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Teaching at the Bing Nursery School

This is a journal I kept over eight weeks while teaching kindergarten students at the Bing Nursery School.

Journal #1

The reason I chose this course is that when I looked up Bing Nursery School, I read about the free and open environment it has and the play based and social/psychological approach it takes to teaching and learning. I went to conventional schools for the first 15 years of my life. After 10th grade, I studied at an alternative school that helped me become much calmer, opened me up to social interactions and helped me understand my creative nature. I was very interested in how this came about, after I realised that I could pinpoint the change in me to those two years of my life.

Even through my undergraduate years as a product designer, I had education at the back of my mind. I realised that I want to design educational tools for children. This brought me to Stanford, and so to Bing Nursery School.

My favourite childhood memory is of racing in a vessel with my mother and sister. We had 3 big steel vessels at home, in India we call them ‘Kadhai’. They are like woks, with round bottoms and big handles. There was a time when my mother fit in the largest one, and my sister and I in the smaller ones. All three of us would race these across the floor of our small corridor in our tiny house. I love this memory, because it’s just so fun! I have plenty of memories of climbing trees and playing games on the streets, but I think this one is my favourite because it reminds me that my mother was silly and knew how to have fun. This is still sometimes easy to forget.

I went to pre-school. I was first enrolled in a “Play home” at the age of 2. For me, it was an exciting event because I knew my sister went there too. I wanted to be just like her, and was thrilled to go. I also knew my neighbour since I was one year old. She’s six months younger than me but started pre-school along with me. We probably didn’t even look back at our mothers.

The school was in an apartment, on the first floor. It was a home, but with a patio to play on. There were around 10 kids in the class. We had a warm and loving teacher. All I remember of this school’s facilities is a huge armchair with brown fur that I thought was a giant teddy bear. In retrospect, it was probably not that big, and probably not a teddy bear either. When I was 4, I was shifted to school. This was before grade 1. Here we had uniforms. We had rules. We had a lot of rhymes to repeat. We took our own snacks to school. We had a sand pit and a slide, which could only be used for 15 minutes in the day. We even had competitions from time to time.

Bing is a heaven that I couldn’t really imagine before I saw it. It may just be my third world country lens, but the resources in these classrooms just blow me away. Every tool and experience that a child could crave is there. I don’t want to list out each item that I could see in the classroom, but I was thinking about each little thing and where it may have come from. Who built the furniture, the movable wooden blocks, who kept the yoga mats and the binoculars in the class? How is there always paint in the cans? All this paper, how much does it get used? I was impressed and bothered at the same time. I kept wondering about bringing kids I know to this place. While all these kids accepted these resources as the norm, my kids might want to run about everywhere and grab everything they could out of the fear that they’d never see these resources and freedoms again. This is an internal debate for me. Access to education vs quality of education provided and how they could go hand in hand.

Through my lens, I am yet to grasp the socio-economic, geographical and cultural values of Stanford/the Bay Ara/the US fully. I would say that racially and gender-wise the mix of children seemed equally distributed. The environment of the nursery was beautiful, functional and very child friendly right from the size of the furniture to the thoughtful planting of trees and keeping of bunnies.

There were around 35 children in the class. One child left early. I was stationed at the patio, and they came in slowly from the greeting area through the inside of the classroom. A lot of children were fascinated by wood working and many put their names on a waiting list. I think they were also very attracted to the grove and the outdoors spaces in general. I’m not sure what they were least attracted to, I couldn’t tell on the first day.

The were 6 teachers. Parul, Rinna, Anna, Lars, Lara and Katheryn. They were all leading different sections in the classroom. Teacher Parul was in the sand area. Teacher Lars was at the story area. Teacher Lara was at the Art table, making paper rings. Teacher Katheryn was the ‘floater’. Teacher Anna was at the grove. Teacher Rinna was at the Patio, and was my liaison teacher. She facilitated the woodworking table and the music session, and I moved about on the patio under her supervision.

At the patio, I sat with Finn, Eloisa and Beckett as they were playing with magnetic shapes. Eloisa had built two joint dodecahedrons using the pentagons and was very proud of her work. She imagined them to be ears, a camera, she wore it on her hand and head. She set it aside after about 15 minutes. She started helping Finn who was making flat patterns of triangles and calling them pizza. This went on for quite a while, and they seemed to be done with their play. Then, Beckett came to the table and took a few pentagons from the dodecahedrons and said that he’d make something better than Eloisa. He took some triangles off the table too, so that he could build something. Finn and Eloisa started to get annoyed because they felt that their constructions were incomplete without the shapes that Beckett had taken. Finn got particularly angry and pushed Beckett. I tried to intervene, but they weren’t really listening to me. Teacher Rinna spoke to Finn and Beckett. She told Beckett that he should say something if someone tries to push him again. She spoke to Finn, and told him that Beckett didn’t like being pushed, and when he didn’t look at her, she held him and asked him to look at her. When he did, he said that he didn’t like Beckett. She told him to use his words the next time he didn’t like something instead of pushing. This seemed to resolve the situation.

Snack time began at 10:15. Teacher Rinna sang to welcome each child to the table and also introduced me. Finn took some time to come to the table, he seemed a little upset even at snack time. She cut up a banana and an orange. There were some raspberries laid out. Some children were served milk, some water. Each child ate a Graham cracker too. She encouraged them to use the potty at that time too. She asked me to read a story to them as they ate. I read a story about a tree. At some points, they were distracted, and at others, they were involved.

Teachers relate to children seriously and carefully. They are also warm and loving. The teachers also speak to the children by physically getting themselves to the child’s level. They are clear with their speech. They encourage empathy, sharing and playing together; and talking about/describing their work. They discourage conflict /physical fights, asking for something to be done for them and avoiding interaction.

I couldn’t help much with resolving the conflict between Finn, Beckett and Eloisa; but it was a great learning experience. I loved reading about Bing Nursery school and the first few chapters of Island of Childhood. As I reflect upon the conflict situation, I think of the line: “Through identification and empathy, the divisions between people begin to melt away.” Pg3, Elinor Fitch Griffin. I realise it is essential to help children to learn how to manage their conflicts and emotions after conflict.

I am also in awe of being at a place where the famous delayed gratification marshmallow research took place. I had heard about this study before, but didn’t realise it happened at Bing until I read the Jonah Lehrer New Yorker article. What surprised me is that the experiment was done without a sense of what the implications could be for adulthood. It is very promising that self-control is a greater determinant for success than intelligence. “… People learn to use their mind just as they learn how to use a computer: through trial and error”. Pg 4, Lehrer. They also experimented with tools that helped children distract themselves from the gratification and saw significant improvements. This suggests that well-designed tools play a great role in helping children learn even behavioural practices. This greatly interests me, because I want to design these tools for children.

Journal #2

This Monday was Columbus Day, and so school was off.

I enjoyed reading the Island of childhood chapters, especially after having observed children in groups and having felt somewhat powerless as a teacher in conflict situations between groups and between a child and myself. This book has a wonderfully nurturing and friendly tone, I just love reading the little incidents that happen in the classroom and how the teachers dealt with them. Aggressive behaviour towards oneself in the position of a teacher is so easy to feel bad about personally, but really understanding the child’s point of view is key. Recognising that while you are at the level of the adult in terms of social structure, at the same time being at the level of the child in terms of inter/intra personal relationships can get challenging. “Probably the most important element that goes into making a nursery school teacher is a good self-concept” (Griffin, pg 68) This is the basis of what I’m trying to express. Children react to the way one reacts to oneself, and this is an important consideration while interacting with them. As always, honesty to self and honesty to people around you is essential.

Going a little backwards to the ‘Group Climate’ section of the Island of Childhood, it was interesting to note the various kinds of tensions that build up among pre-schoolers and to draw parallels to the same kind of tensions that take place with older children and even adults. I keep wondering if I or people I have very close relationships with would be able to handle conflicts within groups or with each other better had we been pointed in such constructive directions as young children. It still takes me time to identify the actual source of my unhappiness and to clearly articulate it to the person whom the conflict is with. It is very stressful for me to express myself well while under the influence of some emotion and all the experiences I’ve had in dealing with these things have been self-taught with trial and error. Would having been exposed to a constructive framework at a very early age have helped me internalize it?

‘The Creativity Crisis’ article resonates with what I want to pursue as my project at the LDT program (at least for now). There seems to be a lack of creative thinking in the world (the articles focuses on America). There have been a few definitions of creativity in the past. One of them has to do with producing new outputs. “To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result)” (Bronsen and Merryman, pg 90) The measures / tests / standards for creativity are highly subjective and debatable, but the growing understanding that it isn’t synonymous with inspiration and it isn’t this mysterious entity that can’t be developed or encouraged is interesting. “The new view is that creativity is a part of normal brain function” (Bronsen and Merryman, pg 97). This seems to align with some of the thought I’m gravitating towards for my project. It would be interesting to delve deeper into all the research on creativity mentioned in this article and really get a feel of the different opinions on creativity in academia.

Journal #3

I’ve said it before, but I am truly enjoying the readings for this class! I think it’s linking up all that I’m learning and getting interested in at other classes as well. It’s interesting to see how principles in early childhood teaching and learning can be applied to the life of adults.

One striking section of this week’s reading was on the function of art, dance and music. We often think of Art to be without purpose, ‘Art for Art’s sake’, but for a child and so even for an adult, art can perform many important internal functions like is self expression and regulation. As succinctly put by Griffin on page 209, “ The expressive outlets found in art, dance and music activities help a child in many ways, but probably the most important one is the deepening and enhancing of the sense of self”.

As I’m also trying to puzzle out the meaning of creativity and social and emotional learning and how to teach it with educational tools, this reading offers some cues on where I might start searching for answers. “A creative activity is one in which a child sets his own goal and decides himself whether he has met it or not.” This is a good starting point if one wants to learn about the meaning of creativity and a creative mindset in the larger sense as well.

The “Saber-Toothed Tiger” article by Matlock and Hornstein provides some suggestions on activities for teachers, and how the teacher can facilitate better creative learning that builds intellectual and emotional connections for children. It underscores that just having a great environment for children to play and create in isn’t enough. They need the right kind of guidance from the teacher to develop better internal processes that they can carry forward with them. This is what the teachers at Bing do so well and so effortlessly - the facilitation of social and emotional growth.

Journal #4

There weren’t any children at the unit block area today for a long time, so I observed them at the Patio with the large hollow blocks instead.

The set up:

Michael and Zabelle were working with the large blocks. They’d set up two distinct areas. One was “home” and the other was “outside home”. I went to observe them as they were in the middle of their play.

Michael: “Let’s out now!”

Zabelle: *Climbs onto the blocks stored on the side* “Yes! Let’s go to the stage!”

Michael: “ Yes the stage!”

*both jump up and down*

Me: “Looks like you’re giving a great performance on that stage!” No response. They look around.

Me: “You can even see into the East classroom from up there” They look around.

Zabelle: “Yes! We’re super tall! We’re taller than the adults! “ Me: “Oh let me see! Yes, you’re taller than me!”

Some giggles. I move away.

Zabelle: “We can get off the stage, too. These are the stairs.”

Proceeds to walk carefully of the stage on blocks that were arranged like stairs by virtue of someone taking a few blocks away before. Michael follows.

Me: “I wonder if there’s some other way in which you could get off the stage...”

We all walk around the blocks. I look towards the slanting blocks. I feel like pulling one out, but dodn’t. Michael and Zabelle are quiet. I wonder if I’ve driven them away by suggesting things.

Suddenly, Michael: “I know! We can even slide down.”

Takes one thin slat and puts it like a ramp from the stage to the ground. Puts one foot on the slat and it falls off. Zabelle adds another slat. Michael tries again and kind off jumps/slides off the stage.

Zabelle: “We can make it stronger.”

Both try to place a small block on the top of the stage after putting the slats back in the ramp arrangement. Michael tries to slide off again. The slats slip again.

Me: “Maybe you can place the block somewhere else to make it stronger”

Not much response. I try moving one of the slats perpendicular to the ramp at the bottom. It still slips. They put a single block at the bottom of the ramp. Still proves slippery.

Zabelle: “We can use a big one” *Lifts a big double block and arranges it like a ramp* Michael helps her set it up.

Noel comes to the Patio and drifts close to them. I smile at Noel and he smiles back, and I want to include him the group as well.

Me: “Noel, would you like to join us here?”

Noel nods. Michael and Zabelle get distracted by something happening in the grove and run away. Noel walks after them.

Since this was just my second time in the classroom, they were still getting used to my presence. Both of them were very competent with lifting and placing the blocks. I moved to help Zaby lift one of the big double blocks, but after she got a firm hold on it with both her hands, she didn’t need my help.

As far as learning goes, I think they were learning many things. They were learning spatial positioning of things. They experimented with inclined planes, the strength of plane and its angle, and so some basics about friction and weight. All the while, they were working with each other and building on each other’s ideas. This was also important. They didn’t get impatient or frustrated when the blocks slipped and fell, they were merely curious. They both like each, and play with each other. I think they missed an opportunity to learn to bond and play with Noel.

This behaviour of Michael and Zabelle is just what Elinor Griffin describes in ‘Island of Childhood’ – “He becomes aware of a particular person beside whom he has been playing in a parallel fashion and begins to follow him or her about.” (Griffin, pg 116) I think Michael was the follower in this duo.

They engaged with cognitive, social, language and physical skills while working with these blocks. I was torn between just observing them and actively engaging with them, because they were onto some beautiful things on their own. I saw that after they got a little more comfortable with me, they were responding well and thinking harder when I engaged. This was both emotionally rewarding and interesting on an intellectual level. What is the right amount of direction/involvement? I guess it’s a delicate dance between too little and too much.


I also observed Julian playing with a few wooden blocks/people/ animals. Fences/cars. He set them all up together. I said to him, “That looks interesting. Do you want to tell me a story about what’s happening here?” He paused for a long while, looked at me and said, “I don’t know.”

So, I just sat next to him as he kept bringing more and more things to the area. He brought people and trucks and had a sort of plan as to where each thing would go. After a while, he seemed to have an idea. I clicked the photo above at this point.

Since I wasn’t sure if he’d come back, I’d wandered off to click a photo of the blocks set up at the Patio. When he came running back, he looked around for me, and I saw him and hurried back. He’d come back with a “spyglass”; a tube made of paper that he’d taped up first thing in the morning. I asked him what he could see. He didn’t say anything.

He looked at the scene he’d created through it and perhaps decided it needed more. He brought back some small colourful cubes. He’d brought 3 in one hand and 2 in the other. He told me, “Here’s 3 and here’s 2”. He laid them out on the roof of the wooden cupboard/pen. I took the opportunity to ask him, “So how many are they together?” He pushed them off the roof one by one, counting to 5. He seemed to like them falling off and got many more. He put them all on the roof and counted to 12. Twice, he pushed two off together by mistake, but was aware of that, and counted them as two after they fell.

The falling blocks upturned some of the things he’s set up before, but he enjoyed that too. Soon he was moving his hands over all the things making them fall. And it was good timing, because it was time for snacks!

Putting the blocks back was also a good exercise. Since I didn’t know exactly where they went, I asked him to help me, and he told me exactly which ones went where and in what order. He remembered exactly where he’d picked everything from, even the items that didn’t have their outline marked out on the cubbies. It was quite remarkable.

I also observed a few children at the design table. They all made very different things with the material put out. Mitra made a crown for her little brother and it inspired Leila to make one too. Another little girl whose name I’ve forgotten just wanted to punch out shapes with the punch. Beckett added water to the cornstarch puffs that were on the table, which became a sticky paste. He called it his science experiment, and a lot of us at the table touched it. Milo worked with a sponge block and taped it to a piece of paper. When I asked if he’s tell me about it, so that I could write what he was saying, he just said “No”. I tried narrating what he was doing. He didn’t respond to my narration. Katie worked with a lot of tape. She had trouble with the dispenser and asked for help. I tried to explain it to her in such a way that she could eventually do it on her own, but I think she was struggling with it even towards the end. She taped a lot of cornstarch puffs together.

It was a little tough for me to not help Jaxi too much- she wanted to draw a bird and a branch and an egg. She kept asking me to draw the bird. I tried describing it: the beak, the body and the wings. She drew it on her own but wasn’t satisfied with the first two attempts, and even after she settled with the third, told me it wasn’t good. I asked her why she thought that. She said that her sister draws ‘very good’ and she goes to a drawing class. I asked her how her sister became ‘very good’. She seemed to think about that for a while. She moved on to cutting the outline out (very deftly, I might add) and then went to teacher Parul with the bird. She then came back to fashion a branch on her own. It was a very interesting second day at Bing!

I found the article “The serious need for play” very interesting. The evolutionary roots and parallels with animal behaviour were aspects I hadn’t thought of at all. “Play has to be reframed and seen not as the opposite of work but rather as a compliment.” (Elkind, Scientific American Mind,pg 29) Again, this links up to my interest in creativity/social emotional learning in and out of school contexts. These readings are helping me find references to research and authors in fields that I want to read more about for a lot of my other courses as well. They’re also helping put facts and numbers to the theories I’d only heard of or conceptually understood.

Journal #5

I had a lovely day today at the Grove. I’m gaining more confidence in my interactions with the children, and that reflects in my overall observation, attentiveness, perception and assessment of situations. The language I’m using is coming more naturally to me now, the “ perhaps you could look at it this way” statements, and the “I see you are doing so&so” without offering either criticism or encouragement. I suppose, being at Bing is more fun and less pressure now.

I was able to observe many kinds of play today. I started my day at a table with dinosaur sand trays. Each child played with the same materials with different intent. Nick played out some aggression and made the dinosaurs fight each other and chomp down grass very loudly. Robert told me about having gone to the Junior Museum and seeing real dinosaur bones. Beckett and Marcel had a debate about whether the leaves ( plastic succulents ) in the tray were real ( the texture was very realistic).

Maria and Katie had a little argument over the dinosaurs. Maria had gathered six of the dinosaurs on the table to her tray. When Katie started playing with the two dinosaurs remaining on her tray, she wanted them too. She told Katie, “I’ll give you some of mine if you give me yours”. Katie put a dinosaur in Maria’s tray without hesitation, but then Maria didn’t give any of hers to Katie. I reminded her that she’d said she give one of her dinosaurs to Katie. She said she didn’t want to. She said to Katie, “If I give you mine you’ll have more(er) than me!” So I asked her to count the number of dinosaurs she had and then count Katie’s. Teacher Rinna was also alerted to the situation and came over. Maria counted all the dinosaurs and realised she had more. It was very difficult for her, but when teacher Rinna and I asked her more than once which dinosaur she wanted to give Katie, she handed one over. The tension slipped away between them, and soon they both found something else to play with.

There was a bubble tank near the bunny hutch and it was an absolute delight to watch the kids playing with it and creating those bubbles in the morning sun. Samuel was playing with Julian ( I think that’s who it was ) at the bubble station, but Julian spotted Mack and ran off. Samuel gave me one of the bubble wands and said “You can play with that one.” I felt wonderful to be included and thought of by this wonderful little being. :) Then I thought to how a child must feel when they make their first friend, and realised the power of that, and how special those relationships are. The process of reaching out, connecting and finding that you really like each other, is magical.

I also watched teacher Rinna introducing basic concepts of Physics to the children with the balls and gutters. She asked them questions like “ I wonder why that tennis ball is moving so fast? I wonder why the plastic balls are slower?” etc. and sparked a few answers from them. She changed the height of the gutters and moved the gutters around on the ground, and encouraged the children to move them around too. I could see Colt engaging and puzzling out these properties of the ball and gutter too, along with many other children. I remember playing with a neighbor’s ramps and ‘Hot Wheels’ cars from when I was very young. Clearly, this kind of free exploration of gravity/rolling/heights/weights is very stimulating and important for children.

After snack time, Marcel and Beckett decided to play ‘Cavemen’ in the hutch. They set up the space with a blanket and pillows. I asked them about their play and they told me a few ‘facts’ about cavemen, that they lived very long ago and that they were kind of gross because they ate bugs. They were then very involved in their play. Milo came over and went inside the hutch, but both of them were upset by this and said “Get out of here!” to him repeatedly. Milo moved away nonchalantly, but I thought that it was a little rude, so I told them that what they said wasn’t very nice, and that they could find a better way of telling someone that they were playing a private game. Teacher Rinna stressed this point to them too. She later suggested to me that “nice” is a little vague for children and asking them to think about what they would feel if someone told them to “get out” was a better strategy.

In a few minutes, some children came into the hutch. I could see both of them pause and think before they said,”We’re playing Cavemen. What are you playing?” When the duo who had entered said that they weren’t playing anything in particular, Beckett and Marcel reasserted that they were playing caveman and wanted the space. The duo left with ease, and Beckett and Marcel continued.

This scenario somewhat illustrates principles of cooperative problem solving as described by Tudge and Caruso in the 1988 Young Children article. Beckett and Marcel found a constructive way to express that they wanted a private space for themselves as a part of their game to others, through cooperative play. “It is sharing of differing points of view while attempting to achieve a common goal that results in cognitive advance.” (Tudge and Caruso, pg 229) About the readings.

I found the many examples of self-directed learning very helpful to my understanding of what exactly it is. At a school I’d taught at before, we would set up 4 kinds of materials and have certain goals that the child had to achieve by the end of the week in each of the materials. There was choice, but goals in the learning were not self directed. The children were not free to explore or initiate topics that were of their interest and probably at their level of learning. A quote that summarises this thought: “Just as with numbers and printing, the teacher responds to an interest in reading without taking the initiative away from the child, supporting it when it contributes to his own present purpose.” (Griffin, pg181)

Journal #6

Dramatic Play observation

Avy and Lucy were playing in the house by the Sand area, where teacher Lara was stationed. As I approached them they seemed to pause with their play. I took a set outside the house.

I saw them using spoons and a container and so I said to them, “Looks yummy, is lunch served?”

Avy: “Not yet!”

Avy to Lucy, “ We need one more spoon of sand”

Lucy ran off to get sand in a big ladle.

Avy started flattening the sand out in the container. She’d collected wood chips in another bowl and arranged them on the left of the sand filled container.

Lucy came running back with the ladle and Avy asked her to get “just one more” and Lucy ran off and came back again.

Avy: “ Okayyy now the special sprinkles are going on top” ( the wood chips)

Lucy was a little silent during this exchange, and Avy was directing the play. Both of them were setting the sand into the container and sprinkling the wood chips on the top.

Avy: “ Okay now a cherry on top.”

Avy: “Can you get some salad leaves?” to Lucy. “Remember, the red ones are poisonous.”

Me : “Oh it’s nice that you have a salad too” (I guess I should have asked a leading question here, like “What else is on the menu?”)

Avy : “Yes lunch is about to be served!”

I went away for a moment because Sammy was asking for a push at the swings. When I came back, Avy and Lucy were putting the food out on the table outside. I started to sit down on the chair I was sitting at before, but Avy stopped me with a matter of fact, “You’re not invited. There’s space only for two.”

I said, “Oh I’m sorry! Of course, there’s space only for two. Can I just watch you from here?” “Yes.” Me, “All the food looks great though! What have you got there?”

They set out a ‘pie’ with wood shaving sprinkles, a pitcher of apple juice, wine, a salad bowl, cupcakes, plates and glasses. Avy tells Lucy, “I have you to dine tonight”. Takes on the role of the host.

Avy : “How about a glass of wine?”

Lucy: “Yes, please.”

Avy: “Lucy are you going to go out for wine with one of your boyfriends?”

Lucy is clueless. :D It was so clear that Avy was acting out a situation that she’d seen adults around her in.

Teacher Lara also exclaimed upon how lovely the food looked. A few children were playing on the rocks, so when there was a lull in the play, both of them shouted, “Come look at the yummy feast!”

Teacher Lara alerted Leila and Katy to their shouts. She said, “Looks like Avy and Lucy are inviting you over to their feast!” Leila came over, but Avy said, “They’re not invited to eat the feast, just to look.”

Leila meanwhile scooted really close to the table and acted like she was munching on the leaves. Lucy said, “ She can be the baby.” Avy agreed, “ We’re both Mommas and she can be the baby.” After seeing a lot of reluctance to include people in the play, it was nice to see her include Avy.

I was an observer in this play. I could have tried to engage more with the kids, and Rinna later gave me a helpful suggestion about positioning my body closer to the children than I was doing then, so as to show that I’m really engaged with them. The children were engaged in activities that developed fine motor skills ( pouring water, packing sand), gross motor skills (carrying food, getting leaves and sand from far away), social and cognitive skills. While Avy was playing the director, Lucy was playing willing participant and processing instructions and adding her own suggestions. They overcame that feeling of possessiveness for their play and learnt to include Leila too. They were mirroring adult activities and processing and making sense of the world through their lens. I think it’s an important exercise in empathy - the next time they are at dinner, they may think back to the experience of playing out the process of making and serving a meal.

I observed two more dramatic play incidents that day. Ellie with the dollhouse; and Katy, Mitra Leila and Maria playing explorer fairies with backpacks. These were very different dramatic play situations. Ellie was talking softly to herself, and giving the little dolls dialogues and actions. She spoke in a sing song voice and kept singing little tunes as she played. It was the sweetest thing to watch her dolls encouraging each other to do things like slide down the slide on the side of the house. I felt more than an observer, an intruder in this play. She ran off as soon as Finn approached and tried to set back up the slide that she’d taken down in the course of the play. The other play was very social and looked like an activity that these children regularly and expertly engaged in.

I realised that I had skipped a few chapters and gone to this week’s reading last time. I want to just highlight a quote from ‘Making sense of Outdoor and Pretend play’ because it really relates to this journal post. “The play yard is one place children can go to feel the power and consequences of their own initiative in the context of the peer group.”(Perry, pg 231) Another powerful statement is from the Basic Principles document by Dr.Katz, pg 89 “Education that succeeds in engaging children’s minds is enjoyable, but enjoyment is not the goal, it is a by product or side effect of good teaching.”

Journal #7

I have had two busy days at Bing this week instead of the usual one day a week. It was lovely to go another day and meet a new group of kids, and also to go really early and help set up the classroom. There was a sense of continuity that I felt with the team as well. I realised the importance of getting a good night’s sleep while interacting with children, as I found myself reacting and responding to situations much better when I was well rested.

This Monday had a lot of action. I started my day at the Language table,where an amazing book named ‘Dragons love Tacos’ was laid out. Dragons were a common interest in class, and Lars had set up a board that said, “What do you know about dragons?” Julia was my first customer at the table, and I drew her in by asking her what she knew about dragons. She said, “They breathe fire!” I asked her to take a seat and tell me more about what she knew. She thought about it, but wa silent.

I asked her if she would like me to read the book to her, and she said yes. I read the entire book to her and she was very engaged. The book is fun and the illustrations are really quirky. I loved it. She sat flipping through the pages for a long time. I pointed out little things in the illustrations, like how a few dragons were dressed up, or the expressions on their faces, or I asked her to count all the dragons she could see on the page. She also showed me a few things like a dragon wearing a swimming tube or the pieces of jalapeno in the salsa.

She then started drawing a few things on her sheet of paper. She drew some grass like there was on a page in the book, and then went to a completely new direction. She drew flowers and said, “If you ever need a flower, I’m the one to ask.” “I make very good flowers”, she said, and proceeded to show me how to draw flowers, especially with roots. She said, “I make cards with flowers for my Mom which she has to open.” She wrote her name on the card and then asked for help to write the word ‘OPEN’. I said, “Let’s see, what letter makes the sound O?” and she said “O! That’s the easiest letter.” I said, “OP-en. So the p sound. Which letter do you think that sound is made by?” She said, “P!”, but she wrote B. I moved on to E and then N (which she wrote as M). I said, “That looks like a mm sound.What’s the nn sound?” She said, “Oh, the nn sound!”, and scratched out the last line. So I tried repeating the sound for P again too and then I said, “P is the one with one stomach, not two.” She replied, “Oh, yes, I can write it again.” So she started the word again and wrote OPEN with the right letters this time.

This whole exercise was cognitively enriching. She used her memory to think of dragons’ abilities, her critical thinking to puzzle out why dragons don’t like spicy food, her powers of observation to see all the details of the illustrations, her fine motor skills to draw and write. She had an idea about letters and sounds but correlated them more strongly through this experience. She learnt to communicate her knowledge and understand some new things about dragons that she didn’t know. She communicated her strengths with the flowers, and asked for help with the letters when she needed it. I think this was a good example of a cognitive development exchange. I felt a little at odds while trying to correct her spelling. Previously at the table, there was an ABC sheet that the children could look at if they were confused about how a letter looked. Here, I didn’t want to draw the letter out myself, I wanted her to figure it out herself that this was a B not a P. I tried prompting her with the sound, but in the end I said what it looks like to correct her. Perhaps this was an acceptable approach.

I saw some more fascinating things that day, with Lucy and Emilia building a castle with the patio blocks. It was amazing because that they fit into it,and had built a roof and windows and placed all kinds of things inside it. It was a source of inspiration for Kian, Michael, Teddy and Jayden. All of them built their own structures near it. While Kian was happy building an airplane on his own, Micheal and Teddy banded together to make their own airplane. I tried to bring Kian over to their game and vice versa, but to no avail. I also encouraged Jayden to add to Lucy and Emilia’s castle, and they were happy to have him, but he kept stacking blocks rather than make enclosures. This brought me back to the block building information that we’d learnt, and I guess Jayden wasn’t at the stage to build enclosures yet. The Castle:

Another incident that really made the day was that Robert threw up just before snack time, when all the children were lined up to wash their hands. I was attempting crowd control at the taps, telling a few of them to move on or give space to the next child. Suddenly, Robert threw up and there was a little panic in the crowd. He was a little off to the side, so none of the children got it on their clothes. It was a bit of a task to get him to the tap and to wash him off while the other children watched with horror and fascination. I felt quite amazed that I could manage that situation and keep myself, him and the others relatively calm until the other teachers and his mother took over.

Journal #8

Being at the Center am classroom at Bing has been one of the highlight of this quarter, among many wonderful new experiences. I have come far in my understanding of children and teaching in the early stages of their lives. While I had a subconscious bias for the learning principles that are followed at Bing - open ended natural activities and materials, learning through play, social emotional learning, etc; I got the opportunity to see why they work and what they tangibly translate to for young children. This was very valuable to me.

This experience also got me thinking about how there’s a difference in social interactions in adulthood and childhood, but the desire to love and be loved stays constant in our time on this planet. Children are much more transparent in all their feelings - joy, anger, jealousy, love. I used to think that we never really grow better at managing our feelings, just better at masking them, but over the past few years, I’ve come to realise that this is the crux of growing up - managing your emotions and the emotions of others better and better everyday. The children at Bing are truly growing up exponentially and you can see that growth happen every day, whether it’s in a child learning to include a new friend in play, or explain why they reacted a certain way or change the way they react to a situation once made aware of their emotions. There have been many instances of this growth that I’ve chronicled in this journal.

I also attended a talk by a few women managers in Design after the Bing class, and was struck by the similarity in the role of a Bing nursery school teacher and a design team lead. Both of them were working towards getting a group of individuals to develop together, while they are designing their own learning. The resources that each individual has are the same, but they do different things with them, and the role of the teacher or manager is to be an expert in diffusing conflict and helping the individuals grow.

This Monday, I had two little experiences that I’d like to chronicle again.

One was at the design table. The crowd at the Design table was unprecedented in my time there this quarter, because of the sheets from the Venice festival that had pictures of all the teachers at Bing. The children were intently involved in finding the Center a.m. teachers and cutting their faces out and putting them together for cards and as presents. The language table had a letter writing activity and the faces and the letters made a great combination that caught the imagination of many of the children.

After a point, there were no familiar faces left. Catherine was sitting opposite me and sadly trying to find teachers she knew. I initiated a game with a face of a teacher I didn’t know that was cut out and lying on the table, by trying to match it to a larger sheet that had a lot of faces. This caught Catherine's imagination and soon she was matching a lot of unknown faces on my sheet. It was a good exercise for her, because sometimes she got faces wrong - she matched the colour and length of someone's hair, but found it challenging to match the exact features of the face. In some time, though, she became quite adept at matching.

At the end of this, she wanted to cut and attach a few faces together.She very naturally said to me, “Swati, can I have the tape?” This was the first time a child called me by my name! It was incredible, because even a few adults I meet every week haven’t managed to remember my name yet since it’s unusual in the US. This felt wonderful. I was also asked by many children whether I’m a real teacher or why my photo isn’t in the pages they were cutting up. It was a sweet moment - a little Monday morning boost. :D

Another rewarding experience was with Eloisa, Michael, Teddy and Zabelle at the Patio block area. Eloisa, Michael and Teddy were playing ‘family’ with Teddy as the baby, and they’d laid out pillows to sleep. Zabelle wanted to join them, but Eloisa said, “We dont have any more pillows, you can’t join us.” Just as she was walking away slowly, I asked the group if she could use a yoga mat to sleep next to them instead of pillows. They seemed to like that idea a lot and invited her to join them enthusiastically and started unrolling all the mats in the basket. I felt like this small intervention and a new idea had really helped them to all work together.

I am looking forward to my very last class in the Center a.m.classroom and will miss the space. The teachers have been kind, supportive and understanding in my growth, and helped me shed a few inhibitions. The children have been wonderfully interesting and heartwarming. I want to continue working in early childhood - through games or schools or books or toys. I find the work very rewarding and meaningful.

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