"well...kids are very messy"

Have you heard? Kids are messy  [? ! ?]

Short post today to share my favorite moment from the college early childhood course I am instructing this term which focuses on math, science and tech for preschool age children.  There is a wonderful engineering student in the class and today I asked him if he has had many opportunities to engage and make connections with the young children at his field placement school.
He shared that he has had opportunities, but..."the children tend to come straight toward me and I have to veer them away to another teacher because....well...kids are very messy."

I smiled. I agreed with him. I offered him an early warning to becoming an early childhood educator that not only is this likely to happen again, it absolutely will happen again and again and again. IT will come in many forms that are part of school - paint, goop, mud - and many other natural parts of being human - sickness, vomit, blood. IT is messy and gross and unpleasant and spontaneous and normal. Messy yet normal.

I kept smiling.
Are you smiling?

"Surely you have been a child or know someone who has been one?" [anon]

goop, gak, whatever you want to call it...IT feels cool, bloppy, sloppy, goopy, smushy, wet and-  yes - MESSY.

got valentines?

"You have to go to school
so you can love people you didn't know before."
quote from class group of young-fives discussing school, friendship and valentines.

delivering home-made valentines to school-made valentines bags = literacy, art, family, friends, sharing, giving.

Valentine's Day is a special holiday for many schools.
When I was in my long-term position as Young Fives teacher, we created a special tradition around Valentine's Day to incorporate literacy and art from home AND school.

Here are the key ideas we used:
1. HOME made valentines. All about choice and inclusion.
one friend delivers his home-made card to me!
  • We asked families to be part of the Valentine making process. It IS a process and our intention was to uplift the creating process, the including all friends process and the make-it-at-home-then-bring-it-to-school process. We felt that the young-5s age is an appropriate age to challenge the creating/planning for 20 cards for their classroom friends. This is also likely a first-time challenge for guardians to "support" their child without doing the project for them. (* to note, it usually ended up that 1 out of our 16 would still be 'parent made' but that's ok - it is a learning curve for everyone to let go :)
  • We'd make sure to start the planning of this at least 2 weeks ahead - not too soon that it got set aside, yet not too time-scrunched for parents.
  • We sent home a printed BOLD list of all names from our class - this included children, teachers, pets at the time (yes, we would have a Valentine Bag ready for our fish or rat !) and any other significant member of our class group. The bold list could be used at home to copy from when writing or even to literally cut out and glue them onto their work.
  • We encouraged guardians to chat/plan with their child THEIR way they would like to make valentines. We encouraged the CHOICE to be made by the child so that they would be excited and motivated to enjoy the process of valentines. Examples include
    1. Maybe via the COMPUTER with a self-made design or using artsy software
    2. Maybe via LOTS OF ART with glue and shapes and markers and glitter
    3. Maybe via store bought commercial CARDS (some children super love Hello Kitty or Star Wars or whatever - that's fine!) with the child signing their own name. *We encourage no candy so that we focus on literacy + art.
    4. We'd have the completed cards arrive the morning of Valentine's Day in a zippy bag for safe keeping til the children would pass them out mid-morning.
"I think this is the right bag for this card I made..."
2. Meanwhile AT SCHOOL, we would decorate sturdy, open topped, handled party bags.
  • Use decorative, colored papers in traditional (pink, purple, red) colors and non-traditional (yellow, brown, orange) colors.
  • Could have pre-cut hearts (for convenience) as well as stencils and scissors for children to design and cut their own hearts.
  • Doily papers (lace-like cut papers), silver foil, gold stickers, be creative. These could be donated by families or purchased from your classroom budget.
  • Super cool addition is COMPUTER PRINTED, LARGE "LOVELY" WORDS to glue onto their bags if the children choose. Word ideas include: KISS, LOVE, HEART, HUGS, SMILE. I tended to use shorter words so they would take up all the room on their bag.
  • We found gorgeous holiday paper napkins that we would cut or tear to use pieces all over the bags.
  • Blank papers for children to write their own words or messages to glue on.
Special envelop with heart sticker for each friend around our Valentine Mail Table!

ADMIRATION and MATCHING and READING. Also part of the process.
  • When children brought in their bag full of cards on the morning of Valentines, I would make a special point of admiring their heavy bag or wanting to peek inside at their hard work :) The children would save their cards in their cubbies til we did our Special Valentine Delivery late morning.
  • At morning meeting, we'd talk about the work we did and try to explain to our friends what we did for our collection and how they might identify our cards later. Admiring the process of CHOICE and HOW MANY DAYS OR HOURS it took to make these collections is important. Children begin to see how everyone did their own work and how we collectively come together to share and celebrate. 
  • When we DO pass out our Valentines, we had a big table set up with our school-decorated bags ready to filled. We'd put our school big name card in front of our bag for easy finding and matching. (Our name cards are an integral part of our good morning times as well as our early writing experiences. You can see my name card a couple photos above - all children have one just like it.).
  • Children take turns with a partner to pass out their cards while other children are in the choice time in the classroom. This allows for everyone to have their own time - long or short - to match up their cards to the bags on their own or with some support from teachers. The children playing in the room know they also get their own turn without being hurried or bumped around.
  • When we are all done, we ADMIRE the bags so full on the table and bring our bags to our meeting area.
  • We just ask the children to CAREFULLY look through their bag yet not dump them all out in case the cards get mixed up. Of course, the dumping and looking completely can happen at home :)
  • When the children are reading through their Valentines, they are admiring each others' work, trying to read or guess who made which one, seeing stickers or art or envelopes. It is a special time to model how to look close, to give attention to work given by others, to appreciate effort and friendship.
Can you see the boy is smiling as he admires the Valentine from his bag? A very special moment.

The bags go home happily with the children at the end of the day.
The guardians' faces light up when they seen ALL the children walk out of the classroom with their hands holding tightly to their colorful, love-filled bags of Valentines.
Don't you just love Valentines Day?

sugar butter flour: 3 ingredients for best practice in ece

what is your recipe for an enriched, engaged and energetic day at school?
This post was inspired by two things:
One is a delicious local bakery with said name Sugar Butter Flour which I try to not frequent for obvious reasons; Two is the Walker's shortbread that I snacked on yesterday with likely those ingredients in larger quantities than I should eat at one time.

Both got me thinking about the simplicity of ingredients to make good things, just like SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR.

The 3 Ingredients got me thinking about Early Childhood and how complicated things seem to have become over time as to what preschools "should" be, what teachers "should" teach, and [the most brutal] what children "should" learn. [sigh].
Got me thinking about 3 Ingredients for Best Practice.
Wouldn't that be great? Three weighty ingredients that could anchor Early Childhood for new teachers and master teachers alike? [yes].

So, here's the thing. I am not saying I have the answers of what the 3 Key Ingredients for Early Childhood "should" be.
Just saying an anchor would be pretty cool so that - for example - when someone starts saying the 3 Ingredients, then people would automatically associate them with Early Childhood Education in a positive, weighty, anchor sort of way.

Here are my suggested KEYS in the early childhood field. 
1. Step Back. The more seasoned I become as a facilitator for young children, the more excited and comfortable I am to completely fade into the background of children's explorations to allow for Their Agenda to thrive instead of mine. Granted, this has been a style of mine since the beginning, but the lens by which I admire the children's work has become more refined. Documentation and photography are my absolute must-have tools.
2. Hands-On. The use of diverse, natural materials are rich (not expensive) resources to enhance your environment for inquiry, exploration and invention. Collections from nature (pinecones, stones, sticks) can go in the Block Area, Science, Art. Taking apart used machines (wires, buttons, nuts/bolts) can contribute to sculptures, block construction, art. Think outside the plastic box.
3. Reflective Teaching. Collaboration with colleagues, bloggers and brand new teachers is vital to keep the dialogue of Best Practice ongoing in your own daily, yearly, and lifelong work. Reflecting on your own work combined with networking can help you determine who you want to be as an educator, what you believe in, how to take risks, and how to best support children's learning.

Sugar Butter Flour.
Good things are so simple.
Do YOU have ingredients for an enriched, engaged and energetic classroom?
Do you include yourself, the environment AND the children in your ingredients?

work worth doing

what is your work? is it worth doing? do you believe in it?
"you have to remember,
[the work] was worth doing when nobody knew about you at all."
(james taylor to the dixie chicks in a collaborative concert, expressing his support for them playing exactly the music they wanted to play and saying exactly what they wanted to say, period, with complete disregard for what is popular or popular or popular).

Sometimes I am just stunned. It happens in moments when least expected, the best time really. Stunned in a way that makes you realize Somebody Knows About You in the blogosphere.

Have just finished dinner (California time, Sunday evening, Jan 8).
Have just read Christie at Childhood 101 : 12 Great Blogs to Read in 2012  (posted Australia time, Monday, Jan 9):
Christie included Zella Said Purple in her 
12 Blogs To Read in 2012. 

Makes me smile to know Zella (and me) are alive out there in the early education blogging world.
That Zella is read by people like the ever-amazing Christie and passed on and shared.
Ironically, equally, I know that the format of Zella is less usual compared to other early education blogs that perhaps share craft ideas or activities or lessons. Zella likely touches on those occasionally but not purposefully. 
Zella is about stories and uplifting learning that happens while children are Hands On, Making Choices, Discovering and Making Meaning Of Their World. It is all in the story.

I thank Christie...and recommend giving a click on the 11 inspiring blogs mentioned in her post:
enjoy your work...make it worthwhile to YOU.
(number 4 is Zella!)

[The work] should always be worth doing - whatever you are writing, to whom you are writing, for whatever cause or purpose or higher regard.
It should always be worth something to YOU... before anything else.

one word: brilliant

Loved the idea of One Word as a guiding light for 2012.

Christie at Childhood 101 talked about her word: Balance.

Scott at Brick by Brick chose the word: Choose.

My word: Brilliant.
I strive to live healthy, offer gestures of kindness, to assume goodwill. 
I value the support of those around me to help me build a brilliantly joyful 2012. 
In the classroom. 
I strive to see all children's efforts with a brilliant lens...a 'that child is offering their best today' lens. 
I want the brilliance of the children's work to be uplifted by my communicating, documenting and photography.

oh, to live a life that is brilliant.

the girl at the motorcycle museum

What if you could always self-select your activities to determine your own enjoyment and engagement? Sounds good, right?
What if then you were surrounded by people who also self-selected That experience on That day? Hmm, that could work out well.
Likely, it would turn out like my own family adventure over holiday...

My 8 year old niece Megan is a choice maker, an experimenter, an inventor.
She is sharp witted, she is colorful, she is action packed.
She is 'I can keep up with my 4 older brothers' AND she is 'I love sparkly things.'

Megan 'test rode' every demo bike at the Museum!
So, it really shouldn't have surprised me when my husband and I visited Wisconsin over holiday and planned to go on a field trip to the Motorcycle Museum one hour away from my niece's city.
I called my sister, Megan's mother, to find out if any of the big brothers or Megan would like to join us the next day at the Museum.
My sister's answer was 'Yes, Megan wants to go.' 
I said 'You are kidding?' 
My sister said 'Oh, no, really, Megan wants to go. She is already counting her money so she can go to the gift shop.' 
I said 'Really...really?'
My sister says 'Do you want to talk to her so you'll believe me?'
Me: 'Yes, Absolutely, I'd like to talk with her.'
Megan gets on the phone.
I said 'Meg, your mom said you'd like to join us to go the Motorcycle Museum?'
Megan: Oh, Yes I would.
Me: So, you know this is a different kind of museum. It doesn't have Dinosaurs nor Fancy Artwork nor Experiments for Kids to Play? It is only Full of Motorcycles.
Megan: Yes, I know. I'd like to go!

We left the next afternoon for a most memorable museum experience.
It is highly possible that Megan was more engaged and delighted by the Harley-Davidson Museum than even my engine-loving husband or my younger sister and her teen-age son!
We all wore the usual motorcycle casual attire: blue jeans and other things that are black or gray.
Gotta get low in the Race Position!
Megan wore her Mrs. Santa dress - long sleeved red velour dress that went mid-calf and had a white furry collar. She also wore the fluffy cuffed toe-socks that we gave her for Christmas. She carried a blue jean purse with special zippers. She was all set. Period.

The HD Museum actually had an amazing Scavenger Hunt for children when we entered: Megan got a clipboard, a pencil, and a photo flip chart of 12 cool motorcycles with clues to find them throughout the museum. She was focused and completely rose to the challenge to find these specific motorcycles to complete her game. Megan read clues and read signs and re-read clues. She got some "help" in the search from my wonderful nephew Dan and my sister Jeri.
Later, Megan got a prize of stickers and a wash-away HD tattoo for completing the Scavenger Hunt. Megan shopped in the Gift Shop with her special money from her special purse. She bought something for herself and gifts for her whole family. She was all set.
Megan could be a poster child for "How to Love Going to a Museum."

Megan, clipboard & purse: Studying the Robot that makes special moto parts!
The Harley-Davidson Museum was a huge success.
It was a huge success because an 8 year old girl named Megan Self-Selected to go with us to unlikely place.
I could write more, more, more, but really, Megan had a great time because she Chose to be there.

It is that simple.
Red sparkle dress, furry socks, blue jean zipper purse = Ready for the Motorcycle Museum.

The clear connection to our Early Childhood Education practice: 
Trust children to choose their own experiences. Trust children to want to engage in experiences that interest them. Trust children.