Monday, January 18, 2010

Stretching Their Thinking

Recently I have written about letting children express their own ideas and following the child's lead. However, that doesn't mean that everything in my room is just a free-for-all. Part of my job as a teacher is to help kids expand their thinking and try things they haven't thought of before. I plan activities that relate to whatever the emphasis is and arrange things so they can stretch their thinking, creating teachable moments for me to use.

Last week I saw this happen. We were talking about learning from the Bible, hearing the words and learning what to do. As we were planning, we decided to put Lego bricks in the blocks center and encourage children to make letters. (The sheet that came with my bricks had examples of making letters.) We arranged the center to encourage children to make letters and words.

We put out the Lego bricks and the page of samples. I even made an "E" as a beginning point, and added some words to spell.

What happened? The boys came over and built towers and columns and even a spaceship. And I talked with them about what they were doing and even worked in the emphasis for the day. As I sat there talking with a couple of boys, I noticed a couple of "structures" lying to one side. One looked like an "L" and one like an "I." Someone had made a couple of letters before discarding them.

As the time went on, several of the boys moved to other places to work and play. One boy made his way back to the blocks center and began to work.  When he was done, he called to me to see what he had done. "Take a picture," he said. I did.

Elijah had spelled his name. He figured out many of the letters himself. "I did look to make this (J) and this (A)," he told me. I was very impressed with his work.

Would he have built his name if I had not placed example sheet in the center? If I had not made an "E"? Probably not. But he did experiment and try it out...following the suggestions I had placed in the center.

In all the centers, I try to give some subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions of what to do. Kids need to express their own ideas; but they need teachers to help stretch their thinking for new ideas.


  1. One of my favorite quotes is from Goethe (I believe it's from The Sorrows of Werther): "It is within limitation he first shows himself master."

    As teachers, we like children to freely explore, of course, but a child with unlimited choices is a lost child. Everyone needs some sort of guidance or structure in order to become the master. That's what teachers are for. At least that's how I think of it. =)

  2. I love setting up "teachable moments", I'm always amazed how at least one of them will come up with something totally unexpected.

    One of the teachers put out hair bows, shoes, and dresses in dramatic play. I watched one of the boys following a girl pleading with her to be still so he could fix the bows in her hair...he was able to snap them in place and she looked great. Unexpected but delightful.

  3. yes! this is great.

    i had someone ask why i write directions out if no one can read them. i guess it is to pique interest so they ask...

    cool idea.

  4. Kristin, that's one thing that I noticed in the pictures on your blog (the written directions). I thought that was a great way to stimulate curiosity and help give some direction to the activity (after you read it to them). And it's a great example of helping kids see reading/writing used in their surroundings.

  5. That lego name tower is beautiful! I am like you - I do want to give children opportunity and freedom to explore but in the process, provide guidance and leadership that fosters additional growth.