Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Caring Is a Two-Way Street

I wandered over to the writing center and saw her working.

"You are coloring in the space between the lines," I said.

She nodded. She pointed to the larger space. "I'm going to color there, too," she said.

"Just one color or many colors?"

"Many colors."

I left her to her work, checking back a couple of times to see the progress. She would talk to me about the colors she was using and noting the markers that didn't work as well as others.

"I'll bet you can't guess who I am giving this to," she said.

"Well, I could guess," I said. "But I may not guess the right person. Your mom?"

She said something about why she couldn't/wouldn't give it to her mom, but I couldn't understand. Before I could ask for clarification, my attention was needed elsewhere so I moved away from the writing center.

As the class was cleaning up, she asked me, "What's your favorite color, Mr. Scott?"

"Hmmm. Blue."

She smiled and nodded. I kept moving around the room.

As we finished cleaning and began to move to our circle, she smiled broadly and thrust something toward me.

"For me?" I asked. She nodded.

"It looks like the beach," she said as she pointed to the larger area of blue.

I refolded it. "I'm putting it in my pocket so I won't lose it," I said as I slipped it into my pocket.

Last week I posted about showing care to the kids in your class. But something I didn't mention in that post is that caring goes both ways. Kids often do show care for adults as well. As an adult, I must be ready and open to whatever kinds of care they show.

This particular girl and I haven't "connected" much this year. We talk occasionally. She is a pleasant, lovely girl. But more quiet. Yes, we haven't connected much this year.

Until now.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Let's Paint Together!

I often look for ways kids can create together. We've done murals and group collages, all adding bits and pieces to an overall piece. But one of our favorite things to do together is paint.

Painting together creates community. Kids expand individual thinking by building on one another's thinking.

Techniques are shared and expanded. Kids explore cause and effect.

Process triumphs over products - because so many are involved, the end-result changes and evolves and ultimately ends up in an experiment in color-mixing.

But my favorite part of community painting is that it stays in the room. The wonderful creation doesn't go home. For a while, it will live in the classroom, inspiring us with its swirls and colors.

But then it can become part of other things we do. Pieces of our community painting become part of our collage materials.

Kids can use those pieces to explore and create.

We love painting! Today I'm linking up with other blogs on PreK + K Sharing to talk about painting.

PreK + K Sharing

Friday, January 27, 2012

Do You Care?

Yesterday a post by Seth Godin was making the rounds in the blogosphere. In that post, Seth asserts that caring raises the bar in an organization and that people would rather do business with someone who cares instead of someone who doesn't. Well, that makes sense, doesn't it?

I was thinking about caring in the classroom. I can have the best learning environment and equipment but if I don't care for the kids, their well-being and the learning will suffer. I can even care about the kids, but if they don't see it or know it, what does that care matter?

I've written before that relationships are key to learning. Some kids even learn best through learning with others. Knowledge is not as important as connection. I should focus more on interaction as information (or at least as much...but I think more). Kids should feel that I care about them...as they are not as they "should be" or "could be." How can I show care?

Accept each child as he is, as the individual he is. My kids are all in the same general stage of development but each one is in a different place in that stage. Some can sit and focus for a time; others must be moving almost constantly. Some read at a good level; some sound out letters and can determine words; some pick out letters they recognize but cannot read at all. Some like drawing, some like building (most!), and some like pretending. And these preferences can change from week to week. As a caring teacher, I prepare for what I know they enjoy... look for ways to build on their interests... and stay prepared and flexible to adjust if they have changed their minds.

Know and use the kids' names. I've posted about names before. Names are powerful and important. Caring is communicated when I use a child's name; I make an immediate connection. I've been having some struggles with one child in this area. I have Hannah and Anna in my classroom. Too many times, I call Anna by the wrong name. I know what her name is; my brain just popped out the other name too quickly. I've made it my mission to get through each class time and not call Anna the wrong name. It's hard (for my old brain) but the effort is important.

Listen as much (or more) than talk. Listen to what the kids say... and what may be lurking behind the words. I strive to remember what kids tell me. When they talk about their pets or siblings or whatever, that is important information. Remembering shows caring. Often I'll note recurring themes in kids' drawings and paintings. I can say something like: "I know you like to draw pictures of your baby brother. Is that who you are drawing now or are you drawing someone else?" Now I know what you're going to say. I shouldn't label drawings or guess what is being drawn. I agree with that and I usually encourage the child to talk about what she's doing. But if I get the same answer repeatedly over the course of several weeks and this picture looks remarkably like previous ones, I'll offer this comment to show that I've been paying attention. Then, regardless of what's being drawn, I can encourage and listen to conversation about the baby brother - making another vital connection.

Sometimes I think the social and emotional learning environment is almost more important than the physical environment. Okay, the room must be clean and have something in it for engaging experiences. But the atmosphere of the room--how the room "feels"--is tied to the relationships that have been forged and the emotional state of the adult. Kids feel welcome in a caring space.

Do you care? Can they tell?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Did You Know That This Is a Lamborghini?"

What do you do if you have cars and blocks? Make garages and roads of course!

A garage where cars park on all levels.

I love the color arrangement of these cars in the garage.

"10 cars. 1 drove away."
"How many now?"
"9! 8! 7! 6! 5! 4! 3!..."
Boys contently built, rearranged, rebuilt. No conflicts or arguments. Kids can work together and solve cooperative issues without constant intervention from an adult.

Something else I learned? A Lamborghini can jump all the way to space!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

You May Not Know the End

A few weeks ago I wandered by the easel. I saw a child working on her painting. Intrigued, I stopped and watched for a few minutes (and snapped a photo).

My attention was required elsewhere (or I just wanted to see what other kids were doing) and so I left the artist to her work. A while later, she called to me that her painting was done and she left the easel to wash her hands. I went to move her painting to the drying area. When I saw it, I had to snap another photo.

This completed painting looks nothing like I imagined it would when I saw her working. The outcome was completely different from what I expected, from what I could see during the process.

As I reviewed my photos again and discovered the during/after paintings, a new "rule" popped into my mind.

Just because we see the beginning...or what it looks like during the process...doesn't mean we know what the end will be.

I have discovered this time and time again in kids' play/work and in their thinking. Often they surprise me with where they end up. What I thought would be a house or a table setting or an arrangement of 10 objects turns into something else completely. Just because I saw the beginning or the middle didn't mean that I knew the end result.

The same is true about the kids themselves. Many times we adults like labels. And so often we are quick to use them. We see a kid who is quiet or more solitary and tag him as shy or a loner. We think that he may have trouble later making friends and end up as a lonely hoarder in an apartment somewhere. We see a kid who is bouncy and active and label her inattentive or "one that won't sit still." We think she may become an athlete but will have trouble in academics. The angry kid will become a dropout and probably commit a crime at a young age. The one who recognizes letters is so smart and will probably excel with advanced degrees. And so forth.

But we're just seeing the beginning, the early years. We don't know the end. The child is still in process, still developing and growing. So much can happen to those rough edges or early skills. We cannot predict achievement (or lack of it) by seeing what kids do now. Sure, these years are important foundations in their lives. But we cannot know how a child will turn out by the way he acts today.

I have some great kids in my classroom. They come in all different personalities and with all kinds of interests. They learn in so many different ways and excel with different skills.

And I need to nurture and listen and comfort and welcome. I need to look and marvel and suggest and help. I need to enjoy the beginning, supplement the process, and let the end take care of itself.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Learning That Rocks

This week I watched some kids with the rocks and digital scale. I added a basket with some notepads and pencils, just in case someone wanted to record their observations.

Add a rock, then another, then another.

Keep adding rocks, one at a time.

But if you keep doing that, rocks will begin to fall off.

"I have a bowl," I said. "Would you like to use it?" Yes!

"What's this number, Mr. Scott?"

"I have some paper if you want to write anything down." Okay! Let's write down numbers.

What happens if we add the pens? (I noticed that one boy would add one pen, take it off, add it again...just to see if the numbers would be the same.)

Now note pads!

Note pads make the bowl too full. Let's add pencils, instead.

We wrote lots of numbers.

When our observations were left on the table, our friends saw what we did and decided to do it, too.

We had such fun with numbers, we even painted them.

I was reminded that kids learn about all kinds of things...at the same time. These kids were exploring numbers, weight and mass, balance, cause and effect. They learned about math and science. There was some writing in there. Relationships and cooperation were being explored. I heard lots of commentary about what was going on. Kids would come over to observe and then move on. Once a child wrote the numbers in a digital format...2s with straight lines instead of curves. We even talked about a Bible story of a man who used a stone for a pillow.

Learning of all kinds...going on at the same time. Activities for kids can encompass a variety of skills and skill levels. Letting kids explore lets them build on their own knowledge, share that knowledge with others, and gain knowledge from others.

And I said very little during the entire exploration process. (Just as it should be!)

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Chief Danger

"The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions." ~Alfred Adler 

I read this quote this week. It reminded me of risky teaching, a recent theme that has been playing in my head. Teacher Tom often talks about it. Deborah of Teach Preschool mentiones it as well. Tim Gill's posts often involve it. And many other bloggers address it on some level. In fact, I've blogged about it myself from time to time.

But I realized today as I was thinking about this: risky can be different for every teacher. I've known this, at least on some level. I did hit on this idea somewhat last week in my Still Learning post. But today this idea leapt to the front of my brain. 

For some teachers, allowing children to explore paint in free form is risky. They haven't done that before. I've encountered teachers who think it's risky to let kids move around the room freely, choose what to do, choose when to leave and move on; that seem chaotic to them. Level of risk depends on experience and, perhaps, temperament. Some teachers work to plan many precautions, working to make sure that risk is as low as possible.

I want a safe environment. But I agree with Adler's statement above: too many precautions are a danger. A danger to what? Exploration... imagination... creativity... learning. 

I'm learning to be a more risky teacher - and to release some of those precautions. Risk for me often involves trying things that I don't know or plan the outcome. Sometimes it fails, like with my rope light. (We're going to try that again soon.) Sometimes it becomes a great success, like using sand outside the box. Sometimes, it's just releasing some control and saying yes to a child's idea, like allowing a counting activity to turn into a construction project.

Risky teaching - it allows kids to grow...and teachers, too. What's a risk you have recently taken...or would like to take?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"And a Splat of Peach"

I've written before that one of our favorite things is our easel and using the dry erase markers there. We were doing that again this week.

I walked up to the easel while boys were working there. I overheard: "And a splat of peach. Someone threw it there." Intrigued, I said something like, "Did you say peach?"

"We're making a dirty window," they said.

"And that's a splat of peach?" I asked, pointing to an orangy area. They nodded.

I watched the boys draw dirty windows...and clean them.

Over and over, they repeated this task.

I wondered about this particular idea. I never know exactly where kids get their ideas.

I'm thinking that our squeegie eraser caused them to think about cleaning windows. But it doesn't matter where the idea came from. I just enjoy hearing and watching them.

And if you need some windows cleaned, I know some guys who could do you a pretty good job.