Monday, May 30, 2016

Education and Measurement

@BreneBrown           BAM Radio QuotED

So much of what kids are learning cannot be measured. Understanding builds a foundation but doesn't translate to standardized testing easily. Compassion, creativity, confidence, and cooperation defy most assessments.

What we measure becomes "priority," but that doesn't mean that it really is important.

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.

Monday, May 23, 2016

No Two Children Are Alike

Is the classroom - the teaching - flexible? How do we allow children to be different and explore as they choose?

Check this post: They Are Not All the Same

Friday, May 20, 2016

Math Play

I've written a lot about literacy play recently. Kids play with words and letters and reading. They love to rhyme words and write letters. They love to hear books read and to explore books on their own, too.

But math is also full of play opportunities. Check out these pictures of math play that I've captured in our classroom.

Making patterns - you can make patterns with anything. These strips were have twelve spaces; we were counting to twelve for a while but then began to make patterns.

Coins - we made pattern with coins, too. But using coins in the classroom encourages other math play, too. We can talk about value of money and quantities (in fun ways and not too didactic). We also use coins and play money in dramatic play to shop in play stores or to use in our wallets and purses.

Sorting - We sort all kinds of things, too. Encourage kids to determine what criteria to use for sorting (color, use, kind, etc.). Sort objects, pictures, anything. You can also count and compare quantities of different groups, too.

Shapes - we use magnet shapes and wooden blocks of different shapes. As kids play, they can investigate the relationship between shapes and begin to explore symmetry, composition, similarities, and differences.

Measurement - we use nonstandard measurement (such as measuring by blocks). We explore using rulers and tape measures in our play. We include measuring tools when we draw or when we use tools. We play with measurement and think about in different ways.

Numerals - We talk about numerals and write them. These were written by the child spontaneously. We talk about how many, how many more. We talk about what comes next or what comes before. Thinking about these symbols of quantity helps kids make connections between the concrete and the abstract in math.

Counting and games - We play games that use number cards or numbered cubes. We count spaces and we count objects. We count the number of boys and girls, and how many together. We think about the numbers we count and the numerals that represent that quantity. We learn to subitize (recognize quantities without counting) as we use numbered cubes or dominoes to play games.

One-to-one - Setting the table helps us understand one play per space, one cup per space, etc. We are learning that one number goes with one object (and helps us count correctly to get a quantity). Playing in these ways builds math understanding in the background of other play.

Grouping - We learn that a group of 10 is always 10, no matter how it is arranged. This game has different cards with ten spaces in different configurations. We also begin to learn that if we put 10 lids on 10 blocks in the spaces, we get 20 objects. If we add 10 gems, we now have 30 objects.

We play with math all the time, without stopping to have a "math moment." We talk about quantities or groups or sets or patterns naturally. These spontaneous play and conversation times help build math skills in the course of our natural day. Kids build math understanding into their lives easily.

Math play is fun! Math concepts help us prepare for more complex math skills later in life. (And we may even play with some of those in our classroom, too.)

(Check out the math pages on Pre-K Pages for more information about math play.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Giving Choices

When kids come into our church kindergarten classroom, we encourage them to make choices. They can choose what to do - blocks, dramatic play, art, writing, whatever. They can choose to explore the materials in different ways.

When kids explore in different ways, they have different results.

(See more versions of door hangers.)

They can explore ideas in ways that I never thought about.

(Sorting animals in different ways)

They keep trying different things until they get just what they want.

(Building on the window sill)

How do we give choices? We release control. We say yes. And we encourage them to think of different ways to do things.

Choices build confidence.
Choices build competence.
Choices build knowledge and skills.

Choices allow children to play in self-initiated ways. As David Elkind as written, children know what they need to learn and what they need to do, so they will create play learning experiences to build those skills and knowledge. Self-initiated play is more beneficial to learning than directed play (or direct instruction).

And what I've discovered is that I learn more about kids and teaching when I get out of the way and let kids make choices of what and how to play. I learn more. They learn more.

So we choose to let them choose.

I like wot evr this is.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Games and Social Skills

from The Power of Play

Playing games helps children develop social skills and begin to learn how to function within the boundaries of a particular situation.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Wasting Paper

I had to stop myself the other day. I had put out paper and scissors and glue sticks and punches. My plan was for the children to explore with the materials. I had a vague idea of "making cards for others," but even that was just a vague idea.

After all, the "rule" in my classroom is to use the materials to express your own ideas. A few weeks ago we explored punching holes as a new skill. So that's why I was at this point. We added some shaped punches to explore that idea and had scissors because - well, who doesn't like to cut up paper?

As they began to explore, I found myself thinking, "They are wasting paper. They punch one or two holes, they cut a large loop around the paper, they toss paper aside. Waste."

I almost said something aloud to them, but I didn't.

I watched. I commented or narrated occasionally. I let them make choices about what to do and how to do it.

And I realized that, yes they were "wasting" paper - no real concrete product was achieved. In fact, I'm not sure many took anything home that day.

But they were not wasting paper because they were learning and discovering more about what they could do, what the tools could do, and how they could manipulate paper to be what they wanted. Those are all great results from this exploration.

And the paper? Some I could salvage for the scrap box and another day. Some I tossed. But either way, the paper didn't care.

But the children did. They loved it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Board Game DIY

Do your kids like games? Mine do. Every year my kids love to play games at a table. I've found that they like me to play, too. Here are some games we have made. Use these ideas to springboard off and make your own games for kids.

Trail Game

This game is a favorite. We've used it for many years. I used paper scraps to make spaces for the trail. When I first made the gameboard, I didn't include lines along the sides of the colored trail; that caused confusion. For the spinner, I taped paper strips to a paper circle and taped all of that to a lazy susan. Place an arrow beside it and spin away. (They love the spinner!) For game pieces, we use foam beads. But we've used game markers from old games, small Lego bricks, and buttons as game pieces, too. (For more details about this game, see this post.)

Trail Game #2

I made this adaptable board game using a file folder and stickers. Create the trail across the folder. Create cards for moving through the trail with stickers and index cards. This game now resembles Candyland. Use binder clips for game pieces. Easy and fun to play. Add words, letters, numbers, or quantities of dots to your cards to add more learning opportunities. (For more details and ideas see this post on Pre-K and K Sharing and this post on Brick by Brick.)

Large Trail Game

I used the Giant Game Floor Mat to make a large trail game. I printed arrows and words on paper and slid into the mat. We used a purchased spinner and lids covered with colored tape. This game is fun because it's super-sized. You could also make a homemade game mat by taping large freezer ziplock bags to a tablecloth or drop cloth. (See this post for more details about the game and markers.)

Counting Game

I made this counting game recently for us to play. I made a trail of stickers around the outside of a folder. On some of the stickers, I drew a square. I made a "river" in the middle of the folder. Kids would roll a numbered cube and move around the trail. (We used old game markers.) When landing on a square, kids rolled a cube and counted that many marbles to put in the river. This was a lot of fun. (See this post on Pre-K Pages for more details and variations.)

Race Game

Cindy made this game. We've played other games like it in our class and the kids love it. In this game, the bears (or markers) are competing, not the children. Draw a grid on a piece of heavy paper. Use stickers to mark each color "lane." (You could also color the spaces with a marker.) Make a cube with matching colors on the sides. (Use a boutique tissue box as a homemade cube.) Kids take turns rolling the cube. Whatever color is on top of the cube indicates which bear moves one space. Continue playing until one (or all) of the bears reach the finish line.

What games have you made? I'm always on the lookout for more!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Give Some Freedom

With a little freedom, with a teacher who says yes, children will explore and experiment and surprise.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Playing to Become Part of Society

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

Chapter 7 - It Isn't Only a Game: The Role of Play in Becoming Social

In this chapter, David Elkind focuses on "middle childhood," that period between early childhood and adolescence. Elkind notes this period is between 6 or 7 and 11 or 12. During this time of life, growth is slower and more gradual than the other two periods before adulthood. Play changes as well. When self-initiated, children play games with rules. These may be more formal games like baseball or basketball; these may be tagging games or racing games or other spontaneous play. It may be board games or elaborate pretend games. But there are rules.

This time of game play with rules is very important. Since they have reached the age of reason, children in this age range understand and explore rules of all kinds. These self-initiated games help kids "learn the interpersonal skills needed to become effective social beings." Kids begin to understand that rules are not immutable but are manmade constructs that can change or adapt. And, often in these games with rules, children will begin to innovate with the rules, adapting or changing the game's rules to modify play.

Playing games with rules becomes a way to explore and understand social institutions. In playing a game, children follow the rules of how to behave in certain circumstances. They must willingly "submit" to the rules of the game to participate. They must subordinate their personal wishes to the will of the group and the rules of the game. (I may not want to stop running when tagged but the game dictates that I must.) These types of behaviors are also required by the social institutions of adults.

David Elkind quotes Piaget: "It is through game playing, that is, through the give and take of negotiating plans, settling disagreements, making and enforcing rules, and keeping and making promises that children come to understand the social rules which make cooperation with others possible."

Elkind also notes other aspects of middle childhood and game play with rules. During this time, a divergence between genders begins. Boys and girls both play and interact more with their own genders and have less contact with the other genders. Interests generally develop for different types of games - boys gravitate toward more rough-and-tumble games and fantasy; girls toward more relationship-building and expressive activities. Elaborate rules about how to interact with the other gender are developed. I remember my second graders noting when someone was "girl trapped" or "boy trapped"; that is, forced to sit between two kids of the opposite gender because the teacher made them. It was only acceptable to sit near a boy/girl when instructed; you couldn't choose to do it.

Games with rules foster both cooperation (working together toward an end goal) and competition (working to improve competence). While both are healthy and necessary, competition can get out of hand and cause breakdown in relationships. Often it's better to foster competition with oneself (improve my own performance). Games and challenges can help kids learn how to develop both of these and adapt themselves to the situation of each one. "Two of the most important social skills that children learn through game play," David Elkind writes, "are socially acceptable forms of cooperation and competition."

Game play in these childhood years helps kids identify with their peers and begin to distance themselves from their parents and other adults. "Self-initiated games with rules play an important role in children's growing sense of self and social awareness." Making and breaking rules, developing independence, working with in a social group - all of these are important ways that games impact children's lives.

Elkind notes that organized sports and activities do not offer the same opportunities as self-initiated games. This reminds me of the importance of recess and unstructured time outdoors after school. As each of these are limited more and more by focus on instruction time and homework, we may be creating groups of kids that are unprepared for playing a part in society. Creating, playing, and modifying games with rules helps children explore and begin to understand how to operate in larger society. If we deny them those opportunities, what kind of society will we have?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

5 Ways to Use Mirrors

Mirrors are great tools in the classroom. Check out these mirror activities on Stimulating Learning with Rachel.

And here are 5 ways to use mirrors in your classroom.

1. Draw Self-Portraits
We use mirrors to look at our faces and then draw what we see.

2. Create a Reflection Table
A full-length mirror on a table creates a fun spin on different activities. Check out the ideas on Teach Preschool--Reflection Table (Teach Preschool)

3. Paint on It
You can use shaving cream and paint clouds (Happy Hooligans).

Or use paint - indoors or outdoors (Kids Activities Blog).

4. Use Them for Science Explorations
Reflection and light explorations (Little Bins for Little Hands)

Explore shapes and patterns with a mirror box (Imagination Tree)

5. Add Them to the Blocks Center
Stand a mirror against the wall so kids can see their buildings from all sides.

Lay a mirror on the floor and build on it. You can even add rope light with blocks and mirrors (Teaching 2 and 3 Year Olds).

Mirrors, foam blocks, and wooden blocks (Inspired Montessori)

Of course, you can use them in the dramatic play center, to look at yourself in different types of clothing.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Our Wants Vs Our Practice

from "Are We Preparing Students to Be Chefs or Cooks?"

Sometimes when you put out materials to make signs and posters, you get eye patches instead. And that's the way it should be. Kids' spaces should allow for experimentation and exploration if we want creative, innovative kids.