Friday, January 10, 2014

Creative Lies: How Children Avoid Power Play Penalties

I struggle with power play.  Specifically with gun play.

For years it was not a struggle what-so-ever.  It was simple. NO GUNS.  You may play guns at home, but when you are at Nita's, we don't play with guns.

There was an ebb and flow as to how easy this simple gun policy was to enforce.  There were periods of time that easily lasted months where I never, ever had to say "We don't play with guns here".  Then, there were times when I said "No guns" more then I said "Did you just eat that booger?!".

In short order, I learned that one of the repercussion of my "NO GUNS" policy was what I like to call "creative lying".  In order to escape certain timeout (recall, this was my program years ago), my crew at the time felt it was necessary to lie.  I never knew flashlights and telescopes and even a comb one time could make shooting sounds.  I had a bunch of James Bond wanna-bes in my presence!

After years of "NO GUNS" I finally, thanks to the people who have positively affected my journey from running a controlled, strictly scheduled program to one that is TRULY child-led AND play-based, I have embraced gun play and other power play for the positive thing that it is. (hmmm...that just MIGHT be the longest sentence ever)  Jeff A. Johnson (who I have had the honor of co-authoring three books with and recording episodes for the "Child Care Bar and Grill" podcast), Lisa Murphy (who I also have the honor of recording "Child Care Bar and Grill" episodes with), Heather Shumaker (who I haven't had the honor of meeting, but whose book "It's Okay Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids" I couldn't agree with more) and Dan Hodgins (who I have yet to meet, but it is on my bucket list... ha!!) are the names that stand out the most when I hand out credit for my program's transition.

So then....what is my struggle now that I have embraced such play?

Keeping the children who do not wish to participate in "power play" safe from the side-effects (aka: unintended injury or other interruption to their "calm" play) of such play that I am now, thoughtfully allowing .  When we are outdoors, this is really a non-issue as there is plenty of room for all kinds of play, but INDOORS  I struggle.

My solution to this struggle?  A designated area for power play, with clear boundaries in order to set up a positive experience for all.  The clearer the boundaries, the more I can hand the control over to my crew and empower them with the right to choose their play in the appropriate places.  Not only does this keep others safe, but it allows my littles the opportunity to practice self control and respect boundaries.

This solution was working grandly, until we rearranged the room this week.  We rearranged and forgot to discuss where the gun play area should be.

(side note:  I include my littles in all decisions that affect THEIR day and THEIR space.  I give them as much ownership as I reasonably can)

Recall my remarks about "creative lying"?  I have learned that the more I discourage something, the more I encourage lying -- no matter how creative it is, it is still lying.  However, what happened recently in my program was one of the most creative lies I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.  I think you will find this as amusing as I did:

We had just re-organized the room, and there was not a designated power-play space.  I turned and saw that three of my boys had built very LARGE weapons (I dare say they were "oozies" (I don't speak "gun", but I think that's what you call them) and were firing away at each other with all of their might....until they noticed me watching.  They quickly repositioned there guns.....(See pic)

Best "creative lie" in my 15 years of child care:  The guns turned into VACUUMS!!!
Several minutes later, this is what I saw:

Moments later I overheard:

"'re dead."
"'re dead!!"
"'re dead!!!"

So....what did Trillian do?  Did he succumb to peer pressure and die?  Nope.  He went to the bathroom instead...knowing full well that when he emerged they will have forgotten that he is suppose to be dead.  Well played, little buddy....well played.

Do you too struggle with power play?  If so, I highly recommend letting professionals in the field of early childhood development like Dan Hodgins, Jeff A. Johnson, Lisa Murphy and Heather Shumaker influence you as well.

Monday, January 6, 2014

He Danced! A Tale About the Impact of an Early Childhood Environment

For those of you that don't know me personally...I am a...oh, how do I explain this...I'm a LOUD person.  I'm full of KAPOW! and PIZZAZ! and have a fairly vibrant personality. (admittedly, people have told me I am full of other things as well...but, this is a PG rated blog, so I won't mention what!)  If I know I am going to be in a potentially gloomy basement from 7:30-5:30, five days a week...I'm going to need some KAPOW! and PIZZAZZ! to keep me going.

This explains why my child care space looked like this for 7 years:


For seven years, my space was vibrant.  I dare say it was VERY vibrant.  It suited me and my crew well for all of those years.

Then....along came Ethan.  Ethan was the sweetest child.  He was kind, he loved to create and build.  He was fantastic in every way except one.  He would not dance.

What's the big deal?  Who cares if this child danced?
Well, I live in South Dakota. The winters can be very long, and we don't always have the opportunity to get outside and stretch our legs and RUN and JUMP and be free.  Dancing, is one of the ways we can do those things indoors.

We danced a LOT.

Everytime we danced a lot, Ethan would cry a lot.

He and I finally reached an agreement that he could leave the room when we danced.  This solved the problem of crying, but Ethan was not getting to RUN and be FREE and get his GROOVE ON ;).  I chatted with his mother about this.  She too was perplexed because Ethan danced at home, all the time. wasn't a complex that his dance moves didn't make the cut..he could dance and he loved to dance.  So then... WHY would he not dance when he was at my home?

Ethan wasn't able to explain why he didn't like to dance at my home, and my brain was exhausted trying to figure it out, when finally, it dawned on me.  I wondered if the ENVIRONMENT was just loud enough for Ethan, that when we added fast paced music and loud, quickly moving friends to the mix, it was too much for Ethan.

My walls were in dire need of a new paint job, was my Birthday and I didn't really need anything else, so I asked my husband to paint the child care space for me.  (My husband cringes when I have a paint brush in my hand.  I am the kind of painter who just wants to see the color on the wall.  I rarely take the time to tape off anything or protect the carpet.  This is a lovely way to be as it gets me out of many painting projects in our home!! :D)

And so......Leroy painted.  He painted over a weekend.

On Monday.....Ethan danced!   

So then, what was the "magical" solution to quiet down my space and give Ethan an opportunity to enjoy the chaos that happens when a group of young children dance?

I chose a soothing grey for the majority of the walls with a creamy yellow in the kitchen and messy-play area, and a calming combination of two shades of aqua in one cozy corner.

This calming shade of grey allows for my children to be all the KAPOW! and PIZZAZZ! that I and my crew can handle in a day!
I have a thing for stripes and found a way to appease my desire for stripes in my life AND keep the environment cozy too
You can see the soft yellow in the background in the space where we eat and do our messy-play.  A dear friend of mine painted a tree that extends out onto the ceiling...that is the brown trunk you see with the friendly frog at the base.  (Side note:  This child has just built a tower on the shop vac hose and is awaiting the results when the vac (on BLOW) is turned on)

Another angle showing the other side of the space. 
Side Note: We are enjoying dancing with bubbles (Bubble Oodles by Gymboree are fabulous for indoor play... I do the blowing, they do everything else.  The blower that comes with the bubbles creates these teensy tiny bubbles that quickly fills a room)
Notice how the walls just fade away and let the play residue take center stage as it should.
How did I get my crew to stand in this perfect line?  It's simple.  I didn't have a thing to do with this other then snap the picture.  They did it on their own.  They are owning this idea, this moment and all of the learning that is occurring.  They are working as a team with a common goal.  Their goal is to fill that big yellow tube with balls (see the jars full of balls that they are holding). This is what happens when children are allowed to lead their learning. Oh..and notice the nice, soothing walls too ;)

So, the next time you have a child that displays either strange behavior, unpleasant behavior, bizarre behavior or you-name-it behavior....perhaps it's NOT the child...perhaps it's your environment.  Stop trying to fix the child, and fix your environment instead.

Friday, January 3, 2014

What's Your Plan?

I encourage young children to ask for what they need.  I encourage independent thinking.

One of the ways that I accomplish that is by asking a simple question when a child asks for what they need:  "What's your plan?"

One of the many times I said it today surrounded this wonderful tale of a child, owning a problem they caused, and independently solving it.  It also involves a child who is very observant and loves to practice what he sees.

The Scene:
 Four children were launching shower puffs with the catapult my co-author so awesomely makes.  (I am trying to find a link to them, but am running into roadblocks...I will post one here as soon as I can!)  Hanging above the launching area are our balloon hammocks (a great storage space for balloons).

The Problem:
Trillian launched a shower puff directly into one of the hammocks.

The Solution:
Get a super long cardboard block and a chair and gently whack it out.


The Tale:
As the title of this blog post implies, when Trillian asked if he could get a chair, I responded with "What's your plan?"

BEEEEEEEEEEEP!  We interrupt this tale for a brief PSA (Public Service Announcement):  Asking children to tell you their plan is an awesome opportunity for them to put into words what their brain is thinking, it causes them to pause, and think.  It is also a great way to increase vocabularies, provide one-on-one time for that child and you, and empowers the child because you care about their plan and it is THERE'S, they OWN it.

And so...the problem solving began.  It looked exactly like this:

See the shower puff innocently trapped waiting to be rescued?  Notice how cautiously Trillian is climbing the chair?   Children NEED opportunities to assess risk, and to use caution. 
It is important to note that Trillian is a wee one.  He is vertically challenged.  I didn't think there was a remote chance that he would be successful, BUT....I wanted him to have an opportunity to FAIL and practice handling failure.  I wanted him to have an opportunity to ASK FOR WHAT HE NEEDS, which I was certain was going to be help.

To my suprise, upon the first "gentle" whack of the harmless block, he made contact with the shower puff and it MOVED!!  Trillian was ELATED!  "I'M DOING IT NITA!" he exclaimed!  He hopped down to regain his balance, and mounted the chair again.

Trillian demonstrated grand balancing skills and had the opportunity to feel both success and failure during his attempt to solve his problem.
The second time he climbed on the chair, he realized the shower puff had moved far enough towards the exit from the hammock, that he could no longer reach it.  He failed.  Without skipping a beat, Trillian hopped down and scooted his chair over, climbed back up, "whack"....and the joy of success was his AGAIN!

This process was continued again and again.  Fail....scoot the chair...success.  Fail....scoot the chair...success.  Until FINALLY.... HE DID IT!

This is the look of a child who just experienced SUCCESS.  He not only experienced it...he OWNED it.  We adults tend to get over protective and step in and "SAVE" children when they are struggling.  It's moments like that when we need to closely observe, offer encouragment...and then BUTT OUT.  Let children struggle.  Let them fail.  Let them OWN their own success!  Had I stepped in and done it for him... I would not have this picture to share, and he would not have felt the joy that accompanies hard-earned success!

Meanwhile all of this was going on, unbeknownst to us, someone was watching...and learning:

Mr. "Monkey-See, Monkey-Do"
About an hour after Trillian solved the problem he created with the bathroom puff, I witnessed the above picture.  Bronx learned how to solve a problem by watching Trillian. He gathered all the same materials that were involved in Trillians experience and climbed on the chair.  The funny part was, he didn't know what to do once he was on there.  He stopped.  Looked at the items in his hand, then carefully climbed back down.  This pic is of the climbing down portion (this is why I should NEVER set my camera down.. I miss stuff. I'm just glad I caught this much!)

The End (insert curtain closing...applause)

Why did I feel the need to share this little tale with you all?  What is my purpose here? 

There are many:

1)  Encourage young children to solve's empowering.
2)  Encourage young children to have a plan and share it with's empowering.
3)  TRUST young children to assess risk and use's empowering.
4)  Encourage young children to's empowering.
5)  Let children's empowering.
6)  Let children's empowering.
7)  Let children ask for what they need, instead of stepping in and helping them without an's empowering.
8)  Let children own's empowering.

So, in nutshell...this post is all about empowering young children!