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No Fair: What’s Fair and Unfair to Preschoolers

NO FAIR!! What teacher or parent has not heard that lament from children? I’ve been exploring the concept of what is fair and what is not fair according to preschoolers. Not fair can mean many things, including someone not what they wanted, being excluded from something or something undesirable occurring.

In the world of art making, we teachers and parents have the opportunity to explore what feels fair to children. In the process, we get a glimpse into their unique worlds. Once inside, we can gather information for helping the children solve conflict or working together more joyfully.

I asked a group of 3 and 4 year olds what “fair” meant to them. “What is fair?” I asked. After a long pause, one 4 year old said, “It’s not happy, it’s not sad, it’s fair.” He then wrote his words, trying to grasp and express the abstract concept.

He grouped fairness with feelings. I thought about that and concurred that when something was fair we could feel it inside our bodies. It is kinesthetic, a sensation of well-being that accompanies our sense of fairness. While adults may not as easily access the sensations, children more-readily can. And unfairness is often felt intensely by children.

“What is ‘not fair?'” I inquired of the same boy.

Previously he had shown interest in a “No Parking” sign. When asked what a “No Fair” sign would look like, he thought for a moment, then sounded out and wrote “Fair,” encircled it and drew a line through it.Image

When another teacher demonstrated “unfair” with objects, pretending to take all the markers, the boy used his sign to show “No Fair!!”

I’ve been using the coveted sticky jewels as a way of stretching the idea that ONLY equal is fair. Cutting the strips in a variety of ways (different amounts of jewels, different sizes, same or mixed colors, as well as different shapes) I ask the children to take a specific number of strips for their project. This amount can be arbitrary or based on the amount of gems and number of children present. I then tell the children, “The amount of jewels on each strip are not equal, take those strips that you really want.”

I then ask, “Are you happy with what you have? Is it fair? Does it have to be equal; exactly the same? What if you are happy with less than other children have? Is that fair?”

I acknowledge all their responses.Image

I found that with those directions they didn’t fight or accuse each other of having more. Each chose what he or she wanted and seemed to be satisfied. If they wanted more than the designated amount of strips, I’d ask what their plans were.

One 5 year old needed just two more jewels to form the outer circle of her flower. It seemed “fair” to me to give permission for two more. While everyone at her table looked up, I took their silence as agreement.

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Something else I tried was to have the group decide on what was fair. When that day’s allotment of “two strips of jewels no matter what the size or amount” was not heeded by one of the children, a roar went up.

“She has much more than two strips,” came the cry of injustice. Looking at what they pointed out, I could see their point.Image

When I asked the group what would make it fair, they decided that everyone else should get two more strips. I agreed and the children were again content. But, a few minutes later the girl with an abundance of jewels on her project asked if she could have just one more. “It’s not for my folder,” she said earnestly, “I need just one heart for another project I’m doing with my friend. I have a jewel heart inside my sticker heart and need just one more for the other sticker heart.”

I turned the decision over to the group asking if they thought that would be fair, since it was for her friend. “Does everyone feel OK with giving her just one more heart shaped gem?”

“That’s OK with me,” one girl answered.

“Doesn’t bother me,” said a 5 year old boy.

One by one the children voiced their approval of one more jewel… until another voice was heard, “Well, it’s not OK with me!” Before she could express why she felt this way, another child pointed out that this girl didn’t have any jewels.

“Oh, you don’t have any. Did you want some?” I asked. “Yes, I do,” she answered, and a friend spontaneously brought over the box of sticky jewels.

“Can I have the heart jewel now,” asked the child who needed just one more.

“You can,” was the reply.

“Sometimes, when we get what we need, we feel more generous,” I commented.

Guidelines:

When there are special supplies that are in demand, we can offer them in different sizes, shapes and amounts, asking the children to take what they really want. Some will say none, some will chose according to size or color or shape, and others will choose by the amount they will receive.

While it’s developmentally appropriate for young children to see “fair” as always equal, as teachers and parents we can help stretch their concept of fair.

Intrinsic Motivation, Resourcefulness and Open-Ended Materials

‘”Loose parts,'” as mentioned in my blog of May 3, 2013, describes a theory first proposed by Simon Nicholson regarding open-ended materials. These materials suggest no fixed direction other than what is imagined by the children themselves. Nicholson, and others who followed him, proposed that these materials empower our creativity.

Focus and concentration are enhanced by combining loose parts with intrinsic motivation, that comes from within the child.

Over a period of several weeks, I observed one five year old’s interest in fabric. She began by covering her feet in cloth squares and wrapping them with colored masking tape. Image

After several sessions of “shoe” making, she chose cardboard from the recycled materials and placed her shoe-covered foot on top. Voila! They became ice skates.Image

She slid around the room on her ice skates with great pleasure. When she returned for the next session, she chose a large piece of cardboard and began decorating it. Instead of fabric, she cut up strips of available paper and again wrapped her feet.Image

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Having a variety of open-ended materials available allowed her to continue pursuing her passionate ideas. This time she created a snowboard.Image

Her confidence and satisfaction with her projects grew with the challenges she gave herself.Image

An article on intrinsic motivation by the National Association of School Psychologists addresses some of the characteristics that develop when children are self-motivated.

  • Persistence: The ability to stay with the task. A highly-motivated child will stay involved for a long period of time. I’ve observed young children work steadily for 1.5 hours and put their project on a saving shelf for additional work at a later time. They learn persistence when they are successful at a challenging task.
  • Confidence: A developing ability to problem solve is the basis for motivation at this stage of development. Having the self-confidence to know that one can solve a problem motivates the learner to accept other new and challenging situations, which in turn leads to greater learning.
  • Independence: The decreased amount of dependency on adults is another indicator of self- motivation. Children with strong intrinsic motivation do not need an adult constantly watching and helping with activities. Since independence is an important aspect of quality learning, this decreased dependence on adults will greatly enhance children’s ability to succeed in school.
  • Positive Emotion: As written in the article, “The last indicator of motivational level is emotion. Children who are clearly motivated will have a positive display of emotion. They are satisfied with their work and show more enjoyment in the activity.”

Concentration and focus are greatly enhanced when children are self-motivated. Providing a variety of open-ended materials for creative expression expands intrinsic motivation. For children to discover and explore their interests and passions at an early age informs their course of self-study and choices for a lifetime.

 

Scaffolding

Instructional scaffolding is a learning process designed to promote a deeper level of learning. It is the support given during the learning process that is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals (Sawyer, 2006).

From Wikipedia:

Scaffolding comes from Lev Vygotsky’s concept of an expert assisting a novice, or an apprentice. Though the term was never used by Vygotsky, interactional support and the process by which adults mediate a child’s attempts to take on new learning has come to be termed “scaffolding.” Scaffolding represents the helpful interactions between adult and child that enable the child to do something beyond his or her independent efforts. A scaffold is a temporary framework that is put up for support and access to meaning and taken away as needed when the child secures control of success with a task.

In expressive arts, where the art-making is child-generated, I use scaffolding with laser precision, though only when appropriate and after I carefully discover what the child has in mind. A combination of knowing the child, the delivery of suggestion, the child’s readiness, and timing go into whether the child will allow for the scaffolding.

A 4 year old made a paper bag puppet with sticker eyes and a wonderful jagged-line mouth. As he’d left the body of the bag bare, I asked if he’d like to make clothes for it. He was excited and chose a piece of fabric. The difficulty of cutting the fabric soon became evident.

I asked if he’d prefer to make it from paper, to which he readily agreed. He chose a piece of orange paper and snipped two triangles off the corners. “Oh look, it’s underpants.” He smiled, recognizing what his cutting had unintentionally created. With that, he carefully cut a long piece of orange masking tape and attached it to the bottom of the bag. He snipped another triangle and called it a hat.

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The boy then decided to use a bench as a puppet theater and taped the puppet to the back of the bench. The little spark that occurred as a result of scaffolding grew into a fire of creativity.

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Often it is the children themselves who scaffold. When a 3 year old shivered in fright and asked me to put away the larger-than-child-sized Turtle puppet, I first explained what it was made of. (fabric, buttons, shoulder pads, etc.). I wanted her to know that it was not alive, although it seemed to be. Then, I folded Turtle back into his shell and put him away on the rocking chair, telling the puppet, “When the children are no longer afraid, you can come out and play.” I used my “Turtle voice” to let the children know that Turtle did hope to become their friend as he’d never, ever hurt them.

I’m not afraid of you,” said one of the children. “I’m going to play with you now. I’ll make something for you. Snowflakes!” She went to the shelf where the stuffing was kept and began to tear it into snowball-sized pieces. She put them all in a paper bag and brought it over to the rocking chair.

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Showering Turtle with snow caught the attention of other children, who then helped her pile snowballs on top of Turtle.

As they played and laughed, the child who had been scared came closer to the large puppet. She whispered to me that she had made something with arms for him. She wanted me to deliver it on him, while she remained at a distance.

As the other children continued to have fun piling the snow, the girl drew closer and closer. Soon, she, too, was putting snow atop Turtle.Image

“We love your shell, Turtle. We wish we could get inside with you. Once we didn’t like you. We were afraid. But now you are our friend.”

Sometimes, an older child can scaffold the next steps with more ease than us adults. An alum visited expressive arts recently. She took a break from puppet making to explore the room. “Turtle,” she said softly, upon discovering her old friend. “I used to love Turtle. I’m still like that.”

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She began to animate the large puppet and interact with the younger children. “Who wants to give me a high five,” she said wiggling Turtle’s fingers. The 3 year olds, who had previously shown no interest in the large and rather unusual puppet, hesitantly came forward. The older girl continued speaking in her “Turtle voice,” and soon those with finished puppets came forward and began playing with Turtle.Image

Later, as she was leaving with a box full of her work, she said with all the wisdom of her 10 years, “I have the brain of a kid and the mind of an artist. Without art, my life is dull.”Image

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Make Your Own Animal Puppets – Kit for 12

Colorations® Eye Stickers – 2000 Pieces

9″ x 12″ Colorations® Heavyweight Construction Paper

1/2″ Colored Masking Tape – Set of 10

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

Recycling the Holidays

Happy New Year!!

If you’re like me and couldn’t discard all that precious holiday wrapping material, here’s a suggestion: offer those cardboard inserts, tubes, wrapping paper and bows to the children for their creative pleasure.Image

Art-making from the recyclables is one way to find enjoyable closure to the holiday season (which seems to be starting earlier each year). After months of excitement and anticipation, having easily-accessible resources for artistic expression diminishes the post-holiday slump.

Guidlines for creating your re-purposing art center:

  • Find containers. Depending on available space and aesthetics, you can use anything from cardboard boxes to beautifully-crafted ones.
  • Let the children sort the materials and place in containers. (Teachers, sending an email to parents will likely unleash an avalanche of resources for the children to sort and use.)Image

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Children’s resourcefulness comes into play as they create from the materials they find around them. Once alerted to this “treasure-finding,” the children themselves will add to their supply. You may need to use the cover of night to do your recycling once children discover the joy of creating with these readily-available materials.

I am often told anecdotes and children’s quotes by the parents. “You’re going to throw that away?! Let’s bring it to school.” Or, “We don’t have to bring all that to Elyse, let’s keep it for making things at home.”

There are families who bring in shopping bags of recyclable material. Parents hold the bag and the children sort and place the items into the containers. When we run out, I have the children draw a picture of what is needed and those who love letters will add words, such as “Wish List” or “Please Bring to Expressive Arts.” In no time, the empty containers are filled again. In this way, the children take some responsibility for claiming Expressive Arts and doing their part to keep the program supplied. Feeling helpful and responsible expands their sense of belonging; being part of a community.

Beyond the fun and creativity, the skill-building, the process or product is the spirit of connection that surfaces. There are many moments in each day when I feel the quiet joy of children creating, collaborating and assisting each other. I become aware of the community spirit flowing to and from the classroom and am so grateful to still be teaching 28 years from the program’s conception. This idea of children, their families and teachers working together creatively is a simple means for modeling a better, more peaceful world.Image

Wishing you all Peace and Plenty in 2014.

Love,

Elyse

Entering Play: A Social Skill

“Can I play with you?” is often heard throughout our classrooms and school yards. This seemingly simple request can quickly become a lament when new children are stopped from joining the play in progress. While excluding is often a means of exerting power or defining friendships, it can also be sourced from a fear of the new person changing the play.

Entering play is a social skill that can be learned with our repeated facilitation.

  • Ask the child if they’d like some help
  • Observe the play in progress with the child
  • Inquire as to what the play is about. What characters are the children portraying?
  • Ask what would add to the play in progress? What else might be needed, whether it’s another character or a prop.
  • Stand by to see if they’ll need additional help.
  • Validate their efforts.

Three children were playing family. They were riding in a car they’d formed from a wooden bench.

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(Note the “blankets,” as San Francisco temperatures fell to freezing that week!)

“It’s not ok for you to fight,” said the child playing the mother. “You have to be kind. Mommy is going to sit down next to you,” the child told her “children.”

Another child was observing them from nearby. He loves animals and had been playing with a frog puppet until the dramatic play caught his attention. While he had been perfectly content to be animating his puppet, I wondered if he might want to join in. When I asked him, he nodded agreement, but remained still and continued watching.

I began to softly sing a song to him to the tune of “This Old Man.”

Connect your idea

To the play

Then everyone will say hurray!

Friends are friends through thick and thin,

Play together we all win!

It was a tune that a classroom teacher and I had collaborated on as a way of encouraging children to enter play with successful outcomes.

“You could ask them if they might need a pet frog in the family,” I suggested, as a way to add his unique play to theirs. “See if they can use that idea. I’ll watch.”

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“No, thank you,” was the reply from “mom.” For the older children, I offer or brainstorm other suggestions. With the youngest, if a coaching suggestion has been turned down, I often step in and help facilitate.

“He’d like to play with you, who can he be in the family?” The game initiator suggested that he be the daddy.

“Would you like to be the daddy?” I asked. He thought for a moment, then told me, “No, I have a daddy at home.” And with that he turned and walked away to continue playing happily with the frog puppet. I forget at times just how real their play can be. And while we may try to scaffold, ultimately it is the child who decides.

As written in the blog of Dec 4, 2013, one child’s idea for making a “sewing machine” continues to attract many of his peers.

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They each have a ball of yarn and invent ways of connecting and weaving and pulling on the yarn to create movement.

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Not all the children have learned to enter play in a way that keeps the original idea moving forward. I observed a child picking up scissors and moving toward the string-structure of his peers with a mischievous gleam in his eye.

He had been about to connect to the play by cutting the string that the other children had joyfully placed. In this instance, I intervened by coaching him with several open-ended questions:

  • What do you think will happen if you cut down the string?
  • How will the children feel?
  • Did you want the children to be upset, or did you just want to join in their fun?
  • What could you do instead?

He decided to exchange the scissors for a ball of yarn and was welcomed into the activity.

Learning how to enter play successfully is a life skill. Once inside the play, we can offer our ideas with a better chance of creating collaborative change.

THE EXPRESSIVE ARTS TRAIN and TRANSITIONS:

“All aboard! The Expressive Arts Train is leaving the station!” I announced upon picking up the children from their classrooms.

Transitioning children into the next activity can be challenging when they are still engaged with their current one. “I’m not finished” is often the legitimate lament from many of the children. We want them to expand their focus and concentration, yet a schedule often has them stopping right in the midst of their play.

I was curious as to what would make the transition easier, particularly for the youngest children. Many had just arrived at school and were enjoying being in their classroom. It was in a staff development workshop that the idea for a fun transition came to me: the Expressive Arts Train.

When I told the teacher for the 3-4 year olds about my intention, she told me of hers. She had planned to use clothes pins as “tickets” to prepare the children for expressive arts. We saw the connection and put our heads together. Simultaneously, we thought to call the clothes pins “clippers,” for in San Francisco we can purchase Clipper Cards to ride our public transportation. Be they tickets or clothes pins, children love knowing when it will be their turn.

The journey out of the classroom involved collecting their “clippers,” which were pinned to their shirts, pants, dresses, shoes and other creative places. Then we made the journey through the yarn and up the stairs until we reached the doorway of Expressive Arts. Inside, chairs were lined up like a train awaiting them for next part of their journey. They rushed to their seats.

I put on the lights and the children began making train sounds and off we went. They often pass out tubes from the recycled supplies and pretend to watch animals as the train passes through different environments.

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When they “arrive,” I am standing there waving a welcoming. If I have new directions for the children, the train helps to contain them while instructions are given. Sitting for a moment on the train offers a gentle emotional transition from room to room.

Then come the words they’ve been waiting for. “1-2-3 Go Play!!” Off the train they pile to play and create until it’s again time to ride the train back to their classroom.

Once chairs were used for something other than simply sitting on at a table, they became loose parts in the children’s eyes; additional open-ended materials. Starting with forming trains of their own, the chairs also became fire trucks, ambulances and other vehicles.

From there it was an easy jump to connecting materials to the chairs. Yarn and string were most often chosen by all of the children, from 2-1/2 to 6 years.

“Let’s make a web. Let’s make a trap,” the children called out to each other. Groups of children gathered around the ideas and began their collaboration. One 4-year-old began wrapping yarn around a chair, then connecting it to other chairs.

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Pulling on one of the threads, he noticed it moved through the air and chairs. “It’s a sewing machine,” he shouted. “Let’s make Elyse a wooly scarf.” His enthusiastic peers joined him.

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The oldest class created a web that they could climb under or over. They tested their balance as well as their ability to keep themselves from getting entangled.

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This wasn’t as easy for the younger children, but was just as much fun!! They loved being rescued and having a friend help cut away the yarn that was trapping them.

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RULES OF PLAY AND LIMIT SETTING:
Establish guidelines so that creations do not take over the room. Your individual classroom rules will originate from individual and group needs. In collaboration, what one person contributes to the project affects the whole group. For example, rules may be needed to determine whether yarn can be cut down without the consent of all. Here are some general rules to branch out from.

  • Determine the number of chairs that can be used
  • Establish which part of the room can be utilized for a project
  • Establish what additional materials can be used. While the children love to use the colored masking tape, we had an abundance of yarn that had been both bought and donated. I suggested using this instead and saving the tape for smaller projects.
  • Determine a procedure for ending the activity. Can the project be saved for the next day, or does the yarn need to be cut down and chair put away? Keep in mind who else might be using the room later, and if the custodians will be able to clean it.

SAVING:

  • Move the chairs into a small cluster that will not take up as much space and can allow the custodians to clean around them.
  • Have the children create a “SAVE” sign to prevent the project from being mistakenly taken down.”I’ll make the sign,” said one enthusiastic child who had not previously been involved. “How do you make an S?” he asked. Two children came over to the table to help him.

TAKING DOWN:

  • If it’s necessary or decided upon to cut down the yarn, make the process as much fun as putting it up was. Clean up can become a time that children become mysteriously “too tired” to help. How could we cut down and gather all this yarn? A plan was hatched by the children for collecting the yarn in small bags from the dramatic play area. Soon the children were organizing their own yarn removal, handing out bags and gathering the scraps of wool. Not one child lamented how tired they were (therefore declaring themselves unable to help clean) after viewing the amount of yarn and the task ahead. I continue to be amazed and appreciative at witnessing the yarn-free floor and the fun they have cleaning up.
  • We gave some of the cuttings to a local organization who works with families experiencing divorce and separation. They use the yarn for hair in a puppet-making activity in their curriculum.

Once the room was in order, the call was again heard. “Expressive Arts Train leaving for your classroom. All Aboard!!” The children then climbed aboard for the smooth return journey back to their classroom.

ADDITIONAL GUIDELINES:

  • In classrooms, children can “ride the train” in between activities within the classroom itself. For example, they might ride the train between lunch and nap time.
  • This also works well at home with families. Riding the train may become an incentive for children to stay focused on getting ready for school or cleaning up their room.

I once heard a dad shout from his car window as the family passed me walking to school, “Hellooooo! We got ready early so we could catch the first train to Expressive Arts!” Love that community connection! Such fun!

And after having rushed for the first train, how could I resist their 4 year old’s request to use a table, as well as the chairs! I love to watch the children’s joyful faces as they create and play inside their creations.

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Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Colored Masking Tape

Colorations® Acrylic Yarn- Set of 12

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