A Glimpse at Organized Chaos

Today was such a delicious day. The day flew by.  It zipped right by without me noticing the time or praying for the time to please move faster. Spending the day with tykes is my passion.  I sing songs with gusto and I get competitive when we are building block towers. I secretly love to count how many goldfish crackers I can stack on my tongue without anyone noticing. I do NOT share my lavender play dough. It doesn’t matter how much those little eyes spy and covet my lavender and very clean play dough. Their play dough becomes hairy and gross and slimy. There are precious few things that are tyke proof and my lavender play dough is one of them…. Let’s be a smidge honest here. As much as working with preschoolers is my passion, there comes a time when working with tykes is work and I watch the clock like a hawk .

Today was not a hawk watching day.  Today, I was totally immersed in this conversation and that conversation when I realized that for this brief moment, the room had finally transformed into a Reggio inspired version of the “third teacher”……Did I capture this moment? You betcha and Bob’s your uncle I did.

The concept of the room being the “third teacher” is pretty awesome.  A child’s first teacher is their parent.  Their academic teacher is their second teacher. A well stocked room that invites a child to explore and experiment and create is their third teacher.  The Reggio Emilia and Montessori philosophy are built on the foundational belief that the child is very capable of learning on their own with the right tools and a teacher who will guide them to learn new knowledge when they are ready without having a set agenda or lesson plan. The “lesson plans” are the age appropriate activities and supplies that the child uses freely.  I have been working towards this goal since 2010, so I was ecstatic today to get a glimpse of all that work fall into place.  Happy Face….Happy Dance….:)

Here’s what I was blessed to capture in digital form:

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A child demonstrating nurture and compassion and empathy at twenty-four months.  She sat in our cozy corner for a good thirty minutes singing and rocking and making sure her baby dinosaur was warm and comfy.  This was significant because this child normally holds the baby dolls by their feet, always takes their clothes off….ALWAYS…..and tosses them aside when she is bored with the strength of a baseball pitcher.  Today this was real for her.  Today she demonstrated such sweet emotion and tenderness and I had a hard time keeping my focus from distracting her and intruding on such a sweet scene…..

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These two are my spit-fires.  They are twenty-two and almost nineteen months old. They have been connected at the hip since they could barely crawl.  If you saw one, the other one was near by. They are partners in crime and keep me on my toes and my heart melted daily.  They have discovered the joy of tossing bowls down to hear them spin.  To them, spinning bowls is better than extra cookies and getting into the diaper wipe box while I’m not looking.  I had to hide the wood bowls and put out these plastic ones to keep all our ear drums from bursting and our nerves from exploding.  They practice their new magic trick several times a day. SEVERAL TIMES A DAY…..I have to remind myself that they are learning and exploring and that this is wonderful and so very meaningful and valuable…..In all honesty, it is meaningful and valuable.  The wonderful part is probably a stretch….They are practicing to see if the results will remain constant and if how they throw the bowls will change the sound or the spinning. Serious research is going on with these two precious rascals.

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These little blue containers are actually a sensory activity.  There are two bottles filled with rice, two with beans, and two with nothing.  The tykes are to listen to the bottles and match them up with the bottle that has the same sound.  Today, however, they became spy glasses for the older tykes who are also best buddies.  They spied a squirrel in the yard, snow falling, my tree stump, and various cars passing by the house.  They discovered that it was easier to see things outside than inside and decided it was because the sun was outside and not inside. They also found out that colors look different when viewing them through the blue containers, and that if they looked through them lengthwise, they could see more. These two learned a lot today with vet medicine bottles on our observation deck….pretty smart cookies!

So….there you have a glimpse into our organized chaos…So much was explored and experimented with and enjoyed and we didn’t use a single worksheet or flashcard….The day zipped by and it was in fact, a delicious, non-hawk clock watching day….:):):)

Until next time,

Patty

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Bananas for When Things are Bananas

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Tears are pretty common in a preschool room.  They flow when tykes are tired, hungry, in a bad mood, lost their favorite toy to someone else, or just fill in a situation that comes to mind.  I expect tears. It’s a high-five day when I have had no poopy diapers AND no tears…..

Today was a high two point five…..I changed one poopy diaper. Depending on who gifts me a poopy diaper, I would much rather have tears all day and just skip the fragrant gift.  Today, I just couldn’t win.  There were tears for half an hour….lots of tears….a boatload of tears…from one tyke, two tykes, two different tykes, and then all three of the younger tykes….I thought I would have to change our name from The Pumpkin Patch to The Snot Patch…

When one cries for more than a couple of minutes, they all feel the need to join in on the chorus.  Today, they must have been preparing for Handel’s “Messiah”…..They would stop for a moment or two and then someone would feel the need to sing another verse….or two…

Half an hour into this chorus, and I realized I was in trouble and needed to pull something wonderful out of my sleeve…and fast….

I needed some magic pixie dust to get the gang back on track, and that’s when I spied the bananas.  We all sat in a circle and I passed out bananas and using the older tykes as bait, I began to exaggerate how very delicious those bananas were.  The older tykes joined right in with my loud “Yuuuummmyyyyy” and “Can you believe how delicious this banana is?”  It worked like a charm.  I have no idea where I would be without my older Mr. W and Miss I…..They are my wing-tykes when I need some extra help with the younger ones.

We sang all the songs we knew and by the time the Itsy Bitsy Spider was back on his spout for the hundredth time, all was well and right with our world once again.  The rest of the morning and afternoon was enjoyed by my typically happy little gang of heart- melters…..

Lesson of the Day:

Sharing bananas and singing songs camp fire style is a great cure for tearful tykes….

Being goofy with the word “yum” and overly dramatic with finger spiders are great tools to have…

Always, ALWAYS keep extra bananas on hand….

Until next time,

Patty

Trying soooo hard to be THAT cool preschool teacher…

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Yesterday I brought out coffee beans and dinosaurs for the sensory table.  There were only two tykes and I was feeling brave.  The room smelled great, the beans stayed inside the sensory table, and it was a delicious day.  Today there were four in the preschool and I was feeling brave again, so out came the beans and fun was being shared by everyone…..except me….I was very busy holding myself together and fighting off the “adult” part of me during such a fun “child” activity…..

It started out great.  A small handful of beans landed on the shower curtain that I placed under the sensory table.  No biggie, I thought proudly to myself…..And then another handful went airborne.  The tykes didn’t have a clue to my rising sense of anxiety.  They were busy scooping and pouring and listening to the beans clank and clink as they fell here and there.

I saw an article on my Facebook home page about a preschool teacher who was “brave enough” to allow the sensory materials to “spill” over into all the centers in the room.  She sounded so cool….so very very cool…..I wanted to be THAT cool…..so cool that coffee beans would be welcome in the basket with building blocks, and I bet Thomas the Train would love a taste of a coffee bean while he was on break from normal play.  I bet the tykes could whip up a delicious coffee and block soup with the beans in the kitchen area…..All these thoughts were zipping in and out of my head when, WHAMO, I got hit in the face with a tyke size fist full of coffee beans!

There were beans EVERYWHERE…..it looked like a bunny convention had invaded The Patch and they all left their little presents everywhere….EVERYWHERE….I was beginning to lose sight of the goal to be THAT teacher…….but…….I held it together.

I began to quietly pick up the beans and slip them back into the sensory table, when out of no where, four tykes went belly down on the floor and began retrieving coffee beans with me.  They zipped up that pile and they zipped up this pile and they zipped up all the piles in no time at all.  And all the while, they had created a game of picking up coffee beans and I realized that once again I am no longer the teacher to these little cherubs that steal my heart every day.  I am their student……and today’s lesson was how to be THEIR teacher and not THAT teacher…..

Here’s what they taught me today:

Dear Ms. Patty:

I will make messes while I learn to scoop objects from a flat surface into a rounded cup because my fingers always get in the way.  I will master this, and I am so happy you have given me coffee beans today to practice with.  I love putting the cup up high so I can see the beans swirl around as I shake the scooper as hard as I can.  Beans fall out, and I don’t know why.  I better keep doing this until I understand why they do this amazing trick.   Love, Miss O.

Dear Ms. Patty:

I want to know why the beans keep falling out of my scooper when my wrist moves up and down and sideways.  They fall out EVERY TIME! It is so much fun.  I want to do this all morning!  And every time the beans fall down, I really like the sound they make on the shower curtain that is now all wrinkly at my feet.  You told me it sounded like rain drops as you picked up the beans for me to use again.   Love, Miss S.

Dear Ms. Patty:

This is the second day I have enjoyed filling and emptying the big container with coffee beans.  I like to work until the WHOLE container is filled before I knock it off the ledge and the beans fall back into the sensory table….well….most of them.  My favorite part is screaming, “Whoa” every time.  EVERY TIME.  It’s such a fun word to say…..Sometimes I like to use the scoop and sometimes I like to put one bean into the container at a time.  Love, Mr. M

Dear Ms. Patty:

I have never seen a coffee bean before.  I like how they roll down the ramp inside the sensory table.  I like to make them go real fast one at a time.  I enjoyed making a circle of beans around the dinosaurs. I made a dinosaur family and covered them up in beans! Digging them out got a little messy because I was so excited to dig and bury and dig and bury and dig and bury them. Love, Miss I.

I am not THAT teacher.  I will never be THAT teacher.  I am however, THEIR teacher and because of that, I held myself together while they explored and experimented and while beans fell and fell and fell.  Maybe THAT teacher was merely holding herself together too in the midst of learning chaos.  Maybe THAT teacher saw all her students learning and growing and decided that there are times to let messes happen.

Today, I decided that strewn beans here and there were a small chore to pick up in light of all the joy and commotion and learning that was taking place.  Holding myself together was rewarded by tykes who chipped right in and picked every last bean up for THEIR Ms. Patty.  Holding myself together was rewarded by those chubby arms going around my neck as we all fell into a heap on the floor when “Bean Time” was done. Holding myself together was rewarded by head nods and hands clapping and sparkling eyes saying “YES!” when I asked if they had fun.

I will never ever be THAT super cool and awesome teacher who appears to always get everything right every single day.  And that’s fine by me…..I decided today that being THEIR teacher was soooo much cooler and that I have much to learn from my tyke teachers….and I wouldn’t have it any other way…:):):)

Until next time,

Patty

Looking is Different than Seeing

Today is the fourth school closure for severe weather temperatures this month.  I closed the first three but felt that today wasn’t a very good call by the school board.  Two of my tykes are here today and I have set out some new things to explore and then stepped back to SEE these two guys in action.  It’s a pretty simple concept…..looking and seeing….but they are very different….

Typically my eyes are dashing here and there and assessing the probability that the chair Miss S. is  rocking will or will not fall, if Miss O. really has long enough legs to navigate herself up onto our observation deck, or if I can ever really calculate the odds of whether or not Mr. M is going to throw (insert any and every object) and how far or who it will impact….I am looking all the time…

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I am not, however, seeing.  Today I spied my delicious Mr. M putting objects to his face…again….He does this with everything.  I’ve looked at this behavior as I rush around looking to make sure all tykes are happy, safe, and breathing.  I have looked at this scenario so very often, but today, because I was able to really just observe, I saw the behavior and everything clicked in my brain.

He is gauging temperature and texture of random objects using his soft cheeks.  I was awestruck as I watched him keep one rock at his cheek and then put a “fresh” rock up to that same spot.  He knew they felt different and knew that his cheek somehow held the magic to change a cold rock into a warm rock.  He’s twenty-two months and is testing and retesting an unspoken hypothesis…

Today he wanted to know more, so he brought me the rocks and put one to my cheek.  Because I was “seeing” and not just “looking”, his request became a teachable moment and not just a language lesson of “rock….rock….it’s a rock…”.  Today, I shivered when he put the cold rock on my check and said, “Brrrr….cold…..The rock is cold.”  He held it to my check until it was warm and then put the warmed rock on his own cheek.  I added, “Ahhh..warm….The rock is warm.”  His little green/grey eyes lit up.  He began to mouth the word “cold” over and over again……

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By really seeing and not merely looking today, Mr. M was given the next piece of information he was seeking on his temperature hypothesis quest.  This is how we learn.  We add one piece of the puzzle to our question at a time….

So now, in the quietness of nap time, I am thinking about what materials I can bring in to add to Mr. M’s desire to explore temperature changes and textures.  This is what being a teacher is all about…..taking that precious treasure’s question, even if it is not audible, and helping them bridge the information gap so they can do more and be more and learn more as they gain additional pieces to what they wanting to learn.

I do not like store-bought or prepackaged curriculum for this very reason. The writer has no clue what your students are interested in and if their immediate interests are not developed, they lose interest and the desire to learn deeply and broadly while their interests are so intense and their drive to know more is peaked will also be lost…..

Today I have determined to see…really see what goes on with my tykes and not just be a looker because I am so distracted by the nonstop commotion in our room.  Today I have determined to not SEE, but also DO…..

Tonight I will buy a light bulb for my old desk lamp so Mr. M can safely experience temperature changes from cold to warm using the light from the lamp.  This will also help Miss O to explore shadows that she became so engaged with last week when the winter sun finally shone from behind those thick cold clouds…..

Here’s to seeing and doing…..

Until next time,

Patty

Glass Instead of Plastic

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I’ve added the most beautiful wooden kitchen area to The Patch and the tykes have enjoyed it for about two months now.  It’s been quite an education for me as I observe them stir this and shake that and test how far glass can fly before it gets broken…..which by the way, is farther than one might think…

I stocked the hutch with glass spice jars that had inner seals so the spices couldn’t spill out even though their exterior lids can be opened and shut.  I put black and white pony beads in the salt and pepper shakers and yellow pony beads in the honey bear bottle.  I set out glass punch cups and serving spoons and wooden salad bowls.  I splurged and bought a metal (a thin metal) pot and pan set and put it in the hutch.  Did I mention it was thin…..like paper thin…..?

After everything was perfect and ready for the tykes, I stepped back and just observed them enjoy their new area.  It was theirs, after all.  I wanted it to feel like home but without the restrictions of not being able to bang or touch or toss. Boy did they toss….and bang…..and stack everything… I had the most amazing experience with just observing and taking in their play.  Here’s what I learned, in no uncertain order…..:

1]  They wanted to make towers out of everything.  Spice jar towers, wooden bowl towers and then wooden bowls with spice jars inside of them to make even taller towers…..Preschoolers are quite the engineers….

2]  They wanted to bang everything. EVERYTHING…..every object made a different sound.  The spoons on the wooden bowls sounded different from the spoons on the punch cups.  The spice jars being banged together sounded different from the salt and pepper shakers being banged together…..Pepper, bless its little heart, went to spice heaven on the fourth day of the first week….

3]  Everything had to fit inside of everything.  How many blocks can fit in this pan, and how many animals can fit in the cup and the list of possibilities continued to grow every day. They were positive that the honey bear would be able to sleep in the muffin pan laying down, but alas, he just couldn’t bend his little plastic legs enough to quite fit.  Because of his inability to be flexible, he took several airborne trips to the other side of the room….poor bouncy guy….

4]  I have no plastic or pretend food in the kitchen area.  They are mostly still very oral and the thought of dripping plastic food just made me queasy…But they haven’t missed it or asked for any…..They have been too busy exploring all the loose parts to actually begin the cooking process.  The older ones have made tea and coffee, but the younger ones have been content to pretend to just drink from, lick on, and chew on the pieces for right now.  I get a good chuckle over how valuable a serving spoon is to a toddler…..They will carry them around the room ALL day…..

5] Toddlers have a love of doors.  They love to open and shut them and open and shut them and open and shut them….LOUDLY….It is where they are in their development.  Because they are also very strong, I am spending lots of time on my knees in front of the hutch saying “be gentle” in a very hushed tone and showing them how to open and shut the doors GENTLY.  They look at me with such love and joy and then our wonderful teachable moment completely evaporates as they become Hulk when I walk away….

These pieces were designed by preschool professionals all the way in Germany….I am trusting that somewhere there are little German tykes with Hulk strength who have been testing these pieces for durability….And I am also sure that in that testing facility in Germany a tired and frazzled preschool professional is on her knees and patiently and lovingly saying “sanft” (gentle) over and over and over….

 

Thanksgiving Pies…

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I have five wonderful families in my little preschool.  We have been together for many years and I have been honored to be their caregiver/teacher/very young Granny for several new additions to their families.

This year I want to focus on helping them celebrate and carve out time to enjoy being a family.  This focus led me to the idea of a family pumpkin pie that they could share together either before the holiday crazies began or after the holiday crazies were gone.

The pastry hand print idea was found on Pinterest (oh how I love Pinterest!) and I altered it from being a turkey made from a hand print to just hand prints because most of my families have more than one child.  I wanted to include all the children in each family….a throw-back from my being the youngest cub in my own family….

This seemed like an easy enough adventure….I thought…..

I burned the first pie.  The second pie was baked without any salt because I didn’t read the recipe well enough until the third pie. The third and fourth pies were horrible because I forgot to cook them on a higher temperature for fifteen minutes before turning the temp down to a normal setting.  Who knew this step was really necessary? Obviously I do now…..It is VERY important to let those eggs “set” in a higher temperature in the world of pumpkin pie baking….trust me – not a pretty or a tasty sight….

By the fifth pie, I was a master of the pumpkin until I realized it was now 9pm and was out of the supplies with three more pies to bake…..A quick run through K-Mart was a complete failure.  They had the pumpkin and the evaporated milk all right, but I wasn’t paying two dollars a can when I could run to the grocery and only pay eighty nine cents per can…..so, off I went to Shop and Save to shop and save.

They turned out pretty darn cute and the leftover pie (pie number eight) that I sampled, tasted pretty darn great too!  I am still patting myself on the back as I type….:)

The hand prints were easy peasy to make. I asked the parents to trace their older children’s hands using any paper they had available with their fingers a smidge apart for me. No explanation was given for why I needed them….they just knew that crazy Ms. Patty was up to something and the next day I had a collection of hand prints to cut out.

Here’s how to make pie crust hand prints:

1] Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2] Preheat oven to 350.

3] Roll out a store bought crust onto parchment paper.

4] Place hand print cut outs onto parchment paper trying to get as many prints on as possible. I was able to fit three onto each pie crust.

5] Use sharp knife to trace around hand prints and remove excess dough.

6] Brush hand print with water and sprinkle sugar on top.  (I figured the kids would eat their hand prints, so I added more sugar than I probably should have…)

7] Bake for ten minutes or until just turning light brown on edges.

8] Cool before moving to avoid breaking the hand print.

9] Place on pie that is still warm so it will settle down into the pie.

10] Cool pie at least two hours before putting in fridge.

Very easy peasy…Let me know how yours turns out…:)

Happy Thanksgiving!  Until next time,

Patty

Welcome ….

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Welcome to The Patch! We are a Reggio and Montessori inspired private in-home preschool. Our curriculum is anchored through art and science explorations that incorporate math and literacy and language as natural learning extensions.

I believe that children learn best through their senses and I strive to provide hands on experiences that are paced and based on a variety of themed unit explorations throughout the year.

I hope to encourage other preschool teachers through this blog. So, pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee as you journey with me and our adventures at The Patch!