Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Gardening Dramatic Play

gardening dramatic play (Brick by Brick)

I love dramatic play activities. I have had groups that loved dramatic play and regularly created elaborate scenarios. Some groups have been uninterested in much of dramatic play. And some groups dabble in it and enjoy most playing with the dishes and dolls.

Dramatic play activities are so versatile and so full of learning possibilities. Kids can explore literacy and math concepts. They can try on various social roles. They can explore social studies by playing out store or family or firefighters or office or gym. They can pretend to drive or travel. They can cook and eat real or pretend foods. They can use their imaginations and create narratives and develop their abstract thinking.

And they can have fun!

One of my more "dramatic" groups constantly challenged me to provide different resources for them to use and explore. And their levels of imagination always amazed me. One activity they enjoyed (and I've used several time since) is gardening play.

We had pretend (and real) tools, a few flower pots, some seed packets, gardening gloves, green chenille stems, and tissue paper. They used the tissue paper to create flowers and plants.

gardening dramatic play (Brick by Brick)

But I watched as they cultivated the "ground" with their tools and planted seeds.

gardening dramatic play (Brick by Brick)

They tended plants and picked them at the appropriate time.

gardening dramatic play (Brick by Brick)

This play - coupled with related books and other experiences with plants - is great for thinking about the natural world and the life cycle of plants (and maybe insects).

gardening dramatic play (Brick by Brick)

You could add some cut flowers or vegetables (like carrots and cucumbers). Or add pumpkins, acorns, and leaves for more fall-related play.

A scale, baskets, and play money could create a farmers market or add vases and play money for a flower shop.

Never underestimate the power of imagination and the power of play.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Losing the Small Things

In my second grade class, we had a pencil sharpener attached to the wall. You know, the regular crank kind of sharpener. The one that seems to command attention when it is used. I didn't think anything of it since I had an electric pencil sharpener and sharpened pencils daily for the next day's work.

Then someone tried to use my "fancy" sharpener with a crayon. A piece lodged in it and I couldn't get it to work again. Still haven't.

So we used the crank pencil sharpener on the wall. I usually tried to keep a stock of sharpened pencils so kids wouldn't need to use it. It was just a distraction, it seemed. But occasionally they did. All was fine until that one fateful day.

I came into the room one day and found the small extension on the crank handle was off. I don't know how it came off. I could not figure out how to get it back on. "Oh, well," I thought. "We'll just do without it." I placed it in my desk, thinking I would ask for maintenance.

I never did get maintenance to come and fix it. And I learned something important. Apparently without that little extension, it is almost impossible to turn the crank. I would wind it (and had to do so with great force). Our pencils would get sharpened but I had to do it. The kids couldn't work it. Their hands weren't strong enough.

Why am I going on about a pencil sharpener that I haven't seen in 2 years? Well, that sharpener taught me (or reminded me) of an important lesson. The small things matter. A lot.

Without that small piece, the pencil sharpener was less efficient and less useful.

Other small things mean a lot. A smile. A simple pat on the back. A handwritten note. A listening ear.

Remembering a story or a birthday. Reading a book about Spiderman or watching a Lego Ninjago video.

Being there every day.

Small things do matter. In fact, they are not small things at all. They are the things that build a relationship and make a connection. They are the things that keep the classroom turning.

Don't neglect them. Don't lose them.

What happens if these "little things" go missing? The classroom doesn't work as well. Things are more difficult. Something just seems amiss.

Listen to your kids. Smile more. Chase an idea that comes from nowhere and seems to lead back to nowhere. 

Follow the child's lead. Have fun.

These small things are what you look back on and realize how big they really were.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Painting with Feathers

We painted with feathers. (We like painting with various things.) This time we had yellow paint and purple paint.

The boys jumped right in and began experimenting with using the feathers. I listened as they talked about what they were doing.

Painting with Feathers (Brick by Brick)
We also learned that plastic saucers for under planters make great palletes!

Sometimes in these instances I may ask questions. But usually I listen or make obvious narrating statements as they work. ("You are making a lot of purple lines with the feather.") I don't ask what kids are painting. After all, the process - the doing - the experience is what is key here. Whatever we have at the end of the experience is fine (and doesn't need a name).

However, often the kids will supply a description of what they are doing.

"I'm making a yellow road," one said as he used lots of yellow paint on his paper.

Painting with Feathers (Brick by Brick)

"A yellow road," I repeated. He said something else about it.

The other boy continued to work. Then he said, "I'm making brown."

Painting with Feathers (Brick by Brick)

And he was. He carefully painted yellow over the purple on his paper to create a brown color.

I was reminded of David Elkind's idea that kids play to learn what they need to know. This particular boy was exploring color and wanted to know more about it. In fact, he said exactly what he was doing instead of naming an object that he was painting.

And then the other boy wanted to make brown, too. He began to explore what to do to mix the colors and get brown.

Later, another child came to the table. Discussion about brown came up and he explored making the color, too.

I would have never suggested they try to make brown. (Mainly because I wouldn't have thought of it.) But through play and exploration we all discovered that mixing yellow and purple can make brown. (Even if it's not the most attractive color we could have created!)

Often in our painting activities we create some type of brown or gray. This is the first time (at least that I can remember) that we made brown ON PURPOSE.

I call that a successful exploration.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Free to Learn

I'm starting a new book for reading and reflecting--Free to Learn by Peter Gray.

I've read some quotes and references to this book. And it must be popular because I had to wait to get it from the library.

I read the prologue - and decided that it is exactly the book for me to read.

Peter Gray writes, "Children come into the world burning to learn and genetically programmed with extraordinary capacities for learning. They are little learning machines." They learn to walk and run and move in all kinds of ways. They learn to understand what people are saying to them...and learn how to respond back in kind. They learn to use language to gain knowledge or express their own ideas. (They even learn to have their own ideas!) They engage with the world around them and absorb knowledge and skills through their interactions and play.

But, something happens along the way. He writes, "Nature does not turn off this enormous desire and capacity to learn when children turn five or six. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling." The way we do school causes many (most? all?) kids to begin to dislike "learning."

Peter Gray's experiences with his own son affected him and his research. He began to explore learning and examine other types of schooling (such as un-schooling). He gained insights in using play and maintaining the "joys of childhood" was possible in the education process.

I'm looking forward to reading this book - seeing what he says and how it both supports and challenges my own ideas about play and learning.

Here's the line-up.

1 - What Have We Done to Childhood?
2 - The Play-Filled Lives of Hunter-Gatherer Children
3 - Why Schools Are What They Are: A Brief History of Education
   4 - Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education
5 - Lessons from Sudbury Valley: Mother Nature Can Prevail in Modern Times
6 - The Human Educative Instincts
7 - The Playful State of Mind
8 - The Role of Play in Social and Emotional Development
9 - Free Age Mixing: A Key Ingredient for Children's Capacity for Self-Education
10 - Trustful Parenting in Our Modern World
Final Reflections

Monday, September 19, 2016

That Time I Failed

An important part of teaching is being a learner. I like to learn new things and try new things. I like to improve what I'm doing and getting feedback on what I can change. Some of the best feedback happens when I fail - when things don't go as planned or when I see it fall apart. Then I learn the best lessons - how to do it better.

One particular time sticks in my mind. In fact, I can still feel the realization of my failure today, 3 years later.

I was teaching first grade. I had read about wonder walls - ways to capture kids' ideas and curiosity. So we started a wonder wall. I created a special place on a bulletin board. I lay self-stick notes near the wall. I introduced it to the kids and told them to write anything they wondered about. We would look at some of their notes from time to time.

This was a success. Kids wrote their wonders and put them on the wall.

One afternoon I pulled a couple from the wall and took them with me to our gathering spot. We had read a book and were winding down from the day. I read one of the wonders and we talked about it. (I don't remember this one.) Then I read a wonder that was something like: "I wonder what makes rainbows." Kids shared their ideas. The range of ideas was vast. Some were fanciful. Some were scientific. Some were religious.

Then it happened.

I began talking about rainbows and how they were formed by sunlight passing through raindrops. I didn't get too scientific but I did all the talking. They asked questions. We talked about it until they (and I) seemed to get to a point of closure. Then we moved on.

The day ended. I did my after school tasks. I was driving home. And the realization dawned on me. Well it hit me more like a board upside the head.

I had failed. I did not facilitate the learning. I lectured. I gave the answer. I was the sage, the know-it-all.

I thought about how things could have been. We could have talked about their ideas. I could have gathered books or online resources for research. I could have led them to discover the answer rather than give them the answer.

It bothered me. I know better. Or at least I claim to know better.

Did I cause harm to the kids or their learning? No. Did I steal a valuable learning opportunity from them? Perhaps.

Did I realize how easy it is to give information instead of facilitate learning? Yes.

That doesn't mean that I don't try to shortcut from time to time. But whenever I do, I remember the rainbow fail.

And it helps me recalibrate back to facilitator - asking questions and leading them toward discovery.

That time I failed hopefully has led to more success.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Class of Learning

Class I need quote (Brick by Brick)

Each year I get new opportunities to learn (as well as teach). What is this class of kids teaching me? What things work? What doesn't work? What do I need to change?

I can always learn more about teaching and learning...if I'm open to it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

5 Ways to Make a Collage

Making a collage is simply gluing a variety of materials together to create something. Here are 5 different ways to create collages in a preschool or kindergarten classroom.

1. Use stickers.
Provide a variety of stickers and paper. Kids can pull stickers and arrange them in a design. We've used foam stickers, shape stickers, jewel stickers, and picture stickers. We've used paper strips, larger pieces of paper, and one large piece of paper to make a group collage.

2. Use tape.
Provide colored tape and paper. Kids can stick strips of tape on a piece of paper. Or they could use tape to stick smaller pieces of paper together to create a larger design.

3. Use contact plastic.
Cut squares of clear contact plastic. Peel the backing off and lay on the table sticky side up. Kids can arrange paper onto the sticky paper. Place another piece of clear contact plastic on top of the collage when the kids finish. If you use tissue paper, the finished collage can be hung in a window as a sun catcher. If you use felt, kids can reposition the materials or remove them entirely.

4. Use hot glue gun.
Using a hot glue gun allows kids to use recycled items (like lids) or harder-to-glue items (like wooden shapes). We used a paper plate as a sturdier base. (It's more rigid than construction paper and holds the hot glue better.) You could also use poster board or cardboard as a base or pieces of those for collage materials.

5. Use self-stick notes.
Self-stick notes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. These make great materials for collaging. Use the notes on a wall or large board (for temporary designs). We used our oil drip pan magnet board. Or make the collage on pieces of paper for kids to take home. These can be repositioned or removed as kids change the design.

Of course, you can also use paper scraps, paper shapes, or paper strips with scissors, and glue sticks.

Check out these related posts---
Water Bottle Collages
Recycling Our Art
Mini Trash Cans

How have you made collages with preschoolers?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Start of the Year Inspiration

I love to get inspiration from the blogosphere. That inspiration comes from lots of different places--reading blogs, checking Twitter, reflecting on books, talking with friends. Here are some links to things that have inspired my thinking as this new school year has started. (More beginning of the year inspiration.)

Say Good-Bye to Calendar Time (Teach Preschool)
Deborah reviews some of the reasons she changed her morning routines and discontinued the traditional calendar activities. "When I asked myself, 'Is the precious time we spend everyday on these kinds of rote drills truly the most meaningful and valuable use of our time?' or 'Does calendar time lead to meaningful conversations' or 'Does calendar time assist in building a strong community' or 'Are the children loving the process?' I had to say 'no.'”

Check out the related Studentcentricity broadcast: Is It Time to Dump Calendar Time and Letter of the Week?

Thief (Austin Kleon)
This poster shared by Austin still has me thinking. "The worst thief is he who steals the playtime of children."
(So much thinking, in fact, that I wrote about it.)

Upcycled Inventors Box (Little Worlds)
Ann writes about using recycled and repurposed items for play. Put all those things in a box and let the kids enjoy creating and exploring. "Never before have I come across a 'toy' that is as self sufficient, ever changing and always popular as the inventor’s box."

The 40 Book Challenge Revisited (Donalyn Miller)
Donalyn reviews her idea of the 40-book challenge and the ways that others have implemented or adjusted it. In doing so, some of these teachers have totally negated the rationale behind it. "Honestly, I don’t care if all of my students read 40 books or not. What matters is that students stretch themselves as readers and increase their competence, confidence, and reading motivation through their daily participation in our reading community." While this particular post does target practices for older students, it reminds me that I should (1) understand the WHY behind a recommended practice or strategy and (2) evaluate everything I do and make sure I know why I'm doing something and how to fit the strategy to meet my kids--and not the other way around.

Teaching Certainty (Seth Godin)
Seth challenges my thinking in broad ways all the time. In this short piece, he reminds us what students should be learning. "We've trained people to be certain for years, and then launch them into a culture and an economy where relying on certainty does us almost no good at all." He makes me want to rethink not only what I'm teaching but how I'm teaching it.

Teaching Tribe
I've become a part of the group The Teaching Tribe. It's been a great way to connect with other preschool teachers, get some inspiration (and ideas), and even encourage and be encouraged. I would recommend this group. But even more, I would recommend that you find a group of others (online or in real life) that could be a motivation, a support, an encouragement to you as you work with young children. Maybe a place to vent (occasionally) but really a place to grow.

I've been a part of Twitter for a while. I've been through various stages in my Twitter journey. At this point, Twitter is primarily a way for me to be inspired and to grow. How? By finding (and sharing) great articles or blogs. By connecting with other educators (of all levels). By participating in chats (like #teacherfriends) that builds skills and connection. Recently I asked this question: "What's your best advice for an early childhood teacher?" Here are some responses:
  • Let them play! Trust that they are learning! Just… Trust! @CarrieMarshall1
  • Know WHY you are doing what you do with children. Be able to articulate your reasons for how you plan, what you do, the environment @ece_nerd
  • 1. Trust that kids R learning while they play. 2. Stand up 4 what U know is right 4 kids. @sandychilton
  • Follow the student's lead! Observe and support them where they are. @spiraledu

Those are some inspirational words for this year. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Worst Thieves

Today I was reading through blogs and email newsletters and other things. I saw something and it will not let me go. I keep thinking about it. Austin Kleon posted a link in his newsletter. He's not a teacher but an author. But what he posted is - to me - a huge commentary on education.

His link was a photo of a poster that protested children working in textile mills. The caption on that quote is--
The worst thief is he who steals the playtime of children. (W.D. Haywood)
 I stared at this quote. Later I read it to my wife and showed it to her. If I ever write a book about play or young children, this quote is going in it.

I think this is where our education system has been in recent times. Leaders are stealing the playtime of children. Stealing it from the classroom. Stealing it from recess. Stealing it from home. Stealing it younger and younger.

Overall, I see this happening more and more. Academics being moved down the grades. When what really should happen is play and investigation and exploration moving up the grades. As David Elkind says: "Quality early childhood education should be the model for education at all levels."

But I cannot cast the "thief" label without caution. I, too, sometimes steal the playtime. I have agendas or goals. I have planned investigations that are led by me. I push what I think should happen over where the children's play wants to go. Am I stealing playtime (and valuable learning experiences) from children?

Let's look for ways to give playtime rather than steal it away. After all, that's when the real learning happens - play directed by the child to investigate what he is thinking.

The quote above is going to join my recent list of memorable ones. And here's another one from Rae Pica: "I shouldn't have to defend play for children any more than I should have to defend their eating, sleeping, and breathing."

We shouldn't need to defend play. And we shouldn't need to keep it safe from thieves. Let's just get out of the kids' way.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Play Dough Tips and Tricks

One of my favorite memories is my mother making play dough for us. Granted, it was a long time ago and my memories are spotty. But I do remember using play dough at the table in my house.

Other memories are the kids in my class using play dough. In the times of screens and apps, kids still enjoy using play dough - molding it, cutting it, smashing it.

Here are a few things we've learned about play dough:

1. Make it yourself.
Store-bought play dough is great. The scent of certain play dough smells like childhood. But we've found that our homemade play dough lasts longer and seems to be easier to use. Plus you can make it any color (or no color) and make as much as you want or need. Simple ingredients and simple preparation mean that new play dough can be only minutes away. Our favorite recipe is here.

2. Make it in the classroom.
We sometimes make play dough with kids in the classroom as a learning experience. Bring ingredients. Mix them together. Cook in an electric skillet. And you can have fresh play dough created by the young chefs and scientists in your classroom.

3. Place mats are your friends.
We have used play dough on tables and trays for years. Then, one day, we acquired some translucent place mats. (Sorry, I don't remember where.) Now we put them out on the table before using play dough. Mrs. Cindy always tapes the corners or sides to keep them from shifting during work time. Now clean-up is easier and every child has his own space for working.

4. Fancy tools are not needed.
We have some play dough and clay tools in our room--plastic pizza cutters, rolling pins, and shaping tools. But mostly we use repurposed and improvised tools. We use frosting spreaders, small spatulas, plastic utensils, and other simple kitchen gadgets with our play dough. Plastic lids make create "cookie cutters." Craft sticks work well to cut the dough and to carve in it. Sometimes we add plastic animals or people to make prints, shaped cookie cutters to cut shapes, and even rubber stamps to press in designs. Just about anything could become a play dough tool. And, of course, our fingers are the best tools!

5. We can create in different ways.
Slide a word or outline shape under your translucent place mats or in plastic sheet protectors. Kids can form play dough "snakes" and use those to create words or shapes on the lines. Add smooth stones or floral marbles for additional creative possibilities. Display pictures of animals or plants and encourage kids to create sculptures. I once formed a cube from a small ball of dough. Some kids were intrigued and experimented with 3-D shapes for a while. One group of girls years ago decided to explore physics by creating different sizes of balls and seeing how size impacted bouncing. (Which size would bounce higher?)

Play dough is a versatile learning tool. What tips and tricks have you discovered as you have used it?

A few of my play dough links--
Favorite Things: Play Dough
Homemade Play Dough
Essence of Creativity
Play Dough Inspiration
Play Dough post on PreK and K Sharing