Friday, September 18, 2009

And then what.....

News flash!!! Today I was transported to "Hotland".

There I was minding my own business, playing in the moon sand with some new friends at the sensory table. When, two masked beings (I think they were 4 yr old girls) came up to me and said.

"We're taking you to Hotland"

I could have answered any number of ways. "AAARRGGGHHH, help!!!!" wouldn't have been appropriate, "Um, I'm working now, but I can go with you later, say after 5" probably wouldn't have worked either.

I am in the rare circumstance of not having to focus on anything else at the moment children in class come up to me with ideas. I don't have to watch any particular section, I'm not, as I often found myself with my own kids, trying to multi-task the laundry, dishes and story listening. I am there for them and able to fully concentrate on what they are saying. I am also able to really think about what I want to say. Today, since it was my first day in this class, I wanted to get to know them. To see how they interact, see what ideas they can come up with and see how far this could go. This was my moment to build a connection. So I said.

"What happens there?"

If you think about it, this is one of those rare moments when you actually say what you wanted to say when you wanted to say it. Asking questions is the best way to get minds in motion.

They looked at each other, and one said.

"You get put into an oven"

Who knew? I was thinking Hotland was like a beach area or some other resort. Glad I asked. I didn't want to say how awful that would be, or how much that would hurt. I knew that would be looking at things through my own adult perspective and maybe adding things to the story they hadn't intended.

So I ask another question.

"And then what?" (This question is one of the great ways to encourage children to stretch out their stories and really work their minds.

"And then you get cooked." said one.

"And then what?"

"And then you get burned." said the other

"And then what?"

"And then we take you out of the oven and take you to Coldland" Said the first while looking at the second who nodded her agreement.

"And then what happens?" (okay I switched up, but I needed a little variety)

"And then you get to swim in the lake and cool off" said the second. Then they looked at each other, and headed off. The story was over. They had ended with me in Coldland safe and cool and delighted.

Imagine how that could have gone differently if I had interjected my own ideas. I learned so much by listening and they learned they had the power to tell a story. They also learned about taking turns as each child got a chance to add something to my adventure in Hotland.

Can you imagine, still imagining like this? I rarely, if ever give myself the freedom to let ideas roam and see where they will go. For a child this not only comes naturally but, it is an important part of their development. Telling stories, playing dress-up, "cooking" in the play kitchen; all of those wonderful fun things are actually an extremely important part of their development.

Imagination is more than just children just making up stories. It is them stretching their minds, Through the use of imagination children can learn so many things including, but in no way limited to those listed below.

1. Problem solving. Children get to exercise their minds and create solutions to all sorts of problems. Remember, I got burned in an over, and then cooled off with a nice swim? Sounds like a good solution to me. How many times have you over heard a child create a hurdle in a game and then come up with the plan to over come it? Children do this all the time and the plan might not be something we, with our adult minds, would have thought of - but you can bet that it works for them. Could this be the beginning of relience? I think so. Learning that problems can be overcome if you put your mind to it is one of the greatest things a child can learn.

2. Social Skills. Children love to create together. When they do this they are learning the many idiocyncrecies of social interaction. They have to figure out how to take turns coming up with ideas. They have to learn to compromise and sometimes let the other child lead the play. Just listen to children combining their collective plans to create it is a wonder. You'll leave that space wishing adults could work that well together. "What if its dinner time..." says one, "Then he get's sick" says another " Yeah, and we have to go to the doctor, but AFTER dinner" says the first. "What if the doctor comes to the house and has dinner?"

3. Trying on different roles. I can remember worrying with my husband about our daughter and her seemingly never ending desire for role play in which she was captured and had to try to escape. "I'm Ariel and you have to catch me and tie me up...then I get out and run away." In truth this phase probably only lasted a few weeks, but it felt like forever as we wondered, is this okay? Looking back on it I realize she was practicing rescuing herself. Discovering her own power which she now at 13yrs uses in all sorts of tricky girl drama situation. By taking on the role of the captured she was able to discover her own strength. Different roles don't always mean something that intense, sometimes it can just be trying to see what it feels like to be like mom or what it would be like to be a fire fighter and rescue people.

Today's lesson....stretch your mind. Try to remember at some point we were all like these children exploring infinite possibilities and having a blast learning new things about our selves and about the world around us. You never know what you might discover about yourself and your own capabilities. Also, as we get older it is good to keep our minds working. Remember after a while you loose what you don't use. So, treat your mind like a muscle and exercise it.

Today's parenting lesson....Ask questions. Don't interject your own ideas. Let you children lead the play. If you give them the opportunity to take the lead they will. Let them be the directors of the story and you the willing participant. Then sit back and enjoy where they take you. If you get the chance you can even write some of their stories down, and go back and read them together later.

Have fun.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

And so it begins.....

The idea for this blog came from the many everyday lessons I learn from those wonderful 2-5 year old minds. I teach parent education, which means that I get to spend the majority of my time with children and their parents. Part of my job includes modeling behavior and helping children to navigate the wonderful world of social interaction and development. More often than not I end the day learning just as much from them as I hope they learned from me.

So, on a regular basis I will be reporting on what I learned. What they learned.


Hopefully, on what ideas/concepts transferred from my parenting classes into the real world of preschoolers.

Today was my second day of classes and I was again reminded of one of the things I love about spending time with preschoolers. They have the special gift of living in the present. Nothing matters, but the here and now and when you are interacting with a child, if you let yourself, you too become fully in the present.

I sat with children as they explored playdough. They squished it, cut shapes with cookie cutters, cut it with scissors, and rolled it into balls. The moment was all about exploring the simplest of things. Did they care that they were stretching their brains, building new connections with each new thing explored? No. They only knew that they were enjoying the moments. No one stopped to show me what they did. No one asked me to "look at this". This wasn't about the product of perfect shapes or super cutting, this was about exploration in its essence. Coming up with a plan and seeing what would happen if.... I felt like a laboratory assistant. I was asked to hold my hand out and catch a dropped playdough ball. I was given shapes and the chance to see what would happen if we pushed into the playdough. We explored with pushing our fingers into it and seeing who made the bigger print. Time flew by and before I knew it I heard the sad sounds of the two minutes until clean up warning. All of the sudden I had new Lab techs. A couple of 2 year olds who had apparently waited and now realized time was running short. They quickly staked out a space and began to create. With what little time they had left they dived in and tried a few things.

When it was time to clean up they reminded me again that they are more capable than I or many others give them credit for. These children wanted to be responsible for their "lab" equipment. Quick instructions - of course enthusiastically given- " Who can put the tools in the big box?" "Looks like the playdough goes in this plastic bag, want to try it?" were taken charge of.

Today's lesson...Take some time each day to live in the moment. Do something just because you want to. Try something new, just to see what might happen and don't worry about what the outcome may be because in the process you will learn more than you ever could from the product. You'll find that in those moments life seems much simpler and when you come back to the issues the answers will be clearer or you'll realize they just don't matter like you thought.

Today's parenting lesson....Let it happen. Just sit back and watch and allow yourself the opportunity to be the "lab assistant" Your children learn so much from exploration they know what they want to do and if you let them they will lead you to spaces and knowledge you didn't know you needed to know.