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.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

playing= coping

How many times have you had "that child" who clings to mom, who fights to hold on to her, and when mom is finally out of his grasp, who cries by the door?  You know the one I am talking about.  The one who hangs out at your elbow all day, just fighting away the sniffles?  No, he doesn't care how nice you are, how friendly, how reassuring.  He doesn't want to play.  He doesn't want to hear a story. He wants to GO HOME! It is a frustrating thing, sometimes for teachers.

99% of the time, with a little encouragement, with a little adult interaction, the child will eventually find their way over to an area of interest, play, and forget about home.  The child will have fun, but what is really happening here?  The child is coping.   (The 1% that is not included in this is the one child I ever had who didn't play after an entire day, no matter how much I encouraged.  The next day started the same way, I asked him "if you could do anything you wanted what would you do?"  He answered "go home."  "What if you couldn't go home but could do anything else?" "Cry," he answered.  I told him, firmly but lovingly, that he could cry if he needed to but we, he and I were going to play.  I gave him a list of three things that his mom said he liked to do at home that we could "play together" and said he had to choose one.  He chose drawing, and after a bit stopped crying, and never had a day like that afterward. Some children have to be taught how to cope).  There are a million important things that play "does" for children, but sometimes the most important is that it enables them to cope, and to cope with something that is (for them) very traumatic.  Many of these children have never been with this many children at once, some have never been in the care of someone they haven't know for their entire lives, and the ones that have get to have a "babysitter" in their own home.  It is a tough, tough milestone; but they are hardwired to cope by playing.

Other times play- coping takes a different form.  Sometimes children use play to make scary things that are upsetting to them okay.  For instance the other day a child passing from one side of the room picked up our telephone and screamed into it "OKAY! I ALREADY PAID THE FREAKING BILL!!"  Slammed the phone down and moved on to play in the art area.  Of course we all know there are far more scary things than this that some children are trying to cope with around the world, but this is a small example.
Other times, they are coping with disappointments, rules, or change.  Today one of the children explained to her "baby" why they couldn't go out.  "I'm sorry Charlie, but it is raining out so we can't walk to the post office.  Don't cry we can go another day.  I know you are sad, but we will go another day."

Of course these are verbal examples of children coping, but just imagine how much they are coping with that is NOT verbalized.

Yes, when children play they learn, grow, develop, and cope.  Such a little thing can be so important.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Walking Water": a photo blog

I found this activity at Irresistible Ideas for Play- Based Learning, and my class gave it a go!

Once ALL the liquid was in the bottom cup, they wanted to do it again.  Instead of starting over, I just put blue water in the top cut and left the red in the bottom and put in a fresh paper towel.  They could see that the red traveled up the paper towel and blue down, but the red never made it all the way up into the cup- however the blue made it down and mixed to make purple.

It was a pretty cool experiment, surrounded by a lot of excitement.  Some of them actually watched it for large chunks of time, just watching it slowly move.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Miniature paper towel roll collages

The other day my children were "visiting" in another classroom awaiting my arrival since I had part of the morning off.  When I came in they were painting and gluing feathers to empty paper towel rolls which the teacher was attaching ribbons to and hanging up sort of like wind socks.  When we left my kids begged to do it in our room too.  I had no feathers but I have a huge bin of collage odds and ends and tons of magazines so I gave them glue, paper towel rolls (that I am sure every teacher hoards by the hundreds in their closets), and the collage materials and let them go to town.  I figured that they would each do one or maybe two and tire of it, but I was very wrong.  They made them for hours on two separate days!
 I am not sure what fascinated them about making little collages on little paper towel rolls, although I just suspect that they were interested because it wasn't really like many other art experiences they had before.  In any instance I had dozens of them and wasn't really sure what to do with them, but after a few minutes reflection decided that I would string them on clothes line rope and string it across the ceiling.  This is an idea adapted from when I taught barely three year old children- they used to love to string paper towel rolls on a rope like beads on a string.  In the end this impromptu project looked pretty cool- but more importantly they enjoyed the experience of creating them.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Collages: What to do about space

One problem that I have often had with collages, specifically collages that involve cutting magazines, etc, in preschool is that there just never seems to be enough room.  The magazines get scattered all over table, they lose the picture they just cut out, and you start hearing "hey, you have your book on MY paper!"  It's a jungle... what's a teacher to do?

Now, I love the collages they make with magazines the best (although I love collages in general),  I love seeing the things that each child picks and the things that each one finds interesting- sometimes I am amazed by these things.  On the other hand, in the past, I have hated these the most for just the reason described above- there wasn't enough room, they couldn't organize their materials, and in the end there were scraps all over the floor.  So, as a solution, I have systematized the magazine collage process, in an easy, comprehensible manner suited (I believe) to preschoolers.

she is cutting on her tray; to the left you can see her collection of pictures

Set up:  Put trays on the table.  On each tray put a pair of child's scissors.  Put two or three piles of magazines on the table (with maybe five magazines in each pile so that they are easy to paw through).  On a shelf or other unit beside the table have glue ready.  For this activity I prefer glue with brushes or paste works really well for magazines.  Have a garbage close by so as the "scrap" pieces from the pictures they cut out accumulate you can toss them.

Instructions to the children:  Tell each child that he or she may use the tray that they are sitting in front of to collect their magazine cuttings for the collage and to let you know when they are ready for their big paper and glue.  (Once they are ready for paper and glue, help them to push the tray back on the table so that it is just behind their collage paper, then put the glue on their tray as well).

using the tray to keep her pictures organized as she pastes them to paper.

The benefits:  Each child uses the tray to put their magazine on and cut and set the collage items on.  Their "pictures" don't get lost, and it creates for them their own space.  It is easy to keep the magazines in order and not all over the table by either reminding them to put the magazine back in the pile or by putting it back yourself, as you are monitoring, once they have finished.  Some might not consider the following a benefit, but I do: they cut out many more pictures than they need and so they end up making two or three or six collages from what they have cut out.  By separating this into steps it takes a lot less time as well because they aren't going back and forth from cutting to gluing to cutting to gluing or losing their precious "pictures."  Because of this they do not tire of the activity; in the past they would "be done" after finding only a few pictures because (it seemed) they tired of going back and forth between the two activities.  Now, as I mentioned, they find dozens of pictures and make multiple collages from them.  For some children this is also an added bonus because it allows them to do spacial planning; putting the pictures on the paper before gluing to see how to make use of the space.

For a post about other types of collages go here!

Happy collage-ing!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Shaving cream play without the mess!

I am the kind of teacher who is not afraid of getting messy, but sometimes it is nice to have a two- paper- towel- job instead of a five- beach- towel- job; It is especially nice if in many respects it is every bit as fun.


Today we played with shaving cream in a bag- I had to pre- ration the shaving cream first because if there is too much in the bag then the bag will pop and second because I only had a can and a half of shaving cream left.  

The project is simple- set out a few containers of food coloring in primary colors and plastic ziplock bags full of shaving cream.  Allow the children to add food coloring to their bag, squeeze the air out of it, zip it, and allow the children to play with the bag.  Some of them squish it, some roll it around, and some push it around on the table.  This is still a great sensory experience for them, and as an added bonus they learn about mixing colors! 

For other fun shaving cream activities check out these blog entries:
Building Experiences (scroll down to the bottom for a cool building project with shaving cream)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Oh, how I wanted to be at school today!  The kids love Dr. Seuss!  Unfortunately, I have been home sick today.  On a positive note, children don't mind celebrating birthdays a day late so tomorrow we will celebrate Dr. Seuss's birthday.
Dr. Seuss has a way of playing with the English language that few others can, in addition to being able to tap into the emotions and sense of humor of children everywhere.  Not only do children love Dr. Seuss but teachers do too! According to literacy research "the roots of phonemic awareness, a powerful predictor of later reading success, are found in traditional rhyming, skipping, and word games." (Susan Neuman, Learning to Read an Write); and Dr. Seuss is the master of this kind of language!

So, as I have nothing else to write about, (since I was home today), I leave you with a story written by one of my kids, borrowing language from Dr. Seuss.

There was a Bingo and there was a tomato.
Tomato, Tomato, I can't find you.
Tomato, Tomato, Tomato.
Tomato I can't find you in a sock or in a block.
I can't find you here or there.  I can't find you anywhere!
Socky, Socky, where are you?  
Make up words, I can't do.  
Socky, Socky, where are you?
Socky, Socky, I can't find you.
You are always lost. Nowhere to be found.
Socky, Socky, Socky, you're my friend!
I can't find you anywhere.
Socky, socky, I want you, you're not no where to be found.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Encouraging Reading Acquisition

As teachers or parents of preschoolers there are so many things we can do to encourage literacy acquisition for our children; Unfortunately, sometimes it is easy to stand in their way and not even know it.  In this entry I would like to address two common practices in preschool classrooms and why they should be modified.  (Yes, I am aware that this will not be an exceedingly popular post and that upon reading the first three sentences many people will navigate away from this page; I implore you to stick with me, and perhaps even leave some feedback- whether agreeable or disagreeable). Often in preschool classrooms there is a tendency to read a book once or maybe twice- usually that book coincides with whatever unit they are teaching.  The other tendency is to keep the "beat up" or "cheap" books in the children's book area and not in the the library area.

According to the book Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children by Susan B. Neuman in collaboration with Carol Copple and Sue Bredekamp,  "the single most important activity [in building the skills essential to literacy] appears to be reading to children."  While few would dispute this fact the authors also assert the opinion that "multiple re-readings" in addition to pointing out features of print encourage children to "practice what they've learned about print on their peers and on their own," by "reading,"  which is really "retelling."  Neuman says this on the topic:
"...Children will often pretend to read, using visual cues to remember the words of their favorite stories. Although studies have shown that these pretend readings are just that, such visual readings... demonstrate substantial knowledge about the global features of reading and its purposes." 
As many educators of young children know these same visual "clues" are used for children to aid themselves in reading later on in first, second, and even third grade- something known as "context clues."

These things aside, reading to children the same stories over and over again increases their love for reading or at the very least for literature.  Looking back on ones own childhood anyone who still loves reading (and perhaps people who do not) can remember a few stories that they loved to be read over and over and over again.  My own memories are of Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Are You My Mother?, and Where the Wild Things Are.  According to Lisa Murphy in Play: the Foundation of the House of Higher Learning and too many literacy experts to name, including the authors of Learning to Read and Write, reading stories over and over again helps them to both understand the features of stories as well as print it self. They begin to understand the literary elements of stories like how stories begin and end, and central conflict and resolutions (although of course they do not label them as such), and they begin to understand front to back (beginning to end), top to bottom, left to right, when they are read to.
"Hearing a story read again and again, children are better able to put together the relation of the characters and the sequence of key events, which they often do not on a first reading."  (Neuman)  
"When adults read to children regularly, children's familiarity with stories ... begins to evolve well before they are able to read or write.  From such experience children learn to distinguish the language used in books from conversational language and to anticipate certain elements in a story.  Later, these expectations assist children in comprehending what they read and in creating their own compositions."  (Neuman)
Hopefully, what all of this shows is that offering multiple readings of the same book is incredibly important to the acquisition of the written language for children.  I would also add to this that the quality of the book is also incredibly important.  Children do not want to hear stories that are not truly engaging more than once if at all.  According to Mem Fox a book that does not connect with the children is "a waste of our time, our money and our precious trees."

It is for this reason that it is also important for children to have the "good books" available for them to use and not just kept safely away from them.  I have, in the past, been as guilty as any of keeping certain beloved favorites out of the reach of little hands- fearing the damage, however, I have recently seen first hand the fruits of quelling my hesitancy to allow them these books and just put them out in the classroom library.  They read the stories they love to themselves, to their friends, to teachers, and to dolls.  The tenants of these stories make their ways into their own stories and playtime as well.  They examine the words on the page and examine the pictures, trying to better retell it, and decode the patterns of words and letters before them.
From putting out these books I have also seen a new reverence for books- they are more careful with them and often treat them  as prized possessions.  From this we have created a "book hospital" (or "hops-pital" as many of them say), where they demand even the tiniest fray or rip be repaired.  From the words of Lisa Murphy "no one learns how to use books the 'right way' if the 'good books' are kept in the cupboard."

Monday, February 28, 2011

letter sounds game

Today we played with letter sounds at school.  When teaching letters and the beginnings of reading, it can be hard to keep it developmentally appropriate and hard to make it fun and stress free.  After the children are able to recognize letters, and when they begin to stretch out words to recognize the letter sounds in them, they are ready (in my mind) for this game.  For this game I set out a few letters with easily identifiable sounds- today we worked on "L, H, G, C, B, and T," I set out a whole bunch of pictures representing words that start with those letters.  I also set out sheets of paper with those letters on it.

Usually this game is best played by two or three children at a time who have similar phonological abilities.  I start by saying "lets play a game. I wonder if we can work together to figure out what letter these things start with?"  The children go one at a time:  each child picks a picture, says what it is, and puts it on the letter they think that word begins with.  If they pick the "leaf" picture and put it on a paper like "g" I say what the word would be if it started with g - "geaf,"  h- "heaf,"  etc, until they find the right one.  Most children at this point know what letter these things start with at least 75% of the time, but will intentionally put it on the correct letter last so that they can hear all the sounds- they think the wrong words are funny.  Within a few turns they will start saying what the word would be along with me "galloon," "halloon," "lalloon," and so on.  This gives them an environment to play and experiment with letters without worrying about being "wrong,"  but at the same time reviews/teaches letter sounds.
To make sure this isn't just an exercise of memorizing which pictures go where, if we do it again, I change the pictures and/ or the letters.  I am very careful not to do this until they are at a certain level, but if doing it with children who have lesser aptitude, it may be beneficial to do only two or three letters at a time.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Car art and favorite links

On Friday we revisited an old favorite: art with cars.  Not too long ago we did painting with cars, (see the bottom of the entry here), so this time we colored with cars.  I just put a little tape around a marker, put it in a whole of the waffle block cars, and secured it, then gave them a large sheet of paper on the floor to use.  Like all art activities that involve cars: it was a hit.

In other news: here are a few links that I have stumbled upon in the last few weeks that have proved good reading.

Not Just Cute: The Disembodied Mind (an article about technology and child development by Amanda Morgan)

Teacher Tom's Blog: Way to Go You're a Genius (an article about IQ, self esteem, praise, and everything in between by Tom Hobson)

Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning: Smothering a Candle (a great science project at home. since we would not be allowed to do it at school)

Friday, February 25, 2011

B is for Baking Blueberry Banana Bread

Most of my class is at an exciting phase of phonological awareness.  They are starting to put things together; starting to understand how letters make sounds and those sounds make words.  They are on the verge of being able to stretch out words to make guesses as to how to spell them.  They love to look for letters everywhere- on posters, on signs, in books- everywhere.  They are starting to recognize words or guess at words; just yesterday a child saw the word "Same,"  and said to me that has "S- A, like Santa!"  It is an exciting, exciting part of their learning.  They are absolutely fascinated with letters and words printed and written.
Today,  we made Blueberry Banana Bread to cover many bases.  I started by making a sign with the recipe on it and hanging it up on a board where we were baking.  Before we started baking we examined the recipe- I read them the ingredients and the instructions and then they pointed out things they noticed.  They noticed all the "B's" at the beginning and launched into a partial recitation of the "Berenstain's B Book,"  they told me about all the numbers they could "read" that talked about measurement, and some other things like the "T" for "tablespoon" is like "T" for "Tommy" in our class, etc.
Then the best part- making the blueberry banana bread!  Baking really does hit so many bases in preschool- there's measurement, motor involvement like pouring and stirring, literacy, and sensory! For mashing bananas, (and in other recipes for mixing),  I give them gloves and let them get right into it with their hands.

Here's the recipe we used (if you are interested).


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries (or 1 3/4 cup of frozen blueberries, thawed) 


  1. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream the shortening and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Beat in bananas. Gradually add the dry ingredients, beating just until combined. Fold in blueberries.
  2. Pour into a large, greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

We ate our bread for snack, (it came out really well!), and I sent them each home with two pieces of the bread in a ziplock bag with the recipe.  This class often asks for recipes- even for things that are prepared by the cook in the kitchen for their meals to take home to their parents! 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Building experiences

As teachers and well educated parents, we know that when children build they are not really just playing.  When children build they are gaining spacial understanding, learning about principles of gravity, engaging creativity, and learning basic principles of, well, building.  They are not naming these principles, but rather simply learning from trial and error; they have no scholarly understanding of these things- but they have a real understanding.  Building is also often a social activity, requiring cooperation, and  resolution skills.
As teachers and parents, we know these things and so we give the children blocks to build with and look for new building experiences for them.

Here are two building experiences recently offered in our classroom:

The first idea is from Bev Bos.  A simple idea- building with hangers.  In the first trial- I hung a hanger from the ceiling and left a bin of hangers for them to use.  They got right to it, but eventually it turned into a game of swinging the hanger to knock the other hangers off.  Still a learning experience, but it made me a little nervous about some one getting hit with the hangers.  Of course no one did, we took precautions and they made a game of falling to the floor and "ducking" whenever someone swung the hangers.
None the less, I thought maybe we should come up with another option, so I took the clothes off the rack from the dress up area and put a couple hangers on the rack to create the environment.  I liked this much better.  Unfortunately, they did not.  They fiddled with it for about 20 minutes, revisited it once for 20 minutes more, but after that it sat just like this for the rest of the day.

The next idea is from Lisa Murphy.  On the table I put out an assortment of small blocks in various sizes, large and small Popsicle sticks, and shaving cream.  Without instruction they immediately started using shaving cream as a building aid.
Some of them used their fingers to spread it, some used popsicle sticks to spread it and some of them didn't spread it at all- just put some on and squished another block on top.

Some children built a structured creation.

Others leaned on the adhesive quality of the shaving cream to make a less structured creation.

Still others weren't interested in it as an adhesive- they used it to cover block structures that they built.

The kids were nuts over the blocks and shaving cream- it is definitely an activity we will repeat soon, as I have daily requests for repeats since the first!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Treasures from the secretary

One day, I made a trip up to the office to ask the church secretary if she had a empty box we could use- she led me into the office to get me a box, and there I saw a treasure of all treasures- a box FULL of poppers (aka bubble wrap) in all different sizes!  I carefully asked "are you going to use those?"

"No," she answered, "do you want them?"  Did I want them? Why, yes; Yes I did.  "I have a whole bag of them over here," she said "take as many as you want."  So I took all of them.  Treasure!
The children used most of it in a half an hour popping frenzy!  It was fantastically fun.

A few weeks later she came downstairs bringing a hard plastic packaging thing that she thought one of the classrooms could use.  I was lucky enough to run into the director first in her search for someone who wanted it.  Of course we did!
I knew as soon as I saw it that it would be great for prints; So today we used that and some of the left over bubble wrap to make prints.

For anyone unfamiliar with printing, it is really simple.  Allow the children to paint the object, then put  a clean sheet of paper on top of it, press, lift, and presto! A beautiful print.  
In the past I have also used the plastic candy holders from the inside of valentines day chocolate for prints (take out, flip upside down, and paint) and they have come out really well.

Here are some samples from the day:

Several children chose to do only one, but two of the girls made a dozen or so a piece.  
Hope you enjoy!