Friday, January 22, 2016

Miss Missa on the road: Final Training Day

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."
~Lucius Annaeus Seneca, popularly quoted in Semisonic's Closing Time.
Today was an emotional day, filled with reflections and farewells. We did some amusing and instructive roleplaying this morning regarding interventions in conflicts between toddlers. We talked through some last questions and clarifications, and mulled over where to start and what to when we go back to our "real life" lives. We said our goodbyes (I tried not to cry my face completely off, and only partially succeeded -- I'm just like that), and went our separate ways. I am honoured and delighted to have shared so much profound and intimate learning with these fantastic ladies, and I hope we really do keep in contact with each other. I am looking forward to hearing about the adventures and endeavors of each of my classmates in the future; I am certain they all will do fantastic things. I have a feeling that exactly the right group of people came together at exactly the right time for this class, and we all had a lot to learn from each other!

It was bittersweet to walk up the hill one last time (even though I was wearing useless girl shoes and gave myself blisters on the balls of my feet -- stupid shoes that look nice but fail at protecting feet properly!). I've got my bags rearranged (hopefully with enough weight distributed into my carryon to not have a problem at the airport with my checked bag this time!), and will enjoy one last night at the hostel.

In the morning, I'll be off to LAX to catch my flight to Vancouver, and I look forward to reuniting with my family there; it's been too long since I saw them last.

"I can't remember all the times I tried to tell my myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass
And it's one more day up in the canyon
And it's one more night in Hollywood..."
~Counting Crows, A Long December

Miss Missa on the road: Training Day 9

Today was another long (but good) day. The post-migraine "hangover" from yesterday has mostly cleared, my Venice Beach blister has healed, and my leg muscles now forgive me for walking up the hill repeatedly. It was already 15 degrees (C, of course) when I left to walk down to the RIE Center, so my jacket stayed strapped to the backpack today! I stopped for breakfast along the way (for a break form bagels and cream cheese!) but that proved to be a mistake because the place lost my order or gave it away to the drive thru customers and what should have been a three-minute stop took almost 15, but I was only a couple of minutes late for my class. Ho hum.

We chatted through some terms, and spent a large portion of the day talking through (and watching videos of) conflicts that arise between infants or between infants and their caregivers, and how to handle them sensitively so that the children on both sides of it can learn from the experience without coming away feeling shamed or victimised. It's a tricky thing, knowing when and how to intervene in conflicts between children (especially siblings!), and the wrong type or level of intervention can cause things to escalate, or can rob the children of a sense of resolution so that they have to keep coming back to recreate that conflict over again.

It has been such a gift getting to know these passionate and caring ladies during the past couple of weeks, and it will be hard to say goodbye tomorrow when it's time for us to go our separate ways.

After chatting with most of the class over a beer (wine, coffee, tea...), and ranting together about the plight of the North American public school student with a couple of people, I finally made it to In N Out Burger, and can confirm that the fries are inferior to New York Fries, but superior to KFC. I have two new roommates who apparently like to go to bed early (or are exhausted from travelling). I sure hope they will forgive me for rummaging around in the morning to get myself ready to go, since I didn't have a chance to turn the lights on and do it tonight!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Miss Missa on the road: Training Days 7 and 8

Hello! Yesterday was another observation day, and I had the pleasure of observing a parent-infant guidance class with another instructor. The children in this class were older toddlers, as in the previous class I observed. It was held in a different space, and the children were not as invested in physical conflict with each other as the children from Monday's group. That's not to say that there was no limit-testing; the facilitator had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate respectful child guidance techniques!

A good chunk of today's class was spent discussing what we observed in the parent-infant guidance classes. We had seen a total of 6 different classes between the 8 of us, so there sure was a lot to talk about! We then started digging in to infant-infant interactions. Hooray, peer interactions and peer learning! I wonder why we as a society are afraid to allow infants and young children to freely interact with each other? Could it be that we are terrified that one baby or the other might cry? Why are we so afraid of crying babies?

As far as my California adventure in general is concerned, I managed to get to the 99-cent store yesterday and stocked up on kool-aid packets (those have been discontinued in Canada, and are useful in many ways!) and matching socks (because I love my sister-in-law enough to avoid making her bonkers with mismatches when she's being kind enough to host me at her house...). I tried to go to In N Out Burger for my late lunch/early supper, but it was literally packed; I couldn't even get in the doors. So I walked over to Chic-Fil-A instead, and was amused by the multiple walk-up ordering windows and the complete lack of indoor customer space (it was like a walk-through, a drive-through, and a patio with plenty of seating).

It's hard to believe that I'm just two days away from the end of this class. On the one hand, I know that we will pack a lot of useful information into those days. On the other hand, I still have a whole lot of typing to do before the end of Friday! On that note, it's time for me to switch gears and get some homework finished before I sleep!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Miss Missa on the road: Training Day 5, a weekend, and Training Day 6

After Friday's class, I enjoyed going out for a couple of drinks with a couple of classmates (we were later joined by our instructor and intern) and dinner with a classmate, before I walked back up to the hostel for a short amount of quiet time before my brother picked me up, so I opted to postpone that day's post and roll it all in to this one!

Friday's class felt really intense, but seemed to go by very quickly. We talked a bit about potential next steps in the training process, then did an exercise where we were paired up with partners, given wet washcloths, and instructed to wash each other's hands -- first disrespectfully, then respectfully. It was challenging to do the disrespectful handwashing on either side of the equation; when my partner washed my hands, I wanted to cooperate but couldn't. Her movements were too fast and random for me to do anything at all helpful to the process. When I washed my partner's hands, I had to consciously go against my own inclinations. The respectful handwashing was much easier and more comfortable. We watched some videos from the Pikler Institute in Budapest, and one of the things that jumped out at me was the sudden disconnect when a child's caregiver was particularly task-oriented rather than relationship-oriented during a diaper changing/bathing/dressing routine. It stood out rather sharply in contrast to the other caregivers in the video, all of whom made a point of spending those important routine times in concert with their charges, talking them through the routines, inviting them to participate (but not insisting on it), playing along with the silly little games a bit, enjoying each other's company, and setting firm but gentle boundaries when it was time to get down to business. It makes me wonder how often I have caused discord in my relationships with the children in my care in my haste to just get through those routine tasks with them.

As I mentioned, my brother picked me up Friday night and we checked in to his hotel in Thousand Oaks, where I enjoyed sleeping in a queen-sized bed, sleeping in, and lingering in a private shower with a private dry area to dress in afterwards! The hostel is really great for a hostel, but I really do appreciate non-communal showers. Saturday we went to a nice sandwich-type shop where they make their bread on site, and had sandwiches and salads for "brunch" before taking a scenic drive through the hills to get to the Santa Monica pier. It was really interesting to see how many people were rod-fishing off the beach into the ocean, and off the pier as well. There were street performers and artists everywhere, and we walked down the path along the beach all the way to Venice Beach and back again. Some of the "street vendors" were very amusing and creative in their offerings -- ranging from live music (including a performance from a lady who appears to have bought a baby grand piano instead of a house) to actual physical artwork (of varying qualities and talents) to a booth that offered "Questionable Advice from a Homeless Satanist (It's Not Free)" and a guy skateboarding around with a sign promising "Jokes: 25 cents". There was a separate bike path that was in constant use, and bike rentals were available, including tandem bikes. It was sunny and warm, but not oppressively so. We walked a total of 16km (according to the not-so-accurate activity tracking app on my phone), and I managed to get a blister just above the callous on my big toe (right where the sock seam rubs). Thankfully it hasn't actually burst yet.

We went out for Mexican food for supper, and then went to a luxury theatre to watch the Star Wars movie (it seems very much like what I imagine the Cineplex VIP theatre to be, based on the advertising). It was sure nice to put my feet up after all that walking! I stayed at the hotel with my brother on Saturday night again, and again slept in and luxuriated in the private shower. We went to a Peruvian sandwich shop for brunch, and enjoyed sitting outside to eat, though the ants seemed to enjoy our presence as well. I discovered that the red squirrels down here are MASSIVE compared to the ones in the Edmonton area (but not as huge as the grey squirrels in the Vancouver area). We drove an interesting route through the hills, got lost (ending up in Beverly Hills at one point, stuck behind those "celebrity home tours" vans that kept stopping in the middle of the road to point out some famous person's house) and unlost, and found our way to Griffin Park (which was insanely busy -- no surprise on a long weekend, I suppose). We drove near the Hollywood sign, but didn't care enough about the photo op to try to find parking and fight through the crowds there. We did luck out and find parking at the Griffin Observatory, where we discovered that it's really smoggy in LA (you can see where there are the shadows of the city skyline, but it's mostly obscured by all the smog) and that apparently the observatory is a popular place to go on a weekend with little kids who are too young and disinterested to really enjoy the experience, much to the dismay of the adults who brought them and wish to control their behaviour. There are a couple of chunks of the Bruderheim Meteorite in their meteorite display, by the way. We had planned to go out for sushi for dinner that night, and the place that my brother found sounded cool -- and turned out to be super fancy! It was at the top of a hill, and valet parking only. The sushi was delicious (though the waitress thought we ought to order other things that they're "known for" because "you can get sushi anywhere, really"), and the eggnog bread pudding with rum and raisin ice cream was also delicious. The restaurant had a great view of the city, though there were a lot of distant floating lights whose buildings were completely obscured by the smog. After dinner, it was back to the hostel for me, and early to bed (though not early to sleep; my roommates went out at about midnight, and came back sometime after 2am).

This morning, I got to walk up the hill to Franklin (instead of down to Melrose) to meet up with my classmates and the intern who gave us a ride to Sherman Oaks, where we observed a parent-infant guidance class consisting of five extremely busy toddlers (all right around their second birthdays) and their parents. It was really interesting to see some of the theory in action there, though today seemed to be sort of an off day for the group, with a lot of limit-testing, peer "aggression", and general keeping the adults on their toes! We walked over to Trader Joe's to pick up some lunch while the other half of our class observed a class of younger infants (9 to 11 months), and then we took turns setting up the room for different age groups. The room setup was really fun, and took a lot of careful consideration. I especially enjoyed the older toddler setup, as I was thinking of the children in the infant/toddler room at work the whole time! Tomorrow, we will observe another parent-infant guidance class with a different facilitator, and have time to type up our observations from both days.

It's hard to believe that in just 5 days my United States adventure will come to an end! I'm looking forward to the rest of this week, but I also want to savour it, lest it pass too quickly. And with that, it's time for me to get some sleep!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Miss Missa on the road: Training, Day 4

Another beautiful morning in Hollywood! I once again stopped to shed my jacket on the walk down the hill this morning.

Today's class material covered many of the things that we have worked to incorporate into the philosophy and practises at the childcare centre where I work. We touched briefly on the concept of emergent curriculum, and it was nice to hear it talked about appropriately for infants and toddlers; so often, when early childhood educators try to implement emergent curriculum for infants and toddlers, they scan the toys the children are playing with for a theme, and then build some theme-based programming around that. That's not emergent curriculum, it's theme-based programming. More appropriate for that age group would be to notice what they are working on developmentally, and provide objects and experiences that lend themselves to the appropriate uses. There doesn't have to be a "theme" or "topic", especially with that age group. It was hard for me to articulate before, but I am looking forward to bringing back some ideas for planning in the Toddler Room! We also talked about involving children in things like diaper changes, dressing, and bathing routines, as well as developmentally appropriate ways of feeding. It was a familiar sight when, in the feeding video with older toddlers, the children sat around the table, taking turns serving themselves from a communal bowl, and chattering socially together over their meal.

Today, we drove to Erewhon (which is a market, and apparently famous people often shop there... I wonder if that makes me a famous person!) for lunch, where I discovered some very tasty fresh produce that would be horribly out of season at home. The strawberries were particularly delicious, and had crunchier seeds than I am used to encountering!

It's been a long week, and I am feeling rather exhausted, so I will wrap this up and head for bed.

Miss Missa on the road: Training Day 3!

This morning started out pretty routine; I got up, got myself ready to go, forgot again that eating orange sections means needing to floss, and headed off to the RIE Center. I left a little bit later today, and didn't get caught in the high school rush; instead I got to hear the announcements over the loudspeaker as I walked by! The weather was a bit overcast this morning, so the jacket stayed on the whole way.

We started off the class by practising how to pick up and lay down a young infant (it's more complicated than you think, if you want to do it in a way that isn't too startling or disruptive to the baby). We talked a bit about slowing our pace in the presence of babies to avoid overwhelming its new and sensitive nervous system. It felt surprisingly comfortable to lift and replace the doll we were using with such grace and care; it was a far cry from the swooping and plucking I'm sure many of us are accustomed to performing! All the while, I was internally chuckling at a little voice in my head that cheerfully says "Chop-chop!"

As we talked about things like free play, intrinsic motivation, the progression of fine motor skill acquisition, and providing an appropriate environment in which infants can freely explore and naturally develop and hone their skills, we chatted about many things that many of us feel passionate about, like developmentally appropriate practise in public schools, academic pushdown, and so on. It is nice to be in a pocket of like-minded people, I must say!

I walked with a couple of other course participants down to Chipotle for lunch (there you go, American friends, I tried Chipotle) and found it to be a difficult place to order with a cilantro allergy, though I did find enough safe options to fill my belly. I'm not likely to go back, though.

In the afternoon, we wove together more threads in the free play/motor development/environment-as-third teacher (Reggio Emilia's words, not RIE's) tapestry. Running through that tapestry are core ideas like an infant's right to autonomy, choice, and freedom -- particularly freedom of movement. How often do we, as adults, unwittingly tell children that what they are doing has no value to us? How often do we railroad their play because we know how to use a toy the "right" way and want to show them? How often do we assume that the child wants what we think they want, without considering their individual preferences or giving them the chance to make a choice?

The day felt long to me, and when I was offered a ride (thanks again, Michelle!), I gladly accepted. My poor prairie-atrophied B.C. muscles were glad for the break from walking up the hill today! I braved the sketchy communal showers early in the evening, when they weren't too busy, and then tucked myself into my bunk with my laptop instead of hanging out in the common room like I had previous nights; I am feeling the need to have some alone time this evening. I did finally meet my third roommate while both of us were awake, though! I seem to be on basically friendly terms with all three of them, so that's good.

For those of you who are curious, no I did NOT buy the winning powerball ticket that was apparently sold in California. I did not buy a lotto ticket in the USA at all, anywhere. But thanks for daydreaming on my behalf!

P.S. if you'd like a postcard, email me your mailing address. I can't make any promises about followthrough here, but I'll do my best.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Miss MIssa on the road: Training, Day 2

I woke up this morning feeling a bit stiff from having engaged my neglected "walking up hills" muscles yesterday. I met up with one of my new friends in the hallway and had a chance to say goodbye to her over breakfast as she left for Hawaii today. Someone had mishandled the coffeepot last night and broke off the handle for the spigot. This morning the lid was off and there was a mug on a plate in front of it for dipping. Tonight, the coffeepot is absent. I hope it comes back soon.

It was a gorgeous walk down Highlands this morning, though I got caught up in the rush of students headed for Hollywood High. I arrived quite early again, despite having slept half an hour later than I did yesterday. I suppose the time I spent in my room last night while the lights were on to organize myself for morning paid off!

We kicked off the day with a bit of a disclaimer; the instructor talked about how repairing the relationship builds it up, and that reconciliation not only helps mend the rifts caused by our mistakes, it also allows us to model for our children how to maintain a respectful relationship and how to handle conflicts with grace. This was part of the conversation about how it's impossible to be perfect and do everything right; "the perfection is in self-reflection and repair".

We talked about how trust, respect, and careful observation are interrelated, and dug into some actual observation practise of our own. There was also a real emphasis on the quality of time spent with the child over the quantity of time (better to spend five or ten minutes giving the child your complete, undivided, unhurried, agendaless attention than to spend all day paying half-attention).

We went to a nearby chicken grill place (whose name I have already forgotten) to get some tasty wraps for lunch.

The afternoon focussed on gross motor development, the importance of transitional postures and skills (each of which lays the foundation for the next major milestone), and fostering natural motor development through freedom of motion. It was really beautiful to watch the videos of children whose motor skills had developed naturally and without adult interference; they moved with grace and confidence, and showed good judgement about whether it was safe to climb a particular piece of equipment or move in a particular way -- they were very sure of their own abilities.

Today's class was jam-packed with information, and I was pretty tired after walking up the hill to the hostel again. I managed to talk to my new roommate (from South Korea) but there is a fairly serious language barrier there. I have yet to have a conversation with Roommate #2, as at least one of us always seems to be asleep whenever the other is in the room. Now, time for some light fine-motor-related reading before bed!