Category Archives: Elm House Blog

Friendships

by Mage

Over the past two months, I’ve been hearing the children at Elm House use the word friend in a new way. While they are used to referring to each other, as a group, as “the friends,” it wasn’t until about two months ago that I heard some of the children start indicating that someone specific was their friend, that they felt a special bond with another child.

“Lucy is my friend. I want to see Lucy,” I often hear Adella say.

“Where is Luca? Luca is my friend. Luca is my best friend!” says Hannah. Continue reading

This Pretty Planet

by Megan

Welcome back from spring break! Coming back from a week away from school, we all noticed new growth in the backyard and in our garden beds. Many of the children who attended Elm House last summer, are starting to remember where the raspberry bushes grow, how we have to be patient with the pea plants, and how it’s fun to guess what color a flower will be when it finally emerges. New grass seed is starting to sprout, which will serve as a comfy place to play all summer long. Children notice the songs of migratory birds who have come back after a quiet winter. They are tiny explorers interested in the details of our outdoor environment, in how things work, why things grow, whats edible and what’s not, or how a worm wiggles.

Continue reading

Sharing Meal Time with Toddlers

 

We have had many requests recently from parents asking for us to expose our daily rhythms and rituals.  Although play is of course a big part of what we do at school, it is the seemingly menial tasks  that take up the majority of our time. Activities such as toileting, eating, sleeping, and getting ready to go outside are the “in-between'” times when a huge amount of learning takes place.

The classroom agreements that Mage posted in each of the classrooms have been a way for all community members to maintain clear and concise expectations and boundaries during these times.  Many of these agreements have been developed very succinctly over the last year but having them written out has helped us to keep clear and reasonable limits with the children. We will often preface a limit by gesturing to the agreements posted in the classroom and saying, “We have an agreement that you stay seated during mealtimes.”  The children respect these limits as this represents the greater norm for the school and our community.

I will write a series of blog posts to highlight the seemingly mundane aspects of schoollife– Mealtime, toileting, and outside transition. My hope is that you will see what is expected of your children at school and that you will be able to bridge this to their home life.

Here is a recap of our meal time agreements:

  • I wait for food with hands in my lap and a bubble in my mouth. (Children simulate catching a bubble in their mouth)
  • When I am eating, I stay in my chair.
  • If food or a spoon/ fork falls on the ground, it stays there until the end of the meal.
  • If I spill milk or water, a teacher will give me a towel and I can wipe up the spill.
  • If I ate my food and want more, I can wait until the next serving is passed out to the group.
  • We all bus our dishes at the end of the meal. I take one dish at a time.
  • A teacher helps me wipe my hands and face after I eat.
  • After I bus my dishes and wipe my hands and face, I can play on the rug.
  • All toys and book must be put away before sitting down to a meal.

The children are divided into three smaller group of 5 or 6 for mealtimes. Because nap happens after lunch, the children eat in their naptime groups. After dividing them into their naptime groups and taking them for diapers and handwashing (more on that later) they will eat either in the Elm Room, the Nest, or the Studio. They enter the room and find their seat at the table while the teacher grabs the tray from the kitchen with the food and table settings. The teacher enters the room and encourages the children to “catch a bubble in your mouth and place your hands in your lap!” The children will simulate “catching a bubble” of air in their mouths and place their hands in their laps. They are reminded that no toys or books are allowed at the table during mealtimes. The teacher hands out plates and utensils.Teachers sing  the Patient Song while passing out food.  Every child is offered everything at mealtimes (unless there is an allergy or dietary restriction of course). If they say they don’t want something we simply say, “You don’t have to eat it but you can try it if you’d like.” As the children are eating their first serving the teacher will engage them in conversation or read a book. If a child wants more of something but they still have other food on their plate, they are asked to wait patiently until the second serving is passed out.

Mealtimes are connection time! We view meals as an opportunity to slow down. We will often read a book or have conversations with the children. Teachers are encouraged to eat as well. Our tables and chairs are child sized with no straps. This allows the children to independently pullout the chair and sit down without the help of a teacher. The children are served food on ceramic plates with metal utensils, and drinking cups with no lids. Drinking in cups is not what most of the children have  experienced at home but they can do it! When children are initially learning this skill, we will place a small amount of milk in their cup– a half inch or less– and spills happen. Spills happen with our more experienced children, too and that is OK! When this happens we calmly say, “That happens sometimes. Everyone spills. Here: I have a towel for you, you can help me by cleaning it up.” And they do!

Serving the food is a ritual and one that teachers have begun to take more time with. Megan had the idea that teachers could cut up the fruit at the table with the children (we purchased small knives with a plastic sheath that can be kept in our apron pockets to prevent small hands from getting too curious). I have found that this process has been a great conversation starter with the children. There is value in the children making a bigger connection to our food in it’s whole form. Here is one conversation that I had recently with a group of children as I was cutting up a pear:

Child: you’re taking out the seeds Lainy?

Me: yes! We don’t want to eat the seeds. (I then cut the core in half to reveal the star shaped center with seeds inside) What do you See?

Child: A SEED!

Me: What kind of a plant would grow if we planted this seed?

Children do not answer

Me: Would a tomato grow?

Child: NO!

They were certain that a tomato would not grow if we planted a pear seed but weren’t confident to answer that a pear would grow… Lots to explore here 🙂

 

 

After multiple servings are given out, the teacher will place the food tray on the floor next to a compost bucket and will say, “If you are done eating, please  place the food in the bucket and place your plate on the tray. After you are done bringing over your cup and plate, I have a towel for you to wash your face and hands. You can play quietly on the rug when you are done.” We will place two choices of activities on the rug for the children to play with until the other children are done cleaning up.

 

All of the children at Elm House– even our youngest community members– are completely capable of these tasks. They know exactly what is expected of them and stay on task easily because all teachers also know and understand these expectations. Your children are capable of  so much! I wish that each of you could have the opportunity to  be a ‘fly on the wall’ in our school for one day so that you could see the incredible amount of independence and cooperation that we see from your children. Much of this begins with the foundation of clear expectations.  I wonder if you have “agreements” for your house? What would an agreement list look like? Could this help maintain clarity around boundaries and limit setting at home too?

~ Lainy

Clay Play

By Megan

Over the past few months we have been exploring clay with the children. We have appointments in our art studio every morning with a few children where we can really dive into our art experiences.  Not only is clay play an engaging sensory experience for the children, but it’s also a chance to use new vocabulary to describe the clay and to practice sharing space and tools. We are all “makers” and this winter has been an ideal time to see what we can make! If you attended our parent night you might remember the tiny objects that were on display that the children created; snails, dogs, balls, snakes, etc.   Vive los artistas!

Enjoy these photos…

Early clay experience

Early clay experience

hands and fingers make good tools

hands and fingers make good tools

"It's sticky to my hands"

“It’s sticky to my hands”

Hannah uses sculpting tools with her clay

Hannah uses sculpting tools with her clay

Taking a break after using clay tools to observe a friends work

Taking a break after using clay tools to observe a friends work

Sam tries clay

Sam tries clay

Clay is: messy, satisfying, slippery, sticky, wet, gooey, creative, beautiful, engaging, etc. Do you ever try clay at home with your children? Why or why not?  What ideas do you have for extending this learning? 

 

 

 

Astronaut Buddies

by Sarah Lu

It started with a car wash… Some friends were intrigued to see Max using his imagination to drive a car through the structure that he was working on…

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Soon the group of children started building in a different way, with tiling. Max stated that he had built a platform. And then everyone wanted to build one too.

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I asked if they thought they could build one together, and how many friends they thought might be able to fit.

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Eliza: it’s really dark out there! Max: it’s really dark out,

They fit five, all of the friends in the Nest.

Then a play script started… The platform became a rocket ship.

 

The group went to Saturn…

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And then the rocketship crashed.

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Luckily there were some great mechanics here who came along to fix it.

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Henry: we’re making the rocket ship. Max: I’m fixing the motor! Luca: I’m fixing the seats,

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Isaac: I’m fixing the bottom seats too!

So they were able to return to Earth…

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Isaac: we’re back home! Luca: we’re home. It’s so nice and cozy.

And then it started all over again.

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Max: let’s go again! Who’s driving. You are Max!

These are the ways that kids who are transitioning into preschool learn to play side by side and in dyads and small groups. As we coach them through their experiences, we give them small bits of support, we keep their games on track, and we broadcast, giving them all of the tools that they need to have successful experiences playing with others.

 

I will be intrigued to see how this play develops over the next couple of weeks, and how it supports friendships and social/emotional understanding.