Saturday, February 12, 2011

10 Ideas for Valentine's Day

Since I do not spend an inordinate amount of time on Holidays (some Holidays we only really celebrate the day of), I thought that I would write an entry on things we do and have done in the past for Valentines Day for any one who is scrounging around for ideas.

I don't really like the traditional Valentine's Day parties that involve a lot of sweets and a lot of commercialism (although what more can you ask of a holiday that was practically invented by commercialism then, well, commercialism).  Instead we spend the day celebrating friendship and celebrating the things that they love.

1:  Most everyone probably already does this but I let them sort the Valentines they bring in into their friends Valentine's Day "mailboxes,"  (some years mailboxes have been boxes, some years decorated bags, and my very first year we made hearts laced together all around the edges, except for the top that they would slide the Valentines into).  As most 4 year old preschool classes, they can all read each others names, and so have a great time delivering mail by themselves.

2:  Letter Delivery
In the past I have equipped them with miniature mailboxes, "letter bags" and baskets, envelopes and cheap Valentines day stationary in the "dramatic play" center (although truthfully any number of "centers" involve dramatic play, and this activity never stays quarantined to that area).  They love making "love letters," Valentines, and pictures for their friends and playing mailman/ women to deliver the precious cargo.  I should mention that every year the class invariably starts using the shopping cart to more effectively taxi their mail.

3: Valentine's Ice
This past week we have been experimenting with ice in our sensory area and will continue to do this on Monday, adding a little bit of a Valentine's sentiment to it to satisfy their interest in the Holiday.  They have had fun the last few days extracting toys from ice that we have let freeze both in the freezer and outdoors.  So for Valentines day We will experiment with both extractable and non extractable objects.
The non-extractable pan is made by filling a large pan half way with water and letting it freeze while making colored ice shapes (in this case I am using circles and hearts), once both are frozen I put the shapes on top of the sheet of ice and put it back in the freezer, meanwhile I put I pitcher of water in the freezer.  When the water in the pitcher starts to form a thin layer of ice on the top, I break through the ice and pour the water in with the shapes on the sheet of ice.  When the water is about a third of the way to the top of the shapes I stop and put it back in the freezer.  Once that water freezes (it will be higher than you poured it because, remember, water is one of the few substances that expands when frozen), I add more water so that it nearly touches the top of the shapes.  Once that freezes the shapes are either submerged or just level with the surface of the water.  I prefer them to stick out of the top just a little bit so they can feel the shapes.

For the extractable bin I have some beads, blocks spelling LOVE and some Valentines cookie cutters.  For this, just add water and freeze.
When they play in the ice they use hammers and screwdrivers from their tool set, metal spoons, and some rationed rock salt to extract (or try to extract) objects.

4.  Play "A Tisket a Tasket,"
And yes, I actually use a green and yellow basket that I save from Easter! Although, in a pinch I have just tied a green and yellow ribbon around the handle.  There are instructions for this game here after the song- to spare myself writing it all out; we actually use a letter instead of a handkerchief like these instructions suggested in this document.

5.  Lipstick kisses
This is actually an idea from Lisa Murphy's book the OOey Gooey Handbook.  Buy some cheap lipstick, sometimes they have some at dollar stores or Big Lots or other such stores- preferably enough for each child to have one, but if not, set up q-tips prepared with lipstick on both ends before hand.  Let kids put lipstick on themselves (make sure to have a big mirror or some hand mirrors around), and them let them smooch the paper! Clean up is easy with baby wipes.

6. Loving Sentiment Cards
For this activity I have a large paper heart with each child's name on it.  On each heart I write one thing that I really like about that child (Bev loves to paint, Sam always works really hard to finish puzzles, Sally always greets teachers with a smile), and have all the other teachers in the room do the same.  Then the children are offered opportunities to tell a teacher something they really like about their friends (sometimes it's things like love her shoes, sometimes I like when he plays with me, he's funny, or I just love him), In years past I had them say something about each of their friends, other times I just let them say something about whoever they want to (or no one if they don't want to at all), at the end of the day I send it home for them to look at with their parents.  All of the kids in preschool are pretty close, almost like a little family, so every child always ends up with quite a few loving (and sometimes comical) sentiments left on their heart.

7.  Valentines Brunch

Instead of having parents bring sweets which gives kids sudden bursts of non constructive energy and then causes them to crash and be grumpy and moody the rest of the day, I have parents bring in ingredients for our brunch... cinnamon raisin bread, eggs, juice, syrup,  and fresh or frozen strawberries that I add a tiny bit of sugar to (the school provides milk and celery and carrot sticks because they are part of the would have been lunch that is no longer served because we are having an 11:30 brunch in it's stead).

8.  Put a little love in the air
For Valentine's Day I create a CD from music that I already have at home:  A collection of love songs from Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and others.  I love the love songs of that era, and they like to bubble along with the music all day.

9.  Put a little love song in their heart
We sing some fun love songs through out the month of February or whenever they are requested there after (and sometimes make a CD for the parents of the kids featuring these songs, but I can't tell you if we are doing it this year because parents read this blog).  Some of these songs include "Skinamirinky "  from the Elephant Show
"I love you" from Barney
"L is for the way you look at me"- jazz love song
"Two little bugs"- by Shari Louis
"A Frog went a courtin'"
They love all these songs- of course you could do any number of catchy love songs with them and they would love them equally, these are just some suggestions.

10.  Write about love
Many, many times a week, a month, a year, the children get to dictate stories or similar things to teachers in my room and we write them down.  For Valentine's day I love to ask them "what is love?" and write whatever they say.  You get some hilarious answers and some tear- jerkers too.   I will never get my first year teaching that a little boy told me "love is my baby brother"- his baby brother had been born only weeks earlier.   I usually keep a copy for their portfolio and send a copy home.

(For another, more structured, idea you could make heart shaped stained glass which you can find instructions to here).

More light exploration (stained glass art project)

Our school is lucky enough to be housed by a church that has beautiful stained glass windows.   Sometimes we walk upstairs to the church and sit in the sanctuary, because it's nice to stretch our legs for the walk upstairs, and with the light reflecting through the predominately blue and purple glass it is incredibly peaceful,  and nice to have a few quiet moments together on moody, antsy days.
Once a year (or sometimes more) we take a "field trip" to the church upstairs specifically to look at the stained glass. On the best days, like today, when there is a little sun, we can stretch out our hands and see the colored shapes cast on them by the sun shining through the windows.  We can get up close to the glass and admire it, and peer through at the yellow, or green, or purple world outside the colored windows.  We can admire the great height of the glass, and the beauty.  There is a lot to be seen on a trip to an empty church.

 Even the boys are fascinated by the stained glass.

After there has been plenty of time to look, admire, and explore, we head back down stairs.  

We get a little fine motor practice in cutting up tissue paper into small shapes...

Decorate strips of clear contact paper with the tissue paper... (some children discovered that if you put one piece of tissue paper over another it would make a new color)...

... and stick it to our own windows to enjoy just a little taste of beauty of the church in our own room. 

In other news, we added old CDs to our cave of wonders which, when the flashlights were on them, created rainbows in the cave!  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cave of Wonders

Inspired by the fantastic Teacher Tom and his blog entry on a "light and dark den,"  I started begging my parents for dark colored sheets and disco balls for my vision of how I could replicate this in someway.   When I finally had a few sheets and had rounded up some Christmas bulbs that were quite reminiscent of disco balls (and one "modern" light disco ball to be used at a later date), I assembled this cave under the train table.  I had to leave the little hole in the front so that I can see what is going on in there, for safety reasons and because of regulations.

Inside there were a slew of pillows, three mini disco balls attached to the underside of the table in a way conducive to spinning, some glow in the dark stars and moons on the underside of the table (also a parent donation), and three flashlights.

They were mesmerized by the light reflecting off the mirrored balls....

... and the patterns made on the walls, "ceiling," and floor....

They made shadows on the wall and told ghost stories.

Stories about kid- eating bears...

and even a scary story about "bloody bones" passed down from Dad.

And when it was time for lunch, they begged for more time in the cave, and were only convinced to leave with promises of doing it again this after noon and the next day.

It was a place of discovery, a place to bond, a place to escape, and a place to enjoy a little bit of quiet.

The kids called it a "cave," and I jokingly called it a "cave of wonders,"  but that is what stuck with them, and we cannot wait to spend more time in the cave of wonders tomorrow.  :-)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Failure: Not something to be discounted

As adults, we are afraid of failure and often are more than willing to pass this fear on to children.  Luckily, the world of adults and the world of kids are, well, worlds apart.

Today my class decided, (while playing on the balance beam), that they didn't want to walk on the balance beam, they wanted to "swim" under the balance beam like a "bridge."  Since the balance beam is about three inches off the floor, this made for an interesting proposition.

Miss Elizabeth, can we make the balance beam higher so we can swim under it?
Yes, what are you going to use?

Failure #1:  A dispute erupts: Some children want to use chairs, others want to use blocks.  Screaming starts, and I step in as a mediator.
"How do you think we can decide whether to use blocks or chairs?"
Eenie Meenie Miney Mo!
A vote!
"Should we use Eenie Meenie Miney Mo, or vote?"
You have to love democracy. Finally after taking a vote, it is decided that they will use chairs first.  A few "you're not coming to my birthday"s and "I don't want to play anymore"s, and the children with chairs were on their way.

Failure #2: They tried putting chairs under either end of the balance beam at first, but couldn't get the balance beam to stay on them. After witnessing the first failure, the children who wanted blocks decided to come back offering a different way to use the chairs:

Failure #3:  They tried resting the balance beam on a row of chairs, but then they couldn't crawl under because the space between the chair legs was too narrow.

Failure #4:  The initial craftsmenship of the the blocks that would support the balance beam was far too shaky to actually support it even for a second.

Failure #5:  The new, more stable block supports, in actuality did not make the balance beam much higher at all, at least not tall enough to crawl under.

Success! They put the supports that the balance beam comes with on top of the the block supports and are able to crawl under the "bridge."  

Failure #6:  One child insisted on lifting up one end to put more blocks under to make it higher which resulted in the demolition to the end shown below.  Angry voices shouted "hey stop!"  "you're breaking it!" Still, the builder continued, until Daisy walked over and said, "look over there.  You are breaking that end," while pointing to the damaged end, "can you please stop doing that?"  The demolisher stopped and helped to repair the other end.  They rebuilt the broken end and made the ends level again.  

It is very hard, sometimes, as an adult to not jump in and help.  It is hard not to "just show them" how to put the balance beam on blocks so that it is high enough to crawl under.  It is hard not to jump in and stop the child who is demolishing one end of the supports.  However, if I had stepped in to help the first time that the balance beam could not be supported by their designs, what would they have learned?  They would have learned that grown ups can do it.  That's it.  
Because they were allowed to do it themselves, they worked together on a group goal.  They used communication and conflict resolution skills; once they had help to resolve a conflict, but they resolved a major conflict on their own and several smaller conflicts on their own as well.  They learned many, many principles of building, and enhanced their spacial understanding.  They had to deal with principles of balance and cause and effect.  
Whenever a child "fails" or "does it wrong,"  they learn to do it better; they eliminate a possibility, and go on to a new attempt or possibility.  Sometimes they implement their new understanding immediately, and sometimes, they store the information for another day.  Still other times, they need to repeat the same thing to fully understand.  This process is important, and it is an age old practice:  trial and error.  
This endurance, this perseverence, we can only hope will stay with them when they face adversity, adversity that everyone has to face in one form or another as a youngster or an adult.  We hope that in letting THEM make mistakes and seeing achievement rise from those mistakes, that they will carry this lesson with them, that they will have a undying belief and confidence in themselves that will carry them through their lifetime.  

Blogs and articles on related topics:

Everything I know about parenting I learned from Mythbusters by Kevin Makice  (I believe it was KJ who pointed me to this blog)

For those of you wondering what happened after the "final" achievement of building the bridge, they celebrated and crawled under it for about two minutes; It was, after all, all about the process.  "We really just needed a boat to sit on, so the sharks don't eat us."  They told me, as they all sat on the balance beam.  

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

music in the preschool classroom

All kids love to sing, and music is incredibly important for youngsters.  In fact, (according to Gardner and his theory on multiple intelligences) musical intelligence is the first to develop in young children.  Edwin Gordon an important figure in the world of music research and education has identified that even infants are able to take in, discriminate, react, and create musical sounds.  It is part of creation and expression for little ones, and part of their brain development.  On top of this we have all heard the research:  children and teens who are in music programs have better grades and higher IQs statistically.
Aside from all of this, music in the preschool classroom can be used in many ways.  It can be used for quiet time and nap time.  It can be used to keep the atmosphere calm in the room.  It can be used as a gross motor activity, a transition activity, a cultural enrichment activity, an opportunity for creation and experimentation, or as just an opportunity for fun.
Since my original college track was in music education, I thought it would be a good time to offer some suggestions for music in your room.

1.  Use music with words and without words.  While children obviously connect to music with words more quickly than instrumental music or music without words, music without words ensures that children are listening to the music not just the words, which is better for their musical development.  When listening to instrumental music children may start to notice harmonies and musical textures that they would not notice when listening to music with words; it is the early stages of "ear building."
This being said, I am not discouraging singing with words, since this is enjoyable and adheres to their insides. :-)

2.  Sing and play a variety of music.  Present them with music that is fast and slow, major, minor, and even modal.  Play music in different time signatures, and different keys, with different rhythmic patterns.  Their musical brain, just like the rest of their brain, is a little sponge that takes in and starts to process all of those different things. As Bev Bos, Lisa Murphy, and a hundred other early childhood experts say: children need a variety of experiences to attach words to.  We give them hundreds of art, sensory, science, play, motor experiences and more, so why wouldn't we want to give them just as many musical experiences.

3.  Sing WITH them.  A tape does not take the place of a human voice and the experience of community that comes with creating music with a group of people.   They also will learn a lot more from you than a tape, and singing with them SHOWS them that they, like you, should embrace their inner musicality, let it out, and sing! (and dance and play instruments!)  Another note:  do NOT sing low.  Children's voices are not developed to speak (let alone sing) very low and it is not fun for anyone to growl songs.  I cannot tell you how hard it is for me to walk past a room where they are singing "good morning preschool friends, how are you?" to "are you happy and you know it"  in a key so low that none of the children can match pitch; all I want to do is walk in and take over their singing and first of all sing the real song, because it is more fun, and secondly sing in a key that is kid friendly so that the kids can fully participate!  This is not to say you have to sing incredibly high.  Somewhere in the middle is perfectly suitable.  In general you should not sing much lower than a middle C with preschoolers; For those of you who don't know what a middle C is, just observe  how your class is singing.  MOST children can match pitch, even infants are capable of matching pitch, believe it or not, in the right range; if most of the children seem like they are growling or aren't matching the notes that you are singing, chances are you are singing too low, and should try singing a little higher.

Lastly I will leave you with a couple song suggestions for singing and playing that perhaps you haven't thought of before.

5 songs to sing:
1.  Here we go loopty loo
2.  Wickitaw do ya.  There's a recording below.  We walk around in the circle for the Wickitaw part and then starting at ahshatanayah (I have no idea how to spell it) we rush into the center of the circle and back out.  They love this.

3.  My name is flow by Shari Lewis: (you have to skip to 1:20 on this clip to hear the song I am mentioning)

4.  L is for the way you look at me: An old love song, but they love it

5.  Deep and Wide: based on an old spiritual.  After singing it the first time leave of the word deep and sing mmm instead, the next time leave out wide, the next time fountain, and then flowing, until you are singing "mmm and mmm, mmm and mmm there's a mmm mmm mmmm mmmm mmm and mmmmm."  They think it's hilarious.

Songs to play (instrumental only)

1.  Barber's Adagio for Stings

2.  Dave Brubeck's Take Five

3.  Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

4.   Bizet's Carmen Overature

5.   Bernestein's Dance at the gym from Westside Story

Monday, February 7, 2011

ice, failure, spiders, and pests

Do you ever have times when the "lesson" you planned for a paticular day completely flops?  It doesn't happen to me very often, but whenever it does I am always surprised that something ALWAYS emerges from that failure.
Today, I had planned a big ice activity (I will spare all of the details until this project is successful).   We put containers with water outside and I asked for a hypothesis about what would happen.  There were two answers:  1. The water would evaporate  and 2.  It would turn into ice.  However, when we checked it an hour and a half later NOTHING had happened, (although the children astutely observed that the water got really cold).  The reason?  The temperature outside was 33 degrees.  SERIOUSLY?  33 DEGREES?  I was frustrated.  Why didn't it freeze, Miss Elizabeth?  Well, it seems it is not quite cold enough outside.  It feels cold to us!  Yes, it is cold but it needs to be a little colder, 32 degrees, to freeze, and I just checked the thermometer and it is 33 degrees.  Do you think we should leave it overnight and see if it freezes?  YES!!
Surprisingly, they weren't frustrated by this, and didn't seem to mind waiting until tomorrow.

We went back inside and play resumed as usual.  I set to work hanging clothes line across the ceiling to hang pictures up on.  Apparently, according to "the regs" I have too much art on the walls- only "20% of the wall can have paper on it,"  so as a solution, and so that we can still have children's art work in the room,  I am hanging some on the ceiling.

*instructions for the art on the front row can be found here, and for the back row here.

What are you doing, Miss Elizabeth?  Hanging some rope.  For what? To hang paintings.  Why? To decorate our room and display your art work.  Can we decorate our room? If you want to.  What do you need? Yarn.

So I gave them some yarn, and they started "decorating" the area where the blocks are kept.  It started out as just strands of yarn here and there, but eventually they decided to make a "spider web."  

As you can see they worked very diligently, both boys and girls together.  

We left it up for the entirety of the day.  They enjoyed adding to it and crawling under and over the strings.  

The spider web did its job and captured a pest!

A little spider even slept in the web during nap time.  (You can see the blue cot in the corner of this photo).  

The spider also got our table.  The kids thought it was interesting that the table was round, but the spider web was square because of the legs.  

All and all it was a good day.  They also played limbo and jump rope with the string.  So I guess the moral of the story not to fear when my plans don't work out, the children will always find something else to learn from.  

"thing" painting

One of my favorite things is to find new ways to paint and new things to paint with.  (I also love finding new interesting tools for discovery the sensory table).  The honest truth is that if I gave children the same paints in the same way, there are some of the kids in my class that would NEVER tire of it.  There are others, however, that only want to paint when I come up with a new way for them to paint or a new thing to paint with. So it is for them (and admittedly for my own amusement) that I search for new ways to paint all the time.

While shopping at Target the other day (this was probably a quick trip in for toothpaste and dog food), I stopped in the "one spot" bargain section (where they have treasures for either a dollar or sometimes 2.50). It was in this section that I found some dish washing tools that you will see below and thought immediately of painting.  I put in each container 1/2 liquid tempera paint and 1/2 water, and shook well then put it out on the table with paper to paint.  Now, I did end up telling them that they had to push the button on the top to get the paint out after hearing several complaints of "it doesn't work!"  Once they had this working, however, they really had some fun.

This activity didn't appeal to everyone, but it had a few visitors that don't frequent art opportunities, and a few of the regulars made dozens of paintings.

The letters on the paper above, by the way, are actually created by a child attempting to spell dog on her painting for some reason.