Friday, May 27, 2016

Of Sand and Glue and Process

I've been working with young kids for a while. When I talk or write about teaching early childhood, I mention things like process and choice and creativity and independent exploration. And yet, I continue to be amazed when I see these things in action. I saw it again this week when we used colored sand and glue.

Sand and glue pictures (Brick by Brick)

We decided to use white glue (thinned a little with water) and brushes to better control the glue. We used paper plates as a surface since plates are heavier (to hold the glue/sand combination). We discovered the scalloped edge of the plates added more interesting effects to the glue and sand.

Sand and glue pictures (Brick by Brick)

Kids spread glue with the brushes, sprinkled glue on the plates, and poured any excess back into the bowls of sand. I already had a sand mixture from previous sand art. If you use individual colors of sand, you will need a place to empty mixed sand (a tray or box or another bowl).

Sand and glue pictures (Brick by Brick)

Most of the kids began to create a specific design or picture, drawing lines or shapes with the glue and adding sand.

But at some point, most began to just explore adding glue and sand to the plates. The process was interesting to watch. Some kids tried different ways of sprinkling the sand.

Sand and glue pictures (Brick by Brick)

Some painted glue on top of sand and added more.

But all explored in ways they chose. I listened as they talked about what they were doing. Or how the sand felt. Or what they did last week. Conversations are an important part of what we do and how we work. I talked about our story and connected the sand to the sandy road that Saul walked on. But mostly we explored and experimented with sand and glue.

Sand and glue pictures (Brick by Brick)

At the end, most of the plates had clumped of colored sand glued in various places or covering the entire plate. Not much "product" to show at the end.

Sand and glue pictures (Brick by Brick)

But lots of learning that happened during the process. Including how to get the sand from the table back into the bowl.

Sand and glue pictures (Brick by Brick)

I continue to learn that it's important to see what's happening during the process. The final product so often doesn't reflect the learning and skills that occurred. If we get too focused on what things look like in the end, we miss the real point. Kids are learning about their world; kids are developing understanding and skills that will be foundational to future learning; kids are developing social skills and feelings of competence. Much more important than a sand picture.

Plan for experiences instead of products. The results are always successful. (Even if the plate of sand ends up in the trash can.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Family Musts: Humor, Shared Passions, Family Time

I am reading and reflecting on the book The Power of Play by David Elkind.

Chapter 8 - Lighthearted Parenting

Chapter 8 is focused on parents and families. But as I read, I could see some applications to the community in the classroom, the "class family." David Elkind even mentions teachers a few times in this chapter, making my thoughts about application even stronger.

David advocates what he calls lighthearted parenting. What is that? In this family, "parents make an ongoing effort to integrate play, love, and work into their child-rearing practices." How? Through using humor, sharing passions, and spending time together.

I really enjoyed David's discussion on humor. I think it's the longest in this chapter. (At least I took the most notes on this part of the chapter!) "Humor is a form of play because it always involves a new, unexpected experience." When something happens that is different from the expected, we laugh. This is true of children and adults. A child's expectations (and humor) change with his development. Younger kids laugh at things that are silly--an animal wearing sunglasses; parent wearing a strange hat or wig; a lot of clowns coming out of a small car. They expect adults to be coordinated and laugh at pratfalls. They are learning language so nonsense words are funny. As children get older, they stop laughing at these things (because they are now "mature"). But they enjoy riddles (unexpected uses of language and violations of logic) and word play and jokes.

David Elkind also suggests using humor as part of disciplinary strategy. Make an exaggerated comment about consequences when kids forget to clean their rooms or put out the dog. A simple act of humor can defuse your own anger, help you focus on the big picture of what's important, and teach kids how to deal with emotions in more constructive ways. "In using humor as a disciplinary technique, we are bringing play, love, and work into our parenting. The joke or humor is the play part; the deep affection that is our reason for using humor is the love part. And the social learning, which is the outcome, is the work part."

Humor is important in the classroom, too. Not demeaning or derogatory humor. But using riddles or jokes to warm up the day or using a humorous comment to defuse a situation can be very helpful. John Spencer has a lot to say about humor and fun in the classroom. Here's just one post: Just Humor Me. When I taught second grade, we laughed a lot. Many times we laughed at my dancing ability or something odd that I said. Sometimes I would even fall for those age-old jokes. ("Mr. Wiley, what's under there?" "Under where?" Hahahah.) A few weeks ago in my church kindergarten class, we were playing a matching game. A card with a boat fell off the table. "Oh, no," I said, "the boat is sailing away." The girls kept laughing and laughing at that comment. (It wasn't that funny - well, to a 5-year-old I guess it was.) Sometimes I make a silly mistake or use the wrong word. Hilarious. Humor helps us build a comfortable classroom and a fun atmosphere.

Other parts of this chapter:

  • Sharing passions - talking about things you enjoy and doing things you enjoy so kids will see adults playing.
  • Doing things together - making family time a priority regularly and playing as a family.
  • Sharing experiences - reflecting on things that happened to you and talking about them - both adults and kids.
I see parallels of these things in the classroom, too. Teachers should allow students to see what they enjoy doing, what they like to do just for fun. Classrooms need to have fun experiences together (like field trips or fun days or parties or whatever). And teachers should talk about things they remember from the past week (or things they've done in the past) and encourage kids to talk about their own memories or reflections.

David Elkind brings the aspects of lighthearted parenting back to his philosophy triad--love, play, and work. Humor and family play together are the play; building strong family connections is the love; developing important social skills is the work. I see these three things echoed in ways we build classroom communities, too. So now I'm going to think about lighthearted teaching and what that means for me.