Overall, the Bisa Butler inspired project could not have been more of a success. The process gave the children the opportunity to learn new skills like cutting fabric and sewing. It allowed them to explore textiles, learn more about the clothes they wear, and make connections between fabrics and their personalities.
The project also introduced them to the artwork of Bisa Butler who the classes fell in love with. They even decided that Bisa Butler should represent the letter “B” in their classroom alphabets. Carolyn was excited to highlight the work of a Black, contemporary, female artist. She explained that she is continuously searching for more black, indigenous, people of color, and other underrepresented artists. She says that what we are currently doing, in terms of teaching diversity, is not enough. She cited the fact that most art museums show majority white men as their artists. As an art teacher, she strives to introduce young children to a wide variety of diverse artists so that the children are able to embrace artists like Bisa Butler.
When thinking about what she might have done differently, Carolyn explained that she could have slowed down and taught even more classes on the subject. Even though they worked on the project for a long time, six classes, Carolyn said that the children “didn’t seem tired of it.” If she had taught more lessons on the subject, she would have gone more in depth about how fabric is made. She explained that slowing down and truly breaking down ideas into their core components is something that she is always trying to do as an educator and is constantly surprised by how much further and deeper she could go with a subject.
Another challenge for Carolyn was how the children interpreted the layering of fabric. Carolyn designed the project to allow the children to layer freely but as the children collaged fabric to their pieces, Carolyn noticed that they were beginning to cover up the beautiful batiks they had previously made. Even though she was excited for the children to use layering as an artistic aspect since Bisa uses layering as a technique a lot, Carolyn had not anticipated just how into layering some of the children would become. She felt conflicted because she wanted their batiks to be a visible part of the finished pieces, but she wanted the children to be free to express themselves. Upon reflection Carolyn said, “that was sort of a learning exercise for me, this is their art, these are their choices. You can encourage but you don’t want to move things or change things.”
Additionally, Carolyn had some concrete recommendations for anyone trying out this project:
Make collaborative batiks to use in the collage. Rather than individual batiks as the base of the project
Use thick string (not loose yarn) when sewing
Lastly, Carolyn noted that a huge goal, for this project and all her projects, is for the children to “walk out feeling successful and capable.” She explains that her goal is not even for them to love art; it is more important to her that they feel capable. She wants to help give them the support so they can feel like they can keep going even if some of the skills are new or difficult. That was one thing that was great about the Bisa Butler project. By introducing them to making art out of textiles, the children were exposed to a whole new skill set. Carolyn worked closely with each child so they could feel both independent and secure in their abilities at the same time while working with a new medium for them.
This blog is part of a six-part series focusing on an art project lead by former art educator Carolyn Eby on Bisa Butler. This blog is part five and will focus on exploring Kente cloth. The previous blogs in this series include, Inspiration, Batiks, Collage, and Sewing. The last blog is a Reflection on the whole project.
For this lesson, the children learned about kente cloth. Like batiks, Bisa Butler regularly uses kente cloth in her designs, but she does not create or weave the fabric she uses. kente is probably the best-known African fabric. It originated with the Asante and Ewe peoples. Historically kente cloth was worn by kings; today, it is worn as a symbol of pride. People wear kente cloth to important ceremonies like weddings or graduations. kente cloth differs from batik because batik designs are printed onto existing blank fabric, while the designs on kente cloth are created in the weaving process. Learn more about kente cloth here.
While Carolyn did not want the children making or cutting up kente cloth, she did want to introduce the children to the idea of weaving. They handled woven cloth and compared the front of the cloth to the back of the cloth. The classes learned that the root of fabric is in hand woven cloth but that much of the clothes that they wear today have been made by a machine. Carolyn gave the children a couple of different opportunities to experience weaving. She set up a simple standing loom for them to explore and she created her loom using a large plastic bin with duct tape holding down the wrap fabric. This allowed her to space out the warp so the children could more easily weave the weft fabric.
Carolyn also wanted to carefully discuss the importance of the kente cloth. The children talked about why they do or do not wear kente cloth depending on their cultural background. She also wanted to highlight how this fabric is worn with pride and can represent aspects of a person’s cultural heritage. To explore this idea, she encouraged the children to choose cloth with patterns that might represent who they are.
She reached out to the families and invited them to send in old clothes or fabric that they felt comfortable with their child cutting up for this project. In her email to the adults, Carolyn explained that Bisa would use her parents’ clothing when creating her art. Many of the children instantly understood the importance of these clothes from home and many did not want to cut them up even though families had sent these fabrics for the purpose of being used in this project.
While some children choose not to cut up their old play clothes, others used these family fabrics in unexpected and beautiful ways. One child cut up pieces of their grandmother’s dress to add as finishing touches to their collage. Another child’s family sent in a skirt with bells on it. The child used only the draw strings and bells on their piece; carefully gluing only the strings so the bells could still move.
Adding the special fabric was the last step of the project. The children started by creating a batik inspired base, added fabric collage, layered that with sewing designs, and finished their piece by selecting cloth that represented them for finishing touches. Both the children and Carolyn could not have been more thrilled with how the artwork turned out!
Read Carolyn’s reflections on the whole project in our next blog.
After the children finished collaging, Carolyn gathered up their artwork. Carolyn then started the labor intensive and noisy process of hammering holes using a leather working tool along the border of each of the pieces. Carolyn noted that using a hole punch would not have been ideal because it would have been hard on her hands and might have hurt the fabric that the children had already glued onto their art.
Carolyn then replayed the video of Bisa Butler and had the children focus on her sewing techniques. The children loved watching Bisa use her huge sewing machine. It reminded them of driving a car or using a joystick to play a game. Carolyn encouraged the classes to observe how Bisa used the machine to make different types of lines with the thread. Carolyn explained to the class that they “don’t have to go around the outside. You can make lines going through the middle” with their thread. Knowing that they could stitch in any pattern they wanted was very freeing for the children; it really let them be creative.
The children had to be taught the basic components of sewing. To show them how to thread a needle, Carolyn taught the children to use a “hotdog bun” technique that she learned from art teacher Cassie Stevens. Carolyn explained that “sewing is very different from any other art making activity” and the children had to learn a new skill set. But rather than getting frustrated, “they loved the stitching” and continued to use the techniques learned in future projects.
Learn more about the last step of the project in our blog about exploring Kente Cloth and read Carolyn’s Reflection on the entire project. If you would like to learn more about this project you can access our Smithsonian Learning Lab collection based on this lesson.
This blog is part three in a six-part series. The first blog post focused on the inspiration and preparation of the Bisa Butler focused project. The second blog post showed how the children made their own batiks which would serve as the base for the rest of the project. Part four is about sewing. Part five is on exploring kente cloth and part six is a reflection on the whole process. This blog post focuses on how the children approached the fabric collage.
After making their batiks, the next step for the children was to add fabric to their piece. To show Bisa Butler’s process, Carolyn showed the children a video that starts with Bisa Butler walking through a fabric store and touching fabric. After watching the video, the class talked about how Bisa Butler used both her sense of sight and her sense of touch to choose fabric. Carolyn wanted to emphasize the role of touch and texture in Bisa Butler’s process. The classes looked closely at Bisa Bulter’s portrait of Questlove for the New York Times Magazine and noticed the lace and beading that she used to emphasize the texture of his afro. Then Carolyn gave the children swatches of fabric to touch and asked them how they might correlate with elements of their personalities.
Carolyn set up a store in the art studio where the children could go shopping and choose their fabric to use for the collage. Each child had their own shopping basket and she encouraged them to choose whatever fabric they wanted from the wide variety that she had placed out. The textiles in the class’s store included sequin flip fabric and themed fabric like Zelda and Cars. As the children shopped, Carolyn observed and noted, “it was interesting to see what they picked.”
After choosing the fabric they wanted to work with, the children started cutting the fabric into various shapes. Carolyn explained that the children “really connected with collage in a different way than they would have if we used paper or any other mixed media.” Cutting fabric, which requires tension to make smooth lines, posed a challenge to many of the preschoolers but they were eager to continue working with the material. Some children spent the whole class cutting fabric into tiny pieces to add to their collage and Carolyn loved seeing all their styles come through.
For the children, being able to cut something that you might wear as clothing was genuinely exciting. Carolyn had invited families to send in clothing that they were comfortable being cut to use for the project. Families sent in a variety of clothing including clothes that belonged to people important to them like their grandmother. Some children were excited to cut up their old clothing while others did not want to cut up their old play clothes. Carolyn talked to the children about how Bisa Butler reused clothing from her family to create her portraits.
As they explored the textiles through their sense of touch while shopping and cutting while collaging, the children were growing their knowledge of fabric and fiber arts. They were becoming more aware of the fabric that they wore while learning about the types of textiles that Bisa Butler used. As the sessions progressed, the children started saying, “My t-shirt feels silky” or “I feel the seams on my pants.” For Carolyn this represented a goal of the project. As she explained, the children began to make “the connection with the fibers all around them and the fibers that Bisa used.”
This blog is part 2 in a six-part series about the Fiber Arts unit our art educator Carolyn Eby created inspired by the work of textile artist Bisa Butler. Throughout this unit children explored important aspects of Bisa Butlers works from batik to collage, to sewing, to kente cloth and a final reflection from Carolyn. This blog is about how the children explored batik.
To start their Bisa Butler inspired project, the children created their own batik inspired cloth as a base for their project. Batik fabric is one of the many types of fabric that Bisa uses in her artwork. While batiks are quite popular in West Africa with many meaningful prints, the fabric did not originate there. Batik is a method of creating designs on fabric using wax resist that originated in Indonesia. Through 19th century colonialism, European copies of batiks became popular in West Africa where they have taken on their own unique significance.
Carolyn then encouraged the children to think about the messages their own fabric art could convey. When creating their own batiks, Carolyn began by encouraging the children to think about their families or people they are close with because Bisa Butler’s first quilt was a portrait of her grandmother and grandfather. She had the children think about the lines and shapes that might represent them or their family. After brainstorming, she gave the children bottles of glue and they drew patterns with glue on white fabric. Some children immediately understood the concept of drawing with glue. They drew things like donuts, dinosaurs, or smiles because their family makes them smile. For the younger children, it was more about the experience of exploring the glue; they drew scraggles or let the glue pool into large circles. In the end, all the styles made beautiful batiks.
The next class was about color. They began the class by talking about the colors they saw in batiks. The children noticed the batiks were vibrant, beautiful, and full of colors. Carolyn then let each child pick two primary colors of acrylic paint. When mixed, the two primary colors will create a second color. She also gave the children black and white so they could create shades and tint their colors. The children used their paint to add color to their fabric with the dried glue shapes and symbols that they had previously made.
After the paint dried, Carolyn soaked the fabric in hot, soapy water and then peeled off the glue which left white marks on the fabric where the glue had been creating a glue resist batik. Carolyn washed, ironed, and adhered the newly created batik cloth to cardstock. The children would use their batik as the base for the next steps in the project.
Learn more about the rest of the project in the upcoming blogs on Collage, Sewing, Kente Cloth, and Reflection on the project. You can also read part 1 of this series on Carolyn’s Inspiration. Connect more deeply with this lesson through our Batiks Learning Lab collection.
SEEC art educator, Carolyn Eby, regularly creates lessons around particular artists for our SEEC classes. When she was looking for a new artist to highlight, she came across the artwork of Bisa Butler. She was inspired and immediately knew that she wanted to highlight Bisa Butler in her classroom. Carolyn was struck by how Bisa Butler’s quilted textile artwork looked like it might be painted instead of being created with fabric.
As Carolyn looked at Bisa Butler’s pieces, she noted the colors, patterns, and fabric that Bisa Butler used. Carolyn was excited to create projects that encouraged her classes to explore these topics. In early childhood art classes, moving beyond crayons, markers, and paper, makes the projects particularly special. For this project, the children were able to use exciting materials and use them in novel ways. Children used fabric as their canvas instead of paper and used glue as a marker or crayon instead of using it simply as a tool that sticks things together. They were introduced to the techniques of sewing and weaving and cut up pieces of clothing that they had previously worn. Through this process the children began thinking about the fabric all around them in different ways.
Carolyn strived to be thoughtful about how she presented Bisa Butler to the class.
While it was the artwork that drew Carolyn into teaching about Bisa Butler, she was thrilled to be able to present the class with a contemporary black female artist. Carolyn strived to be thoughtful about how she presented Bisa Butler to the class. She spent a lot of time researching her background, techniques, and philosophies.
As she researched, Carolyn decided against the children creating their own portraits. She discovered that Bisa Butler makes portraits of people that she has kinship and ancestry with, people that she wants to dignify and whose stories she wants to share. Carolyn decided that this idea was not one that the children should try to imitate because this portrait part of Bisa Butler’s artwork felt sacred.
While the classes did not create their own portraits as part of this project, they did spend time talking about how Bisa Butler makes portraits to dignify people and share their stories. Throughout the project, the classes looked carefully at many of Bisa Butler’s portraits and discussed the people represented and wondered about why Bisa Butler used specific fabrics with certain individuals. For example, when the class looked at The Storm, the Whirlwind, and the Earthquake,a portrait of Frederick Douglas, the children noticed the letters on the fabric which make up his sleeves. Carolyn used this as an opportunity to tell Federick Douglas’s story and the class talked about how it is unfair that some people were not allowed to learn to read or write because of the color of their skin. As the children added to their projects, they continued to be exposed to both the artwork and the process of Bisa Butler and learned more about the individuals represented in her art.
Over the course of five sessions, SEEC’s preschool three-year-old and four-year-old classes created their own textile artwork while exploring the fabrics and techniques that Bisa Butler uses in her artwork. We will be posting additional blogs that focus on how the children (1) made batiks, (2) collaged with fabric, (3) added sewing elements, (4) explored weaving and Kente cloth, and (5) final reflections from Carolyn.
Carolyn noted that Bisa Butler could not have been a better inspiration for a project like this and that the children fell in love with her artwork and her story.
Potty Training, that one phrase can spur a range of emotions for someone caring for a young child, from nervousness to excitement to finally be done with diapers. The plethora of books, information and techniques out there can be overwhelming and intimidating to sort through. And while some people may swear by certain methods, every child and their support system are unique, meaning every journey out of diapers will be unique. The following are tips based on how we tend to approach potty training at SEEC, however we recognize that not all or maybe even any of these tips will work for everyone and that is okay!
If you are looking for a way to start introducing the idea of potty training to a young child in your care, try changing their wet diapers with them standing up. At SEEC many of our teachers do standing diaper changes, particularly in the two’s year when most of our students transition out of diapers. Standing diapers help children practice some of the skills they need when potty training such as pulling down their bottoms, holding up dresses and skirts and using a wipe to help clean themselves. To build your child’s interest in the toilet you can try standing diapers in your bathroom. As you clean your child during diaper changes you can talk about the parts of their body and where their pee and poop come from as well as offer them a chance to practice sitting on the toilet. This can help them make the connection between their wet diapers and peeing on the toilet.
Create a Schedule
Add specific times in your daily routine for your child to sit on the toilet, even if they say they don’t need to go. These times should be consistent and happen for the same length of time each time. To help them stay on the toilet, you may want to bring a favorite book into the bathroom to look at. This could also be a time to look at a book about using the toilet or bodily processes, which may help your child better understand what is happening with their body.
Keep a Watchful Eye
If you notice your child getting ready to go in their diaper or underwear, have them stop whatever they are doing and bring them into the bathroom. You could say something like this: “It looks like you might have to go to the bathroom. Do you need to go? Let’s try the toilet. If you need help, I can help you,” or “Oh, wow! My body is telling me I need to go to the bathroom. Do you need to go, too?”
Talk to your child about why we need to go to the bathroom and how it helps our bodies. You could then reinforce this conversation regularly by saying something like, “Remember that it’s very important to go to the bathroom and pee/poop in the toilet. Peeing/pooping in the toilet keeps our bodies safe.”
Helping with Frustration
Potty Training is a potentially very frustrating time for your child, they are having to do a lot of new things and learn new skills. If your child has an accident, they could become frustrated because they made a mess or a mistake. To help them with this, you could try modeling making mistakes and how to deal with them, for example: “Oops! I spilled some water. That’s okay – I can clean up and try again! Next time, I’ll use two hands to pour.” Doing this may help prepare them to try and use the toilet again.
We hope some of this information is helpful and again, remember that the right way to potty train is the one that works for your family and your child.
As we move toward Thanksgiving and celebrate Native American Heritage Month, we want to re-share this blog post featuring thoughts from Adrienne Smith of the National Museum of the American Indian. Her thoughtful advice is important any time of year, but is particularly resonant as many people approach teaching about the history of Thanksgiving. We encourage you to look through the many resources (found at the bottom of this article) that NMAI has created for educators, particularly if you plan to approach this topic with children.
At a very young age, a child begins to form their sense of self, even infants can recognize subtle differences between themselves and others. Early childhood educators can play a key role in helping a child form a positive self-image. Similarly, educators can also instill in their young students a respect and appreciation for diversity. It seems like a tall order, but by thoughtfully choosing content and activities and, by creating an inclusive environment, educators can begin to help shape a child who values both themselves, and others.
SEEC has partnered with the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) to publish a series of blogs that we hope will begin to help teachers and parents reconsider some of the traditional lessons and activities that are often circulated, especially on social media channels, during the Thanksgiving season. While they may appear fun and cute, many of the suggestions actually perpetuate stereotypes and historical inaccuracies. There has been a long history of misinformation about Indigenous Americans in our school systems and we want to work together to alter some of those misconceptions.
During my early childhood years, I was fortunate enough to attend a preschool that was directed by my tribal nation. When I would walk into the classroom, there were items from my culture and words familiar to me in my tribal language, posted on the bulletin boards and, in our play areas. It made me feel comfortable to be here and see things with which I was familiar. That changed when I entered the public-school system for elementary school. I can recall making paper headdresses and paper roll totem poles. I went along with it because, “Hey, Iknew it wasn’t my culture.” It wasn’t until my adulthood that I looked back and wondered “Why didn’t my elementary or high school teachers use the resources that were readily available?” We had a tribal museum with educators from my tribe who could have come out and spoken to them. Maybe the teachers just didn’t know or were uncomfortable changing the way they taught. Either way, I missed out on being able to connect to my culture while at school.
Working at the National Museum of the American Indian has given me the opportunity to observe what our visitors know about American Indians and sadly, much of it is stereotypical. Below is a list of ways that you, as a teacher, can break through some of those stereotypes and begin to paint a more realistic picture of American Indians.
Never assume that there are no Native or indigenous students in your class.
I have had visitors tell me that I am not Native or that I am only a little bit Native because of my green eyes and fair skin. Not all Native people look like what you see in the movies or in books.
Allow students to explore their own cultures and other cultures by including culturally diverse objects, contemporary photos, and toys in your classroom.
Be mindful not to choose stereotypical or culturally insensitive materials. For example, Native people prefer that their clothing not be used as dress up because traditional clothing or regalia is sacred and there are many cultural meanings behind the items that we wear.
Discuss similarities and differences of American Indian tribes, even those that live in the same area.
There was not one Native language or culture. Though Native people adapted to other languages and cultures, each Nation still has their own identity.
Should you teach about regions, for example, “plains” tribes, be mindful to note their differences, as well.
Consider using maps, talking about the environment, and comparing housing to illustrate these differences. They are great examples of the unique attributes of different tribes.
Teach that Native people are still here today.
Share with your students that American Indian nations are vibrant communities that exist today living in the modern world and still honoring their traditions.
Utilize the internet and explore Native American owned businesses. They can provide access to goods for your classroom. I recommend Native Northwest Select or museum gift shops. Do be thoughtful when choosing which site from which to purchase.
In a future blog, we will feature actual classroom lessons that will be centered initially on homes, a concept with which most children easily identify. We will then branch out to explore a typical home of the Wampanoag Nation, a wetu. Our goal is to illustrate how preschools can easily incorporate engaging, playful, and interactive lessons that can breakdown stereotypes and build appreciation for the diverse and rich cultures of the American Indian.
This Teacher Feature was meant to be published around the time SEEC closed due to Covid 19 in March of 2020. As the weather gets cooler and many of us are back to teaching in person, it finally feels appropriate to share this lesson.
For this week’s Teacher Feature we will highlight a toddler class. Educators Stephanie Lopez, Abigail Marden, and Julia Smith were exploring different concepts around tea. For this lesson, the class learned about how “tea is a time” when they went to the National Museum of Asian Art’s Freer Gallery to see tea bowls while being introduced to ideas around the Japanese tea ceremony. Below you will find a reflection from toddler educator Julia Smith.
Julia began the morning by inviting her class to join her in a circle where she talked to them about the ideas that they had explored earlier in the week. She reminded the class that “tea is plant” by showing them a mint plant and that “tea is a drink” by encouraging them to pretend that they were drinking tea.
What inspired you to teach this lesson?
This lesson was inspired by our class’s interest in what their teachers like to drink. Many teachers in our center enjoy tea and coffee. Our toddlers often requested to look inside the mugs and to smell our drinks. Additionally, I have a personal love of tea that made me want to teach this lesson. Having recently traveled to Japan, I wanted to learn more about the traditional tea ceremonies.
Julia showed the class a video of a Japanese tea ceremony. She turned the volume off and narrated what was happening in the video. Julia was able to react to the children’s interest and focus the viewing experience to their wonders.
What were your objectives?
I find it easier to teach lessons to this age group when I can break down my ideas about a topic into very simple concepts. I wanted the children to know where tea comes from (“tea is a plant”), how tea is made (“tea is a drink”), and why people drink tea (“tea is a time”). This idea came up when I discovered it was very confusing to learn that the word “tea” refers to several different things including the name of a plant, the name of the drink, and the activity of drinking.
To explore how “tea is a time”, I wanted to talk about how drinking tea is so often a calming experience (at least for me!) This was a great opportunity for my class to work on self regulation techniques. We often try to sprinkle elements of self regulation and mindfulness into our lessons. Even very young children can learn to listen to their bodies and try to take deep breaths.
As the class made matcha, Julia was careful to note that they were not performing a Japanese tea ceremony but rather exploring the tools and making tea together. She showed the class the tea bowl, the whisk or “chasen” and encouraged them to use their senses to explore the green, fragrant, matcha.
Describe the experience of making the tea in the classroom.
Before teaching this lesson, I carefully considered a couple of things. I wanted to introduce the children to a way of making tea that is not as common in our culture (although matcha is becoming increasingly popular!) I wanted to be careful to emphasize that this was not a tea ceremony because a tea ceremony can only be performed by someone extensively trained with a large amount of cultural knowledge. Instead of going into extensive details about what makes the tea ceremony unique, I decided that it was more important for the toddlers to be given time to observe and to be exposed to the idea that there are many ways to make tea. I tried to use the language of “same and different” to connect something potentially unfamiliar (making tea with a power and a bamboo whisk) to something more familiar (we made tea with tea bags the day before). I would say something like: “This way of making tea is the same – it makes a warm tasty drink. This way of making tea is different – it uses different tools.”
When the class arrived at the gallery, Julia encouraged the children to look carefully at the tea bowls and held up a toy teacup that the children had been playing with in the classroom to help the children make connections.
What were the children’s reactions to seeing the tea bowls? Did they make any connections?
We situated ourselves in the gallery so that the tea bowls were the main objects the children could see. They pointed them out when I asked if they could find the tea bowls. I then held up a play tea cup the children had been using in their play all week. This helped them create connections between the tea bowls on display and the knowledge they already had constructed through their play in our classroom. After I made that comparison, I handed the toy cups out to the children. They pretended to drink out of their plastic cups while looking at the tea bowls. Their pretend play allowed them to make further connections about the various types of tea.
Unfortunately, the bowls on display were up a bit high for them to see well when we were sitting on the ground. Although the viewing angle wasn’t as good, with this age group, it is much better to have them seated on the ground for the museum circle. It keeps them grounded in that location and allows them to engage in museum appropriate play. If they were standing, they are likely to be immediately distracted and want to explore everything they see in the entire space.
To allow the children some time to explore on their own, Julia, Stephanie, and Abby gave each child their own teacup to hold. The children immediately began pretending to drink from their cups and started knocking their cups together and saying, “cheers”.
How did you encourage your class to explore their own ideas while in the gallery? Why is this important for toddler learning?
I am so glad that we brought the toy cups into the gallery. Having objects or something for the children to hold in the galleries is a really great way to keep their interest. It also lets them begin to play in the museum space. Children this age need to act something out or interact with it physically in order to build understanding. I should note that when you allow children to play, they sometimes will partake in activities that need redirection. In this instance, my class started banging their cups on the ground in a quiet and echo-y gallery so we encouraged them to instead take pretend slurps and saying cheers
Julia reminded her class that “tea is a time” and explained that sometimes people drink tea to socialize or to find a sense of calm deep inside of themselves. To further explain this sense of calm, she read “Charlotte and the Quiet Place” by Deborah Sosin.
How did you explain the topic “tea is a time” to your toddlers?
In doing my research for this lesson, I learned how very often “tea times” around the world are used as a break from work and a chance to socialize. There is the classic British tea time but also many, many, other cultural traditions around tea as a time to relax. Japanese tea ceremonies focus on using the process of preparing tea as a time of calm and meditation. With children this age, recognizing and dealing with big feelings is a huge part of their social emotional development. Finding ways to help toddlers recognize when they are overwhelmed and giving them strategies (even as simple as teaching them how to take big breaths) are really valuable.
I love the book Charlotte and the Quiet Place by Deborah Sosin (Author) and Sara Woolley (Illustrator) because it is very simple, a young girl is overwhelmed by a noisy world. She finds a quiet place in that park and realizes taking deep breaths helps her feel better. It helps introduce children to the idea of being overwhelmed (e.g. things are too loud) and that there are ways to not feel that way. Talking about tea time as a calming time was both authentic to the many cultures that consume tea and also a great opportunity to help talk to children about their big feelings.
Before leaving, children took some deep breaths while holding their teacups so they could find their own quiet place. Then they were lifted up so they could better see the tea bowls.
What recommendations do you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?
If you are going to teach about other cultures it helps to ground it in something the children are genuinely interested in. I tried to avoid taking a tourist approach to Japanese culture by always connecting the knowledge to the children’s lives and grounding the lessons in their demonstrated interest in tea.
I had trouble finding books about tea that were age appropriate and connected well to my lesson so I wrote my own! It’s always an option to make the resource you are looking for. When visiting museums that are not typically geared toward children, it helps to visit the space first to see the layout of the gallery. In this instance, I was able to determine where I would want the children to sit so that they could freely explore with their toy tea cups.
Going back to school, especially this year, can bring up all kinds of emotions in both kids and adults. Settling into new routines can also reduce everyone’s emotional capacity leading us all to feel overloaded, even by small things. Young children often feel their feelings very intensely and strongly in their body, a frustrated child can dissolve into a tantrum, or they may yell or run around with excitement! There is nothing wrong with a child who feels things deeply but sometimes their big feelings can incapacitate them or create unsafe situations. Here are some ways we approach big feelings at SEEC.
Let Them Feel Their Feelings
A foundational aspect of approaching feelings at SEEC is validating them. Even if it feels silly to us that a child is upset because they got green instead of orange scissors, we try to acknowledge that to that child whatever has happened feels like a big deal.
Although we will usually offer help when a child is upset, they may not want us there. In this case it is sometimes best to just let them have some time to express themselves. For example, you could say: “I can see you’re very upset/sad right now. Do you need a hug or my help? If not, I am going to give you some space. I’ll be right over here when you’re ready for me”
Use Your Words
For young preverbal children it can sometimes be helpful to narrate what is happening. For example, if you are dropping your child off somewhere new and they are upset to see you go you could say “Are you feeling upset that I am leaving? I’m feeling a little nervous too. I know you are having a hard time right now, but I’ll be back!”
It’s also important to note that even verbal children, who may be able to express themselves well when they are calm, can struggle to express themselves when experiencing big emotions. This can be frustrating for adults because we think we know what they should be capable of! However even the most verbal child can struggle to use their words when feeling something strongly.
Modeling Behavior and Language
Children are always looking at the adults around them, and often use us as examples for how to react in a situation. Try narrating your own feelings around something when you get upset or excited. For example: “I am feeling frustrated right now because I burnt the brownies. I am going to take some deep breaths to help calm my body and learn from my mistake. Next time I’ll be sure to set a timer to make sure the brownies are not in the oven for too long.”
Acknowledge Your Own Emotions
Even as adults we have big feelings too, just like the children in our lives we can get overwhelmed, upset, or overly excited. If you do get upset with a child or feel you reacted too harshly, apologizing to your child can be an important step. This both validates your child’s feelings, if what you said upset them, as well as models an important skill for them.
Tantrums are tough. Knowing they are developmentally appropriate for this age group doesn’t make them any easier. These blog posts have some great ideas for how to approach with a tantrum in the moment with your child:
Everyone has big feelings sometimes, adults included! By giving children (and ourselves!) the space to feel their feelings and the tools to identify and manage them, feelings don’t have to overwhelming. What are some ways you approach big feelings with young children?