Friday, January 29, 2016

5 Ways to Use a Colander

One day, among the dollar shelves in Target, I found a colander. I grabbed it; after all, who knows what you could use it for in the classroom. (I only seem to buy these types of things for my classroom, not for the "real" use.)

Here are five ways to use a colander in your classroom.

1. Use it in the home center.

Of course, we added the colander with our other "extra" cooking items. We have some play dishes that we use all the time. But sometimes we add additional items to enhance our cooking play.

2. Use it in your water play.

We love to play in the water. We use measuring cups and bowls and other things to scoop and pour water. Often we will add the colander - to make rain, of course.

3. Build with it.

Add it and a few other kitchen items in the blocks center. Kids can explore how to incorporate them in their structures.

Raid Your Kitchen to Build

4. Explore sculpture with chenille stems.

Chenille stems will fit perfectly in the holes of the colander. When I offered these to my kids, they didn't use them in the expected way. They created other types of structures and sculptures with blocks, too.

"Can We Use These?"

Colander Sculpture (TinkerLab)

5. Sift sand.

I found smaller versions of a colander to use with our sand play. But the larger one would be fun, too. This is sort of like the "real use" of a colander. However, kids would still love doing it.

New Tool from the Dollar Store

Now that I'm thinking about colanders, I'm wondering about pouring paint in it and letting it drip onto paper...or pressing play dough into the holes to make designs...or maybe sewing through the holes with yarn and plastic needles...or....

How have you used colanders in your classroom?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

From Standardization to Personalization

I have just finished reading Creative Schools by Dr. Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica. The book has lots of things to think about. A main focus in the book is developing ways to make education more personal and connected to each individual student.

Toward the end of the book is a long quote from Jimmie Don Aycock, a Texas state representative. Here's the end of his quote:
"[Some people] felt that if you test students more, raise high standards, and keep the pressure on, we will excel and move forward in our educational results for children. I've got to admit that there was a time that I felt that way. The thing we missed in that thinking was that that's a nice mechanical view of education. It's like a factory-production view. What that fails to take into account is that human beings are not all alike. You can do the same thing and get very different results sometimes. So I backed away from that thinking and I realized that No Child Left Behind is left largely on that kind of thinking and I just don't believe that anymore."
A lot of what Ken Robinson has written addresses the need to change from this production line, everyone is alike culture to a more diverse, organic culture. The metaphor needs to change from industrial to agricultural. Teacher Tom has addressed these same concerns. I've seen school curriculum that assumes all students are the same and evaluate their work with little regard to individual development or background.

I hope we get to the point where interest and individual development and needs and strengths all have input in how we teach and what we value. (Yes, value. What we test and emphasize is what we value.) Telling a great story or drawing an insightful picture are important, valuable skills -- just as valuable as reading difficult words or reasoning through a math equation.

I love to use play, exploration, and investigation because kids can enter into experiences in their own ways, use their own strengths, gain support from others in non-threatening ways, and develop understanding through individual perspectives. Is play a cure all? No. But it does recognize individuality, much more than many strategies in the classroom today.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

An Essential Trio

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

Chapter 1 - Play, Love, and Work: An Essential Trio

In this first chapter, David Elkind explores the idea that love, play, and work are three drives within each person that, as they interact, power each person. Here's how he defines each of these components--
  • "Play is our need to adapt the world to ourselves and create new learning experiences."
  • "Loving is our disposition to express our desires, feelings, and emotions."
  • Work is our disposition to adapt to the demands of the physical and social worlds."
As I understand it, play is our creative nature, love is our emotional nature, and work is our physical/survival nature. (This is my distilling of the reading.)

David stresses the interplay and interaction of these three components. Play is as crucial a dynamic in development and living as work and love are. 

In this chapter, he shows the three components present throughout the life cycle. In early childhood, play is the dominant force. In elementary years, work becomes dominant; learning skills and applying them to the real world are key in early schooling. In adolescence (and the onset of puberty), love dominates. At the end of adolescence, the three establish an equilibrium. In adulthood, the three are more distinct but continue to interact in various combination.

This was a really new thought for me. I followed his explanations and can see how this love-play-work triad is one way to see development.

building a car boat (Brick by Brick)

But I really keyed into some of the things he said about play, especially the dominance and importance of play in these early years. These are two key quotes from the book:

"Play, then, is the dominant and directing mode of learning during this age period, and children learn best through self-created learning experiences."

"Certainly young children can learn the names of numbers and letters and even sight-read a few words. But this is work and should make up only a small part of an overall hands-on, self-directed early childhood curriculum."

It seems in these days, our education leaders want to push young kids more and more into this work mode. Extrapolating from David Elkind's argument, if we push these early learners into "work," we are moving them from the better way for them to learn (play) and undermining their pleasure and enjoyment of learning (love).

stacking cubes (Brick by Brick)

I'm still processing this concept of the interaction of play, love, and work. It makes a lot of sense in many ways. I've seen play dominate what young kids are doing. I can see them making applications and developing concepts and connecting what they're doing to real world things (work). I've seen the enjoyment kids have from what they are doing and how they interact with others (love). This is a really interesting idea to me.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this concept plays out in the rest of the book.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Friday, January 22, 2016

What Should They Be Learning?

In addition to starting to read The Power of Play, I am finishing reading the book Creative Schools by Dr. Ken Robinson. The book is a good discussion of issues that are facing educators today. Dr. Robinson includes some good thoughts about what schools should do (and provides some real-world examples of some of these things).

His discussion on curriculum was very interesting to me and still has me thinking. He lists eight competencies that schools should facilitate; what teachers do in the classroom should help students develop these competencies.

Curiosity – asking questions and exploring how the world works

airplane obstacles (Brick by Brick)

Creativity – generating ideas and practicing them

painting with oil (Brick by Brick)

Criticism – analyzing information, evaluating ideas, reasoning and forming arguments about these things

circle stamping faces (Brick by Brick)

Communication – expressing thoughts and feelings clearly through different media and in a variety of forms

communication table (Brick by Brick)

Collaboration – working constructively with others

floor board game (Brick by Brick)

Compassion – feeling empathy and acting on it

making a card (Brick by Brick)

Composure – developing a strong sense of self and creating balance within

rocking and feeding the doll (Brick by Brick)

Citizenship – engaging with society and participating successfully in it

cleaning the table (Brick by Brick)

I can see a place for all of these competencies in a preschool or kindergarten class (as well as a high school or college classroom). As I continue to think about how to act purposefully and intentionally, these competencies will come into play.

What do you think? Do you see these working in the curriculum you teach and the things you do in the classroom?

I haven’t quite finished Creative Schools. But it certainly is a thought-provoking book and fits nicely into all I’m thinking about at the present time.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Purposeful Writing

My word for this year is PURPOSE. I've been thinking about what I do and why I do it. I've tried to write my blog posts and tweets and other efforts with intention, making them all support my overarching philosophy and purpose.

In doing that, I have been thinking about a lot of things. When I see an activity, I think about the why of that activity (why would I use it; what purpose does it serve). Since PLAY and exploration are key components of my philosophy, I've been looking at things and evaluating how they support the kids' ability to explore and play and use their own ideas.

This week we were thinking about our preschool leader in our church. She is celebrating a significant anniversary and we wanted to make something to thank her. I know there are all kinds of activities and crafts out there. We decided to make cards. We put out folded paper, markers, and gel pens.

writing and making cards (Brick by Brick)

I did print a couple of sentences that kids could use for writing. But this was their choice. They could write those words or not. They could write any message they chose (or not write anything).

writing and making cards (Brick by Brick)

I sat at the table with the kids as they worked. I talked about our leader and the things she does for us. We talked about when the kids saw her. I commented on what I saw kids doing. I read the "sample sentences" in case they wanted to write those words.

writing and making cards (Brick by Brick)

One girl asked me how to write "from." I wrote the word on the back of one of my sentences so she could write it on her card.

writing and making cards (Brick by Brick)

They experimented with shapes and colors. They found a few pens that no longer worked. When a pen began to write lighter and lighter, one girl said, "This is what you do." She shook it hard a few times. And it wrote darker again.

writing and making cards (Brick by Brick)

Classrooms all over our country are stressing academics and literacy. But I discovered my kindergartners working on purposeful writing. They wrote to express themselves and their gratefulness. (They may have used some of my words, but they chose those words as their own.) They saw how writing can communicate ideas and feelings. Pictures and words can tell someone we are thankful for what they do. Pictures and words can help show our happy feelings and cause happy feelings in someone else.

writing and making cards (Brick by Brick)

I wish all writing and literacy experiences could be purposeful and meaningful. My goal is to create an atmosphere that encourages literacy play and exploration. Now my church class is different (in purpose and context) from the children's school class. But playing with words - exploring writing and reading and communicating - is possible in all kinds of contexts.

My kids have shown me that making it purposeful makes it real. It makes it authentic. And that's when the learning (mental, social, emotional) really happens.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Inspiration from the Blogosphere - 1/20/16

Reading blogs in my feed, on Facebook, and on Twitter is a great way to learn new things, have your thinking challenged, and just get inspired. Here's what inspired me recently from around the blogosphere--

Teaching Children the Way They’re Meant to Learn: Read Along Section One
Amanda at Not Just Cute has started a read along of Rae Pica's book What If Everybody Understood Child Development? As you know, I read and reflected on this book last summer. I'm really interested in what Amanda has to say about it.

QuotED: Rae Pica
Speaking of Rae Pica, here's a quote of hers that I love. It was posted in the quotations area of BAM Radio and inspired me again this week.

7 Truths Every Teacher Should Know About Sensory Processing
Dayna of Lemon Lime Adventures was a guest blogger on Pre-K Pages. Every time I read her posts, I think more and more about how kids are different and that we as teachers need to think about how our individual kids react and reflect on what we do.

Turns Out Monkey Bars and Kickball Might Be Good for the Brain
This NPR post highlights an elementary school in Texas that is adding more recess to the school day and seeing academic increases as a result. I'm reading more things about the value of play and least more people recognizing the value of those things. It's encouraging and affirming when I read these things in more mainstream places.

Picture Books in Middle School
The always-inspiring Pernille Ripp posts about why she uses picture books in her middle school classroom. I love picture books and have used them in all my classrooms (preschool, kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade). These books can be important ways to talk about all kinds of things - for all ages of kids. Pernille inspires me in many ways and often challenges me to examine my practice. I loved this post.

Shake Painting
I enjoy seeing a "new" way to paint or explore art. No Time for Flash Cards has a new (to me) way to paint - shapes and paint in a container and SHAKE! I think this is a great way to paint...especially for those adults and/or kids who don't like a mess.

What has inspired you lately?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Choose What They Need

choose what children need (Brick by Brick)
Inspired by my reading in The Power of Play by David Elkind

Does the room reflect adult needs and wants or children's needs? Are activities and teaching strategies geared to children's needs or adult needs?

Friday, January 15, 2016

DIY Sign Posts in the Blocks Center

I knew a long time ago that I had married the right person for me. My wife is wonderful. But this week, I walked into our classroom and found these set up.

signs in blocks center (Brick by Brick)

Sign posts for our the blocks center! When we've used our logos before, we've taped them to blocks or cardboard tubes. That still works great. But Cindy wanted something else. She got plastic lids, wide craft sticks, and clothespins. She made a slit in the lid and inserted the craft stick. Using hot glue, she secured the stick and then glued the clothespin to the other end of the stick. Presto! Sign posts that can be changed as we see fit.

homemade DIY sign posts for blocks (Brick by Brick)

Our boys really enjoyed using these signs. They built and incorporated the signs in their construction. They read the signs, at least some of them. They added them to what they built. Then they built specific structures for the signs. (And sometimes they built and ignored the signs. That's okay, too!)

signs in the blocks center (Brick by Brick)

signs in the blocks center (Brick by Brick)

signs in the blocks center (Brick by Brick)

I think these sign posts could be really useful in other ways. In addition to using them for street signs or other block play, here are some ideas I had.

  • Clip on words cards for kids to read or write or spell with letter tiles.
  • Add cards with numbers and kids could count out quantities. 
  • Clip on sorting categories and kids could place items or pictures under the appropriate signs.
  • Use numerals and plus and equal symbols to create addition sentences; use manipulatives with the signs to create the totals.
  • Add statements or key words in different centers or other activities.
  • Clip on instructions for a recipe or science experiment.
  • Use name cards for place settings or other dramatic play in the home center.
I love repurpose ideas and these are a great addition to our collection of resources. Thanks, Cindy!!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Play Is Being Silenced

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


David Elkind starts off his book in a very provocative way: "Children's play–their inborn disposition for curiosity, imagination, and fantasy–is being silenced in the high-tech, commercialized world we have created."

At the beginning of this book, Elkind shows how unstructured play of childhood has been attacked, belittled, and whittled away by organized sports, spectator activities, and the media. This change in play is not just a notable cultural or societal fact. It has serious consequences for children (and by extension society at large).

More children are dealing with health problems; mental and physical health have both suffered. Emotional, behavioral, and developmental needs are not being met. Obesity and attention issues are increasing. The need (and opportunity) for using fantasy, imagination, and creativity is lacking and may even be suppressed. Less recess, less playful teaching practices, more drill, more rote learning methods. These are all creating less healthy, less fit, less creative, less prepared children.

Elkind notes a trend that I have not heard expressed before: an imbalance in our society between needs of children and needs of adults - right now that imbalance favors adults. We choose things that benefit what adults need or want and neglect what children need. (I think this imbalance is what has driven Rae Pica's book, too.) A consequence of this imbalance is the silencing of children's play.

Elkind says that the rest of this book will impart a developmental theory of play and its central role in healthy intellectual, social, and emotional development.

I agree that too often play seems under attack. Parents or administrators or others will ask why time is not being spent on academics rather than play. People will question a more playful approach to teaching and learning. Children struggle with what to do with materials if not expressly told how to use them. I want to know more about using play in intentional, purposeful ways to help children develop in healthy ways.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Jump Right In

When you encounter something new, what do you do? My kids are teaching me that it's okay to be fearless - to jump in and try something even if you are not sure what to do or how to do it.

We had chopsticks with pompoms in our classroom recently. None of my kids use chopsticks regularly (if at all). 

What I noticed throughout the morning is that every child tried this activity. Each of the children that came that day came to the table, sat down, and at least attempted to use the chopsticks to move pompoms.

Maybe they came because it was a new, unusual activity. Maybe they came because I was present, sitting at the table. Maybe they would have come anyway. Some came back after I had left that table for other areas. Several girls worked to divide the pompoms and count quantities.

Each one tried his own technique. I showed them how I could use them. (Not very well, by the way.) They would try to do what I did and they would try their own ideas.

Some worked for a while. Some moved one pompom and then left. Some tried for a short time and then moved on. But all of the kids in my room did this.

That's why I enjoy a play-based environment. Kids can try things, use their own ideas, adapt, move on. They can experiment and explore. They can choose to stay for a short time or a long time. They can jump in and try something they've never done before or choose to watch others or choose to do something else entirely.

I'm still figuring out this group. But I think they are fearless and independent thinkers. 

I'm going to try and emulate my young friends. I'm going to keep my eyes open to new ideas and experiences. I'm going to jump in and try things without thinking too much about how to do it. I'm going to continue to experiment and explore. I'm going to watch others do things and think about doing those things myself. I'm going to play.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Learning Through Free Play

Peter Gray quote on play (Brick by Brick)
quoted in Creative Schools by Ken Robinson
Exploring ideas happens in free play. What can you learn about force and physics when doing this?

Friday, January 8, 2016

My Winter Book Study

I've really enjoyed my reading and reflecting series. (Check out the past ones.)

Over the past month or so, I've been thinking and wondering about what book to read next. I didn't get any recommendations on Twitter or Facebook this time. I looked through my to-read list of education books, but nothing really jumped out at me. I checked Web sites and other places and found lots of possibilities but nothing that really seemed to be "just right."

I began to review books on my shelves. (I have quite a few that I haven't read yet. Doesn't everyone?) Since my word for this year is PURPOSE, I thought about what my purpose and core values are as a teacher and a blogger.

Then I remembered a book I have in my Kindle library (a place I forget to look many times). And I knew that it was the book I wanted to read this winter.

Reading Power of Play (Brick by Brick)

I'll be reading and reflecting on The Power of Play by David Elkind. David Elkind is one of those giants in the early childhood education field that I respect and value. I've read several of his previous books. This one has been on my "read list" for a while but I just haven't jumped into it yet.

I love the subtitle of this book: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children. Play should be an important part of every child's life and learning. It's disappearing (or gone) from many educational settings. It's something that's at the core of what I believe and want to practice. In fact, my unofficial motto is Playing = Learning.

I read this quote from Dr. Peter Gray in the book Creative Schools by Ken Robinson. (Another good book!) This quote affirmed my choice.
"Free play is the means by which children learn to make friends, overcome their fears, solve their own problems, and generally take control of their own lives."
                                                                                                           --Dr. Peter Gray
In the weeks ahead I'll be reading Dr. Elkind's book and posting my thoughts here. Look for more play in the weeks ahead!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

5 Ways to Use Craft Sticks

5 ways (Brick by Brick)

Craft stick are one of our favorite things. We use them in all kinds of ways. Here are five ways we've used them (plus a few other links, too).

1. Build with them

We like to include craft sticks (and other wood pieces) with our blocks from time to time. The craft sticks add another way to create create structures.

blocks and craft sticks (Brick by Brick)

Plus sticks can make great roads. (See my post about craft stick roads on PreK and K Sharing.)

craft stick roads (Brick by Brick)

2. Magnet Sticks

Add magnets to the backs of craft sticks and you have magnet sticks! These are great for exploring alone or with other magnetic shapes on a magnet board.

Magnet sticks (Brick by Brick)

Magnet Sticks (Brick by Brick)

Check out the post on Teach Preschool that inspired my sticks. Deborah made shapes, too.
DIY Magnetic Craft Sticks (Teach Preschool)

3. Stick Puppets

Tape photos or pictures from magazines onto craft sticks to make stick puppets.
Or provide paper, scissors, markers, and tape for kids to make their own stick puppets.

Stick puppets (Brick by Brick)

Mix It Up (Brick by Brick)

4. Make games.

We use craft sticks for different kinds of games. For one game, I printed letters on the sticks to spell a word. I made several sets of letters. We put them in a container and spilled them on the table. Then we played a variation of "Pick Up Sticks" where kids tried to remove a stick without moving any other stick. Kids tried to spell the name/word as we played. 

Our kids created other games with this group of sticks, too.

pick up sticks game (Brick by Brick)

Invention (Brick by Brick)

Check out this game made with sticks: Making Shapes (

5. Hot Glue Sculptures

Our favorite Christmas activity is making frames. We use the glue guns to make frames with colored craft sticks. (And we get to use the glue gun!) Using the glue gun makes the assembly quick (and usually painless); we don't need to wait for craft glue to dry before continuing our work.

Of course, you can use other glue instead of hot glue to make sculptures. Any way you do them, this is a fun way to explore!

craft stick frames (Brick by Brick)

"I'm Not Allowed to Use That" (Brick by Brick)

Check out this hanging sculpture from Childhood 101.

These are just five ways we use craft sticks. How do you use them in your classroom?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Literacy Can Be Play, Too

I think that play is the best way for kids to explore, discover, and learn. Sometimes we forget that literacy can be play, too. Or that the best way to explore and build literacy skills is to add opportunities for reading, writing, and alphabet exploration to our play experiences.

Here are some examples in my church kindergarten class this week--

As we explore moving pompoms with chopsticks, we can look at a chart of words written in different languages. Or we can explore a book written in Chinese. Looking at words in other languages helps kids understand that writing and print is meaningful and that people communicate in different ways.

pompoms and chopsticks (Brick by Brick)

We were spelling words at the large magnet board. We had magnet sticks, too, to explore and discover. Some kids experimented with creating letters with the sticks. This encourages kids to think about letter shapes and communicating through writing.

magnet sticks (Brick by Brick)

I often add books and other reading material to different centers or activities. This week we were playing in the home center. The girls turned pages in the Bibles and wanted to find stories that we had read in the past. They were connecting the stories they had heard to written text, connecting themselves to words.

books in the home center (Brick by Brick)

Other ways we add in a little literacy:
  • Add pencils, paper, and clipboards to any activity.
  • Post a sign with key words or a statement about what we are learning.
  • Provide access to writing materials at all times. Kids can pull in writing when they choose.
  • Lay books and other reference materials nearby. Or set up a reading nook where kids can always explore the written word.
  • Offer a writing center each week. Our kids always have opportunities to draw and write.

Check out this post I did for Pre-K Pages that incorporates literacy play and eye doctor dramatic play.

Eye Doctor Dramatic Play (Brick by Brick)

Other recent posts about literacy play:

And a classic from several years ago: Not Literacy?