Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Never Too Old for Block Play-A Tale of Teenagers

I usually write about my experiences with younger children, but I was so moved by some time spent with the Girl Scout troop I lead a couple of weeks ago, that I feel compelled to share it. 

 My girls are Cadettes and most of them are thirteen years old-newly minted teenagers, although you would never know it as they embrace the age with such zest.  We traveled to Boston for a sleep over event being held at the Boston Museum of Science. The museum did a wonderful job of adding additional stations throughout the museum for these girls to play with various materials from litmus paper tasting to creating path ways for ping pong balls using various recycled materials.

But what was most impressive to me, was the reaction of the girls to the section reserved for blocks.  One of the lobbies had huge buckets of very simple Kapla Blocks spaced about every four feet.  There were girls building alone and many building cooperatively.  The structures ranged from the simple to quite complex.  My girls jumped right in and started building.  A few joined a group building a large tower.  Soon it was above their head and they started searching for taller and taller girls to join in their efforts.  Others started building on their own.  I sat down with a small group and started building myself. 

One of the girls commented, “This is so fun.” And to me, “this must be a fun change for you to be able to play with blocks.”  I smiled and told her that I am lucky enough to be able to play with blocks everyday in my classroom.  “Oh, you are lucky.” 

Talking with the girls while building, they reminisced playing with blocks at home.  The other moms that were helping to chaperone talked about how they still had the blocks their girls used to play with at home.  I told them that they should get them back out. 

At one point we attempted to fit in another activity and after looking at it, the girls pleaded to go back to the block building. 

This is a salient reminder that older children can still really enjoy simple, creative play time.  In this day and age of teenagers playing only with electronic gadgets such as their phones or iTouches, it is up to the adults in their lives to provide and encourage this creative type of play.  Play without directions or rules; without a “right” way to do it; using familiar materials in innovative ways.  

If you have older children or teenagers try dusting off those blocks you put away and put them out.  If you have young children keep the blocks out as they get older.   They will play with them differently, but they will play with them. 

A colleague of mine recently sent me a link to these great blocks called Balancing Blocks from Yanko Design.  

I could see children of all ages playing with these.  I can even envision them on the desk of a high powered CEO where he could play with them when he needed a creativity break.  Hey, Fathers Day is coming up!

Emergent Curriculum Bugs Us

After a few weeks of “ordinary moments” (the name given to the provocative and engaging activities set up for the children while the next emergent topic is being cultivated) we have our direction.

Last week one of my students brought a ladybug farm to class to share with us.  We were all captivated by it as it held a few eggs, some in their larvae state and many fully formed adult lady bugs.  The children had many stories to share and questions to ask about lady bugs.  Luckily we had several books as part of our school library, so I was able to pull them out and read a few to them that day.
Sadly, the owner of the habitat really wanted to keep her lady bugs at home, so we only had the one day with them.  But, the next day the children were still talking about them.  This led to other discussions of insects and spiders.  Another one of our classmates had recently been bitten by a tick and had to get it removed at the pediatrician’s office.  He described it in great detail including the special blood sac the tick has.  Again, the class was super interested and the questions (and many reports of expertise and great knowledge) poured from the children. 

You know it is almost the end of the year in a fully emergent classroom when before I knew it one of my little boys said, “I want us to get books about this and learn about it.”  Really, he did. 
And so, for the next few weeks, the precious last few weeks I have with this amazing class, the project approach will have us invested in studying insects and spiders to get answers to our questions.

I have begun the brainstorming process for ways we can learn about insects with our play.  We have been busy hunting for them outside.  So far, we have only found a grub and a few small worms (which we have already learned is NOT an insect).  We have some caterpillars on the way.  I know I can buy crickets to observe and then feed them to our lizard.  I am trying to figure out how to get some water bugs (a special request from another one of my boys) and how to borrow a tarantula. Two things I could never imagine doing.  This is why this type of teaching is quite invigorating, it keeps my creative and problem solving abilities in motion.

Hopefully this warm weather will bring on the bugs!  For once, I am looking forward to that.

If you know of any resources that would be helpful with this project, please let me know.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Our attempt at Tall Paintings

I was so inspired by the art experience shared on Teacher Tom's Blog that I had to try it with my class this week.

The children loved it!  The process was so much fun and watching the paint mix and having the painting "paint" itself as it moved was really cool.

Fair warning, it takes a lot of paint and glue!  Once they start pouring, they want to keep pouring.  I was hopping to keep up with the refilling process.  I have to rethink this for next time. I need a way to have a lot of paint/glue mixture prepared ahead of time and then be able to get it into the cups small enough for them to handle.

The other part I hadn't really thought through enough was the drying situation.  We had many drips and drops and downpours to be honest, trying to get these enormous paintings to a flat place to dry.  On Wednesday we'll be trying it again on large trays to try and catch some of the paint as it expands.

We are all looking forward to seeing how they look tomorrow as we noticed how they kept changing.  But, even more than that, they are looking forward to doing it again!

Thank you Teacher Tom!!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sharing Difficult News with Parents

As early education teachers we are often faced with sharing difficult news with parents about how their child is developing.  A behavior or lack of a behavior that might have gone unnoticed in a small playgroup will be observed and recorded once a child starts his/her formal education in a preschool or kindergarten setting.  

Although children develop at different ages and a range of abilities exist in all classrooms, we do have norms, standards and benchmarks that we are using to monitor young children and help us, as their teachers, know how to best serve them. 

When we notice red flag behaviors- those that are farther off the norm than we’d like; speech delays, speech impairments, sensory issues, behavior issues and so on-and have had time to document them and see a pattern, it is time to discuss the issues with the parents. 

These meetings can be difficult.  No parent wants to hear anything negative about his/her child.  It is important to have objective observations to discuss; examples of the behavior. Avoid labeling the behavior with terms such as naughty, bad, bully, etc.  

I always like to start off with positive comments about the child.  I also think of every meeting with a parent as an information gathering session, rather than just a time for me to tell them what I see.  Children can be so different at home-or behave exactly the same-this is important information.  Asking if a parent has noticed the behavior, and if so, when and where does it appear?  What has the parent found to be successful with this?  Have they sought other opinions?  Explaining to parents that we are a team, all working together for the success of their child often takes away any defensiveness.  Reassuring them that you are looking for information, possibly from outside professionals, so that you can best help their child rather than simply looking for a label and a way to pass off the work that needs to be done, is much less threatening.  

It will often take several meetings with parents for them to accept the fact that their child has an issue.  It is one of the most difficult aspects of parenting.  We all want our children to be perfectly healthy, to develop normally and to be happy.  We want our children to be loved and accepted.  When these red flag behaviors are raised a state of denial may exist with parents.  As teachers, we need to be prepared with our documentation and to work with these parents to come to terms with the situation.  However, I want to stress to do this with care, and nurturing and empathy.  And when acceptance does come, to be prepared for the emotions that will accompany the realization that the problem is not repairing itself, the child is not simply “growing out of it” or “catching up” and more intervention is needed. 

I try and put the need for intervention in perspective for parents this way, “if you child had strep throat you would take him to the doctor, if he needed glasses, you would get him fitted for glasses, if he had allergies, you would make changes, and so on.” 

“We will gather all the information we can from various specialists¸ consultants, other teachers, and use it to provide the best learning environment we can at home and at school.  We are a team paving the way for the road that your child needs.”

It is one of the more difficult aspects of our role as primary educators, but one of the most important.  Early intervention can solve or mitigate so many issues.  Being armed with all of the proper research, detailed information from parents and advice from specialists can make our classroom environment conducive to fostering this child’s development and giving him the help he needs.

Let’s just not forget that mom and dad may need our help as well.  Feelings and emotions go hand and hand in this process and need to be strongly considered in how information is relayed.  When you do the reward will be an empowered parent ready to work with you.

And you may even get a heartfelt “thank you, that meeting was really helpful” like I did today.  It is moments like this that solidify why I have dedicated my life to working with children and their families.    

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Learning Through Water Play-One Drop at a Time

Exploring water can be fascinating.

We started our exploration with plain water and eye droppers.  The trays were lined with wax paper. 
The children started with dropping amounts of water on the tray and seeing the interaction of the droplets.

They quickly discovered how they could drag the drops with their droppers to meet others.

Some figured out that they could use their own fingers much the same way. 

They noticed that the droplets increased in size as they connected with others.  They learned that the speed with which they squirted out the water affected the size of the droplets formed. 

Then they started changing the path of the droplets by blowing on them or moving their trays.  They were even observing how the wax paper changed depending on if the water was dropped on top of the paper or if it seeped below the paper. 

After several days we added ramps and all new discoveries were possible.

Then we colored the water.

Each was a step that acknowledged their prior discoveries and challenged them to investigate further.

When a child became intrigued with the paper towel we were using to wipe up the table, and began dropping water on it, we added that to the experiment.  Each tray then had a piece of wax paper and a piece of paper towel on it for comparison. 

With the colored water, the children loved what was happening to the paper towels used to clean up the spills, so that became the center; colored water dropped onto paper towels-a simple tie dye activity evolved. 

We sparked their curiosity and then followed their lead.
The smiles explain better than any words the joy experienced when learning science through play!

Reading While Jumping!

I like to expose my four year olds to reading in many ways.  I read to them everyday.  I read with them often, encouraging them to read along with big books and poems.  And I give them time and opportunity to read on their own.

A great way to get young children who like to move a lot involved in reading is to give them a movement poem.

This is a simple poem, separated on sheets and laminated so they can be jumped on.

This one lends itself quite well to this activity.
One bear
Two bears
Three bears
Five bears
Six bears
Seven bears

We learned the rhythm of the poem and then we took turns jumping it.  It was then left out for children to "read" on their own.

It is a great way to get children to jump into reading!

Posing a Problem as an Activity

We are in flux in my classroom.  The time between “projects” or emergent studies, a time referred to as ordinary moments.  I am providing provocative experiences for the children and waiting to see if they will become so intrigued by something that it will spark a more in-depth investigation. 

I heard a few boys talking about conveyor belts in the block area the other day, so I had a few parents try and find books about them without much luck.  They were able to find great picture books on simple machines; levers, pulleys, etc.  These have been out in the block area without sparking much interest even from the conveyor belt group. 

The thought of the conveyor belt gave me an idea and I decided to pose a problem.  I asked the children how they could move a basket of ping pong balls from one side of the large building area to the other.  I gave them cove molding, kapla blocks, large tubing, gift wrap rolls, masking tape and scissors.
When we brainstormed as a class, one girl mentioned, “You could just carry them.”  Very  true, you could.  Funny how when let go to freely explore the scene, no child decided to use this simple and sure fire way to transport the balls. 

What happened was a week-long exploration in combining these materials.  It involved a lot of trial and error and a superb amount of teamwork from holding the tubes to cutting the tape. 

I found it extremely interesting that children that did not normally play together would work together toward this common goal.  It even intrigued the working parents who had fun trying to create a system for transport along with the children. 

The exclamations of “we did it!” when a ball was moved across the entire space, were proud and joyful. 

We did not meet to discuss the ways that worked and the ways that did not. We did not focus on the best way.   It was not about the answer.  It was about the process, the thinking, the creativity; trying it one way on Monday and a totally different way on Thursday.  These are the children that will grow up able to solve problems in innovative ways.
Isn’t this the kind of learning that is most valuable?

How are you instilling creativity and higher level thinking in your classroom or your playroom or your backyard this week?

I know for me, it’s time to pull out the pulleys, but I would love to hear from you.  

Concepts of Print Learned While Playing in the Mud

Can you learn concepts of print by playing in the mud?  Our threes class did!

Preschool to the Rescue is a book for every nursery school to have in its library.  It instills such a sense of power in children as they get to be the heroes in the book.

I love the idea my colleague,Clara Cohen, had for extending the literature experience of her class of three year olds.  The class made their own version of the book using props, photographs and mud!

Her class has been quite intrigued by the mud lately as the snow has melted and we’ve had quite a bit of rain leaving lots of mud to explore on our playground each day.  They have been reading mud books and creating various experiences inside the classroom including painting with mud.

For this particular literature adaptation, after reading the book a few times, the children each chose an object to get “stuck in the mud.”

Then they went out to create the perfect mud puddle for their reenactment.

Each child had a turn adding a creature or vehicle to the mud puddle while being photographed.

They of course, rescued them after each classmate had had a turn.

Clara processed the pictures and the next day, worked with the children to glue them into a book and write the words.  She made sure to help scaffold the children’s language to model the repetitive pattern of the original book.

I just love that she added the sound words that the children created.

This book then became the focus for story time that day.

The children became published authors proud of their work, of their words.

The book resides on the book shelf and is quickly becoming a classroom favorite for independent rereading.

Making class books like this one is a fantastic way to extend literature experiences for young children.  They learn a great deal about concepts of print as they take part in the big book making process.  They are very intrigued to re read books that have their photos or their drawings in them.  Simple books with repetitive language patterns are best for this type of project. 

Other big books made with the fours class this year include adaptations of Ten Black Dots, Snowballs, Mary Wore Her Red Dress, Monster Sandwich and several others. 

What are your favorite stories to extend to class books?