Friday, February 25, 2011

Wrestling Rules Rule

Okay, I don't know about you, but during our most recent "Weather Event," I thought I might lose my mind.

We could see grass.  The ice dams had cleared.  My kids thought they could "smell spring."  And I just wasn't paying close enough attention.  "Is it supposed to snow tomorrow?"  And when I went to the grocery store, on the eve of the Event,  people were arm wrestling over the last loaf of bread in the bakery.  All the donuts were gone.  The lines were monstrous snakes of human anxiety and the check out girl was surly and sweating.  "Yeah, it's supposed to snow tomorrow.  A lot."

I know I'm not only boring you with the details, I'm torturing you.  But on day two of said Event, more than 24 hours in, at about 3:30 or so, I looked out the window.  "When is this supposed to stop?"  "Noon," said by husband.  Yet, it was still snowing, with a vengeance.

The kids went out into the Event, then they came in, then they went out again.  Finally they stayed in.  Inside, they yelled, and chased each other and fought and I proposed, gently, but with a hint of anxiety in my voice, "Maybe you should go back outside."

They yelled, chased each other, fought some more.  I went back at it, "Hey, why don't you guys go out and do that."  But the snow hurts," said Holly.  "Yeah, it stings," confirmed JJ.  I sympathized with a frown.  Wind driven beebies of icy pain could be heard assaulting the windows as I spoke, and still I suggested more firmly, "I think you should go outside now."  My pain was more important.  The children ignored me and began to bicker instead.  That's when I shouted.  It wasn't my finest moment, but everyone has their limits.  My limit is apparently the fourth month of winter.  "Get out!" I demanded, like a good despot.

It was clear when my cherubs turned to me with Cheshire grins that, rather than being the Genghis Khan of the house, as I had hoped, I was now considered the Hosni Mubarek of our family.  "Maybe you should go for a walk, Mom."  Faced with open revolt and revolution, I reached for the last trick in my bag.  "1!  2! 3!  Wrestle!"  I yelled.

And so they did.  They wrestled with a vengeance, with a keen desire to go crazy, to exert pent up puppy energy and flame the fires of cabin fever.  But they wrestled with rules.  And no one got hurt.  And I have Dodge to thank for saving my sanity in the last hours of the Weather Event that would not stop.

Here is how to wrestle, with rules, Dodge-style.  It just might save you too:

Pick Your Partner
Extend an invitation, "Do you want to wrestle?"  Both parties must agree, verbally, if possible.  Eye contact must be established, and maintained.  I do not advocate more than 2 wrestling partners.  3 kids wrestling is problematic and under no circumstances should excited onlookers just jump into the fray.  Grown-ups can wrestle with kids too; you can pair siblings as well, just stick to the rules.

Find a Good Place
Start on your knees, facing each other in a softer, rock free zone.  Sand, prairie, exercise mat, carpet, snow-- all are excellent places to wrestle, just use your noggin when selecting a spot.  Have someone count, "1, 2, 3, Wrestle!"  Partners can count down together too, if they have the ability to wrestle autonomously.

No Nos
Dodge wrestling looks like happy, frenzied bear-hugging.  Aggression is not tolerated and has no place in this wrestling.  Here at the Nos:
-no punching
-no hitting
-no biting or scratching
-no grabbing the head or neck with hands, arms, legs or feet

Crying Uncle
Know when to stop.  Maintain eye contact if possible & listening ears always.  If somebody looks worried, sounds distressed, says, "Stop!" or even whispers, "stop," stop you must.  Winning the wrestling match is hardly the point.  This is process-oriented wrestling and usually kids are not sticklers for pinning etc.  While this may not be the late Paul Wellstone's brand of academic wrestling, I think he would approve.  This is wrestling for peace, and maybe subsequent quiet.

Special thanks to my colleagues here at the Preschool who taught me to embrace a child's need to wrestle.  Their common sense approach and willingness to wrestle with kids themselves has served me very well.
Our sibling  Highland Whites kick up their heels.

*A Wrestling Postscript:
Two of my dearest young friends, brother and sister, returned to school today with big news:  they now have a new baby sister.  My colleagues and I made a big deal about their new status, but the looks on their faces made it clear that they were still on the fence about the new addition to their family.  As the afternoon progressed, one sibling announced that she, "just wanted to butt things."  The other reported that he would like to "whack a stick."  "Just whack and whack and whack," he added for clarification.  I proposed a wrestling match, and the very idea brought a smile to each truly sweet face.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

10 Ways Chase the Winter Blues

Remember sun?  The color green?

I don't know about you, but I've kind of had enough of winter.

Anyway, recently, I was hiking with a small group of students near the Nature Center when suddenly we heard a tremendous popping noise.  My reaction was involuntary, "Hey, what was that?!"  We heard laughter-- lot's of people laughing in fact-- and then Pete, Dodge Naturalist Extraordinaire, poked his head around the corner of the building.  Pete smiled innocently, "We were just exploding dry ice."

Naturalists get their kicks in interesting ways.  Turns out the Nature Center staff was amusing themselves by blowing up the dry ice that comes in every shipment of rats for the raptors.  Pete explained it all very matter-of-factly and I got the distinct impression it wasn't the first time the staff has enjoyed a late afternoon explosion.

So, "cabin fever" has set in a bit early this year.  Maybe it's the fact that we've had snow since Halloween, or was it August?  Maybe it's the bitter cold.  Or the lack of vitamin D.  Whatever the case may be, we are all getting creative about how we amuse ourselves mid-winter here at Dodge.  Here are...

10 Ways to Chase the Winter Blues, Dodge Style:

1. Snow Bonfire
Make a fire in the snow.  Easy to do in your back yard (if your neighborhood allows).  Make snow seats.  Find some sticks and roast a bagel or two (pre-butter bagels and simply poke the stick through the convenient hole).  Parents can enjoy "refreshments" without worrying about melting ice.  This may seem like it requires extra effort, but once you get over the psychological hump of putting snow pants on and assembling fire stuff, you'll be happy.  The keys to a successful snow fire are warm clothes and snacks.  Very magical at night.  Check-out Birgitta Ralston's great book, "Snow Play."  My colleague, Joey, received the book as a gift and it has been a real inspiration.

2. Build a Quinzhee
"Quinzhee" is an Athabaskan word for snow cave.  Grab a shovel and heap up some snow.  Let the snow sit for a few days and compress.  Then use your shovel or your feet to scoop/kick out a door and "room."  These can be as big or as small as you like.  Decorate with sticks, evergreen boughs or colored ice.  See below.  You can build a couple of quinzhees around your snow fire for extra snow village fun.  Please don't climb on top once they are built.

3. Ice is Nice
Grab ice cube trays, jello molds, bowls or cake pans.  Fill and freeze with colored water (diluted liquid watercolor or food coloring work well).  You can decorate your quinzhee with pretty ice jewels.  Get tricky and freeze string or ribbon into your ice and hang ice ornaments in trees.

4. Learn How to Make Dumplings
Celebrate Chinese New Year--it's the Year of the Rabbit--with food.  Learn how to make Lin's terrific dumplings.  Lin and her mom, Marin, showed us how to cook these easy, delicious and addictive little packet of yumminess.  Veggie or Pork?  The choice is yours.  The whole family can get in on the act of cooking.  See recipe page, "Lin's New Year Dumplings," under "Kitchen Catalyst" below. 
5. Have a Parade
Keep the Chinese New Year theme going.  Bang on a drum by your snow fire.  Grab whatever makes a ruckus and traipse through your house, making as much noise as possible.  This is a great way to chase away bad luck and make room for good fortune.  You can also clean your house for the New Year, but that's not quite as fun.

6. Paint it Red
Days have been monochromatic, with lowering, peevish skies.  Chase away all that grey with a burst of red.  Make paper lanterns and hang them about the house (or in your yard).  Acquire red construction paper.  Fold in half lengthwise.  Cut into the fold, moving down the spine of the crease.  Turn paper horizontal and form a tube.  Punch holes in the top for yarn to string.  Hang.  Repeat.  Lanterns + Dumplings=Party.

7. Zen Snow Spiral
Need some exercise?  Here is another idea we pilfered from Brigitta Ralston:  the snow maze or spiral.  Find a nice big expanse of blank snow.  Start tromping in a big circle, but before you close it, start spiralling in.  Tighter and tighter your spiral gets until your right in the middle. The only way out is back the way you came, so consider the size of your spiral before you start.  Young children can become surprisingly committed to this time-consuming activity; a zen sense of peace might be achieved by sending everyone out to make a spiral while you enjoy a quiet cup of tea.

8. Spark
The Scandinavians call kick sledding, "sparking."  Well, that's what I'm told, but I'm not sure it sounds the same in Norwegian.  Some Scandinavians commute to work and school with kick sleds.  We have some kick sleds here at Dodge that the Preschoolers and visiting school agers use, but you can try out this great cardio activity too.  Dodge hosts events like Frosty Fun, when the general public can have at our kick sleds, but some local parks also provide kick sleds for your pleasure.  Visit Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan and glide over a frozen lake or plan a longer route and pack a snow picnic.  Mountain Boy company makes a home grown version and the Hearth Song and Magic Cabin retailers sell kick sleds too.

9. Snowshoe
Come on, are you really a Minnesotan if you haven't snowshoed?  If preschoolers can snowshoe, so can you.  Stop by Dodge, our Executive Director, Jason Sanders, will be happy to give you a snowshoe tour of the place.  Snowshoeing is another great cardio workout and you'll feel so woodsy.  You don't have to be a mountain woman to snowshoe.  I can get them at Lakeville at City Hall whenever I want.  Lebanon Hills has 'em. Most state parks, including nearby Afton, have them too.  I recommend going off trail, otherwise, what's the point?

10. Paint the Blues
In our room, we decided to embrace the winter blues by painting them (see "Get In Line" posting for more serious details).  Kids mixed winter hues and just painted away.  Teachers found the activity soothing and fun too.  You might just try it at home on your own, or with your kids.  Watercolors or cheap tempera will work just fine.  Watercolor crayons are another great choice if you don't have a lot of space for mess; the crayons can be dipped in a cup of water and you can "paint" in a notebook on your lap, at a counter or the kitchen table.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Getting in Line

This past Friday, I had the good fortune to hear Doctor Lilian Katz speak.  She gave the keynote at the annual Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children (MNAEYC) conference, which many Dodge Nature Preschool teachers, including myself, attended.  Katz's talk was titled, "Where Are We Now and Where Should We Be Going" (I think the ? was implied, but it didn't appear in the brochure).

So Katz quickly cut to the chase:  "We are doing earlier and earlier what we shouldn't do later."  She was referring to our national push for school "readiness," which so often these days looks like developmentally INappropriate practice in the classroom.  Many early childhood programs focus on getting kids to recognize the alphabet and their numbers with rote practice or meaningless activities.  Katz cited our preschool addiction to doing the calendar at Group Time (we don't do this at Dodge, by the way).  Typically, kids sit and count through a large-format 2-dimensional calendar.  "Why?" asked Katz.  "What do you need a calendar for, unless you're paying bills or worried about being pregnant."  Katz's point is that young children, in fact all children, need to engage in mindful interactions and activities.  "Don't underestimate children intellectually.  We overestimate them academically."  Katz implores all of us to consider how we help young children develop intellect.  In other words, how do we help children inquire, ask questions, make guesses and observe carefully.  Well, Katz rightfully declares that, "kids should master academic skills in service of their project or inquiry."  In other words, provide real, concrete experiences, and the academic (and social and emotional) skills will, out of necessity, follow.  What does this look like in practice?

Well, take a look at what happens around Dodge.  Lively, imaginative and developmentally appropriate practice is happening everywhere:

I'll toot our Nature Preschool horn.  In my classroom, we have engaged in an on-going color-mixing project.  Way back in the early days of autumn, children noticed that the "palette" of surrounding flora was changing dramatically.  On hikes, leaves, flowers, pine cones and stones all found their way into pockets, then they found their way out of pockets back in the classroom.  We set out jars and baskets for the burgeoning "collections."  Children examined items of interest, employing magnifiers, measuring tapes, tracing and sketching things on paper, or in their journals, talking about objects and even asking to label them:  How do you write, "bone?"  Interesting stuff is attractive, and inquiry is contagious.  Pretty soon peers were attracting peers to their various little projects.  "How did you trace that?"  "How did you write that?"  "Can I do it too?"  And then somebody wanted to color in a bone shape that she had traced, but, "Hey!" she said, "We don't have any Bone color paint."  Jugs of tempera where hauled to the table, little jars and brushes were scrounged up and before we knew it, half a dozen children were engaged in the big messy project of mixing their own paint colors.  Remember, this was a task with a purpose.  Other objects of interest were dragged to the Art Studio table--pine cones, gourds, leaves--and soon we had a whole collection of paint.  Teachers found an unused journal notebook and, with their help, children began to sample the colors as quickly as they made them.  The colors acquired names and our "Spruce Room Color Palette" was born.

This is a good story of developmentally appropriate practice and it could end here.  But it doesn't.  A child asked to take the palette out on a hike.  His self-proclaimed goal was to find other things out on our walk that might match our colors.  So out we went, with children scrambling to get hold of the palette and hold their own samples up to sumac and sunflowers and clouds and dirt.  They chattered and wondered and ran and asked ceaseless questions, "What do you call this?"  "Aster."  "What's this color called again?"  "Cloud Purple."  "Cloud Purple could be Aster Purple."  Teachers and students took photos of asters and other interesting colored things. Permission was granted to cut a spray of asters and take them back to the Art Studio.  Aster Purple was mixed afresh, compared to Cloud Purple, and then put to use painting the little spray of Asters that now sat at the center of the art table.

During all of this activity, children spoke to each other and teachers, asking questions in order to get things done.  Language.  Social skills.  Petals were counted on flowers.  Math.  Kids ran to keep up or stooped and bent to scissor cuttings of flowers or to get a closer look at stuff.  Large muscle, fine motor, observation, attention.  Back inside, children found brushes, mixed paint, made false starts and tried again and again to get colors just right.  Autonomy, confidence, attention span, hypothetical thinking.  They talked through it all, sharing ideas, laughter and frustration.  They worked to share tools and to take turns.  More social skills.  Surely, this is the type of thing Katz has in mind when she refers to "meaningful inquiry."

Just imagine what happens when the middle school kids at Garlough (our environmental magnet sister school across the street), venture out to gather seed in the prairie?  What happens when the Dodge Summer Camp kids work to build fires, without a match ( my eight-year-olds are Fire Camp grads, much to grandma's dismay).  What happens when the school-agers compete to build forts or find the most microorganisms in the pond?  Meaningful inquiry happens.  And a whole slew of academic, social and emotional skills are developed in service of that real, project-based learning.

But Dodge may be one of the too few exceptions to the rule of "alignment."  In the classroom or out, kids need real, hands-on concrete experiences if they are to grow up to be the scientists, creative thinkers and innovators we will all rely on in the future.  Katz asked the crowd of educators, with great agitation, "Why don't we want school to be more interesting?"

The wonder shouldn't end beyond Dodge.  Let's Dodgify middle school, junior high and high school.  Let's get in line to advocate for developmentally appropriate, project-based and truly exciting learning.

To learn more about Dr. Katz and developmentally appropriate and exciting learning visit the Catalyst Links.