Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Researchers at Four

My students started their sleeping/bed research today. 

What does this look like with four year olds? 

Sticky Notes!

I put out small sticky notes near the non-fiction books.  I told them if they found an interesting picture or something in the book that caught their eye, they could ask a grown up to read it to them.  It they thought it was worth sharing with the class, they should put a sticky note on that page and we would share it at group time.
If it caused them to pose a question, we would add it to the chart that we started with our web.

Today, this sticky note research caused us to discuss whether or not we slept with pets on our beds at home-we will be graphing that for our morning attendance question tomorrow. 

Another child found a cool picture about a sleep clinic and we discussed hospitals where they study sleep. 
The last one we looked at for the day was one about yawning.  This one was fun and we decided to do a little experiment.  We read that if someone yawns in front of you a few times, you start yawning.  I did it in front of them and many started yawning.  So they were eager to go home and try it with their parents.
There are several other sticky notes in books that we did not get to today.

Four year olds-doing research!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How Do I Start? Watch Them Play.

Often, the most difficult part to conquer for teachers new to the process of “emergent”, “intentional”, “child based” curriculum is where or how to begin. 

You need to begin with observations of the children.  Watch them play.  Provide them with provocations; interesting materials that will cause wonder including things to put together and take apart, good literature including non-fiction, nature items and art materials.

Then watch and listen.  Talk to the children.  What are they playing?  What are they talking about?

My class this year seemed to be playing with beds.  Beds!  I do not know why, but a huge group of children during the longest free playtime would create beds out of blocks and cover them with baby blankets.  It started for the babies and then the children started lying in them.  I showed them a box of old tablecloths that I keep in the dramatic play center and they were thrilled.  Soon we had at least five or six beds covering the floor each day with people in them.  Sometimes the children were sick, sometimes they were “just in bed”.  Sometime they got all dressed up in gowns and beautiful shoes just to get into bed.

This went on for a week, with most of the class involved, so at circle time one day I asked them about beds.  I told them I had noticed them playing beds and making beds and that they seemed so interested in them.  I asked them what they thought about when they thought about beds.  What do you know about beds?  They listed many activities-none of which were sleep-that can be done on a bed from pillow fighting to jumping.  They also listed many kinds of beds from bunk to princess.  When we finally got into sleeping, we got into a discussion of whether or not everyone slept?, and if everyone slept at the same time? 

Then we started brainstorming questions about sleeping and beds.  Are beds the same all around the world?  We add to this chart often as questions arise, as the children think more about this topic, and not always at circle time.  It is hard for the entire group to sit for a long time, so I usually take a few questions and comments and then tell them that I will write down any other thoughts they have during playtime. 

Then I collected the resources that I could for further exploration to see if their interest continued.  I found any books at our school on the topic and went to the library to collect more on sleep, beds and animals and sleep.  I knew that a beloved fairy tale that included beds as an integral part of its storyline is The Three Bears. These literature experiences are not answering any of the questions we formulated above, but as we start our research, they are giving us some good critical thinking experiences as we compare and contrast the different versions of The Three Bears that the children started bringing in from home.

To build upon their interest of making the beds in the classroom with blocks and other non keepable materials, I created a center where they could create a bed.  It has tongue depressors, popsicle sticks, batting, felt, fabric, cardboard, various wood pieces, a few kinds of glue and other decorations.  The children have been enthralled.  The first day, almost the entire class wanted to be at this area all at once.  One child came up with the idea of making bunk beds and the trend caught on. 

My vision of how they would have used the sticks as a base covering the cardboard and making a foot and head board, was never attempted.  I am so glad I truly refrained from our natural tendency to model in any way, so I could really see and appreciate the creativity that abounded with no adult direction.  A few children started their second beds today or came back to add on to the bed he/she began yesterday. 

The idea isn’t disappearing, this group, and as a whole, is very interested in beds and bedtime and sleeping.  So now, my real work begins.  I have to continue to monitor this interest to see what they’d like to learn, and help them learn HOW to learn it.  What environments can I create to help them foster this interest? What experiences can I expose them to that will answer some questions, but create new ones?

Give it a try.  Watch.  Watch them play.

And keep playing yourselfJ

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Reflection

Teaching is a highly reflective process. 

As I spent the weekend writing and preparing my presentation for the NAEYC conference in November and trying to best explain my way of teaching to others, I learned a great deal about myself and about curriculum misconceptions.

Emergent curriculum is a widely used and misused term.  It reminds me very much of the way Whole Language was used and abused many years ago back when I taught Kindergarten.  People wrongly thought that if you used Whole Language than you didn’t teach phonics.  If you don’t incorporate phonics into reading instruction, than you cannot teach a child to read as it is one of the strategies.  However, HOW you integrate that phonics instruction can look very different in a Whole Language classroom and a phonics based classroom. 

To some people Emergent Curriculum means letting the children take the lead and run with the learning, leading the entire journey, with very little teacher involvement.  The purists may say that one cannot even plan as you need to be continuously spontaneous and only supporting of the discoveries the children make on their own.  With this thinking, I began to doubt if I was truly a teacher of Emergent Curriculum and decided I was perhaps, more of an Intentional Teacher. 

I observe my students and watch their interests.  I foster these interests and take their lead.  However, I am then intentional with my actions.  I will then plan the environments that will help them answer their questions that they have raised, seek experts in their field, find books on the subject.  At the same time, I am watching the development of the set of standards for which my state is holding me accountable.  I am creating learning opportunities for children to practice or develop or strengthen in areas where they are lacking. 

Are my students self motivated?  Yes!

Do they have a say in their learning process?  Everyday

Are we a team in our learning together?  Yes!

How is this Intentional Teaching done; this planning while remaining spontaneous, this teacher directed while following their leads accomplished?

Join me in at the NAEYC Conference in CA in November and I will walk you through a year in my classroom. How did each investigation start?  Where did it lead?  What is the research behind why this type of teaching is so critical to our young learners?

Catch me Friday, November 5, 10am  Become a Polar Explorer, Feather a Nest and Make it Rain Inside: Emergent Curriculum, It’s not only Possible in Preschool, it’s Incredible

And if you can’t make it, keep reading.  The journey continues and it is shared here. 

Keep PlayingJ

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Dirty Kid is a Happy Kid-or Is He?

“A dirty kid is a happy kid” I always say, or is it?
Most of the time, yes, the dirtier the better.  Messy art is fantastic and having the freedom to get dirty is a privilege that I hope all children get to experience.  But for some, it is not joyful. 

For some it causes the same type of adrenaline reaction that many of us get when we see a spider.  This is exactly how it was described to me by an occupational therapist.  These are the hundreds of children that suffer from varying degrees of sensory issues. 

These are the children that have trouble with their clothing every morning, that don’t like loud noises, that don’t like to get dirty, or wet or sandy.  This is not the forum for a lengthy explanation of sensory issues, rather a plea as educators and parents to keep our eyes open to them.  These children are not being defiant or difficult.  And with simple adaptations, they can enjoy many of the same activities with their peers.

Here are a few examples:

Last week I traced the bodies of all of my students and they painted them outside.  I could not get this one boy to let me trace him.  He absolutely refused.  His mom came in to volunteer and we tried just tracing his hand, but he really did not want the marker or pencil near his skin at all.  As I was looking out the window later that day, I saw the shadows of the younger children on the playground.  I grabbed the paper and this child and I went outside.  He stood in the sun and I traced his shadow.  He had a body tracing just like his friends without a pencil going near his skin. 

To paint his body, he also had issues.  Many people might say, “oh, he just doesn’t like to paint.”  Thinking about how in the past, at camp, he didn’t like getting wet, I cleaned off the handle of the used paint brush and handed it to him.  He then took the brush and began painting.  He painted as long as the brush handles were dry. 

When the class was finger painting, I gave him a shaving cream brush.  It looked like finger painting, but his hands stayed clean.
When we were gluing small things onto name cards he wouldn’t go near it.  Again the sticky/wet issue.  When I handed him tweezers, he sat there happily choosing the objects he wanted to glue onto his paper. 

These are small differentiations that were made for this child and they made his entrances into all of these art experiences possible.

Please, watch for these children, read about sensory issues, and whether your students have them or not, make sure you are providing each child with what he or she needs.  Fair does not mean the same. 

Once in awhile-A dirty kid isn’t a happy kid.

Keep PlayingJ

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Never Too Old To Play or Why I Never Learned Geography

This post is a little different for me than usual.  As a preschool teacher and play advocate, I live by the words, "children learn best through play."  It is our role as adults, parents and teachers to give children safe, yet challenging environments which encourage discovery in a fun way.  This should not end when they are five years old.

Last night I went to my oldest daughter's high school open house to meet her teachers.  She was telling me that her World History teacher was very funny and made class very interesting.  I was happy to hear this as History for me was never a favorite class and Geography never clicked for me.  I remember dull lectures, taking notes and memorizing fact after fact.

Well last night, when her teacher started his talk with parents, he began with the line, "I think it is important that kids learn through play....."  Now this is high school!!!

He had me intrigued right there.  He went on to explain that History can be very dry and he doesn't like to go from war to war and make it all about dates, so he has them analyze the music of the times, and the food and explore the clothing.  They do this by singing and debating and creating projects.  The students are not sitting in their seats inactively listening all class period.  He wants them to be laughing and enjoying themselves as he makes the various time periods come alive to them in a meaningful way.  These children will be making connections, rather than memorizing past events.

Learning through play-in high school-I think these honors World History students will learn more in one year than I did in four years of simply sitting in my seat listening to boring lectures.

So Kudos to you Mr. V and all other teachers of older students who are letting children learn through play!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Science and Art

So much is written about the connections between math and science.

Yesterday I observe many connections between science and art with my students as they painted their body tracings outside on our large acrylic easels.

One girl noticed after dropping several globs of paint onto the sand, "Look the ants like the pink paint the best."  hmmm, could they think it might be sweeter?  this could lead to an ant study for her.

Another boy noticed that after covering his hands with blue paint that he could get the sand to stick entirely to his hands and that made them look like he had gloves on-a lesson on the properties of adhesion.

A third child had trouble painting the arm of her portrait as the wind was blowing a bit so she tried painting off the paper causing it to stick to the easel solving her problem.  "Look, it sticks to the easel when I do this!"  She was quite proud of her discovery.  More information on adhesion.

Three other children who decided to paint together had to figure out how to balance on a low bench as taking turns was not the strategy that they chose to use.  This was a wonderful lesson in balance.

So as I was observing them, I was thinking about all of the scientific learning that was occurring during what I had planned as an art lesson.  Each child was learning something different-talk about differentiated learning!

It was also happening because I was letting one boy paint his hands, three children stand on a  bench together, paint spill on the sand and more.  I was there.  They were safe, but it was messy.

Ask yourself if you have this freedom in your teaching, so that the lessons you plan are free to go in other directions if the children start to take them that way.  That is when the best learning begins.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Back to School

Our school opened this week for the children.  Of course the staff had been busy for weeks preparing the classrooms, ordering supplies, getting our medical training up to date and having several meetings with parents.  Our school is a cooperative setting so we were doing much of this work along with the parents of our students.  It is quite a community effort.  Everyone wants the school to be beautiful and ready for the children.

By beautiful I mean clean and well stocked with art materials and writing supplies, books and puzzles, blocks and manipulatives.  My bulletin boards and walls are bare and ready for the children's work to be displayed.  I do not have them covered with store bought decorations.  I know every one of my markers works and that I have things to write with all over the classroom, not just in one place.
There are safe plants and flowers and pieces of nature both inside and outside that can be touched and explored.  There are soft places to cuddle up with a good book if a quiet time is needed and plenty of places where getting completely messy is absolutely okay and encouraged.
There are art materials where children can choose them and use them as they see fit.  There is order and yet there is freedom. Then it is ready.

One of my boys reminded me today that children are not going to use your environments only the way that you set them up.  Our job is to embrace the way that the children use them.  As long as it is safe, observe and gather from the child what can be learned.  Instead of searching for the buried gems, he decided to feel the sand, balance the sand.  Thank you for that reminder; today was just the beginning, the children will teach me so much this year.