Saturday, January 15, 2011

Play based learning from the pages of the New York Times

Within days of the New Year it is promising to me that the New York Times has just published an article about play based learning! I hope you enjoy it:  Effort to Restore Children's Play Gains Momentum

Image by Brian Blanco for the New York Times

Friday, January 14, 2011

Self- direction is the best direction.

I love it when children create their own programming.  It's one of my favorite parts of my job- when they come up with a topic that I can help them explore.  Just the other day I had brought in a tub of snow for them to play in and had objects for them to use for the snow (like an empty ice tray, a "sifter," shovels, buckets, etc).  One child, while filling up the ice tray, said "we should ask Miss D. to put this in the oven so we can have ice cubes."  I asked them a silly question: "wait, how do we make ice cubes from the snow?"  "You cook it in the oven," he answered, unwavering.  "Is that so?"  By now the rest of the children were listening and had decided that he was probably right- if you "cooked" snow in the oven you would have ice cubes.
So we tried it.  I had them fill a baking pan with snow, and we asked Miss D. to put it in the oven while we ate our lunch.  Minutes later we took it our of the oven- water (as you probably knew).  "Why isn't it ice?" I asked. 
 One little girl piped up- "because it is hot in the oven, so the snow melted."  "
Oh,"  I answered, "so we can't make ice?" 
"Put it in the freezer!" Nearly all of them yelled at once.
So we did, and then they played with the ice it made.
Now, this is not rocket science, but discoveries like this are so important for this age group.  Not to mention, they were so proud of this discovery that they told nearly anyone who would listen that they knew how to make snow into ice. explaining they had to melt the snow first and then put it in the freezer.
Nothing like a little science on the fly.

Builders and Bulldozers

This past summer we had a woman, (who unfortunately I only knew as Miss Lynn), who came to our school to do Eat Well, Play Hard lessons with the children.  There was much of this program that was not really well suited to our threes and fours, but there was one game that she brought for the children to play that was perfect.  
This game is called "Builders and Bulldozers" and it is one of the children's favorite games.  It requires very little by way of materials and very little instruction.  All you need are several large plastic cups (we have 14 that we use).  First set cups upside down on the floor, spaced out across the entire room or playing area outside. We split the children up into two groups; the "bulldozers" knock the cups over and the "builders" put them back up the right way.  There are two rules: no "flying" cups, and you have to keep moving. We give the bulldozers a five second head start so that the builders have cups to build back up. They will usually play for about 10-20 minutes without getting remotely distracted, and we switch bulldozers with builders half way through.  

This game can be great for transitions and can also be great for days when all the children are antsy or grumpy.  I have never once (so far) had a child not want to play this game.

Sometimes when we play it's every child for his or herself, but other times they work as a pair or in teams trying to be the faster group.  In the past they have come up with a type of wave strategy where all the builders travel from area to area "building," or sometimes they assign each child an area of his or her own to demolish so that no area is left unattended at anytime.  Above you can see two children working together to build faster.  This pair discovered that it was faster to run and slide on their knees the build the cups back up rather than bend over! 

Have a great weekend, readers!  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

An article worth reading

I "stumbled upon" this article today.   It discusses several important issues effecting the cognitive and emotional development of children; including commercialism, changes in education to minimize play, and hover parenting.  A great read for educators and parents alike. 


"It seems that in the rush to give children every advantage — to protect them, to stimulate them, to enrich them — our culture has unwittingly compromised one of the activities that helped children most [-play]. All that wasted time was not such a waste after all."   

Alix Spiegel, "Old- Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills," NPR, 2008.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fabulous Shaving Cream!

I was recently reminded, when scrolling through this blog, of a Bev Bos recipe for shaving cream art.  Instead of just using shaving cream and color, which does adhere to paper very well, you mix shaving cream with equal parts "Elmer's Glue."  (We used a generic version which worked equally as well).

In instances like these I usually just start out getting the supplies set up to work with as though I am going to make the shaving cream- paint myself and with in minutes I have the entire class gathered around begging to help; so... I let them ;-).

I let them empty the shaving cream container and whip it up, I had to pour the glue because the container is quite heavy.  They decided that they wanted to have blue and purple paint so I split it into two containers added blue to one and asked them what colors to add in order to make purple.  One child answered blue and red, another red and yellow.  We talked about it and took a vote to see which way we should make purple- we ended up with orange paint, so you can tell who "won."  I make a habit of using only primary colors fairly often so that they can discover how to make secondary colors on their own.  

The end product is a little firmer, a little more slimy, and a little more sticky. It is in every respect as GREAT as shaving cream though.  

Both of these bowls were completely full and I used only one can of shaving cream.  The result was enough for 14 papers with as much shaving cream as each child wanted.  

After they washed their hands they came to the other table where their papers were waiting for them with bottles of glitter and two baskets of odds and ends we use for collages.  As many of you know, there is no such thing as too much glitter.  

One of the most amazing things about this shaving cream is the amount of material it can hold on the paper.  All of these things went up on the wall as they are and lost little, if any glitter or collage materials from them.  It almost works better than glue it self.  The other amazing thing about this is how it feels when it dries.  I can't even quite describe it, so you will have to try it at home for yourself.  

Something that I often do in my classroom with art type things is to do the same thing the next day with a slight variation.  I do this for a few reasons.  First, children learn, experience, and experiment in repetition.  The other reason is that often even if they get to do the project two or three times the first day they would still have done more if they didn't have to leave or go to lunch.  They almost always are really happy to do it again the next day.  

The second day of this project we started out by making our own "sparkles," (their word for glitter, colored sand, or any similar substance), in preparation for the shaving cream art.  I poured them each a small plate of kosher salt, (I don't think it is important for it to be kosher, it was just what we had), and they went straight to work coloring it with chalk.  Each child made at least two plates, which were set aside for them to use later.  

While most of the children sprinkled the salt on like glitter, two of them mixed the salt into the shaving cream mixture.  When they mixed it in they were able to pick up the shaving cream off the paper in a ball of what looked and felt like crystallized dough.  They then squeezed it and water came out of the ball, and the ball compressed.  They had no artwork to show for it except the ball- which remained the same after "drying," but it was a really cool experience for them.  

Below you can see some of the artwork from the second time we worked with the shaving cream- paint. This time they chose pink and purple and remembered how to make purple from the trial and error session the day before! 

We Need a Little Christmas

I like to calmly and gently ease out of the Christmas Season at school. I mean, technically, Christmas isn't over until Epiphany which is the second Sunday after Christmas.  Not to mention, at school, we get to deal with all the hype of Christmas, all the excitement and craziness; So it's nice to get a chance to enjoy the calm of Christmas when it has actually (and finally) come.  
I never take the Christmas tree up in our class until one of the children ask either why the tree is still up or if they can take their ornaments home now.  We just took the tree down Monday at school, which is more than I can say for my house. (As a side note we don't start reading Christmas books, unless they are requested, before Thanksgiving, or doing Christmas activities.  Of course Christmas songs, like all songs are never off limits). 
The other benefit of not rushing to tell them Christmas is over and taking down everything that remotely reminds them of Christmas is that I get left over flowers from my church, so there for ripping out my recording of sleigh ride and presenting them with Poinsettias to do with as they pleased yesterday morning was not even slightly out of place to them.  

The advantage of this project is that it requires no money, little preparation, little planning, oh, and the kids GO NUTS for it.  The downside is that it is incredibly messy.  Prepare for dirt everywhere. 

The first order of business for them was dumping everything out and/ or ripping off the stems.

A few of the girls gathered the flowers into blossoms and asked me to tape them together into "wedding flowers" (see below).

"Miss Elizabeth, why is this dirt stuck in here?"  "What do you think?"  "This stringy stuff."  "Do you know what it's called?" "No." "Let's ask your friends."  "Hey guys Miss Elizabeth doesn't know what this stringy stuff is."  "It's a weed!"  "They're the roots!" "Yeah roots!" "Look I got it out"

"Wedding flower dancing."  I wish I could show you this whole picture, their faces are priceless. 

 My favorite part of the three hours of digging, getting married, emptying pots and filling pots, and ripping roots and flowers, was this:  They put the flowers back in the dirt.  One clever child concluded "they won't stay standing up because we ripped the roots and they will die." Awesome! Maybe there is hope for them not destroying the classroom plants after all! 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Indoor Winter Wonderland

In New York it is often too cold to go outside (legally) in the winter time.  In order to go outside, the center policy is that it has to be warmer than 25 degrees including the wind chill factor, and even then there are various time constraints based on how cold it is.  This problem often leads to cabin fever that no amount of super- fun gross motor activities can seem to cure.  The magic balm rather is bringing the outside in.  In the winter I bring tubs full of snow inside from the outside. We do many things with the snow.  Sometimes I have them put gloves on and they play in the snow however they see fit; this often results in several  miniature snow men on various surfaces waiting to melt.  We also stir it, put trucks in it, melt it with salt, pour warm water in it, dig in it, and anything else you can think of.  My favorite activity with the tubs of snow however, (and theirs too), is variations on snow paint.  

Here are some pictures from a few weeks ago:

I had several small squirt bottles out filled with their choice of water and liquid water color.  We ran out of liquid water colors on this particular occasion so I just started using food coloring and water.  They work about the same, the only downside to food coloring is that the color is more watered down and there for not as vibrant and doesn't take as easily to the snow.  It still works fine, though.

I also gave them Dixie cups filled with water and liquid water color, pipettes, and eye droppers.  They were fascinated with the holes that they could make in the snow by dropping the contents of their pipettes in the same spot over and over again.  I also gave them spoons and forks that they used to dig or rake the snow.  When they first started, once they had covered the surface of the snow with color, they would dig down and bring up white snow to put on top and start all over again.  

We did this several times over- we used about 6 bins of snow this paticular day and we would have used more if we didn't have to go to lunch.  
As you can see we ended up with quite a variety of colors.

This is one of my favorite shots; It is "a mountain" that they made unintentionally and one little girl sprayed and sprayed this mountain.  The holes in the top are from the water stream from the spray bottles; She held the spray bottle not even a centimeter away from it while spraying.  The mountain was made when they were digging "valleys" for the "rivers;"  At this point the snow had melted down enough and enough of the color had gathered at the bottom beneath the snow that, if they dug deep, they created rivers of liquid water color.  

On this day I let them play in it again after lunch and nap time, when it resembled glaciers in blackish water.  This was an interesting discovery for them.  They were surprised that the water from the melted snow was cold for some reason.  

On other occasions they have put glitter in the snow, buried buttons and dug them out again, put chalk in it that they smashed up using mortars and pestles but  ultimately they always come back to just wanting to do spray bottles and pipettes with colored water.   In a very slight variation of this I put ordinary colored water and pipettes and spray bottles at one table and the same things at another except I had them dissolve salt in the water.  They did ask for spoons and forks or shovels but I told them that I didn't have any that day so they would pay attention to what was happening. They went back from table to table and eventually found out that the salt water melted the snow much more efficiently than than the plain water.  Once this discovery was made it was every child at the "salt" table; They worked together spraying and dropping until the entirety of the snow melted into salty indigo liquid.  I put out the salt bottles another day, but they weren't as interested in melting; the discovery had already been made.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Magnet Discovery

I am checking "creating a preschool blog" off of my resolutions for 2011.  

Today I set up a magnet station in our room.  I got some ideas for this from the blog Not Just Cute.  

I started with this sensory bin full of junk.  Among some of the contents: plastic and metal spoons, child proof scissors, an eye lash curler, metal bottle tops, twist- ties (for produce from the grocery store), holiday tin, paper clips, golf tees, plastic and metal cookie cutters, shredded gift paper, key rings, plastic and metal buttons, and much more.  Obviously there were both magnetic and nonmagnetic objects for their discovery.  

I provided them with three options for magnets:
these ancient classroom magnets,
these magnetic pin cushions,
and these gloves that I attached adhesive magnets to.  

When the children first started in the center they were more interested in playing with the objects in the bin and didn't even touch the magnets.  When I collected items for the bin I wanted to give them as many things to use magnets on as possible.  I didn't consider the fact that, to a four year old, an eye lash curler and a coiled whisk are fascinating objects; so much so that they can stand as toys on their own. Luckily, after about 10 minutes they started to experiment with magnets and I could breathe a sigh of relief that the activity wasn't a flop.  

After about 5 minutes they asked me if they could have a container to put all the things that "stuck" to the magnets in. I gave them one and soon they decided that they needed another one to get the things that didn't stick out of their way. 
After they finished sorting them they dumped all the objects back into the bin and resorted them. A few children came and went to and from this area but they repeated this project several times. 

One of my boys tried to tell his friends that when he put the gloves on he had magic powers because he could pick up the metal things in the bin.  When they argued that they could just pick up the metal things with their hands (without gloves), he put the glove on backward, proclaiming "you can't pick things up with the back of your hands, I have super powers!"

After quite a while of playing "magnet super heroes,"  one of the girls took the magnetic pin cushion and made this:

I never even thought of making magnet sculptures (they called it a magnet statue), with the pin cushions.  I had assumed that they would just use the pin cushions like the horseshoe magnets.  They amaze me everyday.