shown that adults who identify themselves as environmentalists or conservationists almost always had some transcendent experiences in the natural world. What happens if that personal experience virtually disappears?There will always be conservationists and environmentalists, but if we don’t turn this trend around, they’ll increasingly carry nature in their briefcases, not in their hearts. And that’s a very different relationship."

Adults and families building structures on the beach in the Northwest.

Quotes from Richard Louv regarding the importance of outdoor play for children

“Nature-deficit disorder” is not a medical diagnosis, but a useful term—a metaphor—to describe what many of us believe are the human costs of alienation from nature: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses, a rising rate of myopia, child and adult obesity, Vitamin D deficiency, and other maladies.

One reason for this is the risk-taking inherent in outdoor play, which plays an important role in child development. Without independent play, the critical cognitive skill called executive function is at risk. Executive function is a complex process, but at its core is the ability to exert self-control, to control and direct emotion and behavior. Children develop executive function in large part through make-believe play. The function is aptly named: When you make up your own world, you’re the executive. A child’s executive function, as it turns out, is a better predictor of success in school than IQ.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Supporting Children

Sometimes we are motivated to create something or even pursue an intention. We visualize the process and develop an expectation.  As we encounter obstacles, we begin to loose confidence or even  motivation. Our frustration seems insurmountable and we are plagued with thoughts of giving up.

I am sure we can all relate to these feelings and for some of us we might need to raise both hands. It is hard to move past this in our own adult lives but it is heartbreaking to watch this happen with our children. What can we do to support our children when they have important work but become discouraged in the process?

How can we walk the thin line between enabling and saving our children from struggle and offering support and scaffolding?

As a teacher and a parent, I feel walking this thin line is one of the most important and yet most challenging  things we are called to do with our children.

This list below was written with much fervor in the hopes of providing the class direction and structure for caring for our young chicks.It was deemed a necessity for the survival of the chicks but writing this long detailed list, and stretching each word proved to be challenging. Creative flow wavered back and forth between writer's block and fear of making a mistake.

1. Make a chain (to mark the days until their birth).
2. List of names. Make 12 names (for each chick).
3. Make a calendar.
4. Make a list of rules (denoting etiquette and safety for interacting with the chicks).
5. Check the incubator.
6. How will we know when the eggs hatch?
7. Will the first person the chicks see think it is their mom?

Learning and practicing a skill takes a long time. Remember the turtle...slow and steady wins the race. Children cannot always see their own progress. They are aware of the progress of others and mistake closing that gap as their goal. We need to help them witness their own progress and set realistic goals based on where they want to go.

Mistakes are the sparks for learning not the summary of what has been learned. Failure can mark the beginning of learning not the end of learning.

Provide a safe opportunity for children to release their feelings. As they release, listen to the emotions they are taping into and less to the words that they are using.

Try to give the ownership of the problem to the child and still co-construct strategies as they solve the current problems and simultaneously develop a framework for solving future problems.

Despite my years of teaching and parenting, I still feel like a novice  as I practice what I have gleaned. How do you support children as they work through their challenges and difficult moments?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hard Feelings

Scarlett was our chick whisper.
Chicks often fell asleep in her hands.

At the end of Kindergarten, we said goodbye to a group of young chickens who had hatched in our classroom. They had been a big part of our lives and we were struggling letting them go. 
Mary and I had feared the chaos of chickens thinking that it would spark greater energy but instead we witnessed a serenity and emotional contentment. The chicks were the great equalizer. As a community we had a common intention which was to care for our chicks and nurture them. 
The children revealed deep empathy for each chick from egg, birth to their early development. Did they have enough food and water? Are they warm enough? Do they have room to play? Are they playing nicely with their brothers and sisters?  Each question exhibited a new level of consideration and connection to the animals.
Yet all of this connection and love made the idea of separation that much harder to accept. It is difficult to watch children having big feelings. The inclination is to solve the problem and bring back the smiles. Through the years of teaching  I have observed the good stuff that comes with working through hard feelings.

Supporting each other as we say goodbye to the chicks.
A family in our school took them home.
As the children helped to load the chicks in the car to head to a farm their feelings were evident to each other. It was beautiful to watch them all support each other with a hug or a hand held. I just recently read some passages from  Awakening Joy for Kids by James Baraz and Michele Lilyanna ©2016. Reprinted with permission of Parallax Press. It resonated with me both as a parent and an educator.
"The practice of embracing the difficult is a vital part of awakening joy. The more we understand suffering and are willing to come to terms with it, the greater the possibility of developing a mind that is not afraid of the hard stuff when it comes—because underneath the pain lies wisdom, compassion, and love that can open to it.
RAIN: How humans can work with difficult feelings
When we suffer, we often experience pain, anger, fear, or sadness. The acronym RAIN can help us remember how to directly open to and work skillfully with these difficult feelings. Here are the steps to doing this practice:
Recognize what you’re feeling. Let yourself be open to your emotions of sadness, anger, or fear, and name it.
Allow it to be here. Let go of any agenda for it to change and, for a few moments, give it permission to be just as it is.
Investigate how it feels in your body on an energetic level without getting into the story behind it or trying to get rid of it. Bring a curiosity or interest that involves simply exploring the landscape of your emotion without needing to figure it out.
Non-identification—meaning, don’t take it personally; don’t assume the experience reflects who you are at your core. (For example, don’t say to yourself, “I’m an angry person.”) Recognize that everyone experiences emotions; they are part of the human condition. Open up to that truth and don’t let it define you.
Please take a moment to read the entire essay from The Daily Good

Monday, May 16, 2016

Learning from the Chicks

 Mary and I both have fond memories of hatching chicks at our elementary school.  In past Kindergarten years, there have been groups of children  enamored with animals and we have debated fostering a dozen eggs. This year we decided to jump into the abyss and let chaos reign.

The interesting thing is that the chaos never came. 

The chicks seemed to generate a collective purpose, wonder and curiosity in our classroom. Each day the children gather at the brooder and playground and  greet the chicks.They stretch out their hands to the chicks, notice new developments and converse with their peers. 

They hold each other to the standards they feel are respectful of the chicks. "Stop shouting, You will frighten the chicks." "You are grabbing at the chicks. Let them come to you." 
The children match the energy of the chicks and show restraint when interacting with these young creatures.

The chick garnishing the most attention and affection is Lucky, the last chick born. Lucky was born two days after his brothers and sisters on May the 4th (May the Force Be With You aka National Star Wars Day). 

It is human nature to cheer for the underdog and Lucky is a Superhero Underdog.Stories have been written, math word problems developed and pages of the student's chick journals  devoted to the topic of Lucky. It is easy to see how folklore develops because Lucky seems destined for greatness. 

                                                                                                                                                                    Cal documented the inside of the brooder noting the responsibilities we have as caretakers. The children check the food, water, heat lamp and the wood chips  each day. We offer support but this responsibility is held by the children.


We have spent hours debating and co-constructing our understanding of the chicks. 

Cal: The chicks are getting too big for the brooder.
Caroline: They need to spread out and take a break from each other. 
Eve: They peck at stuff all the time. When they huddle I don't think its for warmth but they are frightened or stressed.
Annabel: They peck at everything.
Charlie: They try to fly when they flap their wings.
Shayna: They run and jump and flap to practice.
Cal: The chickens aren't meant to fly.
Annabel: They glide.

Kate: I am trying to understand who they are because they all look the same.
Eve: We can tell them apart by their size but not when they are sleeping.
Avery: Some of the chicks are getting more feathers.
Charlie; They have white feathers on their wings.
Avery: I know the difference between a dad and a mom chicken. 
The dad has tail feathers and mom's don't.
Caroline: Dad chickens have big cockscombs and mom's don't.

 Bryce: The chicks stretch their legs out and look
like they are doing ballet.

Caroline: I like to hold the soft chicks. This is me holding the chicks with a big smile on my face.

We love watching the chicks sleep. They seem to suddenly make a decision to take a nap and just drop into the yoga position referred to as  child's pose. The children replicate the move with giggles. It does cause much consternation for chick visitors due to the fact that napping chicks resemble chicks that have passed into the next world of chickenhood.

Pippin brought a box of worms in this week. He tossed a few worms in and our chicks backed up and stood with a mixture of curiosity and horror as the worms squirmed. When we placed the worms in a second time the chicks had made up their mind to pounce and peck away. The children stood with mouths wide open surprised by the reactions of their chicks and the frenetic energy created by the worms.

Bryce: If I was a chick I would just say, "Who wants this worm? and whoever came would get to eat it."

Eve: Lucky was so kind and he gave his worm to their other chicks. 

Some of the chicks did not even seem to notice the worms.

Annabel: There was a worm escaping through the tunnel. It was taking a risk. 

Charlie: If I was a worm I would Kate it and put it in the water and let it drown some of them. They kept running around because the worms were moving and they didn't like the feel of the worms in their mouth.

Kate: I saw one worm just sitting there and then the chicks snatched it up and ran with it.

Caroline: If I was a worm I would split it in half. If I saw a chick looking at me sadly I would take it out of my mouth and give it to them.

Julia: If a chick dropped a worm they didn't really see it and then another chick would pick it up. Maybe they dropped it because the other chick wanted it.

I think they are not looking down and don't even know when they have dropped it.

Charlie: I saw two chicks playing tug a way and they stretched the worm.

Bryce: They both had two ends and they nibbled at the same time.

Eve: One chick tried to get another chick off the slide but he was too strong and she couldn't get him off. But the chick was like and acrobat and he just got on top.

Annabel: If  I was a chick I always carry the worm to the food and roll it around so it tasted bitter.

It is so interesting to listen to children who are in the height of their social development discuss a community of chicks in light of their social behavior and choices. They are both appalled at the chicks behavior and also problem solving in very impressive ways. Perhaps observing a brood of chick is the most effective way to help young children stretch socially.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Beauty Is A Way of Thinking.

A few weeks ago, I walked through the Kindergarten after the children had left and noticed the light, details and the beauty in the rooms that the children spend their days.

Vea Vecchi, an atelierista at the Diana School in Reggio Emilia, writes, "Gestures of care, research into the quality of form and beauty are testified to in objects which are not only great works of art but ornaments for the body and simple objects for everyday use. This form of inspiration can be found in all peoples and cultures, past and present. It is a filter for interpreting the world, an ethical attitude, a way of thinking which requires care, grace, attention, subtlety and humor, a mental approach going beyond the simple appearance of things to bring out unexpected aspects and qualities. "

 I have heard Vea speak twice and each time she insists that attention to beauty is a primal need for humans. I believe if a community  gives priority to the care of its environment the members will absorb these priorities and strategies  Beauty demands noticing the moment, reflection and a compassion for people and animals that live within the environment. Beauty generates a response. It might be a gesture, a smile, adding a rock to growing cairn on a hike, sketching something that catches your eye, lyrics of a song, a poem or even a meal made from the fruits of the garden.

As I walk around our room I see responses made by children to the environment that they live in at school and home.

Beauty in Nature

A nest given to us by Marla to support our observation and study of birds inspires awe and reverence.

Beauty in the Diminutive

This box of little books were authored by children who were just beginning to view themselves as writers. The spark was lit by an even tinier book made in the studio early in the year by Caroline. The size of the books made them intriguing.

Beauty in Story

On the block table, city people, with a multitude of expressions, lead interesting lives. They each have their own story cultivated by the children. The characters are whimsical and no one person resembles another. These city people include dog walkers, crossing guards, DJs, spies, Egyptian immigrants, Anna Golden and a mom working at Union Bank. They are  prone to dramatic stories that are often solved with magical powers.

Beauty in the Unexpected

Many people who live, work or play in the city have visited the classroom during the last month. They have shared with us the photographs  they have taken in the city, the reasons they bought their homes in the city, thoughts about traveling through the city, places that they like to eat and parks where they play with their families. We learned that most interviewers document in some way and so we decided that we would take notes to document.  Mary and I  review the notes later in the day and are struck by the richly nuanced thinking evident in the note-taking. Children easily and lucidly move from letter symbols to graphics and back again.  It was unexpected and  yet profound.

Beauty includes the Senses

The children  have  conveyed the sights and sounds connected to life in a city. The instrument summons sound and song in our head.   The police officer commands attention with his whistle as the street lights shine above his head. The ambulance drivers move with urgency. Scaffolding in the studio has slowed the work of the children and provoked conversation and debate regarding the people of the city.

I see beauty in the use of words to accentuate the drawings with the words spoken by the city people.

 Julia's urban landscape reveals an unfolding story.

 The architectural emphasis is prominent in Kenny's sketch.

Caroline's rendition of Richmond fills me with happiness because I am overwhelmed with memories of Cinque Terra in Italy. Century old buildings perched on the rocks towering over the ocean. As we passed MCV in the train it did appear that the buildings were perched high above the tracks hugging the side of the hill.

The beauty in Zach's landscape is the one face peering out  against a backdrop of city skyscrapers . 

Accuracy and realism is clearly important to Samuel. Great care was given to the letters scripted on the building. The residents in the city have defined purposes and it is evident that the city is full of life and activity.

The beauty that speaks to me in Zoey's is the abstraction and the freedom that she feels as an artist to take risks and work large and boldly.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Welcome All Eggs

Samuel designed this sign as we anticipated the arrival of our twelve eggs. 
It definitely strikes  an official tone and exudes inclusiveness. 
The excitement was palpable and more children wrote their good wishes on signs and posters. 

We adopted 12 chick eggs and are learning to care for them. We spend time each day making decisions for our eggs and considering the questions that occur for us.

Once the eggs were comfortably sitting in the incubator, we sat to discuss the responsibility that the eggs generate.

Anna: We need some way to take the temperature and make sure that it the environment is good for the eggs.  

Kate: On the weekends the Mary’s can come in and check on the eggs then during the school day we could all check on them.

Cal: Yeah, but we will all want to do it.

Scarlet: The teacher could tell someone who knows how to check the temperature. Cause I certainly don't know how to.

We learned that on average each egg takes twenty one days to hatch. We thought we needed a way to keep track of each passing day. 

Kate: We could make a list and then we could write when we were done with one day we could check it off.

Cal: We make a 20 day chain and once the paper chains are gone then we know it is time for the chicks to come.

Julia volunteered to make a paper chain. Caroline explained that she had used a paper chain to anticipate the start of school. 

Penelope:We could use a calendar but we need a separate calendar (referring to a way to keep track of birthdays).

Syd: The calendar could have a picture of an egg and you could egg off each day.

This calendar  became even more  important when we considered that we would need to note each chick's birthday and  keep track of who hatched on what day.  

Julia: I have a question. Who will take care of the eggs on Sunday and Saturday?

This conversation had bubbled up before and was beginning to weigh heavy. We explained that we purchased a swanky incubator that turned the eggs and managed the humidity and temperature. 

This brought up the discussion of humidity and temperature. 

Samuel: Humidity is like the dew on the grass.

Bryce: There is water in the air. This launched us into thinking about fog and hot summer days. 

Temperature is a familiar term as we often refer to it when we discuss dressing for recess or PE. It is definitely an authentic part of the lives of the children. As a number, temperature may only carry meaning  in its relationship to other temperatures. For example, the incubator must stand at 100 degrees which is hot in comparison to the early morning temperature of sixty.

We also discuss that this level of responsibility, science and meticulousness demands organization and structure. Cal felt the need for rules and a form that would log the completion of temperature, humidity, the number of eggs present. 

Each day,  the children check the incubator several times to make sure that the temperature and humitidty is within the normal range. They count the eggs and watch the eggs slowly rock. This daily habit promotes a beginning understanding of the importance of collecting data as a scientist.

We were finding that our questions were bringing even more questions and sometimes less answers and deeper confusion.

Cal: What will happen if we look at a chick when it first hatches and it sees us. Will  the chick think,  "Hey, I'm  your my mom".   Maybe we should wear a mask.

Syd thought it should be a chicken costume so the chicks would not be confused.

As a teacher, this thinking never ceases to amaze me. It is the great mysteries of our life that are often recognized and debated in the kindergarten. Will the young chicks see the face of a young child  first and then imprint on these faces? 

What's amazing is that researchers have discovered that young birds imprint themselves to the first moving thing they set their eyes on - even if they are inanimate objects. During their study, they found young chicks attaching themselves to gumboots, balls, and even an electric train.
The downside of imprinting is that young animals have a hard time detaching themselves from their adopted 'mother'. That means that they are often unable to return to the wild or socialize with their own species. This is the reason researchers use innovative methods when raising animals in captive breeding programs. At California and Arizona'sCondor Recovery Project, the caretakers use hand puppets shaped like condors to raise the chicks, while researchers at the Hetaoping Research and Conservation Center in Western China dress in Panda suits to raise the criticallyendangered animals in captivity.
This excerpt is from a publication called Dogonews. 

Every living thing needs a name. The Kindergartners made a list of possible names but the prospect of naming twelve chicks generated more debate. 

Bryce: How will we remember all of their names if they look alike?

Annabel: When will we they know to follow? When we call them their name?

Scarlett: Like when you call a puppy they hear their name and then they say,  "Oh, I guess that is my name and then they will follow us". 

How does an animal register a name as belonging to them? 

Avery: We could put paper collars on them.

Zoey: Lets have a birthday circle for them and then tell them their name.

Scarlett is actually correct in some of her thinking regarding animals responding to their name. 

The classical view is that animals learn their names through classical conditioning, viz., what they learn is to *respond* to the name, not recognize themselves as such. Positive reinforcements such as cuddles and treats teaches the animal come to the owner whenever they hear their name. Similarly, the animal learns that if it is in a situation that the owner did not like in the past (e.g., trying to steal food left on the kitchen stove or opening the dustbin), it runs away as soon as it hears its name since the past conjoining of name + bad situation was negatively enforced.
The problem with this view is that recent work has shown that animal (in particular dog and parrot - not much work on cats because they are notably uncooperative in experimental settings) language learning skills are far more sophisticated. Dogs, for instance, can fast map new words for unfamiliar objects. They do this by reasoning by exclusion: if asked "fetch the dinosaur" and presented with a heap of objects, one of which does not correspond to a word the animal knows, the dog will take the dinosaur and remember this word for months to come.
Also, animals have sophisticated conceptual understanding - more sophisticated than classical behaviorism + conditioning has it. Moreover, animals such as chimps, dolphins and even sea lions have shown capacities to learn to map symbols to concepts. Bottlenose dolphins in the wild have signature whistles to denote each other.
So if a dog can learn the word "ball" by fast mapping a linguistic expression to a concept, why would the dog not similarly learn to fast map his name to himself? Typically (this is anecdotical), dogs learn their names really quickly, and at any rate our cat learned his name within a few days. We tried operant conditioning to teach him other simple things and that took months and months.
However, the problem with this richer interpretation is that animals do not seem to have a concept of self, with perhaps the exception of corvids, elephants, great apes and dolphins and whales. They do not recognize themselves in the mirror, which is seen as a standard test for self-awareness

The children thought we could create beds for each chick with their name on it. This would give them a place to sleep and an opportunity to reinforce their names. They also felt strongly that we need to make a large stuffed Mama chicken and place that in the brooder. So they feel secure and loved.

Syd: There should be stuff inside the brooder so they can play  like a miniature playground.

Annabel: We need a little bowl with water and marbles. The marbles make sure that they don’t drown.

Later Kenny drew a water bottle and labeled it step 11 for caring for the chicks.

Scarlett: What do chicks eat? We are going to need to know this. 

Charlie: We need to get in the brooder with the chicks.
Avery: A cardboard bed with a little pillow would work.
Bryce: Yeah how about a bunk bed.
Zach: Maybe they need an elevator because they will not be able to walk up the stairs.
Cal: This is with Zach. We cannot have an elevator. We could have a pulley and pull them up.

Charlie: The top of the brooder would need to be air and no water.

Pippin shared with the class that the chicks need to stay warm and love to have something soft to walk on.

Charlie: How about hay? 
Caroline: This is about how they can keep warm. Like when the first one is hatched they could help the others by cuddling like cheetah moms.
Zach: In my bird cage, I had a cage part and then the bottom had this little thing and tiny wincy holes so you could clean the cage.

Anna mentioned that at the state fair she saw a a short little slide that the chicks were able to  play  with but she also asked the children to maintain their empathetic stance with the chicks. 

Anna: Do the chicks want to actually sleep in beds? We have to think like a chicken. 

After much discussion regarding a wooden brooder,  Pippin asked the children to consider how they would we the chicks if they were inside a wooden brooder. 

Kate: There could be a little circle up on top so we could see if anything is wrong with the chicks.

Eve: My chicken house is made out of plastic with little doors so we could help them with stuff if then need help.

Shayna: There would spaces between the wood with glass so we could see.

Each day we wait and each day we become more excited to see these little babies. We want them to feel welcomed, safe and loved. We hope they have a great life.