Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Soap box

For those of you who follow this blog, my sincerest apologies for not writing anything until today- half way through the week. I also happen to work at a church and it is getting to be "crunch time" for church, and thus, I do not have the luxury to sit down to my computer as much, and when I do, I generally chose dinner over blogging.  This being said, here are some links I've stumbled across that I think are of interest.

1.  Why preschool should not be like school This article is from and is about why the push for children to have formal education at earlier and earlier ages hurts them.

2.  Seperate but Equal?  This is an article from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle from this past Sunday; It is about how (in Rochester) that schools are still predominately segregated with impoverished African- American students in city schools and middle class Caucasian students in the Suburban Schools;  It goes on to discuss the negative impact it has specifically on city children but also on the suburban children (though less significantly) as well as the problem it brings for all of the city and suburbs. It is specifically about Rochester but points out that many many cities in the Nation are the same way.  It is a very well written article, bound to get one thinking about these problems and what can be done.  I remember when I was doing part of my student hours at School of the Arts in Rochester noticing the incredible disparity between the many African American students and the few Caucasian students.  Many of the African American students, in fact the overwhelming majority, lived in a nearby neighborhood and were (many of them) dealing with poverty, while the few Caucasian students that attended lived in the huge mansion- like houses that decorated the "nice" residential areas of the city.  Also the difference between working and observing in suburban schools and working and observing in the city schools (we were required to do a lot of each) is incredible.  Part of it, I suppose (though this may be an unfair or inaccurate assessment, I am no expert), is based on the difference in culture- but I think that the biggest difference is because of living situations and financial situations.  In the suburbs most of the kids have everything they need for school (backpacks, writing implements, notebooks), in Greece schools the driving situation is a mess because hundreds of parents drive their children to school rather than make them "suffer" riding the bus or walking.  I know this is a generalization, but overwhelmingly in that school students were "spoiled." Their classrooms were gleaming, they had huge gorgeous facilities, lots of money put into the arts, ample classroom supplies like tissues, and textbooks.  In the city schools have very little funding because  the people who are taxed for that area have little money themselves.  Students do not have notebooks or pencils that they need in many cases.  Teachers often do not have the resources they need to teach their best and often end up buying things for their room from their own pockets- after all they need enough tissues in their class, enough paper and folders and pencils and pens for students who have none.  The facilities at these schools are often run down, and with the exception of School of the Arts, there isn't always a lot of money put into school music, there is rarely enough staff to best serve students.  It goes on and on.  The time that I was in these schools was before the recession- so you can just imagine what especially city schools must be like now with the state  and city funding for schools being slashed and slashed again.

Image belongs to Rochester City Newspaper

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Playing in the Mud

This week we were able to get outside for the first time in forever.  For the last few weeks it has been really, really wet and cold (so wet that it would soak through their pants and/ or their snow pants in a matter of minutes) so we have not gotten outside! With a glorious high of 65 on Thursday, however, and a nice stiff wind, it dried out nicely.  
When we got outside I started picking up the clumps of mud that somehow invade the playground every spring, and put them in a bucket;  Several children took interest in what I was doing and started to help.  We brought the bucket (which was at least a 3 gallon pail full of wet dirt), put it in the sensory bin and added about a gallon of water.  Of anything that I have ever put in a sensory bin they only liked water this much.
I know this is not an inventive concept no one is going to read this and say "playing in mud?  Brilliant! I never thought of that!" but really, there is something so organic about playing and digging in the mud and dirt, something that is so natural and essential to children.  
Often you can see pictures or watch videos of "progressive" schools, or "cooperative preschools" doing things on a huge scale like this- just letting kids dig in the school yard, flooding it, making trenches, just PLAYING IN THE MUD.  Unfortunately for many of us we don't have this luxury.  The property owners or the school doesn't allow this kind of "destructive" play.  Children can not dig holes, pull up the grass, climb trees, or anything else of the sort.  (I have heard horror stories of places that have also gotten rid of swings, teeter- totters, and slides because they are too dangerous, so in this respect I count my blessings).  I am not necessarily in favor of turning the entire playground into a mud pit, grass is nice too, still I think that there is so much children can learn and appreciate from getting to dig and play in the earth; If there wasn't, why would they want to do it so badly?

As a child I grew up on a farm (and I am only in my twenties, so don't accuse me of writing a "back in my day" blog :)! ) I had tons of toys as a child, and indeed was probably spoiled, but aside from playing with my personal cassette player, my favorite doll, and my tea set (filled with water and food coloring for me by my grandmother), most of my memories of play as a preschool aged child involve playing with the earth.  
I remember that there was a huge table size rock at one corner of our yard that was used to cover an old ground well that was no longer in use.  I used to take sharp smaller rocks and dandelions and "draw" on that rock for hours.  I learned that I could make white scratch marks with smaller rocks on that rock and yellow marks with dandelions; I could wipe it all away by rubbing some of the dusty- dirt that our driveway was made of over the surface and could start again.  
I also have vivid memories of playing in the creek.  I remember going to it with my dad in the summer and sticking my feet in.  I remember taking my stacking duck boats and putting various things in them to float down the stream (okay, yes, those are toys).  I would put worms in them or dandelions or stones (I learned if I put too many stones in or if I put water in they would sink), to go for a ride.  One time I was really excited because I was playing by the creek (or "crick" as I used to call it) and my dad, who was working on some sort of a wood project near by, used scraps of wood to make me a sail boat.  He asked me for a sail and I ripped a page out of one of my coloring books, which he fashioned the sail out of.  I still have that boat, the wood is the same, but the page has turned yellow almost brown and is curled up with age.  
I picked berries and wild mushrooms (I knew not to eat them, but they served well as pretend food), Ate black cherries off the tree, made daisy crowns, and "moss sculptures."  I captured bugs in jars, raised stripy caterpillars into butterflies and a hundred other things.  
I was also an avid rock collector.  My mom would take me for walks up the hill to a dirt road where there were always an abundance of different rocks.  I found white quartz, granite (in pink, black, and white, and sometimes in combinations), different types of slag and basalt, slate, and obsidian.  I didn't know the names at the time, but you can bet that it was easy for me to learn them and remember their names in Earth Science (having examined an collected rocks I also easily understood types of rocks).  Another great place to learn about rocks was at the lake; Keuka Lake was only a few miles away and was full of rocks.  Going here I found smooth stones and drift wood- learning about the power of water. I also found a great many fossils on these walks and trips to the lake as well as in creek beds.  

The point of all of this is to say that as preschoolers some of the most important things for them to learn are the things that they learn naturally, just by doing the things they like to do out in the real world.  We do not think about it but there are so many rich experiences for them just waiting out the window.  So many of the things that a good program offers- sensory experiences, gross motor (digging) and fine motor (cutting) skills, not to mention just the observations that they make about nature, life, the planet, weather, animals, insects, plants, and many many other things are available from this type of outdoors learning.  
This is not to say I am discouraging other important aspects that can't be learned by running around outdoors like a wild animal; I am not discouraging art or literacy work or anything else that happens in classrooms, rather, I just believe that more and more children live in small Suburban or Urban developments with little or no yard, and certainly no creeks, ponds, lakes, rock piles, dirt roads or drive ways, or giant rocks.  The truth is that children are really missing out by not having these experiences to just play, and well learn (subconsciously) on their own in the great outdoors.  As a teacher I think it is my job to recreate as much as I can experiences like these that I had as a child, and the experiences that most children even 50 years ago were having.    There's a lot to be learned when you are playing in the mud.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Really? They can sit still, pay attention, and focus?

I have a few kids in my class who NEVER sit still.  They are always rolling, running, flipping, skipping, MOVING.  They can pay attention, but it's that distracted, looking around the room, pointing out who's hiding a bead in their pocket, while paying attention type attention.  They flit about from one thing to the next, spending a long time only in areas that permit them to be active, moving around, and using their hands, feet, arms, and whatever else can get into it.  Unless they are sick, I NEVER see these children (who happen to be boys sit still).  This is not to say I don't have my share of perpetually distracted girls, but they are not quite on that same level.
In any instance,  recently acquired a special "present" from the director to our classroom- a weaving loom.  I never imagined its power.
 At first only the girls only did it.  They spent a twenty minutes to forty five minutes a piece on it- a remarkable time as it is.

They need some instruction to learn how to do it.  They also needed some help "turning around"  to weave back the other way, some more than others.

 The boys said they didn't want to because "only girls sew,"  but they were eventually won over by observing the girls interest in it.  I have never, ever, seen boys sit this long and pay as close attention.  One of them did it for an entire hour, and never quite understood how to do it without asking for instruction every few minutes.  (Today, he could do it on his own practically).  They were so focused and interested, and ASKING for instructions, which they attended to very carefully.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Little Light Reading: Blogs and Books to Check Out

There are some blogs I read that I feel make me a better teacher, and specifically some articles on these blogs that I find very useful.  Here are some of my favorites lately, that I hope others will like too.

Teacher Tom: Natural Consequences

Not Just Cute: The Disembodied Mind

Let the Children Play: The Importance of Roughhousing

If you are looking for ideas for your classroom there are HUNDREDS of ideas at the website  below.  I have done several of the activities found on this blog in only the few months I have been following it.
Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning

For anyone who is interested in some reading that isn't so "light" here are some books I have recently read that I highly recommend.

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives by Mem Fox

Play: The Foundation that Supports the House of Higher Learning by Lisa Murphy

Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children Susan Neuman, Carol Copple, Sue Bredekamp

Monday, March 14, 2011

Winter Fruits Sensory Bin

This bin is nothing incredibly novel, just some odds and ends I had lying around, but a lot of my class really enjoyed it, so I thought it worth sharing.

As I said, the contents are nothing shockingly inventive, although perhaps surprising for a sensory bin, which I think is what attracted so many of them to it.  There are some mixed (in- shell) nuts, cinnamon scented pine cones from Christmas, and pine cones collected from outdoors.  There are also a few coffee beans that somehow made their way in the bin as well.  I provided them several wooden containers/ scoops to use, two of which are shown in the photo.  The room smells great between the cinnamon and the coffee beans! 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Letter scavenger hunt

One of my favorite activities for learning to recognizing letter shapes is a scavenger hunt.  There are many many ways to do this activity.  The basic principle is picking a letter for them to look for in text.
Sometimes I will write a familiar poem or nursery rhyme on a sheet of poster board and allow them to take turns finding and "marking" the letter we are looking for.
Other times I have photocopies each page of a favorite story or two and let them each have a page or two.  After they have marked up the pages, I hang them in order up on the wall and we read the story together, looking at the "letter" as we read.
Still other times, like we did this past week, they went through the books on the shelves showing me words that had "A's" in them, and I wrote each word on a sheet of paper.  I read the word to them, and some of the children talk to me about the sound "A" makes in the particular word.  This is really the only way, I believe that you can even talk about phonics of vowels; which is to say you can only talk about them in context because vowels each can make over 5 sounds each in English, and seldom follow the "conventional" phonetic rules.  Other children aren't yet thinking about letter sounds, and that is okay; they will when they are ready- most of them sometime in the next six months before kindergarten.   (On another note about A- in this instance it is nice to reference text to find "A" because a lower case "a" in print does not look like a written lower case "a."
No matter which of these methods I have used, they really have fun doing this activity and will point out which ever letter we most recently looked for in the hall way, in the lunch room, in the bathroom, and just about anywhere else they see print containing that letter.  They are also learning letters in context of words and words in the context of books and other materials.

If you liked this post also check out letter sounds game

Friday, March 11, 2011

Book Hospital

Not very long ago in  our classroom we started putting books in need of a little "TLC," in our book hospital, at first I was a little pessimistic about this idea- after all if they liked having books in the book hospital mightn't they intentionally rip or tear books to get them in the hospital?  Turns out not.  Somehow they have a hyper- vigilant sense of the importance of books now.  They say to each other things like "you shouldn't bend the book like that, it will get broken!"  They put books with the slightest rip, tear, or slightly frayed binding.

Our book hospital is made from a simple small cardboard box and contains clear packaging tape and scotch tape.  On my shopping list is also more gum erasers to clean off any crayon marks that might pop up.