Saturday, December 31, 2011

My 2 Favorite Classroom Changes in 2011!

I don't know about you, but 2011 simply FLEW by!  Each month at school we put up a new linear calender and remarked..."I can't believe it's (fill in the month) already!"

And now, I simply can't believe it's the last day of 2011! 

So, with a VERY quick look back, here are the two things I am most happy about adding to our preschool experience this past year.

NUMBER 2...Bob the hamster!  I must say, we adopted a very smart and social little hamster.  He is patient and willing to allow multiple little hands to hold him and pet him.  And, I swear, he follows people around as he's rolling around in his ball! 

Number 1....We expanded our outdoor area...ahhhh...more room to move and explore!  I'm not sure I have to say much about this.  More space and items to explore leads to more language, social interaction, dramatic play opportunities, name it! 

Even though these two changes came at the very end of the year, it's easy to see how many of us were doing many things to lay the groundwork for each of these things throughout the year! 

We continually work on being gentle, kind and caring with each other and the children have begun to internalize this.  This set the stage for interactions with a small pet like Bob.

We met several times with our preschool director and collaborated on the outdoor area.  We brainstormed ways we could utilize the area we had...and dreamed up ways we could use a larger area!  We made it a mission to open up every area each day, no matter how inconvenient it was to open multiple locks on storage areas!  We were then ready to utilize a larger area and the children were ready to expand on their current ideas!

Hopefully, you too have some things that you are happy to have added, changed or expanded on at your school as well!   It's amazing how small things can add up to large changes very quickly!  So, here's to even more small, but significant changes in 2012!  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hmmm....Something to Think About!

Too often, especially in early childhood education, ideas are cycled around a general idea or area, and by the time they are used by most, the meaning behind them has been lost or simply diluted to the point that it is difficult to see the real "point" of the activity.

I'm guilty of this as well.  It's too easy and tempting to see an idea and repeat it without really questioning why we are doing the activity in the first place! 

Questioning the purpose behind the "cute" and "fun" activity is an important part of teaching!  Questioning why someone else is doing an activity with the children isn't an attack on them, at least not in my view.  And, to be quite honest, I often question because I LIKE the idea, I'm simply struggling with articulating why it should be done...or perhaps wondering if there is more to it that could be explored!

Questioning things is my way of learning more, of defining my beliefs more clearly and of challenging myself to think about things in a different way.  Perhaps I just teach in an environment where questioning why you are doing an activity is pretty common.  It may not be overt, but it is certainly under the surface of many interactions with other teachers, administrators and parents.

It is nearly impossible for me to plan activities or find activities that others have used or designed without questioning what the children will learn from the activity and what I would like the children to gain from this (short and/or long term). 

At one time, it was truly enough for a preschool teacher to say that an activity was simply "cute" or "fun" or "loved by the children" and this was enough to justify doing the activity.  Many more of us are teaching preschool in public school systems. 

This is simply nowhere near enough of an explanation for doing an activity!

When the children are using strips of colored paper and index cards with scissors (multiple kinds) my explanation is that one child is at the point of snipping with scissors so strips of paper gives him a way to see his progress (he can snip a piece and it falls off).  Another child is cutting across paper.  Index cards are stiffer offering more resistance and are less likely to fold over and collapse as he cuts across.  Another child is using adapted scissors in order to push down on a lever and snip since he doesn't yet have the muscle strength to use typical scissors. 

When the children are exploring sticks, twigs, acorns, pine cones and leaves in the sensory table and another teacher walks in and says "Should he really be playing with that?" I need to be able to articulate WHY I feel it is important that he does, indeed, play with that!  And, I also need to be able to point out that these same items are available outside all the time! 

When we're baking cookies and a child is manipulating cookie dough like play dough and another one is rolling the rolling pin across his head after rolling out the cookie dough, I need to be able to explain to those who work with me why it is NOT better to simply take the cookie dough and shape it for the child or take the rolling pin away from the child and do it for them!

When we are painting with q-tips or cotton balls or bath sponges and a parent stops to comment how "cute" the activity is, I simply comment that, yes, it is cute, and the children are working on fine motor skills while painting with q-tips, they are working to strengthen hand muscles and work those muscles needed for scissor snipping by using a clothespin to clip the cotton ball and paint and they are exploring the textures and variations of the bath sponges and experimenting with the types of prints these make.

Even with very open ended, child-initiated play, there can be a clear and defined reason for presenting certain materials.  Why would we open up every area in our outdoor classroom if we're pretty sure the children may not even explore the tree cookies?  Well, we want to make sure these are an OPTION for the children to explore!  If they are never available, how will we ever know if the children will explore them?  And one day they may surprise us by using these in a unique and wonderful way!

Perhaps where you teach, you ARE the administrator.  Perhaps you have the ability to do what you want, when you want!  I would still argue that you should question what the purpose is behind activities/ materials/decisions!  Go ahead!  Question yourself!  Question your colleagues!  Feel free to start a dialogue about things you feel strongly about!   

You just might find out something new about someone else!  You also may tap into an area someone knows more about than you do!  And you just may learn something new about yourself, your beliefs, and most importantly, you may grow as a teacher! 

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

The dishes are done.  The leftovers stashed in plastic containers in the fridge. 
The gifts are unwrapped. 

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

It's time to relax.  OK, maybe relax, re-organize the house, re-organize some school stuff.  But mainly, relax!

OK, well, I do need to pay some bills, re-organize some school stuff, re-organize the house...and relax!  Mainly, relax!

Oh, but wait, I also need to clean out a closet, pay some bills, re-organize some school stuff, re-organize the house...and relax!  Yup, mainly, relax!

Good grief, how could I forget, I need to wash the dogs, clean out a closet, pay some bills, re-organize some school stuff, re-organize the house...and, then relax.  Mainly, relax.

Ugh...I'm exhausted thinking about my relaxing time off...I'm headed back to bed!  :)  Hope everyone is having a wonderful, relaxing holiday!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Turning "Process-Art" Into "Product" Makes Sense!

Almost everything is about the "process" in my classroom!  We paint and create with various materials, tools and textures and enjoy exploring the process of painting and creating.  We dance and explore the process of moving our bodies.  We sing and explore the process and power of our vocal range, pitch and tempo. 

Talk about a sensory experience!  The feel of the tree, the smell of the gingerbread baby ornaments, the lights, the colors...oh my.   We may need to take a little sensory break after this experience! :)  Just realized how messy this looks...well, honesty is the best policy I suppose!
But, for highly concrete-thinking children, it often makes more SENSE to see an actual product.  Besides, I'm pretty sure the parents of the children in my classroom have pasted their walls and refrigerators (hopefully not the trash cans) with white pieces of paper covered in a thick, gooey layer of red, orange or yellow paint.  They may need a bit of a break from these wonderful paintings!

So, every once in a while, an idea for all these thick, gooey layers of paint papers pops into my head...and I run with it!  For several weeks now, the children have enjoyed using red paint on white paper...that's it....nothing else to it.  Simply red paint, white paper, various sized paint brushes and an easel!

Today, I cut all those large pieces of paper into smaller rectangles.  I also cut rectangles from red construction paper.  I stapled these in a brick pattern on our bulletin board to make a "fireplace".  I just had to add a rope light around it as well, as it simply wasn't bright enough already!

So, tomorrow, while we're sitting by the "fireplace" reading books (since it is the book area after all) we'll be able to talk about all the papers that THE CHILDREN painted to help make that fireplace!  

The idea of a "fireplace" will make sense to them, since this is often in stories involving the holidays.  It will hold some meaning to them and they will be interested in talking about it.  But, best of all, the children have also become an integral part of the creation of this "product".   And, because of this it holds more meaning and is more personalized.  So, even though I think it is important to embrace allowing the children to explore the process, sometimes it really does make sense to turn some of those process-art pieces into a product!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ever Have One of ThOsE Days?

Ever have one of those days?  You know the type of day I'm talking about!  The day that starts out deceivingly well...then quickly takes a nosedive! 

Yep, you couldn't see if on their faces.  You couldn't hear it in their voices.  You just didn't know that every single child in my classroom was silently planning to self destruct within fifteen minutes of entering the classroom today! 

So, here's how it started.  Our first little guy made his way off the bus with my associate and into the classroom.  I started the day like I do every day with him.  A verbal prompt to unzip his coat.  A picture prompt to unzip his coat.  And wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Then tears.  Lot's of tears.  Tears streaming, lip quivering.  How could you POSSIBLY expect me to unzip my coat?!  (yes, he is perfectly capable of unzipping his coat)  A few more minutes of waiting, crying, waiting...then, a small hand decides, finally, to unzip the darn coat!

Whew!  We climbed that obstacle, we're out of the woods, ready to get back on track and have a great day!  Oh, but wait, we've made it to the table.  We're eating our breakfast.  Another little one decides to turn around multiple times in her chair and ends up spilling her breakfast (not enough to warrant immediate clean-up though).  I remind her to "turn around and eat your breakfast".  Tears, lots of tears!  More tears!  I have now successfully, somehow, made two children cry in less than 15 minutes!

The crying subsides and we move on with our day.  A little guy walks past his friend to go to the carpet and reaches out and grabs the friend!  No, not in a gentle, let's play kind of way!  My guess is this little guy was upset that I had to charge my Mp3 player and the music was not playing.  Well, believe me, if there was any way I could have milked a few last bits of juice out of that rechargeable battery for the Mp3 player, I would have!!  Nope, it was dead.  And here we are with two children who have cried and a child who is trying to hurt his friend...and it's 8:35 in the morning. 

Yep, great way to start a Monday morning!  Let's hope tomorrow starts off a bit better!

(Just a note:  The two children who cried were clearly not feeling well today.  Of course, they had no they stayed at school.  One of these children also was sent home sick last Friday!  The other child was yawning uncontrollably all afternoon and flopped on his cot the moment it was out!  We also had multiple other children with stuffed up noses, hyper sensitive to sounds and general tiredness.  Ugh!  I am tempted to come to work tomorrow in a full body Hazmat suit!)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gingerbread Baby Ornaments!

Well, we just had so much fun playing with our lazy gingerbread play dough all week, I just knew we couldn't end the week without attempting just one more experiment with this!  (Actually, I had been waiting all week to try this and see if it would work!)

So, the children worked diligently with my teacher associates to create many different large and small gingerbread "babies" with the play dough.  We then poked holes in them with a pencil and popped them in the oven!

Yep, we peeked a few times.  Thank goodness no gingerbread babies escaped during the baking process!  I wasn't quite sure whether we would end up with gingerbread cookies or gingerbread ornaments.  Of course, the goal was gingerbread ornaments, as the children have handled the play dough all week!  There is no way anyone is tasting this at this point!

We started out in a low oven 200 degrees.  We baked for about 15-20 min.  I flipped the gingerbread babies over and turned up the heat to about 350 degrees.  We baked them for another 15-20 min. then pulled them out.

I think next time, we will try a 200 degree oven for just a longer period of time.  But, what we did here seemed to work.  You may need to experiment a bit more with this one.  A few of the gingerbread ornaments seemed just a bit soft still in the middle when done.  

Now, I must warn you, the smell in the office as these gingerbread babies were baking was almost too much to take!  Do NOT be surprised if someone tries to take a bite out of one!  They smelled delicious! 

Monday, we will make, bake and hang some more gingerbread babies.  My hope is that the ones that were hung on Friday are holding up!  When I left on Friday, they seemed like they would do fine.  Monday, we may add some glitter to our dough to brighten it up a bit! 

So, this time we REALLY baked the gingerbread babies...and ended up with gingerbread ornaments!

**Shared on Link and Learn -Kids Crafts and Early Learning **

Friday, December 9, 2011

Best Loose Parts We've Found Yet!!

I've realized that I haven't posted much at all about our outdoor classroom for a VERY long time! We had hit a bit of a road bump...(um...major mountain) for a bit (yep, we've hit several of these)!  We were literally out of room!  We had no area to add room for the children to really make use of any loose parts....every single bit of space was occupied by something!  

Thanks to our early childhood director, and her ability to track down some funds for this, we were able to expand the fenced area to give us some room to move and explore!  It is not a huge area, but it is perfect for us! 

We want this space to be an area that the children and adults who will be utilizing it will help to design.  We also want space in order to allow the children to manipulate the loose parts (both large and small).  So, with this idea in mind, we have only added one permanent structure (a large, wonderful playhouse) to the area so far. 

And then, something wonderful happened!  A co-worker somehow convinced her boyfriend (whose family owns a farm) to track down and deliver multiple large and smaller "spools" used for electrical wires!  It truly is amazing what a few new materials can do!

The children were completely engaged!  They rolled the spools, they set up "tables" and "pretended to eat", they stood on the spools and looked for "Wal-mart", they used the spools as drums and made music by banging on them with sticks.

The children were ready to design this area on their own...with just a few spools and some sticks!  The spools were brought into the playhouse several times (rolled in and then set up as a table several times....simply rolled right through several other times).  They also clearly enjoyed the vantage point of standing on top of the spools and looking out!  They each had grown a foot in a matter of minutes!

We have a few ideas running around for this area, some discussions to have with the children about the area and some crossing of fingers about funding for a few things (and many, many, many DIY ideas to try out as well)!  By the spring time, we would like to have the children actively engaged in helping to design and make some of the things for this area.  By spring, we are hopeful that we can also get some parents involved in the process of designing this.  Oh, what a little space, some imagination and some larger than life spools will do!

*NOTE:  Thanks Meaghan Leggins for taking the photos.  You can check out some of Meaghan's other photos HERE.
*NOTE:  If you would like to see a few more photos of our recent outdoor excitement with these spools as well as the children assisting to move a truckload of mulch head on over HERE!

**Shared on Outdoor Play Link Up!**

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Little Blog That Could!

One year...and one day ago, I posted the "welcome" post for this blog.  As I often do when starting new things, I had previously started a blog...kept up with it for several months...and stopped!  It took me just several months more to decide that I missed the idea of this and felt I had more to learn and gain from doing this!  So, I started up again!

Although, at first, I wasn't really sure what my goals were for this blog, I quickly came to realize that this blog was a wonderful way for me to reflect on my own teaching, to keep me interested and learning new things and a way to challenge my ideas and stretch my thinking on certain issues!  Now, my reasons were not ALL selfish...although, I can admit that probably more were than were not!

Unselfishly, It offered me a platform to provide other people with simply ideas to use with young children.  In fact, what I put down on 'paper' here are many of the simple ideas and things I wish I had known when I first began teaching (especially ideas related to teaching children with significant special needs).  I realize that there are many, many wonderful people teaching and caring for young children. 

Some people have more training than others.  Some people have more people to collaborate with than others.  Some people may even feel isolated and overwhelmed!  I think it often helps to break things down and provide quick, simple and do-able activities, adaptations for children who need them and explorations for all young children.  When we're overwhelmed, we need ideas....and we need them NOW!

This little blog is certainly not the biggest early childhood blog or site!  I like to think of it as "The Little Blog That Could"!  We just keep chugging along!  I have definitely benefited from the kindness of other early childhood bloggers, especially Deborah over at Teach Preschool!  Each time she posts a link to one of my ideas, I know so many more people read it than normally would!  So, a great big THANK YOU to Deborah :) 

For all of you who read this blog from time to time (and, of course, those who read regularly!), I truly hope you are inspired to try something new, find a way to include ALL children (those with and without special needs) in your simple exploration and activities or just enjoy following along with what we do in the classroom! 

If you are one of those people who feel a bit isolated and don't feel the resources you need are necessarily available, I hope you have found the early childhood blogs (not JUST mine) have provided you with a place to learn and inspiration to try new ideas!  And if you have plenty of resources, collaboration and training, I hope you find that sometimes simple really is a great way to go with young children. 

For many of our children at the early childhood level (especially those with significant cognitive delays); simple exploration, play skills, social skills, language and communication and self-help skills can not be overlooked!  These are so very, very important!

So, a great big THANK YOU to all of you who read this little blog!  A great big THANK YOU to all of you who leave comments (I do love reading and responding to them)!  And a great big THANK YOU for all the wonderful work you do with young children!


Monday, December 5, 2011

Baking the Gingerbread Babies!

I wasn't so sure about my lazy gingerbread playdough last night....I still wasn't quite sure about it this morning...but after playing with it with the kids this afternoon, I was quite pleased!  

It basically is a very, very thick and stretchy cookie dough type of material!  It really is not quite like playdough and not quite like cookies!  I'm not sure what was in the gingerbread mix that I used, but it is a very interesting consistency!  It holds it's shape, rolls out, you can make snakes and balls just like playdough, but feels more like cookie dough!  Oh, and today, it smells JUST like gingerbread cookies!  (yesterday it didn't smell quite as good)

It was perfect to roll out with rolling pins and with cookie cutters. We pulled out the "cookie sheets" and made many, many "gingerbread babies" as the kids call them (we just read the Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett last week). 

After we rolled and cut out the gingerbread babies, we took them over to the pretend oven, popped them in and turned on the oven! The kids enjoyed putting them into the oven and taking them out. 

Tomorrow I think I may suggest we re-read parts of the the Gingerbread Baby so we can act some of this out with the gingerbread babies we make!  Today, we simply didn't have enough time before nap/rest time to begin this.  (Besides, Bob was begging to come out and play, so we had to make time for hamster play as well!).  But tomorrow we'll expand on our gingerbread baking we started today! 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Another Lazy Playdough Recipe...This Time for Gingerbread Playdough

Do you remember when I decided to make the Lazy Teachers Chocolate (hot cocoa) Playdough...well, I'm again not even ATTEMPTING to cover the fact that this is a seriously lazy way to make gingerbread playdough.  Although, it didn't save me quite as much time as the chocolate playdough, the end product seems almost like a mix between playdough and cookie dough or something (and I think the kids will love that fact!).

For the lazy version of gingerbread playdough, I found a box of Pillsbury Gingerbread Mix on sale for $1.60 or so.  (around the holidays, it is quite cheap).  That's why  I decided to experiment with using the mix as a base for playdough.

Here's what I used:

1 box dry gingerbread mix
1 cup water
apx. 1 1/2 cup flour
several tablespoons oil
To be quite honest, I realized that we had no liquid oil- only cooking spray (ok, I forgot to get more while I was at the store!)...yep, you guessed it, I sprayed about 2 tablespoons cooking spray into the pan.  I'm sure it would work better with liquid cooking oil

I cooked this for several minutes (watch the bottom though, it did want to stick- and BE CAREFUL- if you overcook it starts smelling more like burned gingerbread!)

I then took it out of the pan and kneaded in handfuls of flour until the consistency became like playdough (I actually ended up putting in a bit too much flour I think). 

Now, this kneads and squeezes, and pulls and rolls just like playdough; but it smells and feels more like a cookie dough.  I will bet anything that SOMEONE eats some of it! :)  I think it will be great to use with cookie cutters and cookie sheets, our pretend oven, spatulas and cookie drying racks etc.! 

I love the fact that it seems more like cookie dough than playdough...but it holds it's shape like playdough.  The smell though is not quite as good as the regular gingerbread playdough.  You may want to experiment with adding spices to it.  I'm going to make the regular gingerbread playdough for my class next week.  We'll have to see which version they like best! 

NOTE: I did NOT put anything in to preserve the playdough (Alum or Cream of Tarter). I plan on keeping this in my room ONLY for this week, so I think we'll be OK.  If you want to keep it longer- similar to playdough- I would add a tablespoon of Alum. 

*Also- it did seem to start drying out quickly, but I really think this is happening because I actually didn't use enough oil with the spray.  I plan on covering this and storing it in the refrigerator when not in use.  Let me know if your dries out quickly if you try this version! 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bob the blogspot dot com...

My second contribution to the collaborative blog PreK and K Sharing was posted this morning.  I decided to focus on three easy to implement and simple ways to increase communication in children who struggle to communicate with others.  Since I posted several very cute pics of the kids with Bob the hamster in that post...I wanted to make sure I posted some here as well! 

We've seen several children attempting to communicate more and in more detail since Bob the hamster has joined our classroom.  This is wonderful!!  I'm not sure I can convey how pleased I am with how well the children have been doing with such a tiny animal!  I was a bit worried initially about impulsive behaviors and a tiny creature...and the accidental squishing that may happen! 

My mom suggested that maybe Bob should be called a "therapy hamster" (you know...therapy dog...therapy hamster)."  If I continue to hear as much language from one little guy about Bob as I did this week, I soon may have to agree. 

When Bob wants to come out of his house, he climbs the walls!
A co-worker suggested I start a blog for Bob...I think she suggested!  OK, seriously people, don't type that in...there is no blog for Bob!  It is an interesting idea though!  I'll let you know if I decide to write a blog from Bob's perspective!  Oh, just thinking about that makes me laugh! 

So, this wasn't the most enlightening blog post ever, but I hope it was at least a bit entertaining!  Just imagine several children coming into the classroom all saying "Bob?", "Bob?"...well, nice to see you too!  Sure, just pass right by me and hurry on over to say good morning to Bob...he's climbing the walls of his house, just waiting for you to feed him peanuts! 

Grab the "How Long is this Hall" Button!

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