Thursday, December 20, 2012

I've Moved!

Hi, this is Elyse and I am so excited to tell you that Teaching Peace With Elyse is now hosted on Wordpress. Just click here! Please change your bookmarks so you can keep up with my latest projects!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Crossing the Gender Line

How often do we hear the proclamations by our children: “That’s a boy’s color?” “Those are for girls!”

Beyond culture and environment, art and play can provide an opportunity for everyone to try on different materials and roles.

As a specialist in puppetry and the expressive arts, I have been exploring with my colleagues how to stretch the black-and-white thinking of young children.
Puppet improvisations are one means of exploration. The children are presented with a problem or inquiry through enactment by puppets. They then solve or explore the problem collectively.

Recently we discussed whether there are fixed boy and girl colors. Typically blue is for boys, and pink is for girls. We asked the children to begin questioning whether these are facts or personal preferences.

One child, previously adamant about the ‘rules’ of gender regarding colors, surprised us with his flexibility. When awareness was brought to a puppetry circle about how children may feel about being limited or mocked for their choices, he was the one to provide a solution.

“Let’s call them everyone’s colors. Then everyone can choose what they like.” The group agreed. And for the moment, within the safety of our group circle, there was agreement.

As teachers and parents, we can model, facilitate and help diminish the mocking peer voices and the conflict that is created internally and between our children regarding gender roles and rules.

Recently, a simple idea surfaced while observing a group of 5-year-old boys making airplanes with colored craft sticks. I brought gems and sparkly pipe cleaners over to their table.

“Anybody interested in decorating their planes?” I asked. Then I walked away to observe from a distance.

Usually they would take two colored sticks, connect them with a piece of colored masking tape and feel complete. The rest of the time was then spent flying the planes.

Being offered but not encouraged to add to their planes, I watched with interest as one boy considered the materials that were very tempting to the girls. Slowly he began peeling the gems off their backing and adding them to his plane. This was followed by carefully curling the pipe cleaners around the body and wings with great focus.

The other boys did not follow his lead. However, I noticed that the next time the group made their planes, this same leader gathered the jewels from where the girls had moved them. He, again, used them to decorate his plane.

Soon after, other boys, and soon girls, began building a fleet of very shiny and sparkly airplanes.

Classroom Guidelines for School and Home:

Set up a table with colored craft sticks, colored masking tape, scissors, markers or oil pastels. (Be sure to include pink, blue and purple as choices.)

Observe what it is that the children are constructing. Listen for what is being expressed if a child’s preference crosses the ‘gender line.’ Be available for facilitating inquiry. Asking such questions as:
· Are there any girls here who love blue? Does anyone know a girl who likes blue? Is that true all the time?
· What about boys who love pink and purple? Does anyone know a boy who likes pink?

Name what was discovered by restating it for the children. “Oh, so there are some girls who do like blue and boys who like pink. Do you think we can choose the colors we like whether or not they are called boy colors or girl colors?”

 · Once the construction is under way, bring over additional materials such as stick-on gems, shiny pipe cleaners, ribbons and trim.

Again, be available for what surfaces, gently expanding their capacities to be critical thinkers.

Creating an environment of curiosity and exploration is a way of offering children alternatives while allowing them to make their own wise choices.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:
Jumbo Colored Wood Craft Sticks - 500 pieces (CJUMBO)
Peel and Stick Gems - 442 pieces (GEMS)
1/2" Colored Masking Tape - set of 10 rolls (CLRMSET)
Colorations® Blunt Tip Scissors (CBS)
Sparkle Stems (PSPAR)
Colorations® Super Washable Chubby Markers - set of 200 (CHBST)
Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels - set of 336 (COPACK)
Assorted Ribbon Remnants (RIBBONS)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Clock-Drawing - Another Tool for Easing Separation from Parents

As teachers and parents, we are motivated to educate children in self-soothing. We know that tools to create peace, particularly inner peace, can be utilized throughout their lives.
September is the month when our youngest children are launched into their new classrooms and schools. We cannot have too many tools to help bridge the gap of separation from parents in our toolboxes.
While parents speak the words, “I’ll be back later,” and preschool teachers often read “Mommy Always Comes Back,” our words often fall short.
Last month, I described how dictation and deep listening can be tools for easing the anxiety of separation. This month I’m writing of another tool: Clock-Drawing.
Time can seem endless for a young child waiting to be picked up from school. While most of a child's day is spent in play and interaction, thoughts of home surface quite frequently at school year’s start. Images of home and family surface during transitions, lying down for a nap, waking up again, and when a child is hurt. Along with the images often come strong emotions.
“I want my mommy (daddy, grandma, stuffy)!” is the lament often heard by teachers. Hugs and soothing words are offered and usually gratefully accepted. In addition to the comfort they receive from their teachers, children can also learn to comfort themselves.
Clock-drawing is one of the tools that assists a child in discovering inner peace. I discovered the concept during a time of one preschooler's inconsolable sadness.

Guidelines for Classroom Teachers

After determining when the child will be picked up, introduce the child to the classroom clock and child-sized bites of time with simple questions and information:
  • Who is picking you up today?
  • When the big hand is on this number and the little hand is on that one, your mommy, daddy, grandma, babysitter, etc. will pick you up.
  • Would you like to make a clock of your own? Anytime you miss your family, you can match your clock to the classroom clock. When the hands on your clock and the one in our classroom match, it will be your pick-up time.
Clock-Drawing Activity
Help the child answer the following questions:
  • What shape is the clock?
  • Can you draw a circle?
  • Can you trace one? (I’ve found the colored masking tape to be just the right size. The circumference provides ample room to write numbers inside the shape.)
  • Do you know what numbers these are? (Point to the hour and minute of pick-up time.)
  • Can you draw the number inside the circle?
  • May I help you draw it?
  • What part of the number can you draw for yourself?
Now for the fun part, drawing the hands of the clock. Some humor can be introduced here as to comparing the clock’s hands and those of the child.
Let’s draw the most important part together, the big hand and the little hand. After helping the child draw the hands of the clock say, "This is when you will be picked up." Then hold the drawing up to the classroom clock for comparison before giving it back to the child.

These questions provide more than information. They help to engage the intellect which can provide a less volatile state, one in which the child can feel his emotions without them overpowering him/her.
Some children like to put their clocks in their cubbies; others fold them and put them in their pockets. Like family photos, it is one more tool to help young children manage their emotions.
Clock-drawing provides a child-sized way to deal with the timelessness of his/her day away at school. I’d love to hear about other tools you have found useful.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Separations in September

Separating from their parents can be a time of sadness for many preschoolers particularly as September approaches bringing new classes and new schools. Here's an example of how a young child was encouraged to manage her own emotions and transform them through art.

A three-year-old was feeling very sad after her mother left for work. She had been encouraged to dictate her feelings and thoughts, creating a letter for her mother. I wrote down her exact words, encouraging her to say more by asking how she was feeling or what she wanted to happen.

"Dear Mom,
I did not want you to leave. I want you to come back. I am very, very, very sad. Come back and read me one more book."

While this form of expression would work on many sad mornings, today it was having no effect. I asked her if she would like to draw a heart. She paused to think about my suggestion and told me, “I can't draw all of it."

"Draw the part you can and I'll help you with the rest," I gently encouraged. She very carefully drew one hump of the heart and then the other. I placed my finger where the heart's point would need to be. She drew the lines from the humps of the heart down to my finger. She smiled and placed a dot in the center of the completed heart.

"That's me," she said. With her permission, I wrote her name next to the dot.

"Would you like to draw lines to you from all the people who love you," I asked?

She nodded. Together we drew many lines. As we connected the lines to the dot inside the heart, she named who was sending her the love. With each love line her smile grew wider. Soon she began to laugh.

"It looks like a sun," she said, beaming like a miniature one.

For the next day's goodbye, she told me that she wanted to draw another heart. She initiated the drawing on her own, beginning with the top of the heart. I noticed a gap between the two humps which gave the drawing a different but not quite familiar shape. As she independently completed the drawing, she began to smile and then said something I didn't understand.

"It's a shoe, Elyse," she laughed, holding up her own to be sure I understood. "It's a love shoe."

Then she began to draw the lines that connected her love to her family.

Two days later, when another preschooler experienced a sad goodbye, Claire sat down at the little art table and began to draw a heart for her friend. She asked for my help in attaching it to a string and hanging it from her friend's cubby.

Teacher implementation and integration into your classrooms:

As teachers, we know full well how separating from their parents can be deeply felt in young children, particularly at the start of a new year. We're also aware of how one child's upset can have a domino effect on even those who parted company amicably from their own parents.

Classroom teachers who do not have the luxury of very small groups to work with can call upon the built-in resourcefulness all preschool teachers possess to find an effective solution. What has worked well in the classrooms of our school is having the children dictate letters for their parents. We encourage children to use their words to express how they are feeling, who they are missing and what they would like to happen.
  • Set up a table for the distressed children. One teacher will facilitate. (Our classroom has a 1:7 ratio, so the other teachers are available for the other children and activities).
  • Place a sheet of paper in front of each child.
  • Have available their favorite drawing materials: crayons, markers, oil pastels, etc.
  • Let the children know that each child will be heard, ask them to draw how they are feeling, or a picture of their parent or loved one, or of themselves. This will begin their expression of and transformation of their feelings. It will also keep them occupied while you transcribe each child's words.
  • The children often like to fold their letters, putting them into an envelope or cubby or directly into their pockets for when their parents pick them up.
Next month: The power of drawing an old fashioned manual clock, connecting the children to their parents’ picks up time.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cause for Celebration

"It's my baby's birthday today," she said, rolling a piece of paper into a cone, fixing it in place with colored masking tape.

She decorated the hat with some of the new gems from the Super Gem Pack (GEMPACK) and held it on her stuffy's head with her hand.

"It's going to be hard to keep it on her head," she thought aloud, anticipating the next steps.

I tried scaffolding, making a suggestion to use the elastic cord (ELASCORD). The children create from their imaginations. They are their own authority here in Expressive Arts. 

They choose the materials, their own ideas and how they will bring their inner world to life. I offer suggestions which they feel free to take or discard. 

The idea of using stretchy string appealed to the 5-year-old. "I'll make some holes," she told me, taking the hole punch from its tool box on the art cart. Her fine motor skills were well-developed. She easily threaded the elastic cord and tied knots in each hole. She then placed the hat on her baby doll's head. Smiling, she showed it to her friends. Birthday hat on head she went off to play on the rug area with friends and puppets and stuffies, creating a party inspired by the prop she'd made.

"It's an 'i' see," said another 5-year-old, tracing the verticle line and the fancy dot of fancy super gems.

I did see and was delighted. I am always amazed at the myriad of ways that children discover to use the same materials.

I love watching the joy on the children's faces when they discover new materials in the many pull out drawers of Expressive Arts.

Jewels and gems and now super gems are cause for celebration. The children exclaim wildly and then focus their attention on using the new materials. 

I have observed their concentration grow over our time together. A skill that will help these 5-year-olds in their ongoing education and new schools in September.

Having been with many of these children since they were 2-1/2 years old, saying goodbye will not be easy.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"1-2-3, Go Play!"

"1-2-3, Go Play" is the call as the children enter the room filled with carts of sorted materials: fabric, sticks, gems, paper, ribbons and yarn.The room expands with the sound of the children's excitement and laughter. They pull out drawers to see what is new, exclaim at their findings, and ask if their favorites are still there.

"Do you still have the bells? Can we order more gems, the sticky kind? I'm going to make a wish list for our parents: large boxes, tiny boxes, empty strawberry baskets!" They talk over each other, all at once. They are 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds and it is time for Expressive Arts.

After the initial inquiries, the room grows silent for awhile, as the children busy themselves, choosing the materials they want to connect. They decide what they will use to connect the precious items and begin working on their art.

Most of the work is not representational, or at least not easily recognized by those of us in our adulthood. They are creating for the joy of making things, mastering skills and the pure act of creation. Ask them to tell you about their work and they might tell you what they did first. "I took this tube and tried to connect it to the paper and it was very hard." 

Or the three-year-old that played with the materials for 45 minutes, focusing, concentrating, and enjoying the process. Yet, when it was time to return to the classroom, he'd say, week after week, "My artwork, I have to make my artwork to take with me." He'd swirl a marker on a piece of paper, smile and ask me to write his name. 

One day, I observed one of his peers pre-writing on his paper."Is it alright if she does that?" I asked the sometimes shy boy who didn't always set limits to his friends. "Oh yes, she's writing my name. I don't know how."

Along one wall of the Expressive Arts room are three boxes of recycled materials: paper tubes, packing material, plastic boxes,and paper bags. They are part of the loose parts that are available to be combined with the connectors: masking tape, string, wire, pipe cleaners, glue and that special ingredient we cannot do without: the children's imaginations. 

One five-year-old who usually sprawls on the floor independently connecting as many materials as time permits, called my name. "Elyse, can you help me? I'm trying to connect this tube to the bag and it won't stand up up." 

While assisting, I had an opportunity to ask him about his work. "It's a pirate ship," he said as he skillfully pulled a super-long piece of yellow masking tape, keeping it from tangling. He attached it to the piece of paper bag, one handle still intact, drew it up and over the tube and assorted pieces of the bag he'd cut up and brought it down the other side, attaching it again to the bag. "I see the sails," I said with delight as the paper bag and sticky tape became the very pirate ship of the child's imagination before my own eyes.

Expressive Arts are child-generated. We, their teachers and parents, provide the environment and inviting materials. The children provide their language of self-expression, feelings, unique thinking, creativity and ways of making their inner world visible.

"Everyday I think of a new idea of what to make art out of and how to make art," a 4-year-old told me, reflecting proudly on his work.

"Being here is like being in a dream," a 5-year-old voiced spontaneously. I agreed; after 26 years, I am still delighted to observe the children at work and play steeped in their creativity creating the magic of dreams.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

No Collecting Without Connecting

Learning to connect is the essence of social intelligence. Teaching preschoolers to connect appropriately to each other is a core value of their education. 

In the Expressive Arts Program at Pacific Primary in San Francisco, we have a motto, "No collecting without connecting." It was created as a reminder for the children. While they could play and explore the many open-ended materials in the art room, if they wanted to take the loose parts home, they'd need to connect them.

We have many 'connectors' in the room where social and emotional intelligence is the core of the program: glue, wire, string, ribbon, pipe cleaners. But my all-time favorite way to connect the recycled materials, the found objects and the beloved treasures are with tape -  specifically colored masking tape.
 At three years old, they learn to: 

·   Stick the end of the tape to the edge of the table

·   Hold the circle of tape and pull down 

·   Pick up your scissors and cut the tape to the size you'd like

Sounds easy, but mastering the cutting of the sticky red, green, yellow, blue, purple, orange, black, or white masking tape take time, focus, concentration, and patience.

We learn the names of many feelings during this time:

"Oh, you're FRUSTRATED," I say, giving a name to the vocalizing of the group. "What can we do when frustrated?"

The group supplies the answers: they are creative problem solvers. We get far beyond the initial, "You do it for me!"

I smile each time I hear their excited voices, "I did it!" After twenty-six years, I never tire of the delighted children learning to cut sticky masking tape and begin connecting--to the materials, to their feelings and to each other.