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Beautiful Stuff! Chapters 1 & 2

July 10, 2011

Prior to a few weeks ago, I did not really know anything about Reggio Emilia.  As I slowly learned little pieces about his approach to education, I became more and more interested.  I ordered a used copy of Beautiful Stuff!: Learning with Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal and Linda Gandini as a first step in learning more about Reggio education.

The process of learning with found materials begins, of course, with the collecting of the materials.  This is the process the authors discuss in the first chapter, Collecting, Discovering, and Organizing Materials.  As the children collect the materials, it is important to record some of the children’s perceptions on the process.  The collection process encourages children to look at objects in their world in new ways, opening their imagination.  Containers, preferably clear or white, in which the materials can be sorted and stored must also be collected.

Once the materials are collected, they must be sorted.  The children should be in charge of the sorting process as this helps them develop observation and critical thinking skills.  The sorting process also allows the children to explore the materials in an organized way.

Maintaining the collection is never over.  New materials can be added at any time, and in order to preserve the beauty and usefulness of the collection, teachers/parents should discreetly edit the collection in order to avoid clutter.  The children should also help keep up the collection.  Materials can be cleaned with soapy water and as the collection becomes jumbled through use, the sorting process can be redone. Moving and rearranging the materials can keep the experience alive (Ch. 2).

The collection should be stored in a studio, or laboratory, space.  The materials need to be visible and easy to reach and the children should be involved in the set up and maintenance of the space.  The space should also include an empty shelf where children can store their work, both completed and in progress.

In the second chapter, the authors discuss Exploring Materials.  Each material has unique characteristics and exploration allows for the discovery of these properties.  The children can make a “display” of materials they select.  The mat for the display can be a piece of construction paper.  Different shapes of paper can encourage different types of displays; a larger paper gives more room to spread out the materials and a smaller paper encourages a 3-D display.

Children’s explorations and their displays reveal the connections they have made and the complexity of their thinking.  It is important to record their explanations of their designs.  “Save a memory” of designs by either taking a picture or having the child draw a sketch of the design. The experience itself should also be recorded through pictures of the children at work and transcripts of their dialog while working.

It is often assumed that children need to make “something” in their learning, that there needs to be a product of an activity, but this is not always the case.  The process is often more important than a product.

Circles are often the first shape that a child draws and it naturally emerges from their scribbling.  Once the circles begin to emerge a child’s exploration of circular forms should be encouraged.  Round objects should be provided for the child to investigate.  A tray of circular objects with containers allows for exploration and sorting.



How VS What

July 8, 2011

When showing PlumGirl something for the first time I always try to monitor what I am doing and saying very closely.  I try to focus on showing her HOW things can be done, but not WHAT to do.  This distinction might not seem like a large one, but I think that it is important.

If I show PlumGirl HOW to do something, I am giving her a tool with which she can do whatever she chooses.  If I show PlumGirl WHAT to do, then I am limiting her creativity.

For example, when introducing wet glue for the first time I taught PlumGirl how to squeeze the bottle over the paper by putting my hand over hers on the bottle.  I then pointed to the things she could put into the glue, but always gave her choices of what, where, how many, and which.  I was showing her how to use the glue, but not telling her what to do with it.

However, I do think that children often learn through imitation.  Sometimes I have to show PlumGirl what can be done with materials.  As this often takes multiple demonstrations, I make sure that each time I am demonstrating with materials that each product and process is as different as possible.  I hope that by varying my demonstrations I am showing PlumGirl that the possibilities are endless and that new uses always exist, even while giving concrete examples of what can be done.

I want to develop PlumGirl’s creativity and hope to never limit it.

Bedtime Books

July 1, 2011

Every night as I rock PlumGirl to sleep I read her a book.  Since picture books are too distracting, I read her chapter books.  Sometimes they are children’s books, sometimes I read her whatever book I happen to be reading.

I love this special time with her, though when it takes too long for her to fall asleep, I do admit to being frustrated.

This weekend we are going to begin a more elaborate bedtime and nap routine with the twins and I am really looking forward to adding in a story before sleep.

I am currently deciding which story I will start with.  According to The No Cry Sleep Solution, it is a good idea to stick to one book for the first couple of weeks so that it becomes a signal to the baby that it is sleepy-time.  This makes choosing our new bedtime book extra hard as we will be stuck with it for awhile!  The book also has to be relatively small so that I can turn the pages with one hand.  It also cannot be too long, or too short, and I think that a rhyming book would be most soothing.

There are just too many choices!  Hopefully I will make up my mind by Sunday.


June 30, 2011

PlumGirl really doesn’t talk very much.  She talks enough to communicate her needs, and that is it.  Whenever I come across an online discussion about toddlers with speech delays I usually read them just to see other peoples’ perspectives on toddler speech.

I really get annoyed that in every discussion at least one person ASSumes that a toddler isn’t talking because they watch TV all day and is never read any books.

PlumGirl did not watch any TV until she was over a year and I was pregnant with the PlumTwins.  We started watching one half hour PBS show every week or two when I really needed a break.  She watches a little more than that now, sometimes two shows in a row, but she still doesn’t watch TV every day.

We also read her tons of books.  She has her favorites that she demands be read to her over and over again.  I also introduce new books all the time from the huge collection of picture books that I have.

She still doesn’t talk.  She just doesn’t.  I don’t think that she needs speech therapy.  I don’t think that I am doing anything “wrong”.  I just think that she isn’t ready to talk yet.

The ASSumptions that these people make don’t bother me because I feel myself judged, I just feel bad for the moms that start these threads looking for advice and get judgment.  Yes, I am sure that there are moms who let their toddlers watch way too much TV and that this might impact their speech, but I bet that isn’t the case for the majority.

Some toddlers just aren’t very verbal and their moms need reassurances, not assumptions.

My Not-So-New Favorite Book

June 29, 2011

This is why I reread books.  No matter how many times you may have read it before, a good book can reveal new parts of itself if you read it in a new time and place.

I have read The Secret Garden many times before, but the last time was many years ago.  The other night I began reading it again to PlumGirl as she fell asleep.  As soon as I began reading it, I could not put it down.  The magic of the book had caught me.

Reading The Secret Garden as a mother was an entirely new experience.  I saw everything in a whole new light, the sorrow of a child neglected, the joy of freedom in childhood, and most of all the Magic of nature.  As I was reading I became excited about teaching PlumGirl and the PlumTwins about the joy of growing things.

The most meaningful part of the book for me was the theme of positive thoughts.  I have long battled with letting negative thoughts overwhelm me and I was not expecting The Secret Garden to help me with this battle.  The reminder of the power of focusing on the postive was one I desperately needed.

“Much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable, determinedly courageous one.   Two things cannot be in one place.

Where you tend a rose,

a thistle cannot grow.”

~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

The Scale

June 13, 2011

I am currently in a love/hate relationship with my scale.  Almost every morning I step on it fearing that the numbers will have gone up.  So far I have lost just over 10 pounds, but for weeks the numbers on the scale didn’t change at all.  During those weeks I struggled with a bunch of emotions and thoughts.

Frustration.  I was eating healthy and working out, so why wasn’t the scale moving?  How many calories do I have to cut to lose weight?

Joy.  The numbers weren’t going up!  And I was liking what I was eating and drinking!

Sadness.  I still don’t fit into my clothes and the numbers aren’t dropping.

Happiness.  At least I know that when I reach my goal weight I can eat and drink well and not gain weight.

Desperation.  I really want to lose this weight.

My scale is currently in stuck-mode again, and I really don’t know what I think about it.  I know why it is stuck.  I am eating too much dairy and grains, plus drinking too much wine and beer.  I am not working out enough.  I know that I can fix these things, so I am not feeling all the emotions I felt last time around.

I am feeling something new, though.  Disappointment.  Disappointment in myself.  I know what I need to do to lose weight, yet I am not doing it.  Why not?  Sheer laziness and lack of desire to make the sacrifices.

This week I am going to get back on track.  I have to.  I am going on vacation next week and I know that I am going to be eating in a way that the scale will not like.

Recognizing Stress

June 12, 2011

A past Daily Groove newsletter was a reminder to pay close attention to subtle feelings, especially stress.  The newsletter discusses how we have trained ourselves to ignore stress, when in fact we should instead recognize when we are stress and then take the time to handle the stress.

Parenting during stressful times is not easy, even when it is the relatively light stress of cleaning the house before guests arrived or getting out the door on time and with everything that is needed.  These are the two circumstances in which I know that I do not deal with stress well myself.  So far Mr. Plum bears the brunt of my stressed behavior, but I know that the time is not far off when it will start to affect PlumGirl more.  In fact, she probably picks up on a lot more of my stress than is apparent.

I am not good at recognizing when I am stressed.  I am definitely not good at re-centering myself when I am stress.  I need to make an effort to start listening to my “inner red light” and to take a moment to deal with any stress that I am feeling, to release it, and to not let it affect my behavior.