Healthy Mid-brain Growing

Between the ages of 1 and 5ish the mid brain, limbic system, is being developed. The brain is working through observations of the world and figuring out how things work. This is easily observed by watching toddlers and preschoolers experimenting with cause and effect, opening and closing doors, latching and unlatching locks, putting things inside of other things and taking them out again.

Today we made a water wheel with styrofoam and spoons. The children poured water down a gutter and on to the wheel watching the reaction over and over again. These types of experiences build a strong foundation in the brain for the higher brain functions that come later in life. This is what, science, math, engineering and art looks like for this age range.

This is also a critical time of emotional development, the limbic system is often called the emotional brain. Self-expression, validation, memory, nurturing and caring are also functions that are growing at this time. Playing in a mixed age environment with adult facilitators nearby provides ample opportunities to connect and support heathy brain development. Helping children identify and articulate feelings supports their ability to self regulate 
stress and emotion.

Using connected language, making space for free expression and proving materials that are engaging, is how we build a strong foundation. It's so much more than play and yet it is incredibly fun!

No Mud No Lotus

Community is a very romantic idea. When we think about community we usually envision groups of people collaborating and enjoying one another’s company. The truth is that those are mere moments, segments or parts of the totality of community.
Community is also like mud, messy, unclear, sloppy, weighted and abrasive. It comes with opposing views, variances of strengths and weaknesses, sometimes it’s crowded, it’s often uncomfortable and frustrating. 
As humans who are wired for connection community is fertile ground for growth. If we can learn to engage intelligently with the discomforts and continue to engage by seeing the struggles through to resolution we can and do grow our wisdoms and capacities. 
Coming together often, especially in times of hardship or when we would rather just give up and walk away is the nutrition that feeds the lotus, it’s those moments when the mud is just too thick to wade through any more that the bloom begins to emerge. Community is more than important, it’s vital  to our ability to thrive.

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Open Ended Art

Most days we strengthen our fine motor skills and spark intrinsic motivation with open-ended art. Open ended means there are no instructions or expectations, the creator is free to sort, design, build, smash, blend, and reconstruct. In community spaces this also includes negotiating and portioning with those working next to you. Fine motor development is a great primer for later reading skills, working in community with others is an essential life skill, intrinsic motivation supports confidence, and using your own set of guidelines to make something affirms ability. 
The kids made amazing objects and were so proud of themselves 

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Loose Parts Play


A term used by architect Simon Nicolson in 1972 when presenting the idea that “children’s creative empowerment comes from the presence of open ended materials that can be constructed, manipulated, and transformed through the process of self-directed play.” 
Loose parts can be combined or adopted multiple ways. They encourage creativity and imagination, engage a learning process unfixed on specific results. This helps to develop skills and confidence while stimulating intrinsic motivation. 
When children are able to choose the materials they will work with and how they will appropriate them, they develop a hypothesis around their play and test their ideas with self assessments yielding a process of discovery based learning.

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Trust


Children are capable. Sometimes we know this and other times we doubt it. Sure the degrees of capability are great but when we are willing to be near as they approach a challenge we show them we trust them and are here when they need help.
Today's invitation to play and create involved hammers, nails, scrap art and wood. Risk is a factor. We know this and the children sense it. Sitting next to the child and assisting while allowing them to explore provides them with immediate feedback. Natural consequence. 
They may realize they need help holding the nail because they will need to use two hands to hit the nail hard enough, or that they have to focus if they want the nail to move directly downwards. When we assist with only the essential information needed to accomplish the task the teaching happens on its own. The child begins to understand how things work and that they are capable, not because we have told them but because we have allowed them.

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Connection

There is a consensus amongst the neuroscience community that humans are hard wired for connection. As adults we have acquired many skills to fill this need. Children under age 7 need our help learning those skills. As children begin to play, discover and work side by side it doesn't take long for their curiosity to expand beyond their area. They may begin negotiating with peers, planning to combine their efforts or simply reach out and snatch what the person next to them has.This is where the care givers opportunity lies. When someone grabs or starts a tug of war it is easy to identify the surface need of getting the object of desire and challenging to remember the underlying need for connection. Helping a child find their way back to playing either with their peers or on their own requires our attention and connection. Consistently getting on their level, making eye contact and using purposeful language not only helps them see the situation through to completion but also builds their life skill of connection. This is how we build and sustain friendships and community.

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Choice

Our class room is full of choices and our children are free to decide what they want to engage with. During open play I often see mixed ages collaborating. It happens organically as one or more children take an interest in something others become curious and join. Today they constructed with straws and connectors, melted rainbow ice cubes, painted on fabric, walked a balance beam, had a picnic, and more. Because they have choice there are moments of time where talking is minimal and focus is high. The children are engaged in their work. This is how learning happens.

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Junk Collage

Today's art invitation was a lazy susan with piles of recyclables. The children have glue, scissors, cardboard and active imaginations. Some come to the table and are inspired to build a specific thing but many come just to experience. All of the children at the table are deeply engaged in their work.
They are developing their fine motor skills when squeezing the glue bottles, using scissors or carefully placing the small objects. They are exercising critical thinking skills, while sorting, planning and counting. When there is a large group at the table they have the opportunity to gain life skills by negotiating space and deciding how to take turns rotating the lazy susan. 
These amazing pieces of art build confidence and pride. Their interests may move on to the next thing, but this experince will stay with them forever. 

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Play with Purpose


Today the children had balls of colored yarn. They transformed the play yard into a giant web.
Crawling, stepping and weaving through is great for the physical body. The nervous systems proprioception kicks on strengthening spatial awareness by telling the body where it is in space, muscles are engaged and senses are stimulated. There is ample opportunity for independent and cooperative problem solving. Open ended play such as this allows for both spontaneous design and planed ideas to manifest making it easy for mixed ages to play together. Skill sets of critical thinking like problem solving, spatial awareness and planing are foundational to math and science. Cooperation, mental flexibility, and connecting with others are life skills that are foundational to relationships. Physical strength and agility are foundational for good health and healthy risk taking is important for brain development.
Bright colors and uninterrupted expressions lend themselves to beauty and art. One might look into this play yard and think we were only having fun, but a closer look reveals the nurturing of a whole child

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The Progress of Play

There was a simple set of paint brushes, a paint tray and a large paper taped on the wall. Once noticed the children took up painting the paper with lines and circles. The curiosity for mixing colors happened almost immediately. As the globs of color ran together and began dripping off the brushes and onto their hands a new curiosity arose. The paint brushes were abandoned and the hands went directly into the paint for hand printing on the paper. Then something about the sensation of the paint became curious and the paper was forgotten. Now the paint was being smeared on their arms.
In the midst of the excitement one child proclaimed "We have the best ideas ever let's keep doing it." I begin to fill a large bucket with soapy water and when all the interest in the paint had been explored they walked away and discovered the soapy water. They began washing their arms. Someone has an idea.... "let's wash those animals too, they need a bath." The bin is filled with plastic animals which are now being scrubbed when a new curiosity arises. The children take off their shoes and begin to scrub them. When the shoes are done they wonder about their feet and so into the tub they go. 30 min after the paint was discovered they are ready for some dry clothes and a story.
Imagine all of the neural networks that were formed in the 30 minutes those children saw each of their curiosities through completely. Proclamation after proclamation was made about how great their work was, how surprised their parents would be, how important the job was. They were allowed to be and allowed to do. When the process completed itself we (the caretakers) were there to clean them up and settle them in. 

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