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Storytime in the Chickadee Nest

Lori Grey - Thursday, October 03, 2013

The following is a guest post, Mountain School Faculty member Rebecah Freeling's account a of visit to storytime in her colleague Kimi Keating's classroom. It's a little slice of life in the Chickadee nest!

I had the great pleasure of spending storytime in the Chickadee nest a few weeks ago.  Kimi had been telling a story about several creatures who ended up all snuggled together in a pot that had been dropped by a farmer.  She told the story for a week, then she did it as a puppet show.  The third week, the children acted it out as a play.

This was the first time many of the children had done a play, and Kimi guided them through it with great joy and clarity.  First, she lined up chairs for each of the characters to sit in, and on each chair was the character’s costume.  The costumes were delightfully simple.  The farmer had a hat, the fly and mosquito had a silk crown.  The other animals had appropriately-colored capes to wear.

The scenery was just as simple.  Kimi had a large green cloth on the ground to represent the grass, and two large play crates represented the pot.  She started this story the way she and Gale start all stories: she lit a candle and sang a song.  Some of the children knew the song and sang along.  They will all know it soon! Here’s the song:

Fire fairies come to us,

Bringing fire from the Sun.

After the song, Kimi rang the bell that signals the start of the puppet stories and plays.  And the children sat still and quietly.  Now, you may read this and think to yourself, “Oh, I’m sure most of them were quiet; but my child wasn’t.”  But YES!  Your child was!  Kimi had created such a mood of joyful expectation that all of the children were waiting to see what would come.

Then she began the story.  She led each of the characters through their parts.  She guided the farmer, who was pushing a wheelbarrow.  She led the fly (the fly’s name was Buzzing By) to the pot.  She led each of the animals to the pot and through their lines.

Now, when I say that Kimi led them, you may imagine Kimi in her most upright and serious mood, as she is when she brings the whole group together in the morning.  But that’s only because you’ve never seen her become a mosquito!  She led the children in mosquito-like flight; she plodded like a bear; she hopped like a frog; she scampered like a mouse, to help the children express and experience the moods of all the animals in the story.

By the time the story was at its end, everyone was back in their chairs with rosy cheeks and happy eyes. And Kimi ended the story the way she and Gale end every story – ringing a bell, putting out the candle, and singing:

Fire Fairies,

Thank you for your light.

The children had heard that day’s story six times over the last two weeks, and now they knew it pretty well.  Some of them wanted to speak their parts, and some wanted Kimi to speak for them.  But stay tuned – by the end of the year, they will all be comfortable speaking up and saying their parts.  The joy of the storytelling moment will sweep them along and they will lose their shyness and become, at Kimi’s invitation, part of the living story.

The shared experience of story strengthens the classroom community – we have all BEEN someplace together!  And a hallmark of great storytelling is this: that the children can BECOME the story, that they can FEEL and KNOW the many emotions and moods of the characters.  This is what helps them understand their own inner world, which will become more and more complex they older they get.

Over the year, your children will go many places with Kimi and Gale as they tell carefully selected and prepared stories.  With each story, the children expand their vocabulary, attention span, and emotional intelligence.  They become knit together as a group through shared experience and imagery.  These stories will live on in the children long after they have flown from the Chickadee or Hummingbird nests!

The Rules of the Kingdom

Lori Grey - Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The following was presented at Back-to-School night last week. Enjoy!

When we ask parents what attracted them to The Mountain School, their responses usually include one or more of the following: the calm and orderly environment; the capable children, happily engaged in play and work; the fine manners and respect for one another evident. Some ask, “How ever do the teachers do it?” or “I wish we could do this at home.”

Well, we do have a plentiful supply of magic wands here, but that’s not how it happens! This is where “the rules” (or as we prefer to think of them, “boundaries”) come in.

We sometimes hear a bit of grumbling about “the rules”—the requests we make of parents that, on the surface, may seem random and/or petty. In fact, all of these rules/boundaries/guidelines are very carefully thought out, and each one has a reason. For example, with regard to our request that media and sports-themed clothing be saved for weekend wear, our experience is this: it is more difficult for children to focus on play that springs from their own imaginations when Spiderman is present on a friend’s shirt. And while of course we love the Giants, even Buster Posey always plays the same old game! The play structure “sleeps” before school for the sake of safety, since it cannot be monitored properly with all of our families coming and going; it “sleeps” after school again because of supervision issues, and also because it’s much easier for you to get your child out the gate if the play structure is off limits.  Our work of practicing fine table manners and mealtime conversation must be put aside when one child is whipping another with his string cheese, or a squirt of tubed yogurt is arcing across the table; hence the guidelines for what we’d like to see (or not) packed in lunches.

So our rules are not arbitrary; in fact, we have thought so hard and so long on these things that there is not much arbitrary about the Mountain School. In the past we have tried to lay it all out there the first couple weeks of school, but we realize how overwhelming that may have been. We know you want to support the work we’re doing with your children, and we want to support the work you’re doing with your children, and it’s important to remember we are on the same team here. So from time to time we’ll be gently reminding you about some of the guidelines we have set out in the handbook—no judgment involved--because it helps us do our job better. And on that day when you just can’t get your child out the door without the Spiderman t-shirt, no big deal—we’ll just turn it inside out and forget about it. And so will your child.

Preschool is a first tiny step into the real world, and as you may have noticed, the real world has the odd rule or two. We start small, really small. In fact, about the size of a lunch box. When your child carries her own lunch from the gate (or even the car!) to the classroom, it’s a first baby step toward the pride and pleasure of doing for oneself. So when we remind you to let her carry her lunch, we’re really reminding her that we grown-ups know she is capable and strong and big enough to go to school.

If, when you arrive, the classroom door is closed and circle time has begun, we do ask you to wait outside with your child. Please trust that we’re not trying to make what has probably already been a rough start to your day any rougher! We’re letting the children inside start their day with a fifteen-minute group activity uninterrupted by late arrivals and traffic in and out. (By the way, if you’re in a rush and can’t wait with your child, when I am free I welcome visitors in the office and will deliver them safely to the classroom.)

So in coming weeks, as we welcome your beautiful children into this lovely enchanted castle that is The Mountain School by gradually putting into place the rules of the Kingdom, please know that it is ALL for the benefit of the children, and what we’re really doing is letting you in on the secrets of our trade! And we assure you, your child will relax and go deeply into imaginative play, finding magical places Spiderman never dreamed of.

Playing for Capacity

Lori Grey - Monday, August 12, 2013

Recently I was dismayed to hear a young mother say, when asked the difference between academic and play-based preschool programs, that "play-based means just running around."

As adults, we tend to be oriented toward direct instruction of information, so when observing a child at play we can easily miss the profound learning taking place on a number of levels. As simple curiosity-led exploration, play facilitates development of physical, cognitive, social and emotional skills all at the same time. Play lights up the young child's brain like no other activity!

Research has shown that preschoolers who are deprived of time to play (in favor of academic instruction) in general don't do as well later on in school, or in life. Perhaps we should think of 'play-based' as actually 'capacity-based', meaning that by playing, young children are slowly and carefully putting together a foundation to support their academic learning later on.


Lori Grey - Thursday, April 25, 2013

One compelling image of the family is the child's journey as an ever-widening elliptical orbit, with the parent(s) at the center providing the essential gravitational pull. As the orbiter, the child comes close, moves away, comes close, moves a little farther away, and so forth, onward along the curving path of growing independence. According to Northwestern University's Qualitative Reasoning Group, "Orbits are the result of a perfect balance between the forward motion of a body in space, such as a planet or moon, and the pull of gravity on it from another body in space, such as a large planet or star." It is that balance we constantly seek as we guide our children on their path to a healthy adulthood

Crucial to this process is the understanding that one cannot orbit and also be the center of the universe, much as a child may seem to want to be. (They don't, really, but that's another post.) The parental unit was there before the child arrived, and if all goes well, will remain once the child leaves home. It stands to reason, then, that parents nurturing themselves (whether single or in a partnership) is easily as important as parents nurturing their young ones--in fact, nurturing themselves is nurturing their young ones, and modeling an important habit of the healthy adult. To put children at the center of things is to deny them the opportunity of experiencing their parents' relationship as separate from them, and the solid foundation upon which their family is built.

So...call a sitter! Plan a night out, or take a walk together, or...? And make it a regular thing. 

5 Fun Facts: The World According to Preschoolers

Lori Grey - Thursday, March 21, 2013

As early childhood educators, hearing the hilarious things kids say every day keeps us smiling and makes dealing with all those runny noses and bathroom accidents worthwhile. Here are a few real-life examples from Mountain School children:

1) "A shovel looks a lot bigger when it's in your face."

2) "My mom is growing a baby in her tummy, so I'm going to be a big brother or sister."

3) "My mom is growing a baby in her tummy. Maybe it'll be a baby tiger!"

4) "You have to get married, or no one will see you!"

5) "My mommy went to Paris and saw the Awful Tower."

Look for the Helpers

Lori Grey - Friday, December 14, 2012

Disasters--natural and otherwise--are a fact of life. News such as major earthquakes, terrorist attacks, or the recent tragedies in Portland and Connecticut can elicit reactions covering a spectrum from disbelief, to compassion, to fear. That being said, we as adults are able to frame these frightening incidents in the context of our life experience. It is distressing when details of catastrophic occurrences filter down into conversation among children of preschool age.

It does such serious events no dishonor to say that this kind of information has no place in the world of the young child. As parents and teachers, we must strive each day to shelter children from frightening images and information they can neither comprehend, nor respond to in any constructive way. Sometimes, newspapers must be tucked away just for grown-ups' eyes; radio and television reports must be saved for adults-only time. It behooves us to be careful what we discuss within earshot, whether petty complaints or concerns for the future of humanity!

Of course, it does happen sometimes that children are exposed to things we would rather they had not seen or heard. Then, fears and curiosity must be addressed. The key is to offer, in one's calmest matter-of-fact manner, the simplest possible explanation. For example, in the case of flashing lights and emergency vehicles on the freeway, one might say, "Some people need help, and the police are taking care of them." Limited information, inexplicit, yet truthful. What a child needs is reassurance, and fewer details than one might imagine. The late Fred Rogers put it this way: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers--so many caring people in this world."

One can hardly overstress the importance of nurturing in children their innate belief that the world is generally a good and safe place to be--and it is, despite what the media may bring into our homes each day. When we do so, we are providing a solid and secure foundation from which our children will someday move forward and become good citizens with a positive vision for their future. They'll be the helpers.

A World Worthy of Its Children

Lori Grey - Monday, December 03, 2012

Pablo Picasso said, "Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two makes four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are?...You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children."

One aspect of a world "worthy of its children" is a value placed on space and time for childhood. Young children's development proceeds at a pace determined by nature which cannot--and should not--be hurried, nor can it be bypassed. Far from little vessels needing to be filled with facts and figures, young children are unfolding beings who must first spend sufficient years noticing, exploring and interacting with their immediate world before cataloguing, categorizing and expanding it. 

According to Jane Healy, highly-respected educational psychologist and author of Your Child's Growing Mind, "Early childhood programs that implement a directed academic curriculum often replace essential, hands-on learning activities with skill-based performance and rote-learning tasks. In doing so, they risk the developmental growth necessary for children's future academic success." So while preschool programs offering math, science, pre-reading and other academics may seem to give a child a "leg up", the truth is that there is no substitute for child-directed imaginative play, which in itself is profoundly pre-academic and fosters creativity, problem solving, and openness to new ideas--all among the many well-researched and documented benefits of play. Children whose deep, engrossing play is displaced by direct instruction in the early years misses out on some critical building blocks for their future.

A world worthy of its children will reclaim childhood for them.

Wise Words

Lori Grey - Thursday, February 02, 2012

Almost twenty-five years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  Its salient points were made into a poster that seemed ubiquitous in mudrooms, pediatricians' offices and teachers' lounges.  I have no idea if it is still popular, but I haven't seen it around lately so thought I would post it here. I still enjoy reading it!  

Needless to say, this is what we are all about at The Mountain School with our play-based curriculum. While the current trend in early childhood education is to overlook the development of personal and social skills in favor of premature academic study, these words have never rung more true.  Enjoy!


(a guide for Global Leadership)

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.

These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don't hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don't take things that aren't yours.
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

[Source: "ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN" by Robert Fulghum.  See his web site at http://www.robertfulghum.com/  ]

What They Really Want

Lori Grey - Thursday, December 02, 2010

A few years ago I wrote a letter to our community that people seemed to enjoy, so I'm reprinting it here in slightly revised form.  Warm wishes for a sane and memorable holiday!  

Recently, one of our parents mentioned hearing a radio interview with
Unplug the Christmas Machine  authors  Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli, reminding me of that volume which has long had a place of honor on my bookshelf, and whose title alone inspires me to be continually mindful of the way I approach this time of year. 

I remember all too vividly navigating the holidays with small children. It is not an easy task you undertake! Ironically, during a season which so inundates us with stimulation, we actually can emerge sensually deprived, not to mention exhausted and perhaps a bit numb. The mission of parents, says Staeheli, should be to show their kids that, no, that’s not all there is to the holidays. 

In our modern day hustle and bustle, it is important not to overlook the simple sensory delights: the smell of goodies baking, the sight of a glowing flame, the sound of favorite songs being sung. But before you groan at the idea of adding cookies, candles and choirs to your already overwhelming list of gifts and chores, consider this: Upon interviewing hundreds of adults on their memories of childhood holidays, Staeheli and Robinson, discovered that “...rarely could they remember gifts. They remembered the feelings, the rituals and the relationships.” Furthermore, when asked to imagine their perfect holiday, most envisioned “...simple gifts, natural decorations, a fire, traditional food, leisurely schedules, music, time spent out-of-doors and an emphasis on family activities.” 

“Children want their parents to interpret the season for them so that it has meaning,” says Staeheli. “Traditions needn’t be expensive or elaborate. Anything can be a ritual if approached with a certain spirit.” Remember the simplicity and brevity of our Lantern Walk! 

So my wish for you this holiday season is this: that you step back for a moment and find some tiny seed of ritual to plant, something that represents whatever the significance of this season is for you and your family. Something you will shelter and nourish, and send along with your children into their future. Something that will endure long after the gifts are gone or forgotten.  

Trust me: it’s what they really want.

How to Behave So Our Children Will

Lori Grey - Wednesday, November 10, 2010
"What is asked of us as parents
is sometimes more than we would expect of any person.
That is as it should be, for as parents we have been given
the wonderful challenge of growing as human beings
while at the same time giving the highest service that is possible--
to help in the creative process of bringing another human being
into the world."

                                     ---Franklin Kane,
Parents as People

As parents, it serves us well to spend some time planning a daily rhythm for our children--a sequence and timing of events suited to their needs for food and rest, work and play--around which we then construct the rest of the day, picturing the transitions where difficulties often occur and planning little ways to smooth them out.  The predictability that might have bored us in our pre-child days brings a bit of calm to the household and a sense of security to the child.

Then comes the hard part:  following through.  Young children will find a hundred ways to test whether we mean what we say.  It's their job, and there's no question they do it well!  Our work as parents is to continue to reassure them that yes, we are in charge, we know the plan, and they are safely held and free to be children.

As teachers we strive to support you in your efforts.  This rhythmic approach to the child's day is the cornerstone of our preventative discipline philosophy, and the reason we have such well-behaved children at The Mountain School!  On Thursday, November 18th we will continue our panel discussion of
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross, focusing on Chapters Three and Four.  Please plan to join us, bringing your questions and real-life challenges to add to the conversation.