Monday, December 15, 2014

Embracing the B-Word - Teacher Lisa

Not that one! I'm talking about the other one: b-o-r-e-d. Despite being filled with possibilities, it gets a lot of negative press. Last month I read an article on a blog I enjoy about finding 10 minutes a day to practice being still. Not just physically still, but mentally still - free from external input/stimulation. In this article the author, Doreen Dodgen-Magee, writes, "Research out of the University of Virginia this past summer found that a majority of individuals asked to spend between six and fifteen minutes in a room alone with no stimuli chose to administer a light electrical shock to themselves over having no stimulation at all."

WHAT?! But then I thought about it - how many times have I stood waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store with my phone in my hand so that I could check emails (or Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook....) while I wait? Quite a few, as it turns out. 

In the next paragraph, Dodgen-Magee writes, "The conundrum we’ve created for ourselves is profound. We are uncomfortable with stillness of mind/heart/body so we don’t require it of ourselves. Consequently, the less we practice being bored, quiet, and still the less capacity we have to handle these states of being. In no time, we have developed the habit of distracting ourselves and any ability we did have to tolerate boredom (otherwise known as “open and receptive states of mind and body”) has atrophied due to under-use." (To read her entire article, follow the "article" link above.)

 Open and receptive states of mind and body. Good stuff.

I finished reading the article and knew I had my next blog topic! It's not an original one. Our wise, long-time staff member Sydney Stocks has written several articles on the glorious B-word. It is one she feels passionate about - and for good reason! Our culture, as a whole, is so over-stimulated that more and more research is coming out about the importance of letting our minds wander. Evidently, we now need to actually practice that! I've been leaving my phone in my purse/pocket lately while I stand in line. It's not so bad.

As parents, we often hurry to fill our children's empty moments. It isn't uncommon to hear a parent talk about getting children signed up for lots of activities "so that they don't get bored." We put this pressure on ourselves to entertain our children, and yet doing so robs them of some very important intellectual/emotional skill-development. Sydney loaned me her articles for this blog, and in one of them she cites one of her favorite authors, Anna Quindlan, "I don't believe you can write poetry or compose music or become an actor without down time, and plenty of it, a hiatus that passes for boredom but is really the quiet moving of the wheels inside that fuel creativity." 

The quiet moving of the wheels inside that fuel creativity.  More good stuff.

What does it look like to help our children "embrace boredom"? One thing we can do is to model it by having our own down time and articulating how we like to decide what to do when there is nothing on the schedule. Model using "wait time" for quiet thought instead of pulling out an electronic device. Share what you like to think about, or describe how you let your mind wander.

We can resist the urge to step in and "save" our children the moment they announce that they are bored. Another quote Sydney cites is from an article in Family Circle, "Experts urge parents to remember that many children, accustomed to being entertained, may be slow to develop the urge to use their imagination." Set a timer for 10 minutes and if they haven't come up with anything by the time it goes off, then perhaps a suggestion or two would help them move forward.

Make a list with them of the things they enjoy doing. Sydney used to do that with her own children. It was hanging on the fridge for those times when they were feeling restless and couldn't think of something to do. She writes that oftentimes, even before they would walk over to read the list, they had come up with something they wanted to do. Maybe just knowing it was there was enough to help them navigate the discomfort of having empty time on their hands.

(I like to offer my own two - both teenagers - a list of chores that need to be done when they complain of "nothing to do", but I digress...)

Honor it when your child resists having too much on the calendar. Some children love to be busy - but others find it stressful and tiring. In our family, we have one of each. I've learned over the years that it's important to value and respect both of those perspectives. It's possible that your child would actually be happier with less to do - even if it means a little boredom... I mean quiet moving of the wheels inside that fuel creativity.

Thinking about all of this in order to write my blog was a wonderful reminder to me about the importance of stillness - and it couldn't have come at a better time of year! I hope that all of you are able to find or make time for stillness this holiday season. It's truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Building Fine Motor Skills Through Play - Teacher Marah

When planning activities, we are always looking for ways to build fine motor skills.
For a fall activity we had the children pinch and  drop water color onto "leaves" to change them to fall colors.

Another fun activity in the water table recently: spaghetti  with tongs and containers. This encouraged children to pick up the noodles. We had so many wonderful meals going on.

We have paper and scissors and all kinds of other tools at the invention center. This friend decided to practice her cutting one day.

We  had the older class make scarecrows one day and gave them the opportunity to cut out their shirt and pants. It was also a day for lots of glue. Learning to place glue in certain places on a project or just squeezing a bottle can make small hands stronger.

We gave the children opportunities to cut on a pumpkin.  It was a first for many, but they enjoyed figuring out how to carve that pumpkin.

One of the most popular activities in our classroom this fall was having a covered Styrofoam block and nails for the children to use hammers. Rule number one, no hammering without your pink or green goggles.

 It was just as much fun to put the nails in as it was to turn the hammer around and take them out so it was ready for the next friends to use. We did this as an activity one day in both classrooms and they continued "building" as a free choice activity for many school days to come.

A lot of times when talking about fine motor skills, we talk about writing skills. This is a chance to see the many other ways to build fine motor muscles.
Our school is based in play, but there is a lot of planning going on to help all kinds of motor skills develop.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Simple Gifts - Teacher Elaine

With the holidays approaching, you may be thinking about gifts to get your children.  So many of the toys these days seem to be big on bells and whistles (and your checkbook) but fall short on creativity.  I suggest that you try to find things that are multipurpose and unstructured that can be manipulated, changed and stimulate the imagination.  As teachers, we are starting to notice that children need more modeling for open-ended activities that are so important for their development.

Puzzles are always a good choice.  We have a group of children in our older class who work on puzzles every day, either individually or with a group of friends.  

A set of blocks is another good option.  Research shows that block play stimulates building skills in intellectual, social, physical and language development.  

You might want to consider putting together a tool kit including a small hammer, nails, scrap wood or large pieces of Styrofoam covered with burlap, C-clamps and goggles.  We had the children hammer golf tees into pumpkins and they loved it! 

Some other ideas:

A sewing kit with various beads, colored yarn, wire and chenille stems. 

A box of clay or play dough (recipe is in your handbook) containing various cookie cutters, garlic presses and rolling pins.  

A recipe box filled with simple recipe cards (you can draw symbols instead of words for the younger children).  

A crystal growing kit – Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing has easy directions on the bottle.  Make a science activity book with simple experiments like mixing baking soda and vinegar “explosions”.

An “Imagination Station” art box filled with things like corks, bottle caps, feathers, pompoms and stickers. 

An easel, tempera paint, brushes, paint cups and squeeze bottles.  Our older class loves to mix colors and experiment with different painting techniques.  

Make or purchase card or board games that practice skills such as sorting, memorizing, classifying, adding and subtracting.

Last but not least, books for important quiet time for children to have by themselves or to share with family. 

We have used these ideas in our classroom.  They are fun, inexpensive and child-directed.  Give some of them a try.  I wish you a relaxing, peaceful season to come filled with simple pleasures.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Art in the Classroom - Teacher Jennifer

When our children walk into the classroom each day, they will have multiple opportunities to become engaged in the *process* of art, which will ultimately lead to a product that is unique and beautiful!  The goal of our art program at Small Friends is to encourage and inspire children to use an ever-changing variety of materials that will enhance different areas of development.  Some examples of types of learning that occur through art are:

  • hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills
  • math skills (shapes, sizes, lines, and space)
  • science (color mixing)
  • inventing and decision making
  • participation in group projects
  • imagining, sequencing, and arranging
  • strengthen descriptive language skills while describing what they are seeing, feeling, and experiencing
  • experiencing sensory pleasure and integration through using different materials
Our classrooms at Small Friends offer three different, yet consistent areas for children to create their own masterpieces each time they come to school.


The easel area will meet each child developmentally where he/she is at.  Some children will be more interested in exploring the materials and space of the paper, while others will consciously mix colors and create a “picture.”  Some children use markers to draw, while others will forgo the paintbrush to experience painting with their hands!  The easel  is a very safe place to express oneself artistically, while at the same time, work the small and large muscles of the arm.  Descriptive language emerges as children describe their art!  The children can even use their bodies as the easel!

This student is experimenting with drawing lines and using many different colors.  Did you know that there are 80 stages of “scribbling” that emerge before a child learns how to write letters?

Not only is finger painting therapeutic, it is a great way to strengthen hand and finger muscles!  When it is MESSY, it is FUN!

Our older class has the opportunity daily to squirt many colors into cups to make the “perfect” color to use on the easel.

This student had a “starter” shape on the easel that she turned into a sunflower!

Our bodies make beautiful canvases!


The art table offers a different experience each school day!  As teachers, we plan activities that are age appropriate, inviting, and interesting.  When planning an activity, we try to answer the question, “What will the children do?” instead of, “What will the children make?”  By doing this, we allow ourselves to focus on the process of art! We love having parents help at this table because creating art is a very relaxed environment to interact with all of the students.  Many visual, auditory, and kinesthetic opportunities emerge at this table while our parent helpers bond with the children in the class!  The art projects can coincide with themes emerging in the classroom and literature shared at group time or through observations in nature. Integrating unusual tools to work with and methods to create allow the children to lead the art experience!  Here are a few examples:
After reading Pete the Cat- I Love My White Shoes, our younger class enjoyed stepping in “mud,” “blueberries,” and “strawberries” and walking across long sheets of white paper.  The bubble wrap attached to the bottom of the boots enhanced the auditory and kinesthetic art experience as it “popped” while the children walked and made colored footprints!

Using unusual items to paint with adds a whimsical feeling to the art experience along with creating beautiful shapes and patterns on the paper!  By “swatting” the paper, many large and small muscles were used in the arms.

By using a straw and the child’s own breath to move liquid paint across the paper, many problem solving skills needed to be accessed.  How should I position my body so that the straw and paint line up?  How hard to I need to blow to move the paint?  How close do I need to put the straw to the paint?


The self-help art area of the classroom allows the children to explore and experiment with different materials on their own terms.  From using crayons and markers to tearing masking tape off the holder, children are learning how to manage and manipulate the materials around them.  Picking up pom-poms, tearing sheets of tissue paper, and stringing beads are all great ways to work on strengthening fine motor skills.  Learning how to open, squeeze, and judge how much glue to use is a very valuable process!  As children are given freedom to explore, their skills and abilities to manage and creatively use the materials will build over time.

With these three art areas in the classroom, we hope to create a well-rounded and varied art experience every day children walk in the door!  Just like with many things in life, *process* art is all about the journey, not the destination!  The art journey each child takes is beautiful to watch!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Getting Creative in Classroom B! Teacher Rebekah

This month we read a story by Ruth Brown called A Dark Dark Tale. In this story you walk towards a big dark house, through the doors, up the stairs to find a mouse hiding with a candle lit.   Not only did it help put us in a Halloween mood but it helped set the stage for our kids to think about what kind of Haunted House they would like to build. On the next school day our older class got to pick pieces of wood to do just that.

The first thing they did was write their names on their boards and glue pieces of wood to build their haunted homes. Our parent helper helped get those creative juices to flow by holding the book and showing some illustrations.

This project helped the kids think about what is needed in a house, walls, floors and roofs. They had to determine which blocks would be good as floors and which for roofs. And with that which shapes could hold the weight of the other. So many great moments of critical thinking, math, geometry and fine motor skills.

On the second day of the project our kids got to paint and decorate their spooky haunted houses. These are the very creative results from our very happy architects and builders!

Halloween was fast approaching after our Haunted Houses so we decided to set out the face paints and let the kids create something on their hands, arm, or face. The kids really enjoyed looking in the mirror and seemed very intent and concentrated while they used the paints!

A fun song that the kids have enjoyed this month was “Skin and Bones”. Here is our class singing the chorus getting ready to yell “Boo”!