Friday, December 31, 2010

A confession to make...

I bet you thought you might see "organizing our stuff...part II here today! Nope. No part II, not yet at least. I'll get to that soon.

I have a bit of a confession to make. I have to be careful about reading too many other great teachers' blogs out there! I get a bit jealous. Why in the world would I possibly be jealous? I LOVE my classroom (a bit too small and cramped...but still, I love it). I LOVE the school (The hall IS a bit long...but still, I love it). I LOVE my co-workers, my principal, the families I work with, the school and especially the children!

But, still, I find myself a bit jealous. Here's why:  In my classroom, there is very little "self-directed play". The children in my classroom struggle with self-directed play. But, you say, PLAY is how a child LEARNS! Yes, are correct. For those of you who teach classrooms with "typically developing children" or integrated classrooms where the MAJORITY of the children are "typically developing" (I know, I know. What IS typical.) it is difficult to imagine children NOT exploring and engaging in self-directed play. For some of you, it may be difficult to understand what the difference may be. 
One of my wonderful teacher associates, helping a child explore the sensory table!
Come into my classroom during center work someday. You will understand the difference. You may see a child pushing a button on a toy to hear the sound....over and over and over. You may see a child take a bucket of Legos and swish them around inside the bucket with his hands...for 30 min. You may see a child dump and fill containers...over and over and over. You may see a child crawl under a table, or tip over all the chairs, or request "Legos" and when assisted in reaching them throw them back at you or say "NO" and refuse to move at all...for 30 min.   

Now, of course, we intervene to assist children in learning HOW to play. But, that's just it, for most children LEARNING to play would be ridiculous! Children naturally know how to play, question the world, and explore their environment...right? Well, generally. The children in my classroom need to have assistance learning how to engage their world. And this is not easy to learn. 
Clapping to the beat when Blues musicians came to visit the preschool!
Play schemes tend to be "set up" and contrived and very unnatural. After repeated exposure to a very simple one or two step play scheme (example- feeding the baby doll or putting together a simple block road and driving a car on it) the children learn the routine. But, again, that's just's a routine. They then repeat this over and over and over....rarely moving beyond this, rarely expanding on this and rarely questioning if there is another way to do this. And, for some children we are exploring cause and effect and are not yet at the point of exploring play schemes.

If the child does move beyond simple play schemes, I quickly have them begin integrating into one of the integrated preschool classrooms so they can receive the benefit of all the other social and play skills the larger classrooms have to offer. For those of us who are still working on things in my classroom, I have tried to provide more typical experiences for the children by engaging in "reverse integration" or having several (usually 3 or 4) children from one of the integrated classrooms come to join us during center time. 
My former student teacher singing with a child.
This isn't a perfect solution though. The children from the integrated classroom LOVE the children in my classroom, they love our classroom in general (and we love them :) but they are often confused by the way my children "play". We try to be a bridge between two children and "interpret" for them, but this doesn't always work. The children in my classroom tend to have a very difficult time imitating others, which means they don't always get a huge amount out of other children visiting the classroom.

Now, I know, many times, the children in my classroom will begin to play in a more self-directed way...just at a later age. We just may not have the benefit of seeing it! But, for some children, this may never truly come.

Bottom Line...I get a bit jealous reading about setting up wonderful learning environments, providing wonderful learning materials and dramatic play items for children to engage in self-directed play. It is amazing to see the photos of children exploring these items independently and with such purpose! I get a bit jealous of the projects or themes that are incorporated so easily and the language that the children initiate in order to participate in these things. 
My other wonderful teacher associate, assisting a child in playing ring-around-the-rosie with another child!

Now, I know, I don't have a monopoly on being jealous about these things! I can sometimes see the hurt and disappointment and, yes, jealousy in the eyes of the parents of children with significant special needs. Because, no matter how special I make "Open House" or other family events, they have to walk past the classroom that has arts and craft items the children made independently displayed in the hall. They walk past the room filled with children and parents moving easily from activity to activity, exploring each item thoroughly and independently. They walk past the room with a table filled with food the children have made for their parents to have at open house, and the name tags with each child's written name, and the drawing of the person with an anecdotal note attached explaining the story the child told about their drawing. All of these things done fairly independently by the children in the classrooms.

I also know that sometimes the significance of the child's needs can often overwhelm even the most knowledgeable parent. (Read this post from The Other Lion - a parent of a former student of mine) And, even though, their child is making HUGE progress and is a wonderful person who has so much to offer, it is still difficult not to become a bit "jealous". I know that, no matter what, as a teacher, I experience only a fraction of what a parent does.

So, it does feel good to get this confession out! I know that my job is to provide MY students with what they need and the best possible and typical preschool experience possible. We will continue to provide play experiences for the children, although they may look different than most self-directed play. We will continue to provide the supports the children need and challenge them to reach their full potential! I may just continue to be a tad bit jealous when I read those great blog posts about self-directed play! 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Organizing all of our "stuff"...Part I...

The past week off has given me some much needed rest and relaxation, time to recover from a cold, time to begin work on an upcoming IEP and time to do a bit of organizing.  My husband says I am very organized...I just laughed and told him to take a look at the stack of "stuff" next to me! 

A while back, I became convinced that I MUST organize every book I have!  So, I pulled out all the children's books that belonged to me and took them home to my very small home office.  I bought a new bookshelf and started organizing.
Yes, I know, the books are falling over...I need to replace quite a few I took out!
I decided to organize the books according to several broad categories.  Others may not agree with how I organized these books, but it is easy for me to find what I need.  Therefore, I'm sticking with it!  I kept it simple so I could quickly go through categories and find the books I wanted while planning for the upcoming week. 
A view of the dividers I made for each section.
So, basically, I sat down and created more piles of "stuff" in my very small home office...which, of course, did NOT help the organization for a while...and made me a bit claustrophobic in my very small home office!  In the end, it was worth it! 

I stacked the books according to the category I felt they fit into best and then alphabetized the books within each category. After I had each in the category I felt they belonged, and alphabetized; I typed up a master list and filed this in my teacher binder.

This way, when I am planning I can simply go to my master lists (I have one for home, one for school) go to the category I want and find the books I want to use in the classroom. 

The categories I decided to use are:
  1. "All About Me/Health/Community and Community Helpers",
  2. "Animals and Insects",
  3. "Colors/Shapes/Numbers/A,B,C's/Early Concepts",
  4. "Classics",
  5. "Cooking",
  6. "David Books",
  7. "Fall (Halloween, Thanksgiving)",
  8. "Garden/Planting",
  9. "Music",
  10. "Nursery Rhymes",
  11. "Rhyming Books/Concept Books",
  12. "School/Life Events",
  13. "Social Studies/Science Concepts",
  14. "Spring/Summer",
  15. "Winter/Winter Holidays"
My teacher binder with the first page of my "home master list" of books
Of course, you could divide the books up much differently.  I just wanted to keep things broad and easy to organize and, of course, easy to find when I needed a book quickly!  I kept to very similar broad categories when I made my master list for school books, so I could look up and find books in the same category both at home and school. 

After I categorized and alphabetized all the books, organized them on the shelf and typed up the master list, I made small dividers for each category. I simply printed off a label for each category, attached this to a large index card and slid it in between the books to divide the categories.  Now I have an easy way to find the children's book I want quickly while planning!

Now I'm off to replace those books on the book shelf...can't have that pile of "stuff" next to me when my husband comes home.  I'd hate to have him think HE'S the organized one!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Watch Out! It's a Jungle Out There!

I heard from around the web (thanks Teach Preschool!) that Kohl's had stuffed animals to go along with several of the Eric Carle books!  I was very excited to find out if this was true in my area!  I'm already lucky enough to own a few stuffed animals that belong to specific books I read often in my classroom.
"Where are you little green dragon?"
I use these stuffed animals to either introduce the book, engage the children in the book or with a simple activity after we read the book.   
"The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash"
Several of these stuffed animals have not been able to see the light of day in a few years since the books they belong with are a bit too difficult for the children in my classroom. 
"Elmer Plays Hide-and-Seek"
I'm usually able to find SOME use for them though!  For instance, Elmer has been used to introduce the story "Elmer Plays Hide-and-Seek.  He has also been used to sing the song Willaby, Wallaby elephant sat!" 
"The Rainbow Fish"
The children love being able to pass around one of the stuffed animals either before or after we read a story.  This is also one of the ways we can work on passing an object to a friend, turn taking and engaging with others (making eye contact and/or using words).
These stuffed animals also join us in the classroom often when we introduce letters and letter sounds.  I have several specific stuffed animals that help introduce Nursery Rhymes as well.
"Giggle, Giggle, Quack"
There are so many ways we can use these stuffed animals; as transitional items, to introduce a book or Nursery Rhyme, to work on making animal sounds, to engage the children in a song or to introduce letters and letter sounds.   
The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Very Grouchy Ladybug (as well as 2 other Eric Carle books)
Oh, YIPEEE, now we can add these stuffed animals that go along with the Eric Carle books!  I can't wait to use them in the classroom!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Keeping track...IEP Goals

By now you must know that I teach a preschool classroom specifically for children with special needs.  This means that all of the children in my classroom have IEP's (Individualized Education Plan) and I spend a good deal of time working with other service providers (OT, PT, SLP etc.) and the children's parents on writing IEP goals for the children. 

I have tried many different ways to track how the children are doing on their specific goals.  But, because we have multiple people working with the children throughout the day as well as multiple times we need to track each goal, we've never really hit on a PERFECT way to track goals. 

I've found that, with the children in my classroom, it is necessary to pull out the specific skills into isolated work times.  Now, for most children, this wouldn't really be necessary, but because my children struggle to work on multiple skills at once, this really is something we need to do in my classroom.  I've also found that JUST providing isolated skill work, without any connection to real life is not effective.  So, we have time set aside for one on one work on isolated skills with an adult as well as generalized typical preschool experiences.  For example, one child may be working on counting 5 objects.  We would both pull this out and work on this isolated goal one on one as well as doing multiple finger plays and flannel board activities that would emphasize counting objects.

Currently, I have come up with a pretty simple system to track who is working with what child and what each child is doing.  We have a master IEP goal work plan for who will be working with what child and on what activities. 

This is simply hanging on our bulletin board.  This way, I can grab the master list to see which child each teacher/teacher associate will be working with and what activities they will be doing.  (We do switch the activities up, but for many children we keep them very similar for quite a while...sometimes a month or more.)

Each adult then takes the goal tracking sheet for the child they are working with.  While they are working with that child, they simply mark down what the child did/didn't do.  I always work with each child individually on their goals at least once a week...generally more.  The other days, the children are working with one of my teacher associates or a service provider (PT, OT etc.)

At another time I will post the actual goal tracking sheets.  But for now, here is an example of one of our IEP goals and the schedule for adult assistance.  Anyone else out there have ideas for how to track IEP goal work?  I'd love to hear other ideas for tracking goals and/or organizing goal work!

Here is an example of an IEP goal:  By June 2011, when presented with 10 objects and asked to sort, ______ will demonstrate the ability to sort 8 out of 10 objects by object type, shape or size given 4 consecutive weekly probes.

Here is what our current IEP goal work activities look like and our rotation schedule:
Small Group Activities 9:00-9:30

MONDAY (Kristen), WEDNESDAY (Pam), FRIDAY (Michelle)
Child #1:
• 1. Goal- Sort 8/10 objects
• 2. Stack 5 blocks (Goal- follow directions- “on top”, “in front”, “behind” etc.)
• 3. Explore Braille book (Goal- find front, back, find Braille, turn page) and listen to story
• 4. Backpack practice (Goal- complete 5/6 steps- unzip, put notebook in, zip up, backpack on, coat on, find cane)
• 5. Make verbal choice to “play” (chose a toy with sound) or “write” (Braille writer)
Keep grey tray under each activity except backpack practice.

Child #2
(work 15-20 min./break/ 15-10 min. = total 30 min.)
MONDAY (Tammy), TUESDAY (Kristen), WEDNESDAY (Tammy), THURSDAY (Pam), FRIDAY (Tammy)
• 1. Make choice (eye gaze) of 1st activity from 2 switch operated toys/pictures (Goal- make choice 3/5 times presented)
• 2. Use head switch to activate toy (Goal- activate switch 3/5 times presented)
• 3. Goal- Maintain upright head posture for 10 min. (no more than 3 physical prompts)
• Break: Bounce with assistance on therapy ball- or roll on his back on ball
• 4. Peek-a-boo game or other communication game

Child #3
(work 15 min./ 5 min. break/ work 10 min = total 30 min.)
MONDAY (Michelle), TUESDAY (Michelle), WEDNESDAY (Kristen), THURSDAY (Michelle), FRIDAY (Pam)
• 1. Make choice of 1st activity verbally or with pics. (choices- 4 piece shape sorter or matching color rings)- do other activity second.
o Shape sorter- Goal independently place 4/4 shapes (name shapes as he puts them in)
o Color matching with color rings (name colors for him)
• 2. Backpack practice- Goal complete 4/4 steps (unzip backpack, take out notebook, hand to teacher, hang up backpack)
• 3. Complete 4 piece puzzle (goal independently place 4/4 pieces)
• Break: Walk in hall
Thursday and Friday
• Th/F only: Add oral language activities (no break if possible- no color matching)

Child #4
(30 min.)
MONDAY (Pam), TUESDAY (Pam), WEDNESDAY (Michelle), THURSDAY (Kristen), FRIDAY (Kristen)
• 1. Make verbal or pic. choice of 1st two activities (puzzle or wood pieces) do second activity after first.
o a. Do puzzle (Goal- Complete 7/9 piece jigsaw puzzle)
o b. HWT wood pieces- Identify all pieces and (Goal- form first name 5/6 letters with wood pieces…work on letter “T”)
• 2. Play simple board game (work on appropriate response to turn taking, waiting, not getting own way etc.)
o Math- Goal- Understand 5/6 number concepts (all of, one, one more, big/little, none)- can be done during board game or HWT time.
 Throughout- use voice output/verbal exchanges/facial expression to interact and engage with peer.
Thursday and Friday- works with adult only.

Monday, December 27, 2010 you see a link?

I haven't quite been feeling myself today...stuffy nose, sore throat, know...probably just a cold.  Well, after spending 90% of the day on the couch in my PJ's (thank goodness for the week off) I started catching up on some of the blog posts from today.  I noticed Deborah's post at Teach Preschool and in it she talks about children encouraging each other. 

This made me think of the ways we encourage each other in my classroom.  Since my children have very little language/communication skills currently, we use lots of hugs, smiles and other physical ways to acknowledge each other.   And it suddenly made me think of the reason WHY I probably have a cold right now. 

Now, I'm really not trying to BLAME anyone for this cold...but, in my classroom, we do share a tremendous amount of hugs (this is the one GOOD thing to share)...followed by coughs, little bit of drool every now and then, food spit or "accidentally" thrown at us and various other gross things. 

I suppose it's inevitable that a few germs will make their way through.  To prepare for this I take a huge amount of vitamin C every day.  Recently, however, I was negligent in replacing that huge vitamin C bottle.  Needless to say, I won't forget that again!

I'm pretty sure most parents, preschool teachers and special education teachers out there wouldn't trade the great hugs for fewer days with a bit of a cold!  So, for now, I'll just keep those vitamin C tablets handy and get lots of rest this week...before the possible onslaught of hugs next week.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sensory Activity #1...for now! Painting in a Baggie

I must admit that I absolutely love my time away from the classroom, but I still spend a great deal of time working on "school stuff"!  I LOVE spending time creating NEW things to do in the classroom; new activities, new organizational forms, new STUFF!  

No sooner had I placed the Christmas dinner dishes back in the cabinets, stowed the leftovers away in the fridge and sat down to unwind, then I began to drift to "school thinking"!  You didn't?  Well, I DO have this whole week off, so I'll have plenty of time to relax!

So, here's where my mind went:  One of my new goals for the classroom in 2011 is to involve the children in more sensory activities.  This, I must tell you, will be THE challenge of all challenges!  All of the children in my classroom have at least some level of difficulty with eating, sensory processing disorder or general texture avoidance.  For children with sensory processing disorder, touching...or even looking at certain textures can be a huge challenge. 

In my classroom we never ask a child to touch a texture or item they are resistant to touching without a great deal of advance preparation and direct work and consultation with our occupational therapist.  We try to provide lots of fun ways to gain new experiences; whether through texture books, exploring whole foods, experiencing new smells or tolerating touching new items.  We help children slowly desensitize to the texture or item by providing very brief times to touch (or simply allow a food or texture item to be near them).  We work with the child at the point they are at.  This means that if they can tolerate only a brief second of touching or being near a certain texture or item we start here and then slowly move slightly beyond this until they are able to tolerate more exposure to the item.  The idea is always to create the most positive experience possible for the child. 

We have made HUGE progress in my classroom!  I mean HUGE...but we can make more!  After some brainstorming, I have decided to start by introducing painting in a "baggie".  I think, for the children, it may be a bit more acceptable.  I used to use baggie painting and "feely  bags" when I taught the 2 year old classroom, but have gotten away from using them with my current classroom.  Hmmm....we shall see how this works! 

Of course, this is not brain surgery here! The idea of painting in a bag is a simple and well known idea! I just sometimes forget to use some of those simple ideas and occasionally keep trying to jump past the point we're REALLY at! When I spend time at home re-working ideas for the classroom, I often end up really just "pruning" what we are already doing! For the children in my classroom, often less is more. Basically, this is what happened here...I worked backwards!

So, we'll begin with painting in a baggie...and move on from here. Here's the basic "recipe" but of course you could add other things to the bag to create more visual appeal. We'll begin by exploring this in early January, as soon as we're back from winter break. I'll let you know (within the first 2 seconds of this activity) how this works out in my classroom!               
                        Painting in a Baggie

                           *Ziploc baggies
                           *Karo corn syrup
                           *Glitter, sequins etc. or other visual additions
                           *Food coloring
                            *Duct tape

Pour Karo corn syrup and a few drops of food coloring into a Ziploc baggie.  Add glitter and sequins as desired (children may want to assist with this).  Seal baggie with duct tape. 

Children can then explore the texture through the baggie.  Children can also explore pre-writing strokes on the baggie (vertical, horizontal or circular lines) as well as making letters or shapes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to all...and to all a good night!

Well...a little early!   As I make my list of last minute things to do, I figured I'd post a quick Merry Christmas and ....Happy all!  Enjoy the time with your family!  Pam :)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care...

I think we must be the only preschool in the country holding classes...tomorrow....TOMORROW!  GOOD GRIEF, I still have a house to clean!  Our stocking are the laundry just needs to be hung!  The gifts are the shopping needs to be wrapped up! 

Granted, tomorrow will be an awesome day!  Tomorrow is our annual Pajama and Movie Day at preschool!  All 5 preschool classrooms will pitter-patter down the very LONG hall to the big screen TV in the cafeteria, snuggle on the floor on blankets or on a teacher's lap and watch The Polar Express! 

We'll munch on popcorn and wiggle around during the slow parts of the movie.  Some of us may make multiple trips back to the classroom since it is such a long movie.  Some of us may make multiple trips to the bathroom as well!  But, we'll all love being together on our last day before winter break! 

So, bring on PJ day!  We're ready for The Polar Express!  That laundry can wait...and the shopping!?   Well, shopping is so much more fun when it's last minute....right?...stay positive....stay positive!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Really...this activity was created with of intentions!

Well, it all starts with the best of intentions... the creation of a project or activity we think the children will LOVE...that simply falls flat!  I KNOW I can't be the only teacher out there that has had this happen!  You mean you've NEVER experienced this!?  

In my room it just involves a VERY QUICK realization that the project or activity or lesson is about to fall flat.  We can tell within the first....oh.....2 seconds of an activity!  HOW can we tell? 

We can tell that the activity will fall flat because it is OVER in 2 seconds!  The general attention span for anything that is not monumentally exciting is exactly...2 seconds. 

This is how it started today...with the best of intentions.  My own child (now 17) made beautiful ornaments when he was in preschool.  The children had filled clear colored ornaments with several colors of paint and  swirled it around inside to create wonderful colors.  Wow!  This would be a wonderful, simple activity all my children could participate in and enjoy....yes....for what turned out to be 2 seconds. 

The children seemed to miss the fact that the ornaments were plastic so they could roll them around without breaking them!  They seemed to miss the fact that they could see colors swirling and mixing inside.  They seemed to miss the fact that they could do this virtually on their own!  Maybe they missed this because they decided they were done within 2 seconds! 

So, without further insistence that we stick with an activity that was clearly not going to happen today, we moved on to exploring the sensory table before we ate our lunch!  Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow...and the flow was certainly not moving in the direction of creating beautiful ornaments today!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Um...but won't all the OTHER letters be jealous!?

No, this is not some test of your ability to decipher words from a list of letters!  These are the letters we have explored so far in preschool!  Every week we focus on a new letter.  We combine the use of a song for each letter from this Super Simple Phonics CD with a visual prompt (the wooden letters shown above from Wal-mart).   

Not only do we have the visual prompt of the letter itself, but we also use the visual phonics prompt to help the children remember the sound the letter makes (the video clip on this site gives you an idea of what this involves- although we are using a very simplified version of this).  We also have 2 items that start with the sound of the letter to assist the children in associating this letter with an item.

Well, the last 3 weeks we have been focusing on the letters "O", "N' and "C".  This week has been a review week.  With the holiday season upon us, we decided to not only paint our 3 letters (as we always do) but we also added a generous amount of glitter to each letter! 

One of my teacher associates quickly pointed out that this could cause problems in a preschool classroom, especially amoung like minded letters!  "But won't the other letters get jealous?...she pointed out"   Well... we shall soon find out.  If I walk in tomorrow morning to the letters O, N and C sprawled on the floor of the classroom, we will surely know it was the work of all the rest of the letters, banning together to rid themselves of the high and mighty...too fancy for their own good...letters...O, N and C!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Brrrr...Jacket Flips!

When my own children were young we seemed to be addicted to checking out the Preschool Power videos from the library and watching them over and over!  These are still sold today (DVDs now, of course!) and introduce children to a variety of simple practical skills using a Montessori approach.

The Preschool Power DVDs are still as valuable now as they were when my own children were young.  They show real children demonstrating many simple practical and self-help skills!  It was always fun to watch the video with my children and then gather the supplies in order to practice what we had just seen on the video!  (of course the real learning was in the doing...not in watching the video)

The jacket flip was always my favorite!  As soon as the children have the motor skills to put on their jacket by flipping it over their head, they will never go back to struggling to put it on the old fashioned way!  It's just not as easy nor as much fun!  (besides- you can sing a little song while you're doing the jacket flip!)

What in the WORLD made me think of this? 

Well, this awesome post from Pre-K-Pages showing Crawford the Cat putting on his jacket by doing the "jacket flip"!   This is a short, video clip of a cartoon cat putting on his coat the EASY way!  I still prefer the Preschool Power videos since they show real children, but the cartoon is a good introduction to the jacket flip.

If you aren't sure what the "jacket flip" really is, check out the clip on  Pre-K-Pages or go to the Preschool Power website and find the DVD "Jacket Flips and other Tips".   Sorry, no kids around to demonstrate it here, so you'll just have to go to one of these sites to check it out for yourself!  Have fun!                                            

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Golf Ball Art

The last two days we have had a blast exploring golf ball art.  This is basically the same activity as marble art...but with practice golf balls.  The first day, we explored this with a choice of either red or white paper and red or white paint.  The second day, we explored this with white paper and two golf balls (one with red paint, the other with green). 

Several years ago my former teacher associate was able to find free cake boxes from a local grocery store.  We have used these several times for marble art and golf ball art.  These have been invaluable in this experience because it provides the children with an opportunity to explore moving the golf balls in more ways than just back and forth on the paper. 

The kids bounced the balls on the paper, rolled the balls on the paper and shook the box to move the balls.  They also experimented with pounding on the top of the cake box to make the balls bounce up and down! When we were finished, we had some beautiful papers with amazing color throughout!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We have HOW many days until Christmas?!

People, I don't know how this happened!  I looked up at our calendar as we did calendar time today with the kids and said: "We have HOW many days until Christmas?!"  Oh my gosh, I'm a week behind!  I thought we had longer!  That can't be right....It IS right! 

Seriously, I went quickly into panic mode!  I have so much to do!  So much more to plan!  Too much!  Somehow I regrouped and we made it through the rest of calendar time...but I have been thinking about all I have yet to do ALL day long and it's making me crazy!  So, needless to say, I'm wrapping this blog post up and going to organize the troops (mainly my husband) and get going on all we need to do!

Now, if only I could find the to-do list I started of "Things I Need to do Before Christmas"...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Quick, Take a Picture!

Documenting a preschool child's learning is essential.  Documenting with photos is a must since preschool children learn by doing, moving, playing and creating!  Of course, preschool children also move FAST!  And I tend to get my fair share of children who move at the speed of light. Many times I battle with finding activities that extend a child's level of concentration, self control and attention span and yet don't overwhelm or frustrate a child with a very limited attention span.  And then there's the second problem: Often activities move so quickly with some of my children, it is almost impossible to document the child's learning and interact with the children at the same time!
Take this activity that I found at Counting Coconuts.   The idea is to provide the children with play dough in order to create a Christmas tree, then "decorate" the tree with gems and other craft materials.  OK, one of those nice, simple and open-ended activities that work well for my classroom.  So, I dug out the gems and placed them in a container.  Tracked down the buttons and placed them in a container.  And finally found some colored macaroni and placed this in a container.    
And then the fun began!  As soon as I showed the children the novel items in each container and set the containers on the table we were off and running!  This activity probably lasted a good 10-15 min., which is a wonderful amount of time for my classroom!  We never did get to forming a Christmas tree of any sort out of the play dough, but just LOOK at the concentration this little one is displaying while pinching the play dough, picking up the buttons and pushing the buttons into the play dough, then pulling them back out again!  Looks like fine motor work to me!  Increasing his level of concentration...absolutely!  Increasing his attention span...most definitely! 
 So, I spent most of the time snapping pictures to document this learning, then handing off the camera to one of my teacher associates to snap more pictures!  But, how else would I have been able to document what this child was learning while doing this activity?  In my opinion, photos are some of the most powerful pieces of documentation for preschool children!

*a note on the containers:  these are containers our kitchen staff normally THROWS AWAY!  (I have stockpiled them and use them for all sorts of things)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"Don't MAKE me stop this car!" or working together as a team

Teamwork!  We are all challenged to work together as a team throughout our day as teachers.  As preschool teachers we have an even bigger challenge to work as a team throughout the day. We work together with teacher associates in the classroom, consultants for children with special needs and co-workers.  Our programs are always at their best when the teams function well together! 

In fact, have you ever noticed how many classrooms with multiple adults in the room can run smoothly even with very little communication between the adults as to what needs to be done minute by minute.  And, then again, there are some classrooms that struggle to run smoothly even WITH much communication between adults on a minute by minute basis.  There is a clear difference between classrooms that seem to have a top heavy focus and those that function as a team.  What I mean by a top heavy focus is the TEACHER in the classroom is seen as the only adult who structures the school day, holds high expectations for the children and basically runs the show.  When the classroom functions as a true team, multiple adults are seen as leaders, the children are seen as competent components of the team and the children learn to count on and develop strong relationships with multiple adults in the classroom.

When there is a strong sense of teamwork between the adults in the classroom, it is easy to see this spread to teamwork and a mutual sense of respect with the children in the classroom.  When children see only one adult as the leader, they often will function best only when this adult is in sight.  This can also impact how well a class does with a guest teacher when the classroom teacher is sick or out of the classroom.  When the children see the classroom teacher as having little respect for the other adults in the classroom, why should the children extend respect to these same individuals?

For the most part, teamwork simply means collaboration and respect within your own classroom.  Sometimes, though,  this means stepping up and putting the needs of the preschool PROGRAM before the needs of you as an individual teacher!  Because, while your own classroom is your most important concern, working together to improve the program benefits everyone!  Focusing positive energy in the direction of activities or improvements for the preschool program can have a huge impact! 

Daily, we also have the opportunity to work as a team with parents.  All parts of the team need to be seen as competent partners, all offering varying strengths and talents.  At the most basic level, this also means speaking to parents about other adults and teachers in the classroom and program with RESPECT and acknowledging that others offer talents and strengths that you may not have.  Again, our programs are always at their best when the teams function well together!

It is AMAZING what a strong team of teachers and parents can accomplish when working together.  The program as a whole benefits, the children benefit, the parents benefit and the teachers benefit!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wishing to be...Snowed in!

I may or may not be secretly wishing for a snow day on Monday.  You know, one of those stay wrapped up in the blankets, watching old Christmas movies and sipping on hot cocoa kind of day!  Oh, yes, stay in your PJ's until noon, make cookies and plan for Christmas kind of day.  Or, shopping on line and pulling out the heated blanket kind of day!  Yes, that is exactly what I am hoping for.  At this point, probably a bit of a pipe dream, but one needs to have hope!

Then again, the first few winter days with school open aren't generally too bad either!  For some reason, the snow on the windows, the classroom decorations and the warmth of the classroom seem to slow down the pace of the school day.  Occasionally, we pull out an old VHS tape and watch a movie in the afternoon before rest time.  We often have fewer children at school on these days which also makes for a different feeling in the preschool. 

Of course, after a few weeks of this weather, we begin to go stir crazy, but the first one or two times is nostalgic!  In the past, we've filled buckets up with snow, brought them inside to the classroom, dumped the snow into the sensory table and enjoyed playing INSIDE with the snow!  For some reason, this makes snow so much more fun! 

OK, so maybe a snow day on Monday isn't completely necessary, but, yes, I may or may not be wishing for one anyway!   Go ahead, wish with know you want to!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

SLOW forwarding a few years!

Well, my own children (you know, the ones I am actually responsible for 24/7) are at a very different age than my preschool children in my classroom.  They are growing up...and quickly!  With a 17 year old and a 20 year old, I have a bit of a shock to the system going from school to home.  Although my 20 year old is off at college; so we are not graced with his presence on a daily basis.     

You must indulge me for just a few minutes as I carefully compare how similar a preschool child and a teenager can be:

Preschool children are often unpredictable, playing peacefully with their best buddy one minute, pummeling him for the toy he holds the next minute. 

Teenagers are often unpredictable,  happily playing the guitar, hanging out with friends and asking mom for new shoes;  flying off the handle and throwing items around their room the next minute.

Preschool children attempt to throw all their clothes, clean and dirty, in a pile on their bedroom floor; then want to wear their favorite spiderman shirt daily from the bottom of that concern that it is clearly not yet clean.

Teenagers throw all their clothes, clean and dirty, in a pile on their bedroom floor; then want to wear their favorite black hoodie from the bottom of that concern that it is clearly not yet clean.

Preschool children throw a tantrum when you explain to them that they may NOT wear the spiderman shirt until it is clean.  The preschool child then stomps off and pouts.

Teenagers throw a tantrum when you explain to them that they may NOT wear the black hoodie until it is clean.  The teenager then stomps off with the hoodie and puts it on at school.

OK, OK, you get my point!  There really is not so much difference between a preschool child and a teenager!   Thanks for giving me this opportunity to point out the obvious...and if you have a young child currently, you may NOT want to think about the fact that you may, in fact, have a full-grown "preschool child" when your child hits get my point...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On the Move...Lifelong Learning!

I was so excited to receive an e-mail the other day inviting me (OK- not JUST me. I'm sure lots of people were "invited") to a workshop on outdoor learning!   If there is one thing we are probably lacking most in our preschool program it is outdoor LEARNING.  We diligently go outside or to the gym each day for our large motor time.  Unfortunately, it often ends up with children wandering aimlessly about until an adult directs them, running and chasing friends or running from one stationary item to another.

Of course, we also see some wonderful and very imaginative dramatic play.  We also are the beneficiaries of  a wonderful outdoor learning area!  It's beautiful in fact!  It includes many natural elements:  a natural sand area (with beautiful natural logs to enclose it), a "tree house" and natural stumps to jump from.  The problem seems to be that all of these wonderful natural elements have already been set up, are attached and unmovable, and appear to the children to already have a specific purpose.  The children use them in the way they were intended to be used...and rarely move beyond this.  We are certainly not enhancing their play or teaching them to be creative problem solvers in this way.

I have attempted to broaden the children's level of engagement by bringing out various items: an easel and paint (big hit of course!), clay and craft sticks (again, a big hit) and various other "set up" activities to bring some of the indoors to the outdoors and create more of a center work time.  However, this is still very isolated and doesn't go far beyond the items and the area that I have placed them.  I think since these are such "set up" experiences they don't necessarily engage the children in the same way that more time, space and encouragement to explore the entire environment would do.  When children view the outdoors as simply an extension of their learning area, there is definitely a different feeling and level of exploration involved. 

If you know me at all, you know I love making use of technology with the children: in the classroom, in the use of assistive technology and to provide supports for communication.  However, with children spending so many of their waking hours in front of the television, using computers and other technology, I do think it is so important to help children develop and maintain a connection with the outdoors.  Our children really miss a key component of growing up healthy and happy when they are isolated from nature or are outdoors in such limited amounts of time.  Just because it often does not come naturally for children with the availability of so much technology; it is even MORE important for adults to show their own appreciation and love of nature and demonstrate to the children how important this is for a healthy and happy life.

Claire Warden ( is the speaker for this workshop.  For full disclosure, I have not yet read her books.  A few of them are: The Potential of a Puddle, The Right to Be Me, Nurture through Nature and Nature Kindergartens.   But, you better bet I will be visiting this site and reading up before this workshop at the end of January!   After a very brief look at the website, I am clearly intrigued!  I'm sure I have SO much to learn!

I feel like we've just scratched the surface of our potential for outdoor learning in our program!  It took us many years to even obtain a beautiful, natural and appropriate outdoor learning, we just need to make REAL use of the entire outdoors!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Are We There Yet Miss Pam?

Clearly, you must realize by now how long our hall really is for our three and four year old children.  We need to walk down this hall in order to access our gym, which we share with the elementary school, and which we use on days that are too cold to go outside to play.  This would explain why recently, with the cold weather, we have been heading down this hall each and every day!  We have many more months of the long walk down the hall!

Well, for the last few days, I have had a little guy decide halfway down the hall to plop himself down on the floor and begin kicking lockers, doors, legs and anything else that comes within shot of him!  I'm really not sure how this got started, or why it continues.  I also can't seem to figure out WHY it seems to be happening at the exact same point in the hall each and every day! 

A few of my theories include, but are not limited to: a force field directly at the hallway doors (where he stops), an invisible giant rubber band pulling this child back towards the gym (where he clearly prefers to spend more time) and/or a hallway ghost encouraging small children to make our walk down the hallway even more excruciatingly long and painful!

Seriously though, I often feel as if I have a second profession as private investigator!  Perhaps I am alone in my idea of investigating young children's motives for behaving a certain way.  Then again, I doubt I am the only one who feels this way!  I often need to spend time each day reviewing when children are having difficulty, what preceded the difficulty and how the difficulty was resolved. 

Young children are rarely predictable and often so impulsive that tracking behavior can often be more of systematic strategy of tracking when difficulties occur and then backtracking to the preceding event.  Similar to attempting to put together a 100 piece puzzle with no picture to follow! So, in other words, I have about 98 more pieces to find and place in this puzzle.  Hopefully, we figure this out quickly...or it will be a very LONG winter indeed.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Patience, my child...patience

For the last few years we have had a lack of technology in the classroom for the kids.  Our OLD and outdated computers for the children had long ago bit the dust and we weren't sure whether we would ever see a computer for the children again!  For some time I hung on to the incredibly large paperweights...but could finally no longer justify taking up precious space in an already very small classroom.

Quickly, I tracked down one of our kind consultants who "gifted" an ancient (but working) laptop to the classroom.  So, for the time being, THAT was all we had!  It worked though, and we were able to try out a very important piece of technology (a computer mouse-joystick) with a child last year...using just that ancient laptop!

Several months ago I had some time available to write a very small  grant specifically for special education purposes.  I wrote this grant for the Mobile Activity Player from Mayer-Johnson.  My reasoning for attempting to purchase this was the benefit of having an item with such a compact design and a TOUCH screen!  However, I am not recommending this product yet; simply because we have not actually RECEIVED it yet!  The grant has gone through the first process and hopefully will be approved in the final process. 

In the meantime, we miraculously received BRAND NEW desktop computers for the children!  How exciting!  We have not attempted anything on the computer yet (it was just set up today), but I am looking forward to using this with the children.  I have it set up near our group time area, and I would love to eventually use this for Boardmaker activities to go along with our circle time activities. 

*Note:  Boardmaker is a computer program that makes it possible to set up classroom schedules, picture prompts, and simple activities for the children all using uncluttered line drawings.  If you would like to learn more about how to use Boardmaker for children at home or in the classroom; check out There is a very good post on increasing communication by using pictures.

So, in the end, we went from NO computers for the children to the possibility of THREE computers!  I am so excited to begin making use of our new found "wealth" of technology!  Now, to begin working on purchasing a touch screen monitor for the desktop model!  Hmm...any ideas?

Sunday, December 5, 2010


I am excited to begin this brand new blog; a blog devoted entirely to random musings on the things WE find exciting, frustrating, unbelievable and amazing in our preschool classroom!  "How long is this hall" is a wonderful blog title since we walk our incredibly long hallway; past elementary classrooms, the library, the music room, office, art room and various other areas of quiet study each and every day!  If you have never walked a long hallway with a group of three and four year old children, YOU have not lived on the edge! 

Not ONLY is this a LONG hallway; it is also a hallway in which we are asked to WALK, to stay QUIET and to keep our hands from tapping, pounding and sliding across the wonderful lockers.  A hallway that holds so many tantalizing objects to grab, throw, pound and jump on.  Until you have walked down an incredibly LONG hallway with a group of three and four year old children you have not truly lived!  And, yes, we often live on the edge in our LONG hallway! 

Ignore the fact that we often sing to ourselves, tap our fingers on the walls and lockers, stomp our feet on the floor, pretend we are birds flying down the hall, watch our friend's feet so carefully in front of us that we land on TOP of our friends when the group stops and, most of all; ignore the fact that we often must ask "How LONG is this hall?!"  Ignore this fact...we are three and four year old children...this hallway is simply too long!

Grab the "How Long is this Hall" Button!

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