Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Stick Decorating

I was inspired by a blog post I had read on a wonderful blog, An Everyday Story, The Beaded Branch. Wanting to bring more natural items in to my class and activities, we gave this a try.  I had also seen some "yarn bombings"  in the next town and on line where knitters knit covers for items found outside such as trees and statues.  Really, look it up on Google, it is very cool what these talented knittes do.

So we combined these two ideas into our art center for the week.  We discussed the yarn bombing concept as well as the tree featured in the blog post at the American Visionary Art Museum and looked at photographs.

We put out a tray of embroidery thread, various beads, shells with holes in them and pieces of wire. The children wrapped the thread or wire around the parts of the branches as well as beaded pieces of wire that  hung off the branch.

The pieces of art evolved throughout the week as the children spent time on them.  As is often the case when you leave an activity out for many days, children were able to revisit it and add to their work.  Others tried different aspects of the work on different days, wrapping on some and beading on others.  A few only added a few beads, some just watched.

It was an incredible opportunity for fine motor work as well as a good place to watch the incredible attention spans that these students had when they were so interested in what they were creating.

This activity was done within the first two weeks of our school year, so it was also a lovely place to sit and talk getting to know each other more as we sat side by side beading or wrapping.

I loved when I saw a Facebook post from one of my families that their daughter had shared this idea at home, so she and her sister climbed a tree in their yard and sat wrapping branches with yarn. Love when home school connections are fostered by the children!

We hung our branches from the ceiling over a shelf.  We also have a very large branch in our classroom near our reading nook.  We made some hanging beads for this tree with our photos hanging from them representing each member of our classroom community.


Next time you are out for a walk, look for an interesting branch that has fallen.  Give this a try-bring nature inside.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Phase 2: Our Visit to the Fire Station

As mentioned in an earlier post, Our First Project This Year: Phase I, we have begun a study of the Fire Department.  In beginning this study and telling our parents about the interest we found out that the father of one of our student's is a volunteer fire fighter.  He offered to take a day off from his day job and have the class come to his fire station.  Once again, we talked about the specific interests and questions of the children and he created an amazing experience for the children.

The impetus for this study came from the children spraying each other in their dramatic play.  We talked a lot about the spray of the water and that water could actually be quite heavy and hard when sprayed at a high pressure.  Paul, our "father" fire fighter arranged for the the truck to be at a local beach in order for the children to see the hose being unrolled, filling with water and spraying it.

They could feel the pressure of the water and the strength needed to hold the hoses when he tried to let go while they held it alone.  Even the teachers had to get in on the action.

Of course, once the fire is out, the hoses need to be drained and rolled.


The children were also curious about what fire fighters held in their pockets.  They had been adding knives and orange juice from our dramatic play center.  Paul made sure to answer these questions by getting in full dress and showing him everything kept in each pocket.

We had been noticing several items in our research.  While doing a project the children do "research" by looking in non-fiction books on the topic and then putting a little sticky note on a page that interests them.  At group times the children show their page and we read the caption of the photo or the page the photo is on.  One child had noticed the jaws of life taking off a car door.  This went on to our list of questions , "do fire trucks carry the jaws of life".  Paul showed us where they keep two similar tools and took them out for the children to get a closer look.


Another child found photos in a book of some images seen through heat detector goggles.  So, each child was able to look through the heat goggles to see their teacher as a ghostly image.

Following this specific questions and hands on answering session, we went to the station and had a tour.  This is a volunteer station so the fire fighters do not sleep there.  They also did not have a fire pole.  The did have a kitchen and computers and maps and alarms confirming some of their predictions.

There were many other parts of the station that we saw, but the key point is that what we focused on was related to their questions. Of course, many new questions emerged as we explored the station.   We took many photographs including close ups of the many details and features of the trucks and aspects of the station so that we could use them to help us with our representations later on. We also spent time sketching areas that interested the children.


It was an incredible day!

The children had so much to talk about and were so excited to start some representations.  Of course, they had more questions as well..."is every fire station the same?" and "does any station have a fire pole?" ...hmmmm, time to plan another trip.

Hand Print Art

Here is a multi-sensory art experience with a cooperative extension.

Lay out a large drop cloth on the table.  We use the kind that is a papery fabric on one side and plastic backed.  I found them at Walmart.

Put out several colors of tempera paint and small brushes.

The children were encouraged to paint their hands to make hand prints on the paper, but not just solid handprints...they could paint as many different colors and patterns and designs on their hands as they chose.

We leave our activities out for a week giving children time to try everything and revisit places to retry or extend  their experiences.  It was interesting to see which children came to this activity every day, creating new and more elaborate designs each time.  Some tried it once and did not venture back until it became a partner activity.

Opening the option of it being a partner activity brought new excitement to the center.  Children would walk around the room inviting others to be painted by them or to paint them.  They even wanted to paint the teachers.

    It was a great way to get the children working together and comfortable with one another early on in the year.

Working on a large canvas rather than individual papers gives a new perspective as well.  There was a lot of space and many angles in which to print.  They had to look at the piece as a whole and then decide where to place their hand prints.

There were many great problem solving opportunities as well as they had to share paint cups and space.

The final piece was such a beautiful memory of our team work we decided to use it for our classroom curtains for the year.  A lovely statement of the year to be...many hands, large and small, ready to play together.

Our First Project This Year: Phase I

Getting started with a topic for project work is often the most difficult part of the process.  There are many sources for provications to get the children interested in a particular topic; materials on a table for them to investigate, a visitor who comes to the school to share something, an interesting item or discovery the children find outside and many others.  Sometimes the ideas comes purely from the children and other times, the impetus is provided by the teacher.  As Lillian Katz once explained in her Engaging Children's Minds seminar, children will not be interested in something, to which they have never been exposed.  Giving them many different materials, interesting objects, nature items from your environment,  exposure to people in your community and so on widens the topics in which they could become engaged.

In our threes classroom, the teacher began by reading some owl stories and songs.  The children liked the books so she invited a naturalist to come to the school and not to do an entire program on animals, but to bring an owl. They were able to see an owl up close, ask questions, meet a typical prey source (she also brought a gerbil) and hear about how they could see some owls right in our neighborhood.  They were very engaged in this owl visit, so now the teacher has the beginning of project.  How will this class develop this further?  Since this class has not been exposed to project work that much, she will need to scaffold the process for them, giving them options as to how to represent their learning.

In my class, the four year olds, as we were observing the children during the first several weeks of school, many of them were playing fire fighter with the dress up materials.  They were turning the brooms and mops into  hoses and "spraying" their friends.  They were filling their jacket pockets with the "supplies" that they would need.

 I had a few pieces of tubing used in our sensory table, so I added this to the dramatic play area.  Some of this spraying was upsetting to the other children, so we brought it to a question, "do you think fire fighters spray each other in the face?"  We pulled out a few books we had and could not see that in the books.  Another boy told the class about his birthday party at the fire station.  Many of the children had attended over the summer and the discussions about the party became quite lively as the children excitedly recounted what they had seen.

With this interest that spanned the group, we decided to invite the local fire chief to visit us and bring his truck up our hill for the children to investigate.  Before this we shared  memories of fire trucks and visits to stations.  The children drew a fire truck from memory.

photo 1-1

We discussed the things we were wondering about or the things many of them thought to be fact, in preparation for our visit.  Before the chief arrived, I talked to him about how this wasn't the standard preschool fire safety visit.  We had some specific questions for him ( which I emailed him beforehand), we also wanted time to sketch the truck. The girls were asking about women fire fighters, so he made sure to bring Fire Fighter Sarah with him.  
I find that if you talk to the experts about your teaching process and talk to them about the specific areas of interest of the children, most are more than willing to stray from a standard program they may give to others and focus on those areas.

The children noticed so many details about the truck in their sketches such as the headlights, the wipers, the various letters and numbers on the truck and all of the "buttons".

They also were interested in the wheels as they were as tall as they were.  We started to develop a pretty extensive vocabulary together in our discussions after the visit.

Because the children were so interested and engaged, we knew this was a study worth pursuing.

Then one of our students went home and excitedly told her family about the day.  It turns our her dad is a volunteer fire fighter.  He brought in some old equipment for us to have and invited us to visit his station.


Some dramatic play, sharing of a previous experience and a visitor...our project study has begun.