Monday, December 17, 2012

Celebrating the Lights of the Holidays - Teacher Marah

After Thanksgiving, we choose to celebrate lights and how they are woven into the upcoming holidays.

First in the older class, we made light catchers and put them in our windows. We have added some more lights around the room along the loft and across the walls.

We were excited to have Kellen and his mom and sister come in to talk to us about Hanukkah and how they light candles each night of the celebration. We also played the dreidel game and have had "spinners", including dreidels, on a table in our classroom. 

Teacher Marah brought her advent wreath and shared with us how her family lights a candle a week leading up to Christmas and how that has been a tradition in her family for many years.

In the older class we have been singing some songs and learning a poem about lights and candles that we will share for our program this week.

You will also notice that the gifts the children made for you have a "light" theme. Sorry for the spoiler alert :)

We hope that you know that your children light up our lives every day and we look forward to our time of songs and celebration with our families this week.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Simple Gifts - Teacher Elaine

Tis the season.  Many of you may be thinking about things to get your children if you celebrate the coming holidays.  I don’t know about you, but I was always overwhelmed when shopping at the large toy store chains.  So many of the toys these days seem to be big on bells and whistles (and your checkbook) but fall short on creativity.  I suggest that you try to find gifts that are multipurpose and unstructured which can be manipulated, changed, and stimulate the imagination such as blocks, puzzles (Ravensbergers are good), games, clay, decks of cards and books.

You might want to consider putting together some gifts of your own like a tool kit including a small hammer, nails, scrap wood or large pieces of Styrofoam covered with burlap, C-clamps and goggles.  We had the children hammer golf tees into pumpkins and they loved it!
Some other ideas:

A sewing kit with various beads and colored yarn or wire.
A playdough box containing several batches of playdough (recipe is in your handbook) and various cookie cutters and rolling pins.
A recipe box filled with simple recipe cards (you can draw symbols instead of words for younger children).

A crystal growing kit - Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing has easy directions on the bottle.

An “Imagination Station” art box filled with things like corks, bottle caps, feathers, pompoms, stickers etc.

It is also fun to make your own games.  For example, put a specific color on a cottage cheese container (do this with several containers using different colors), cut a slot on the lid, and have your child put colored buttons in the corresponding container.  This is great for practicing fine motor coordination and color recognition.  Make your own bowling game with empty plastic pop or water bottles (they will stand up better if you put some beans on the bottom) and various rubber balls.

We have used most of these ideas in our classroom.  They are fun, inexpensive, and child-directed.  Give some of them a try.  I wish you all a relaxing, peaceful season filled with simple pleasures.   

Monday, December 3, 2012

Awesome Explosions: Science In Our Classrooms - Teacher Sue

Every day we have a table set up with a parent helper who navigates through either a math or science activity. On this particular day we were having some fun with baking soda and vinegar explosions.

Science is such a wonderful area to explore with preschoolers. Preschoolers are naturally curious about the world around them which can lead to exciting and fun opportunities right in our classroom environment.

We are not “teaching science” but rather letting children explore and observe science principals in action. They want to try this same experiment over and over again!

All we need to do to begin the process is ask a simple question that will pique their curiosity. “What do you think will happen?”

Science activities will increase descriptive vocabulary as well. In this case we heard “wow, amazing, cool, it exploded, bubbles, fizzy, lava, overflowing, and blowing up” just to name a few. These are just a few examples of words that can be reinforced and help the preschooler gain a better understanding of their world.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Number Concept: Are We There Yet? Teacher Lisa

We recently had "Popcorn Day" in the kindergarten classroom. One of the first things we did was to guess how many kernels of popcorn were in a baggie. Before children guessed, we counted out 10 kernels. We compared the group of 10 to the rest of the bag, and I said something really subtle like, "Wow, if this is what 10 kernels look like, there must be A LOT more than 10 in this bag!"

Children proceeded to guess. "Eight," said one. "Eighteen," said another. "Two-hundred and four," said a third. Guesses continued: everything from 165 to 9,003. I wrote each one down and then we set to the task of counting.

We've been counting together all year, but this was only the second time the children had counted so many of something - the first being a couple of weeks earlier when they counted the seeds from our pumpkin. They remembered that when we have a lot to count we organize it into groups of 10 and then once we have 10 groups, we can combine them into a group of 100. When we counted our pumpkin seeds, we got to 569.

Popcorn kernels took us all the way to 1,249. This task took lots of teamwork and perseverance!

Despite the fact that the children have had a series of experiences like this since school started, I suspect that the next time we do an estimating activitiy, there will still be several guesses that lie well beyond what is "reasonable." Developing an accurate concept of number is a journey that requires both time and a wide variety of experiences. Children need countless (pardon the pun)  invitations to estimate, build, count, compare and read numbers.
In kindergarten we build, count and compare numbers every day. During our Calendar Time we read/count the numbers on the calendar.
We build the number of days we've been in school with unifix cubes and keep track of them on a number grid. Children have their own chalkboards to practice writing the numbers on. We identify different counting patterns (2's, 5's and 10's) and learn what it means to "skip count."

Each time we reach a multiple of 10 days in school, we add to our "Hundreds Necklaces" which we are saving for our 100th Day of School celebration. We recently marked our 50th day of school by building a turkey with feathers that each had 50 (5 groups of 10) items on them.

We keep a wide variety of number games available. Sometimes they are the main event during our math time and sometimes they are the children's "go to" activity when they finish other projects.

We act out number stories and take turns writing them down.

This journey toward well-developed number sense isn't one that we can rush. Research shows us that the development of mathematical concepts is directly related to the physical maturity of the brain. That's why there was (and will continue to be) such variety in the children's estimations. That's ok. We'll keep providing the experiences and the children will develop understanding as they are ready.
So no, we aren't there yet. But we know we will be - and we're sure having fun along the way!

After we finished counting all of those kernels, the children
enjoyed watching them pop and gobbling them up!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Lessons From the Playdough Table - Teacher Jean

Our playdough table is a constant resource for creative expression and skill-building. It is a great opportunity for children to practice motor skills while using tools such as rolling pins, garlic presses, cookie cutters and stamps.

Not only do the children create with it, but they often make up stories to go with their creations. This scene was described by its creator as “Cherry Island,” where many of the cherries had fallen to the ground.
During the week leading up to Halloween, we used black playdough, and set a couple of pumpkins on the table as inspiration. The children made faces, hair, and hats for the pumpkins, and one child even made a bridge connecting the two pumpkins.
Recently we added some DIY eyeballs to the area by gluing some googly eyes to outlet protectors. We added some assorted items from the invention center, and the children used them to create creatures. The first day, after the first group of children visited the table, their creatures were left on the table along with the discarded materials strewn about. The station lost its appeal at that point, since everything seemed to be “used up.” The next day, thanks to Teacher Sydney's suggestion, we added some structure to the activity by having the children take their creatures apart and sort the materials into the appropriate storage trays before leaving the table. This way, everything would be ready for the next friends to start fresh. It worked beautifully, and the chidlren experienced success in caring properly for the materials and showing consideration to the next friends who would use the station.
Playdough is a fun and inexpensive toy to make with children at home. I even used it as a stocking stuffer for my nieces and nephews one year when they were preschoolers, adding glitter to make it festive and giving each one their own baggie full of the stuff. If you would like to make your own, here is the recipe we've used for years at Small Friends (also found on page 11 of the parent handbook).

                2 cups flour          4 Tablespoons canola oil
                2 cups water        4 teaspoons cream of tartar
                1 cup salt             Food coloring or liquid water colors
Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Add the amount of food coloring or liquid watercolor to the intensity desired. The coloring mixes in best when added before cooking. Cook at medium heat. It will ball up on the spoon when it is ready and will not be sticky when you pinch it. Turn it out on a floured surface and knead until pliable. Some colors may stain some countertops, so be cautious. Cool and then store in an airtight container.


The Writing Center - Teacher Sydney

One of the questions we are often asked is, “If you are a “play-based” preschool, how do the children ever learn to read and write?” It is certainly a valid question since literacy is one of the important goals of education. Though there are many aspects to this question, the first part of the answer can be seen in the part of the room we call our “Writing Area”. It is near the books and the sofa, in a quieter area of the classroom and is supplied with pencils, pens, different kinds of paper, envelopes, stickers, etc. In other words, all kinds of tools for enticing children to want to sit down and “write”.

From the very first day, as they enter as “The Younger Class”, many children are drawn to this area. Sometimes it is simply to put stickers on paper (did you know doing that provides good small motor practice and a great reason to learn about writing your own name on the paper?). Sometimes it is to “scribble” a few marks with a marker (did you know that scribbles, or any marks on a piece of paper, are some of the first steps towards actual writing?) We encourage and celebrate these first steps.

Part of our job is to entice some of the other children, who might not be naturally drawn to this area of the room, to want to come over too. I admit some of the ways we do this, especially at the beginning of the year, are rather subtle. A major way being that all “letters” go into a basket and are passed back to be put into their school bags on our way outside to play. As the children receive the “letters”, other children soon start to take notice and want to have something to put into their bags too. (Did you know what a positive tool peer-modeling can be, even at this young age?) Soon the Writing Area is a busy area of the classroom too.

Eventually, one child will decide they want to write a letter to someone. This gives an opportunity for us to work with them on how to write some new words like “Mom” or “Dad”, “To”, “From”, “Love”, etc.
Then the children begin wanting to write to their friends. We add “name cards” with photos and printed names of each child so they can find their friend's name and address the letter to them.

We also try to be aware of when it is time to add some new enticements such as alphabet stamps, mail-boxes, etc.

As you can see, part of our job as teachers is to carefully observe the children so we can be aware of those “teachable moments” when we can help them with the next step in their writing journey. There are many other ways we help them in this journey, in all areas of the classroom, but explanations of those will have to wait for another blog entry...