Saturday, February 5, 2011

Budding Authors?

When I attended a Bev Bos conference this fall, one of the things I really loved that she did in her school, (although I loved so much),  was the idea of letting children write stories of their own everyday.  I had done this with the kids before but usually it wasn't a free form story, I usually provided them a topic, or I had them draw a picture and then tell me a story about their picture.  Bev Bos, and the parents who work at her school, walk around daily asking children "how does your story start?" and writing down their responses.  Now, unfortunately, I do not work in a cooperative community school, so therefor it is a lot harder to do it everyday and still have the kind of messy, busy, self directed programming they need, so I generally do it one or two times a week, or if they ask to tell me a story I don't say "no" unless it is an impossibility.  You can read more about this activity in Bev Bos's book: Tumbling Over the Edge.
In any instance I thought that I would share some of their stories today.

These stories are told by a little boy named "Tommy,"  I think the interesting thing to note is the development that takes place from the early stories, to the later stories.  Most of his stories went like this one....

November 24, 2010
A princess one. God. Jesus. A mom.  My dad. That's it. 

December 14, 2010
A princess. A reindeer. A ogre.  A oval.  A princess punched him.  A punch match.  And the monster won back.  Then the lady won back.  Then he run back home.  Mom.  And he runned back and the monster ran back.  Then the ogre run back.  The police ran back.  They want to chase him. The ghost run back.  They run and run.  The mommy run back.  The mommy ogre run back! And then the monster run back to his house and the lady did.  And then the end.  

He told me five stories like the first one before he told me the one on the 14 and it was not a gradual progression from listing characters to speaking in sentences. His most recent entry is as follows (he is not a child that chooses to tell a story all the time):

January 31, 2010
My Easter Bunny ran.  Then I ran to my mom because the Easter Bunny was bad.  Then my mommy was mad because my Aunt was running too.  My Aunt was running because the Easter Bunny was running.  That's the end.  

You can also see that his tenses and agreement for "run" are improving.  Most of his stories resemble car chases (except people/ things are running instead of driving),  I don't know why, but it is fun to note the peculiarities of each child's "writing style."

The next child, "AJ," often writes in ways that resemble poetic verse- sometimes borrowing rhythms or words from rhymes and books we read in class.  This first one seems to borrow from the game "Doggy, Doggy, where's your bone?"

December 12, 2010
Froggy, Froggy where's your gold?  I can't find it in the woods.
Sharky, Sharky, where's your castle?
And really, really, really.
Flower, flower, where's the bee?
Froggy, Froggy, where's your home? 
It's in the woods and on an F.
Doggy, Doggy, where's the T? 
And I can't find it in the woods or anywhere else.
Pointy, Pointy, skunky- skunk. Why? Why?
I  can't find my mommy.
Coffee, coffee I can't find my mom in the home or in coughy cough.

The next one resembles, if not copies, Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb.

January 12, 2011
Dum Dum Dum Ditty Dum Dum Dum.
Mini Dum Dum Dum a me.
Mr. Miss Dummy, Dum, Dum Dum Dum Dum.
Sharky Sharky in a turtle shell.
Miss Kristina, Mr. T-T,
 I can't find you in Tommy's Tummy with his on top of his head.
Mrs. Shroffy, I don't like you. Ditty Dum Dum.
Mr. Nam-na-na- me- zah- zah- da be.
King can't find no where in twenty- fifty, twenty fifty, twenty fifty.
Mr. Floam I don't want to see you.
Mr. Bunny I like you. 
Mr. Shoe untied on Thomas or Brenda or A.J-uh or a belly.
Tie my shoe.

As you might guess this child really likes to listen to Doctor Seuss rhymes and playing nursery rhyme games.   I love that he mimics the musical quality of words and spells out complete non-sense in a kind of literary, musical improve.

Another child, "Elsie," writes stories about the "little frog" nearly every time she tells a story.
November 22, 2010
The little frog went ribbit ribbit and he didn't find his mother.  So he went down to the sea and bonked into something.  Then he found his mother.  
January 13, 2011
The little frog had a little mommy.  He went to a meeting and he didn't know anyone so he found a new mommy.  Now he had little lamb because he didn't know.  He didn't have a dad.  Just he, mommy, and little lamb.  He had a pacifier.  Pacifier, pants on fire! Then he found a BIG mommy again!

In the conference, Bev Bos talked about reading them aloud at the end of the day, which I often do.  She also said that the children would only listen to their story and not pay any attention to the others.  However, I have noticed that this isn't really true for my room.  This might be because I have almost all four or five year olds and only one three year old, I am not really sure.  I have found that they often imitate each other and sometimes seem to have contests: sometimes a contest to see who can tell the longest story, other times to see who can tell the funniest- this class LOVES things that are "funny" or "silly."

Here is an example of a copy cat.  This is a story by Brenda; you can see how it really echoes AJs stories in someway.  (They all really love AJs stories because they are funny).

February 4, 2010
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.  

Sometimes they write stories that are "real" or that resemble (and I use that term loosely) things that happen in real life.

Here's a true story from Trisha: 
January 6, 2011
My mom went to Nebraska but she's not going today.  My Aunt Nanny is sick and can breathe a little.  My mom said I can't go with her, so that's true.  I don't know when my mom is coming back.  That's the story.  I think my mom is going tomorrow or after that day.  I'll miss my mom when she gets back.  I think she's going to be back Tuesday or Friday.  That's it.  

When I read this story to the class, several kids asked Trisha questions about her mom leaving and coming back.  Sometimes it seems that these stories are an outlet for things that their young minds and hearts are working out.  This little girl never told me a story before that day, and when she came in she told me that she had a story to tell me. We got a follow up story a week later.
January 13, 2011
I miss my mom.  She's at Nebraska.  She's going to be back tomorrow.  My Aunt Nanny died.  She died right after my mom came.  I talked to her Tuesday.  She's in heaven now, my Aunt Nanny.   My mom talked to me Tuesday.  Friday she's going to the doctor before she picks me up from my dad's.  Me and my mom are going to my sisters game tomorrow.  My mom said she's coming back tomorrow.  I miss my mom too.  She said she misses her daughter named Trisha.  I bet my mom misses Karen, too.  My sister says she misses our mom, too.  My mom and my sister are going to see mom every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, I think.  

Here's a happier story from Opal (she has older sisters, which will make sense as you read this).
February 4, 2011
AJ is my boyfriend.  We are going to date for twenty weekends and then we are getting married.  Me and AJ are marrying.  Me and AJ are dating.  You don't have a boyfriend, Elsie? Me and AJ are going to have a baby when I grow up.  Me and AJ... that's the end.  I was about to say me and AJ kissed. Can I just get kissed?  You're writing me kissing?  Me and AJ are going to eat dinner.  

I wonder if a lot of other teachers reading do this in their class and what variations they do on story telling?

Friday, February 4, 2011

They like to do what grown- ups do

This week I had two activities that I put out for the kids that shared the common thread of "things grown ups do."  This was not accidental, and not really an idea of mine; it was the idea of the children.
I often put out sponges in water with a little bit of  baby soap in it on Fridays in my room and let the kids clean the tables, chairs, shelves, and toys.  Obviously, this is not a replacement for regular room cleaning, but it stemmed from their interest in watching teachers cleaning tables, toys, and other things during the course of the week., and asking to help.  Sometimes I put out little squirt bottles (with just water) and rags for them to clean with since this is what we actually use;  I tend to do this in the summer since the fans are running and windows open to help dry out the excess water (and we can escape outside while it does dry).

There are plenty of benefits to this activity- pride and sharing in responsibility in their classroom, gross motor development, and learning words like "wring," but importantly, the children really enjoy doing this, as they enjoy mimicking many other activities that adults do.  I also keep little hand sweepers in the room for them to sweep whenever they want but also to sweep up spills from the sensory table or little pieces of paper at the art table, etc.  (Generally, I do not make them sweep things up, but when they are done I ask them if they could help sweep up (they usually are excited to do so) , if they say they don't want to then I "help" sweep- meaning I sweep and they come to my aide as much or little as they want to).

The next activity is new to my "repertoire,"  after I had a child ask to use my hole punch and then several others wanted one too.  I bought several hole punches and left them out with colored scrap paper and let them go to town.  They seemed happy enough just to punch holes for the sake of punching, and I kept the "dots"  they didn't want for collages, etc.

While they just enjoy this activity for its own sake- it is also a very practical activity.  This develops hand muscles and coordination needed for writing and cutting.  A child, who had just been using the hole punch, and then started to use the scissors, said to me "scissors easy after the hole puncher."  Sometimes I wonder if they read my mind.  :-)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Collages: A sticky topic

I used to have trouble finding the right type of glue for collages, and I wonder if others have had this trouble too.  If I gave them bottles of Elmer's glue it often would end up in puddle size blobs all over their paper- it would run, it would drip, it would spill over the edges as I took it to the paint rack, and in the end the collage "materials" would slide right off the edge with it.  Glue sticks didn't always keep things on the paper, especially weighty things like shells.  Paste was sometimes not the greatest to work with- stick materials to their fingers rather than their papers and not easily be moved to the papers, and would create globs all over their paste, that when dried looked like a clear version of  something that might come out of their noses.  (I apologize for the unpleasantness of that last statement, but it is true).
Finally, I came up with this idea:  I put Elmer's glue (we buy it in huge bulk containers) in paint cups for them and added a little liquid watercolor and paint brushes.

I put it on the table with whatever materials I had for collages. 

The materials above include mixed dried beans, buttons, colored pasta, scented rice, and a plate of sequins, beads, foam shapes, shells, little wood pieces, and other random things from the dark depths of the bottom of my collage bin.  Of course there are hundreds of options for collages; Although I really like to give them a variety of materials for them to use as they want to, it is very easy to do theme collages for theme type teachers; For Valentines day I recently saw some cute collages done with heart sequins, ribbons, heart buttons, and heart foam shapes.  (For instructions to make scented rice and colored pasta- see my entry here). 

 This truly has worked better than any glue substance that I have used yet.  I have been using it for about a year now.

They spread it over their paper in reasonable amounts (without any guidance) and it held everything to their papers.

Some of them actually use it like paint and then just put a little button here, a little paper there, but this also comes out looking very nice.

(Here is a picture of some voluntary sorting one of the kids was working on today that I couldn't resist putting up).

As far as clean up goes, soaking brushes and cups gets the glue off nicely, and works for the table too, although if you let the glue dry on the table it peels up in big pieces which can be fun- the kids always help me do that.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"If it hasn't been in the hand, it can't be in the brain"

"If it hasn't been in the hand, it can't be in the brain."  Bev Bos

Here are some ideas to accomplish just that.  Most of these things can be used multiple ways- in and out of sensory bins, at home and in schools.  

#1: Mixed dried beans 
Last week we had beans in the sensory bin (actually there were peas and corn as well). This isn't really anything special, but it it really pretty and promotes sorting.  They were specifically fascinated by picking out the huge white lima beans. 

The mix of kidney beans, pinto beans, white lima beans, black beans, black eyed peas, split peas, and left over indian corn kernels make up this mix, but really any mixture of beans/ etc will do.  Below you can see there were spoons scoops and cups in the sensory bin but also sometimes ice trays or muffin tins can encourage sorting as well.

#2: Goop (also known as "Cloud Dough")
Last week we also made what my kids call "goop"- a concoction borrowed from Lisa Murphy, the Ooey Gooey Lady.   This mixture is made up of only two ingredients flour and baby oil- so you have double sensory smell and touch.  (I love the smell of baby oil).  
I let them help make the goop, they decided to have just slightly more runny than doughy.  

They also wanted to add a little blue.  

After a while they asked if we could have more goop in the sensory bin, so we made more- this time the "goop" was much more like dough.  

#3:  Moon Sand
Recently, a parent donated four small bags of Moon Sand with "Moon Sand toys" to our classroom.  While, yes, you can make really cool sensory things on your own or use just wet sand, Moon Sand is pretty cool, and versatile.  For anyone unfamiliar with it, it holds shape like wet sand and never dries out.  This Moon Sand came with some houses, a swing, some cars, and some people molds. They didn't care much about the swing or houses, but they (of course) loved the car, and also really loved the people molds. 

I put it out on box tops, (that we seem to have an abundance of), for easy set up and clean up.  They seem to enjoy it as a quiet activity.  This is also really great for any children that require sensory input. If he or she starts losing control I can just pop the top on the table and ask the child if he or she would like to play with Moon Sand (the answer is always yes).  For an "on the go" option, I can put it in a ziplock and stick it in my apron pocket, then when I need it I just hand the bag to the child and let him or her squeeze the bag.  It works for sensory input or as a transition activity.  

#4: Water, ice, snow

See entry here about water play.  There is really no end to what they can do playing with water in any form.  

#5:  Colored Noodles, Scented Rice

I took full advantage of the snow day today to create some new things for collages, mosaics, and our sensory bin.  

The scented rice idea came from this entry at I modified it slightly, however.  In a bowl I mixed 2 packets of Koolaid with 3 teaspoons of boiling water and a teaspoon and a half of rubbing alcohol, until completely dissolved.  Next I put this liquid into a ziplock bag containing six cups of dry rice.  I mixed the rice and liquid completely.  Then I laid it out for four hours on wax paper before putting it in an air tight container. 

For the pasta I started with the instructions found here, but, again, modified it.  I used only a teaspoon of food coloring, and three teaspoons of rubbing alcohol, then added it to a ziplock bag containing 3 cups of pasta.  The instructions at the website above suggest that there should be more food coloring and less pasta, but as you can see below the pasta is quite dark and while they will lighten a bit when they completely dry, it will not be a lot.  

Purple mini rotinelle (wheels)
Green mini farfalle (bow ties)
mini orecchiette (shells)

Hot pink mini radiatori (nuggets)

Have fun and enjoy; I know we will. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An awesome creation

I say this a hundred times, but the thing about teaching is, the kids teach me all the time.  For the last few days we have had water in the sensory bins in my room.  This is nothing unusual.  Water is a pretty common sensory bin filler.  In it I placed many scoops, funnels, sponges, spoons, etc.  I also had a wheel in it (always fun for the first ten minutes), an old fashioned hand mixer,  and two turkey basters.
In this water table there are several things that they explored.  I added soap yesterday so they spent a lot of time creating many bubbles using the mixer and sponges to whisk up and squeeze out bubbles.  I added ice and they scooped and melted ice.  They also put the the funnel wide side up over the turkey baster end so that it extended the length.  
The Discovery
The greatest discovery, however, came a half an hour before lunch.  One little girl, we will call Brenda, was occupied with the idea of getting the turkey baster to squirt straight up in the air.  She couldn't because there was not enough water in the bulb to go up the length of the tube, not even to just pour and dribble over the sides.  Seeing this, a friend, we will call Georgia, attached a right side- up funnel to the upside down turkey baster and began pouring water into the funnel.  It took a while for her to realize that she had to squeeze the bulb of the turkey baster to get the water to run down into the baster and not remain in the funnel, but once she did it was fantastic.  They would shoot water  out the top of the funnel by squeezing the bulb of the turkey baster-  taking turns being the girl to stabilize the device, and the girl to squeeze the bulb.  They would refill and do it over and over, now adding another friend, Tina, to the mix.  It wasn't long before the entire room was watching these three girls.  Sometimes it shot out with a kind of coarse mist and other times just a thin stream.  Sometimes they would add too much water and it would just bubble over in the funnel.  Sometimes the water shot out only a few inches, other times it hit the ceiling (about 9 feet high)  and traveled a few feet across the room!

What they learned
So what was the point of this?  Was this just "another day" at play?  No, no, this was something big.  At lunch most days I go around the table and ask each child what they liked about today.  Every single child said that the thing they liked best today was when Brenda and Georgia were shooting the water out of their creation, even the ones who were just watching.  They learned something that day, they learned about the power of water, the power of suction, and the power of air.  They may not know these words yet, (although I probably mentioned them during the course of this activity) but when they encounter the word "suction" they have a concrete experience to attach it to.  
More than this, they learned about team work.  They could never have done this without an extra set of hands to stabilize the device.  
They also created, on their own, a simple machine; If that does not empower a child, if that does not build self esteem, if that does not inspire them to build and create, if that does not create passion for them, I don't know what does.  
This will be a lasting memory for many of these children, and sometimes positive memories that contain them doing GREAT things, is what it is all about.  

A lesson for you, a lesson for me
Like I said at the beginning, these children teach me all the time, and boy did I learn something today.  Three and a half years ago when I started teaching this discovery NEVER would have happened.  I would have been too wrapped up in getting them to keep the water in the sensory bins on the table.  Yes, I had a lot of cleaning today, and yes, one little girl slipped and fell, but that same girl refused ice because she wanted to get back to the activity as soon as she could.  They had so much fun today, and they worked so hard, and took turns and worked together.  I could never teach that by showing them how to do this, (though truthfully I never would have thought of using those two tools that way- my imagination is limited as an adult, not to mention my inclination to explore or try something that doesn't make "sense"), they taught themselves how to make it.  I also could not teach them something like the necessity of sharing and team work.  I could tell them "if you share, if you take turns, and if you work together, it would be more fun,"  but they never would have believed me, or really even internalized that statement.  Yet, they were sharing, not because they knew that "good" girls share, but because if they didn't share the other friend would stop helping, making it impossible to do, and because it is more fun to experience  something like that with a friend.  Joy shared is joy doubled, (I think that is how the saying goes),  and indeed the sheer delight those girls experienced was contagious.  I know beyond a doubt that this was better than any "teacher project" they could have done.  Preschoolers are not designed to sit at a desk and listen to a teacher teach AT them.  Sitting around and talking about water, about snow, about rain, is not really learning for them.  They have to see it, touch it, play with it, manipulate it, and do what perhaps some overly discerning adult would tell them not to do.  Children can harness potential, passion, and creativity in a way adults only dream they could.   
It is times like this that I wonder how many times I am holding them back from a major discovery by putting unnecessary limits and boundaries in their world.  By telling them not to do something or even by telling the TO DO something- am I hindering their natural instinct to learn and explore their environment?  More and more I realize that, as silly as it sounds, my role should be a "facilitator of learning, "  not a "teacher" in the traditional sense.  It is my job to know what they NEED to learn and to bring them the tools, the space, the time to learn it.  Everyday we as teachers, (or sometimes we as parents), have to create the environment and circumstances for children to learn.  These children teach me how to teach them everyday, and sometimes they teach me how to make a fountain/ shooter/ geyser/ out of a turkey baster and funnel.  

Monday, January 31, 2011

Education Reform: Why do we trust politicians with your child's education?

I used to say that I wasn't interested in politics.  The thing is, that politics affect all of us; and as a parent or a teacher the rumblings of Washington are very significant to us.  

Early educators everywhere are being called to push math and science and literacy.  So my question is, what exactly do they presume that we are doing? Playing, I guess.  However, if the education system is failing, if the education system is getting worse- isn't it time to turn around from the direction educational politics are taking us and perhaps ask someone who knows how to educate children?  Isn't it time to ask teachers?  

Why are we asking business men how to best educate our children?  Why are we asking politicians, lawyers, and anyone but teachers how to educate our children? Do you think that business men, lawyers, and political- science students studied child development in depth? 

Take writing.  Children cannot write until they have the proper hand development to do so (this usually happens at about 4), and until the have the fine muscle coordination to do so.  They have to through 5 stages of scribbling to be able to write.  If they are never allowed to scribble because it is "playing,"  how then, are can they ever learn to write? Furthermore they need to have an understanding of words and how they are used, that letters are part of words, and words are used to communicate.  They need to understand the connection between printed and spoken word.  

"Many people today struggle and give up communicating with others because their linguistic foundation is weak." -Bev Bos  

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but the bottom line is, in a DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE CLASSROOM children are learning what they need to, when they need to.  Expecting a child who as not gained the proper experiences to read and write (after only having been on the planet for three years) is like teaching a seventh grader, who has not yet mastered even algebra (let alone trig or geometry), calculus.  It might be possible, but it makes no sense and what important mathematical discoveries did he or she miss?  I'll go one more: it is like cutting of his or her hands and expecting them to play catch.  

Example One:  When children are playing, they are learning.  Playing in a sensory bin of mixed beans they may (and probably will) practice sorting, practice counting, examine and label colors and more. 

Example Two:  Using pipettes with runny paints on a paper towel canvas put on an easel allows develops fine motor skills that they need to write and cut.  It also allows them to mix colors and see what happens.  They can also observe absorption and the effects of gravity.  In the words of Bev Bos children need "experiences to attach words to," (Turning Over the Page, Bev Bos).  An activity like this and a billion others that are happening in preschool rooms all over the country, and the world, everyday.  

Here are blog entries from other people that really should be read:


Turning Over the Page:  A Rant For Children's Play, Bev Bos

The Power of Play, David Elkind

Play = Learning, Singer, Golinkoff, Hirsh-Pasek