An Interest in Gardening: Beginning Documentation

A little background…

One of the things I miss most about being in the classroom setting (particularly a Reggio-inspired setting) is the documentation. If you’ve never heard of Reggio Emilia inspired schools, the pedagogy, or even much related to early childhood education, your idea of documentation may be entirely different than my meaning. When first learning about “documentation” in the classroom, I thought of it as a way to track and record the children’s progress and assess what they were learning. And, while documentation does do that, the form of documentation I’ll be referring to in this blog (and any to follow) is so much more.

“Documentation is not pretty pictures of engaged children. Rather, it captures the thinking process: What motivated the children to begin, continue, change direction? What were the breakthroughs, the pivotal remarks or actions? How did they solve the problem? The goal is to enable whoever reads a panel to understand what the child attempted and how they went about it, to see stimulus, process, and outcome.” -A. Lewin-Benham

In a Reggio classroom, you’ll see the space displaying various forms of beautiful documentation that reflects the children’s thought processes and learning. This is typically displayed at the child’s level, so he/she can revisit and reflect on the work whenever desired. (If you want to check out three of my favorite classroom blogs to follow and see it for yourself, check them out here, here, or here!)

While I do plan on displaying some forms of documentation in Hassell’s room, I plan on doing most of my documenting here, with all of you. Another aspect of being in the classroom I miss is the reflection and sharing of ideas between educators. This is where I’m hoping you will come in! Please flood the comments here with all your ideas, thoughts, and questions. I love challenging my current way of thinking or diving into more research to seek out certain answers. Which brings us to…

An Interest In Gardening: My First Day of Documentation

If you know us by now, you most likely already know that Hassell loves to be outside. It is truly his happy place. He is calmer, more inquisitive, and just overall a more relaxed child when he is spending time outdoors.

img_1872

After almost a year of noticing the same thing, you’d think I would be used to it by now. However, each time we go outside, I am always blown away again at the difference a change of his environment makes. When researching a little for this new start of documentation, I found this quote (with my photo on the right), and it just speaks volumes to me. I could write on and on about the value of nature play in early childhood, but that is a whole other post (or five) waiting to happen.

Daniel and I both agree that we want to spend the majority of the spring/summer outdoors with Hassell. Unplugged, following both his interests and ours. Last summer, we had our first family garden. I was actually very pregnant as we were planting, then wore Hassell in a wrap or a ring sling to help harvest it as a new mama. Sure, we made a lot of beginner mistakes, but for a first year garden, it turned out pretty great. We had fun, spent a ton of time outdoors, and had a almost never-ending supply of zucchini, okra, and watermelons. This year, we have been excited to start our garden again, agreeing that Hassell would love the time outside as we worked.

Honest moment: the above statement was exactly how I pictured it in my head many times… until earlier tonight. Daniel and I working with each other in the garden; Hassell sitting/crawling/eventually toddling in his own space beside the garden plot. 

Do you see what’s wrong with that picture? 

I often feel like I have two mindsets: my mama mindset and my early childhood educator mindset.

As a mama, I was thinking of the ways to be productive while also keeping my child happy. Daniel and I would plant, care for, and harvest our garden. Hassell would spend a lot of free exploration time outside and happy (aka out of the way and occupied…just being honest here, friends).

As an early childhood teacher reflecting back, I am horrified at myself for thinking like this. Why would Hassell not automatically be included in the growing and nurturing of our garden? Here’s a list of some research-based benefits a garden can provide for a child (even as young toddlers/infants):

  • provides a sense of purpose and responsibility
  • promotes communication skills
  • fosters mindfulness
  • creates meaningful family connections
  • promotes gross motor skills
  • strengthens immunity and overall health
  • helps children stay calm and focused
  • develops basic math concepts
  • encourages the tasting of new foods
  • engages the senses
  • enhances fine motor development
  • opens doors to scientific thought
  • teaches responsibility and respect for the environment
  • encourages patiences and planning

2a03c37e84bbbaa903ec592fc13a480b

Here’s an approximate timeline of exactly what happened for us tonight…

–>Get home, decide to go visit the garden and begin tilling up the soil.

–>Attempt to place Hassell on the grass beside the garden, so I can help Daniel. He cries and reaches for me.

–>Walk over to inspect the soil, carrying Hassell on my hip.

–>Hassell begins to squirm and show signs of boredom.

–>I sit Hassell down in the middle of the garden, watch to make sure he is safe and  doesn’t begin to fuss, and then move over to help Daniel.

–>Hassell happily inspects the rocks, grass, and dirt around him…until he notices Daniel and I doing something else.

–>Hassell begins to again let me know he is unhappy and reaches toward us.

–>I get frustrated, go and attempt to play with him for a few minutes, until I give up and pick him up again.

–>As I’m carrying Hassell, about to go inside, I notice some strawberry plants have survived from the previous year. img_1857

–>Daniel and I become excited and begin to show the plants/small berries to Hassell.

–>We decide to transplant the strawberries into our garden. I sit Hassell beside Daniel, so I can get the water we need.

–>Hassell watches intently as Daniel digs the plants up by the roots to transplant them.

–>I notice that Hassell is 100x happier and excited, now that we are involving him in the process. I decide to sit him right in between us as we move the small plants to their new location and water them.

img_1860

–>I narrate what we are doing as we replant the berries, use our hands to move the dirt, and then water each plant.

–>Hassell mimics our motions, squealing in delight as we move from plant to plant, swishing his hands in the water and dirt…just as we are. f0bd1890-0b9e-47fb-910b-a34f2a6cf678

Y’all, he was so engaged and delighted! His whole demeanor changed, as did ours. He loved being part of the process and was thrilled to join in our excitement. I watched as his little eyes literally danced with happiness and interest. As a mama and a teacher, it was exactly what I wanted to observe. But let’s take a moment to focus on the reasons I originally didn’t incorporate him into our gardening. Let’s also address questions I have gotten or heard many mamas ask (this may or may not be similar to questions you are thinking of)…

  • What about all that dirt? He’ll be filthy!
  • What if he pulls out the wrong plant?
  • There are so many rocks and small pieces out here! That’s not safe for babies.
  • We’re trying to go quickly. A young child will just slow the process down.
  • What if he wants to taste the soil? Babies put everything in their mouths!

You see where I’m going with this? There are so many reasons we are constantly told NOT to do something that would be an incredible experience for our child. Yes, as you can tell, he was covered in dirt.

bc2fc5fb59f3b44310d4d0607df8fbc6What enriching sensory play for him! Yes, I had to watch carefully as I worked to make sure he didn’t swallow a rock or small stick. Yes, we worked a tad bit slower. But, y’all, I’m challenging myself to look past those reasons this summer. I’ll be documenting our garden experience, good and bad, to keep you updated!

In the mean time, I want to encourage you to work outside with your little one(s) this season! I’d love for you to share any favorite experiences below or tell me your favorite gardening tip. Are you intrigued by this blog? Are you encouraged to go outside with your little this summer? Tell me your thoughts!

With Love,

Maggie Ricketts

Resources:

Fernando, N. (2016, March 16). Gardening with Kids: How It Affects Your Child’s Brain, Body and Soul. Retrieved May 1, 2018, from http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2016/03/gardening-kids-affects-childs-brain-body-soul/
Lopa, J. (2015, May 04). Jessica Lopa. Retrieved May 1, 2018, from http://mommyuniversitynj.com/2015/05/04/10-benefits-of-gardening-with-kids/
Don’t forget to save this article on Pinterest!

Circle of Sounds

Have you ever had a moment where you suddenly regretted all the times someone has commented on your “leadership skills” or “strong” personality traits? If you’re anything like me, those phrases have probably come as compliments or maybe even validation in the past. But now as I sit here thinking about my darling 10-month-old challenging every boundary I set for him, displaying a mean set of *ahem* fearless leadership skills already, I realize I might now be able to understand where my own mother was coming from…Throw that into the mix of a major clingy stage (after being Mr. Independent for months), and this mama is tired, y’all. As you can imagine–especially if you are a parent already–exhausted/stressed mamas do not always make the best decisions. I’ll even be completely honest and say that I have been at my wit’s end trying to come up with ways to entertain my little guy the past few days…Summer, where ya at?

So yesterday morning, after Hassell wanted nothing to do with any of the toys I attempted to get him to play with, I had a sudden idea. I needed to stop thinking like a mama and start thinking like an infant/toddler teacher again. When I decided to stay at home, I didn’t automatically lose all my early childhood education skills…I’d just been tucking them away for awhile. Upon my revelation, I quickly realized that thinking like a teacher was a much better approach for me at this moment.

As most early childhood educators would agree, observation is the first (if not the most important) step. Instead of playing with Hassell from above and talking at/to him, all the while becoming more and more frustrated as he wasn’t entertained, I decided to try a different approach…

f07491bd-b675-4369-a147-247b5ef4f193

I quietly sat down on the floor with him (being on eye level is so important for young children) and simply observed.

Immediately, I noticed that he used his hands to bang/hit just about anything in his reach. Instead of trying to distract him from this behavior, I decided to embrace it. This is how our “Circle of Sounds Activity” came about.

Keep reading if you’re interested in the details behind this provocation and the research that influenced my decisions for the activity. I highly recommend trying it with your little, even if he/she is much older than 10 months. Be prepared, it will get noisy!

Children are intensely fascinated with the physical world and how it works. You can simultaneously honor childhood and promote a love of learning by adding different kinds of engaging attractions and discoveries to your environment. This is especially effective when you include things that provoke a sense of mystery and wonder so that children become curious about how they work, where they come from, and what can be learned by manipulating them. -Excerpt from Designs for Living and Learning: Transforming Early Childhood Environments

51eWwGsZX9L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

 

I pulled the direct quote above from one of my favorite books on early childhood education. This is a book one of our professors had us purchase in college, and I still refer back to it often today. If you work with young children, I highly encourage you to purchase it (or the more updated version) for yourself/your colleagues.

 

 

For me, thinking about invoking a sense of wonder and magic in my home is actually harder than in a classroom. Maybe it’s because of our home dynamic or maybe it’s my decorating scheme or maybe it’s just my mindset. Whatever the reason, I have to force myself to really step outside of the box. As I was brainstorming ways I could embrace the joy Hassell demonstrated while banging his hands on various objects, I first thought of grabbing his usual pot and spoon from the kitchen. (He loves to “cook” with me when I’m making dinner.) But that sounded pretty boring…even to me. After spending time thinking about materials I could add to make him want to engage in the activity, I decided to create a circle of various pots and pans. I also decided to include a choice of tools he could work with when making the different sounds.

Reasoning and Research Behind the Activity

During my observations (both that morning and knowing him as my child), I immediately noticed that Hassell seemed to be drawn to sound. Curtis and Carter (2003) note throughout their book that sound is an open invitation for children to explore. I find this to be very true. Just think: does your little one notice…

  • a faucet dripping
  • cars driving by
  • leaves rustling
  • the dishwasher running
  • a ball bouncing
  • his/her hands hitting an object

These are all sounds Hassell is obviously intrigued by. His little head turns toward whatever noise he hears, his eyes light up, and he typically takes off crawling in that direction. Although some children (including Hassell) can be frightened by loud sounds, I find it very interesting that he is not frightened in the slightest bit when HE is the one making the loud sound. When researching, I found the following quote…

Making loud sounds is a powerful experience, helping children feel big in their small bodies (Curtis and Carter, p. 123, 2003)

As I read that information, I vividly remember thinking, “Wow. That’s exactly what Hassell needs–a chance to feel powerful and ‘in charge’ in a safe environment.”

Once the provocation was set-up, I invited Hassell to choose any combination of materials he wanted to work with. His eyes lit up as he tried out smacking different pans/pots/bowls as loud as he could. He laughed as he swapped out the spatula for the spoon and the hammer. I couldn’t help bimg_0838ut notice the pattern of differing sounds that happened as he played, each muffin pan or bowl making a separate noise. This went on for about 20 minutes before he began to crawl away and move on to another activity.

As a teacher and a mama, this was a win. The invitation to play allowed him to stay engaged and focused on an activity for an extended period of time, feel in control in a safe space, expand his knowledge of sound, and (hopefully) fuel his love for learning.

Plus, it’s FREE. I guarantee you have the materials in your home to set up this activity! Is it rainy/cold in your area? Try it out and let me know how your little one responds! Or maybe you have beautiful weather. I can’t wait to experiment with sound outdoors at our house, also!

As always, I’d love to hear what you think of this post! Was it helpful? Do you want to know more? Did I ramble too much? Comment and let me know.

With Love,

Maggie Ricketts

Sources:
Curtis, D., & Carter, M. (2003). Designs for living and learning: Transforming early childhood environments. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.