Friday, April 1, 2011


The indoor and outdoor workshop will introduce nature-based preschool activities and methods, and hands-on experience using Project Learning Tree.

Participants will practice several activities grouped around nature, sensory, and seasonally-based themes. Activities engage children to explore their world, both individually and in group activities; create art and woodworking projects; collect and sort items gathered outdoors; listen to stories and music; dance, move, and hop; and even make and eat healthy, nature-based snacks! Materials were developed by and for early childhood educators. Field-tested and reviewed by educators nationwide.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Love this.

Wishing to build a simple little tree house like this:

The hills are alive......

Ok. So the first post was a bit long, picture-less, and maybe a little snarky. They won't all be like that. Promise. Let's file this one under dreams, goals, plans....Mike got me a gift card for guitar and lessons as a gift. So excited as this has been a goal of mine for a long time, but even more exciting as I really want to share more music with the birds. How awesome will it be when we can run through the sunny field at Linwood park, guitar case bumping at my knee, little birds singing with arms flung out at the blue sky? Soon our days will look like a Disney musical. Can't. Wait.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Rant.

The concept for this "On Our Minds" blog started with a little monologue we felt motivated to write one evening, now lovingly called "the rant". We realized we're constantly discussing, planning, "ranting" to each other about happenings in the child development field, and how we feel 3LB fits into the big picture of things, but we don't often get an opportunity to share these thoughts and intentions with our families and friends. So we hope this blog serves as another way for us to connect with our families and communities as we provide a little insight into the concepts that drive our program, and what we're continually learning as we merrily roll along at 3LB. And like the lists and reports our little birds love to create with us, we hope you readers feel inspired to also share your opinions, experiences and reactions to "what's on our minds".

And now.......Papa Mike and Mama Ara are very pleased to bring you our first official rant!

We were recently asked where our nearly-three-year-old daughter, Wren, would go to preschool. For us, the operators of Three Little Birds Community Childcare and Preschool, the answer was easy. “She’ll be at home with us,” we replied. But our friend was confused. “But you’re a home daycare, aren’t you? Won’t you send her somewhere else when she’s older?” That friend knew that with decades of early education experience, we would have opinions about which preschools in the Twin Cities were best for Wren. The surprising part of our answer was that for our daughter, and for a dozen other children in the Twin Cities, preschool happens in Wren’s house: a cozy, bright, colorful, warm home on Linwood Avenue in St. Paul’s historic Crocus Hill neighborhood.

We are a husband-and-wife team who opened Three Little Birds in October. It’s our full-time business, starting with home-cooked breakfast at 8 a.m. and ending when the last parents come to pick up their “bird” in the evening. But we—and our children, Wren and Kaj—do more than run a preschool. We truly live in one. Our kids range in age from 6 months to 5 years. We don't follow a rigid schedule, we don't do standardized testing, there are no ABCs or 123s being drilled into little minds, and we never force the kids to participate in what we do - in large group, story time on the rug, in art projects, or otherwise. We spend a ton of time outside, we do lots of art, we read endless books, tell stories, and do dramatic performances. Mostly, we play and socialize, and learn from each other. Basically the same things we hope most children would do in a typical preschool setting, but in a relaxed, real-life home environment.

Recently, it seems there has been quite a bit of media attention toward the importance of play, and also how it is disappearing in our society and children. As educators, and parents, we are starting to create little robots with all the structure, rules, drills, and tests in our schools. As parents, we worry so much that our child won't be smart enough, or learn enough, or prepared enough, and we desperately want them to not only be successful, but to impress and be the best. We hurry them through skills, wanting them to learn and know it all by the time they start kindergarten! At the tender age of 5, children have already spent large amounts of their day being forced to sit still, forced to wait in line, and routinely and indifferently forced to recite answers expected of them in their classrooms. Children are spending more time than ever indoors, stationary, and in front of screens. Childhood is disappearing, and with it all the innovation and curiosity of young minds. We believe that many formal preschools, elementary schools, and even day cares, are forcing the creativity and magic out of childhood.

This is why we created Three Little Birds.

We provide a place for children to develop a strong sense of self and an intense desire to learn and explore, and most of all, PLAY. We provide natural, homespun and nature-based activities and toys meant to enchant and inspire creativity. Simultaneously, our kids are developing social skills, friendships, and compassion. We aim to connect children across age groups, and establish empathic, respectful and playful relationships with other people, animals, and the earth.

In the process of developing our program, it has been in interesting for us to re-discover historic figures that we never truly learned about in our own schooling, like Henry David Thoreau. He knew all along, and wrote and spoke about the importance of connecting to nature. At Three Little Birds we give our children long periods of time outside, in warmer weather spending entire days outdoors. We offer our kids an opportunity to experience unstructured time with nature, oftentimes avoiding the man made playground decked-out in "kid friendly" primary colors, and instead heading to Linwood Park where they can run in an open field, climb trees, and create their own dolls, houses, and playgrounds amongst the pine cones and grass. Albert Einstein frequently talked about his education, or lack of, and the importance of the freedom that he experienced as a child. His mother was often mocked for her lenient and spoiling ways, and yet his childhood curiosity is what led him to his discoveries that have contributed so much to our world. His theory of relativity was a discovery that he said stemmed from picturing himself riding on a ray of light - derived from his imagination. Many experts are worried that these types of great thinkers and dreamers seem to be disappearing from our society, and many believe it's because our brightest children spend most of their day in standardized, rigid, overly-controlled and overly-stimulating environments. Our goal at Three Little Birds is to give children ample time to dream and use their imagination. Our time outside is intentionally unstructured, allowing kids to freely poke around in the dirt, the snow, the sunshine. They swing from branches, discover animals, create their own worlds, and concretely begin to understand the world around them through hands-on, self-directed experience.

Some of our adult friends talk about the adverse changes they notice, and see first-hand, regarding education. Professors, frustrated by their college students, graduate students even, who are unable to write a paper without simply regurgitating information given to them, or just copying and pasting what they found on Google. They don't have the drive or motivation to want to write, to learn, to prove. They just want to do what has to be done to get an A. Or supervisors, annoyed that their interns, and new hires, are unequipped to self-regulate, self-motivate, or initiate any kind of simple task without clear direction or guidance. And they still don't seem to get it right, don't grasp the "big picture", and definitely don't contribute to their work something that could be considered innovative. These are young adults that are clueless when they leave college. They need their hand held to complete any task. They need explicitly clear directions telling them to complete steps 1, 2, and 3, before proceeding to step 4. Oh, and then they need confirmation and approval to proceed to step 4. Our guess is that many of these adults were once children that sat in preschool while their teacher "taught" them how to make their project. A row of pumpkins all the same, a row of snowmen all the same, repeat after me, walk in a line...

Without freedom, experience, and time to develop self, we create adults who have no sense of self. They have their whole life to sit in a desk, or walk in a line, or fill in the correct bubbles. Can we please stop asking them to do it at age 4?

There is a movement, we think, or at least there are articles cropping up on Facebook, NPR, the NY Times, by established writers witnessing the need for children to experience and to play. For their teachers to stop bossing them, directing them, and controlling them, and instead to support their imagination, encourage creativity, and gently guide them in their learning. Here, at Three Little Birds, we attempt a balancing act between adult-planned activities and child-led learning. We have a rhythm and routine, so that children know what to expect, but within our schedule we have room for flexibility and to accommodate the needs of the children. As providers we come into the day with a plan of what activities we will do, but it is ultimately the children that decide how the day actually ends up. Sometimes this requires meetings amongst themselves, discussing until an agreement is reached about what will happen next. Sometimes that means regulating their own emotional needs, discovering that they need space, communicating that to their friends, and cuddling up with a book, all alone, inside a tent. Sometimes, it means determining their own physical needs, and finding extra time to be outside and to run, to use their large muscles. And sometimes, it is us, the adults, listening and watching for their cues, and helping them tune-in to their needs, helping them learn how to listen to themselves. It definitely leads to less predictability in our day, but we believe it leads to a happier, healthier day. And in the long term, leads to children that are better equipped for school and the adult world.

And we are, and always will be, learning and evolving ourselves. Three Little Birds is a brand new venture for us, but both of us have been actively and passionately working in the early childhood field for years, most of them as educators in formal, center-based preschools. Our ideas about "what is best for children" have changed quite a bit throughout that time, most significantly after having children of our own. It's very humbling to say the least, but it is also what motivates us to continue to learn and discover for ourselves what we think is best for children, and how we can integrate that knowledge into our program.

And although we do not formally test our children, we know that they are learning. We know because we know them. We know each little person and their amazing little unique selves and we watch as they change day by day. We smile as we observe them, and laugh when we see a light bulb go off in their minds. There are moments like that, and you can literally see them obtaining knowledge. We try our best to capture it with photos and videos and notes and final products of fantastic art projects. We don't worry about them learning to read, or count, or know their colors. We know that it will happen. It will happen at a different stage for each child, but it will happen. Just as surely as we know that our 10 month old will soon be walking. We know him. We watched him roll over, then creep, then rock on all fours, then crawl. Soon he was pulling up on furniture, and scooting along the edge of the couch, and now he is starting to squat, stand, and let go. We know he will walk. We trust that he will learn that skill. Just as we trust that each child in our care will learn each skill and bit of knowledge that they need in life. It is a relationship of trust that allows us to let them learn, and to truly become a part of the process of learning. To fully immerse in their own learning, so that it is not a routine recital of unimportant information rehearsed back so that they can get a star sticker on a chart. Oh no, it is real, true learning. The kind that becomes a part of them, subconsciously, biologically and rhythmically planted into their brain and body because THEY were the ones led to it. They touched it, smelled it, tasted it, took it apart and put it together themselves. They completely and fully learned it because something inside them was interested in it and wanted to know more. And more often than not, the unexpected child-led outcome far surpasses our ideal "plan" in scope, in creativity and most of all, in fun.

Consider the fact that more learning takes place during the first five years than at any other period in life. And also consider that by age 5, most of the neurological pathways in your brain have been developed. The rest of your life is basically spent pruning off what you don't need. Isn't it important that we ALL start paying attention to these formative years? That we contemplate how powerful early learning and experience actually is, and what "preschool" actually prepares you for? We want our kids at Three Little Birds to be able to create as many pathways as they can. We see it as our "duty" to give them as many opportunities to discover and grow on their own as possible. By nature, children are inquisitive, curious, and eager to learn. So often, as parents and educators, we hinder children from learning, or being innovative, because we need them to follow our schedules, we need them to fit our (mis)conceptions of formal education, we need their projects to look perfect to us. We have countless examples from our years of working with children where they have taken a beautiful art project, game, or concept that a teacher had carefully planned, prepped and attempted to guide the children through, and yet the child has something completely different in mind. Yes, it is difficult when our daughter Wren decides to use a scissor and completely destroy a sewing project that we had hoped we would work on sweetly together. However, by not shaming or reprimanding her, she is given the chance to develop skills on her own terms. Since we don't shut her down in her explorations, she develops the confidence to continue exploring and expressing creativity. We are encouraging her to go ahead and think outside the box, a skill that many do not have capability to do. It's true that we have to let go of our own adult attachment to a project or idea, which can be disheartening, and we must make a conscious effort to do it, but the results of a free thinker are obviously worth it. At Three Little Birds we still give our kids boundaries, and rules, but we make sure that the rules we enforce are essential to their well-being and the well-being of others and property, not rules put in place just because we wanted them to create or play a predetermined way we had in mind. Open-ended, creative play and art is essential to our mission at 3LB.

Children delight in discovery. We believe that the experiences they have now will forever change the people they become. We hope to put them on a path where they will have a foundation for the concept of possibility. We hope that they are thinkers, dreamers, story tellers, driven by the desire to make a difference in this world with their own unique and specific talents. We hope they continue to venture onward into the world as they accept that there are more questions than answers. And we hope that one of the reasons our children become these great adults, is because they spent their early years splashing paint all over our house, digging up worms in our garden, and prancing around in dramatic play. Ultimately, loving to learn, loving life, and loving themselves. And doing that within the comfortable, safe walls of Wren’s house.