Words and Photos

I’ve been at daycare off and on for spring break. I haven’t been able to spend quality time at daycare since winter break, so it’s been really nice.

These days, we have a bunny, and the kids do a lot more writing and counting. They also ride bikes and read chapter books.

Some things don’t change: we spend a lot of time outdoors; there are lots of cuddles on the couch followed up by rough housing on the floor; art and music are nonstop; as is the construction and destruction of towers and tunnels. The kids eat a lot of yummy meals. They know how to throw a good dance party and how to be silly in tutus. Kids get along and then don’t. Caregivers feel at ease and then overwhelmed. Big feelings, big energy, snotty noses, …


Art at the Burrow

In addition to being a toddler ninja warrior training camp (😂), you might be surprised to learn that we also spend a lot of time with art.

For a while now, the children have had free access to paint, pens, marker, crayons, chalk, glue, scissors, paper, scrap paper and glitter. So our art table ends up being an ever changing canvas.

I don’t take enough photos of the art we do, so this post is really just a nudge for me to get on it.

On Not Being Bullied

One of the gifts that daycare has given me is insight about how be with kids in a more authentic way-one that is less driven by entertainment and power struggles.

One of the biggest thing I have learned is how to recognize when I am being / feeling bullied, and what varied roles I can play in that dynamic. Some examples where bullying happens include:

– an adult plays a game with a child, and the adult wants to stop playing,

– an adult has an object (a toy or a book), and the child wants it.

– a child is being physically aggressive with an adult or possessions (whether malicious or not), and an adult is feeling uncomfortable about it.

– a child wants something that an adult feels uncomfortable about doing/giving, and child engages in whining or tantrums.

I am learning to recognize when I am feeling bullied, what’s causing these feelings (externally or internally, and presently or historically), how I might be contributing, and what options I have.

A lot of this ends up relating to consent and power. If I keep playing when I don’t want to keep playing, or if I let this child take this away from me, or if I let them keep hitting me, I am communicating and modeling a lot about the social dynamics of power and consent, and not for good.

Now, I am not saying that I always stop playing immediately when I feel it, or that I never let a child take a toy from me, but I pay attention to my feelings, and stop to ask, “Do I want to stop playing? Will I stop now or in a few minutes?” , “What about this game makes me want to stop now? Am I bored? Tired? Irritated? “Do I always stop playing with this child early on? “Do I mind if the child takes this from me?” “With this child, do I tend to give it up or not? Why? What happened last time?”, etc.

The point I think is that I recognize my feelings, reflect, and make a choice about how to respond. Maybe I decide I do want to keep playing, or that I need to introduce a new element into the game so I’m not bored, or maybe I’m tired and just need a break. Maybe I’m really done playing, and need to stop now.

I am pretty firm when it comes to being physically rough with my body or property. A common phrase I have learned to say from Bethany is, “I’m not going to let you ______”. There are other phrases of course, like “it hurts my body when you____”. I do and say similar things across a broad range of ages. I use my body as needed to protect myself, and to prevent harm and damage. This can involve taking child off my lap and into the ground, removing my own body, putting up a hand/arm defensively to prevent, and when needed picking up and child and moving their body to a safe location.

In all these cases, I try to be calm and firm. I try to give child-specific words and actions that are appropriate. When stopping to play, I might say why. “My body is tired and I need a break from this game.” Or “I am starting to feel bored with this game, I’m going to _____.” When a child is trying to take something from me, I will often start by saying “I won’t let you___”. Sometimes I will think about if I am willing to negotiate for a trade. Other times I might say, “I am playing with this now. When I am done playing with it, I will bring it over to you so you can have a turn.”

In grand scheme, I am still learning about how to navigate these spaces, but I am much more confident, and my relationships with children are healthier as I become more attuned to this aspect.

Consent to Having Stories Told

I haven’t been at daycare all that much this semester, because its just been a super busy semester. Since, I haven’t written in a while, here’s a little thing I’ve been thinking about.

One thing Bethany does pretty consistently is this: if there’s some story about a child that Bethany wants to tell me (or a parent). She asks the child first, “is it ok I tell Brian what happened earlier today…?” She may also give the child an opportunity to tell the story instead.

At first, I would notice this and not think much of it, but now I see it more for what it is. It touches on a couple things, including consent and privacy. The children have a (some) rights to privacy about the details of everything that goes on in their life. Asking their consent first to tell a story in which they are the main character makes a lot of sense. Stories are also powerful because they portray us in certain lights, and so its acknowledging the power that stories have. It makes me think broadly about the nefarious power of stories such as gossip. 

And, of course, she doesn’t always ask for consent for every story. That’s just not tenable or needed. But Bethany is also very aware of the children’s response to her telling a story. Even before the children could talk, if she noticed that telling a story had embarrassed the child, she would apologize and say, “I’m sorry. I embarrassed you by telling that story.” She didn’t shrug off their emotional response to the story telling, nor try to dismiss or minimize it.

Learning Outdoors

I’ve been trying to better document our nature learning, but I miss so much. On most days we take hikes around the yard. We have 1.5 acres and our neighbor has almost 3 acres to explore. But even without hikes, we just spend somewhere between 2 and 5 hours outside each day. 

Spring has been a good time to learn about flowers. Roses are an example of a flower that the children know they can freely pick. They eat them and make rose water. 

We got to watch the transformation of caterpillars into Chrysalis and then Butterflies. These pictures were taken the day we let them go. 

Hiking is a daily activity, often done in groups while holding hands. 

This a big we found and then learned about. This is an Assasin bug. 

Here is an egg we found. After some research, I think this is a cowbird egg. Cowbirds put their eggs in other bird’s nests. This egg must have been snuffed out, and then dropped!

I’ve learned that our yard is full of snails. In five years I had not seen one in our yard. Now a day doesn’t go that I don’t find half a dozen. 

Feathers are pretty common finds as well. I don’t know that much about birds, but have ordered a few bird books. 

Moss is a big interest of the kids. We find moss on rocks, roots, bark, and even on the Northside of the garden boxes. 

Clover is another flower that the children can identify, and freely pick and eat. 

These are both examples of foods we don’t let the kids eat. Both the berries and the persimmons are edible, but are not always tolerated that well. Plus the persimmons are often moldy, buggy, or unripe. This doesn’t stop us from collecting my them.

Worms were a real obsession for a while. The children loved to carry them around, feel the wiggle, etc. Lots of opportunities to grapple with issues like life and death, and balancing our scientific cursiouty with the sacredness of life. I am challenged on a daily level to confront my beliefs, both explicit and implicit, about how to coexist with life. 

This is a cicada shell. There is one tree in our yard where it’s common to find these. We talk about Cicadas as growing too big, and having to shed their outer shell. I probably should read more about this. I can’t wait until we see a live cicada. 

These are pears, not really edible. But we search for them, and look for them up in trees. 

The garden provides lots of opportunities for learning. Children help to plant, weed, wait, water, harvest, wash, and eat a variety of foods like lettuce, sorrel, sugar snap peas, basil, mint, potatoes, garlic, onions, etc. We have tomatoes, peppers, beans, pumpkin, and melons on the way.

The last part of the cycle we are learning about is the compost. We compost most days, and try to identify the foods and bugs, and how things change. A frog has taken up a home and so that’s been nice too. 

What Heavy means

I’ve been trying to pay attention to how the kids have been using use the word “heavy” this past month. They seem to use it to mean “difficult to move”, and do so in a variety of contexts, including some where I would be inclined to use other words. Three examples are:

“stuck” — if they are trying to pull something that I would say is stuck, they might say that it’s heavy.

“unwieldy” —  we have lots of very long bamboo sticks in the backyard, and they are long enough that even though they aren’t heavy, there is a lot of torque to contend with. They describe these sticks as heavy.

“Bulky” — Less surprisingly, they also use “heavy” in contexts of trying to move large objects that are not very massive (e.g., empty cardboard boxes). It could be that they arecconfusing mass and volume, but I don’t think so. They don’t describe it as heavy until trying to move it. I think they are describing the difficulty in moving it.
I’ve also noticed that they don’t use the word heavy to describe small things that are stuck that require fine motor skills. For example, if they can’t get a lid off, they don’t say it’s heavy. So I think heavy is a description for an object that is challenging to move using big muscles. 

When they ask me if something is heavy, I’ve been trying to contexualize it. Like, “it doesn’t feel to heavy for me. Does it seem to  heavy for you?” Or “yes, it seems heavy for something so small. I was expecting it be really light” or, “this feels heavy to lift, but it rolls quite easily”, “this isn’t very hard to lift, but it’s difficult to swing around”
I have no idea what if any impact this having, but it’s fun to try to discern their meaning(s) for heavy and how they are different than my own. I’m curious how they will change.

Five Things on my Mind

I’m at daycare by myself for a week. One day down, three more to go. 

Here are five things that have been on my mind:

1. A lot of disruptive behaviors are the result of boredom. Micro-managing the behaviors that result from a boring environment is exhausting. I’ve been thinking of this a lot, but was totally true when Karen came over and the kids were painting. They were so engrossed in what they were doing for an hour and a half.

2. Sometimes the child who you see as the source of trouble is just finally reacting to the accumulated exhaustion from other less visible trouble they’ve been enduring throughout the day. This is important to see for two reasons–to help address the root causes but also for the empathy that comes along with seeing whats going on from this other perspective. 

3. Relationships with and among children can get in ruts. Finding ways to reset is important, often before repair can even begin. This is true on the moment-by-moment level, day-by-day level, and week-by-week level. These two have been working on repairing their spirited friendship. 

4. Bethany is really great at always ending the day by seeking connection and communicating love, even if that’s not how she is feeling. Her commitment to that is the most selfless act of love I see each day. 

5. Not always, but children can often “behave” better when adults are away. They know they have to figure it out, and so make more cooperative decisions and negotiations. Finding ways to be “not present” is an important part of daycare. One great way to be not present, but still there, is to be engaged in work–cooking, gardening, cleaning, etc. 

Adult Play at Daycare: Lots of Pros and a Few Cons

When I’m at daycare, I tend to play a fair amount. I don’t mean so much play as in “play with the children”, as I mean I go off and build with blocks or legos, create something in the play kitchen, work on a new lacing pattern, or read a book. Outside I’m more likely to go off and play with loose parts, explore the yard, or color with sidewalk chalk.

There’s a couple advantages of playing this way at daycare:

  • Play is just relaxing but also focusing. It gives me something mindful to do that’s not being on my phone, worrying about what’s going on, or whatever
  • Children often come by to see what I’m up to, sometimes to watch, sometimes to join in. This works well because rather than me “playing with the children”, “the children are choosing to join in on play, or not.
  • Children coming by gives opportunities for lots of stuff including: observing new skills that are perhaps being modeled, practicing having to “read” the situation (e.g., am I building something special they have be careful about, or is this a kind of thing they can join in on without special consideration), … and honestly I have to decide what kind of play I am doing right now (is this for me and I don’t want children to join in or destroy it, or am I feeling like it’s ok).
  • Playing in the environment gives me chances to see the environment from a new perspective- physically, and interactionally, and socially. What does the space feel like sitting in this spot? Are there not enough new things to do in the house? Is it hard to find something I want? Is this space too crowded? Do I feel safe here? Does playing this way make me feel like I need something that’s not here? Can others join me here? When I play with this, do I want others to join in me? Where could I go if I wanted to be more alone?
  • Practice at play extraction. What I mean by this is, a lot of times, I will go play, and children will join in on what I’m doing. A good thing to happen is if I can leave the space, and children continue to play without my presence. This is usually a good sign that what I was doing was helping to enhance their play (rather than me entertaining them). I use this technique quite a bit if I notice children are unfocused. Instead of telling them to find something to do, I’ll just go do something that I think is interesting (and will likely be interesting to them), and then engage in it in such a way that invites others to play. But then, extract myself. Noticing what kinds of things hold their attention or what ways of being allow for my extraction helps me to become more aware of their emerging interests and how my ways of being do and don’t affect their play. In Bethany’s workshop, she used a video from a day where I setup the trains and did an nice job extracting myself.
  • Just getting better at play. The truth is becoming an expert player takes practice. The more I play, the better I become at play, and the better I become at recognizing what skills support play. This could be a subject of a whole other blog post.


There are also some disadvantages to focusing too much on my own play:

  • Honestly, sometimes I can get so focused on my own play, that I’m not being aware enough of the children and the environment. I am more prone to miss out on some escalating situation that could have been thwarted, or whatever.
  • There has to be a balance between me playing for myself and me playing to possibly spark children’s play. It can sometimes hard to find right balance. The best is not doing one or the other (and trying to equal them out), but rather when my own genuine interest in play is the kind of thing that will spark new forms of children’s play. In other words, there is overlap between those at the same time.
  • Honestly, me playing can be just be too much for everyone else, depending on what I choose to do. A common example is if I decide to play piano. A lot of times that is fine, but too much sound can just be a stressor, for the children, or more likely Bethany. (Sorry, B!)

There’s a quote about teaching inquiry that I can’t seem to find, but it’s something like: “How can you support the inquiry of your students if you yourself don’t live an inquiry-ful life?” I think it’s also true with play… how can you support the play of children, if you yourself don’t have a life full of play?

Cleaning Up: Making Domestic Routines Visible 

Last fall, the children were mostly engaged in play that involved dumping. They loved to dump out all the legos, or all the blocks, or all the puzzles. All the dumping meant a lot of pick up at the end of the day. 

By late fall, Bethany and I decided to just start talking about clean up. All that meant was that instead of just cleaning up around the children or at the end of the day, we began to verbalize what we were seeing in the environment leading up to it, and to talk about intentions to clean up, and maybe sportscast our own clean up. If kids joined in, we may or may not sportscast what they were doing or perhaps we would stop and model for them an action they were trying to mimic. Sometimes we would even invite them to help clean up. And since they were invitations, there was no pressure. 

Over time, the children started cleaning up more spontaneously, often as a form of play. After playing with the blocks to build, they might play “putting the blocks away.” The only times we ever required clean up was if children wanted to do something special that required space, which was currently occupied by a mess. For example, if children wanted to get out jumping bean (a mattress) or get out the tunnel, we’d tell them that we need to make room by cleaning up. If the children didn’t seem interested in cleaning up, that was fine. If they did, we were more than happy to help.

Cleaning up I have learned is partially about learning to see the environment in relationship to constraints and affordances for one’s immediate but also future actions. Thus, what was needed was to help the children to become more aware of the environment and their goals within it. The second thing we also accomplished was to associate positive feelings with clean up, which is a big help. 

We still do a lot of the clean up, for sure, but the children will commonly all join in to clean up a big mess. They experience the positive feelings of “working together” to accomplish a task. All of this has made cleaning much more of a habit for them Recently, the kids have even started cleaning up our messes! No joke. We drink a lot of tea, and it’s not uncommon for a mug of tea to be left out. Now when the kids see empty mugs, they super carefully take them over to the kitchen. 

I should say the development of “cleaning up” has not been an isolated activity, but is rather embedded within a culture around domestic routines. Bethany does a good job of engaging children in a lot of domestic routines, of which clean up is interconnected. At the end of the week, the children strip their beds and bring laundry down. They participate in loading washer, turning it in. When doable, children help make food. For example, they helped make BBQ sauce a few weeks ago. A lot of routines are around getting boots and rain suits in and out of the closet, or cleaning up after meal time. 

I think one of the keys things is just to make sure such routines are not happening invisibly. There are two kinds of invisible, invisible in plain sight and invisble behind the scenes. With cleaning up toys, we had previously been doing it in plain sight, but since we were not talking about it, or drawing attention, or inviting participation,  it was basically invisible. 

I’ll end by noting some of the trouble we had to navigate with clean up: 

One of the children already had negative feelings around clean up, so that anytime we would make an invitation, this child would either whinly say “no” and back away or try to sneak off. I don’t remember doing much except to not make a big deal about choosing to or not to clean up. They’ve come around just fine. 

Clean up as play can also create trouble. It has not been uncommon for one child to be playing with blocks, when another child decides that all the blocks need to be put away. In big picture, this isn’t any different than most other kinds of trouble that arises during play, but it definitely became a thing. We’d try just to sportscast, “you are wanting to clean up blocks, but it looks like A is not done building yet,” and intervene if necessary. 

One of the children here a few times seemed to use cleanup play as a form of bullying. For example, deciding something need to be cleaned up in order to wield an authority to take things away. This didn’t spiral out of control, because we were pretty equipped to deal with these sorts of scenarios. This particular child is keen to take on roles of enforcing rules and the sort, so we were not surprised. 

Anyway, I’m sure we will encounter new challenges and successes with clean up, but so far it’s been a pretty amazing experience to watch unfold. 

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