Friday, October 26, 2012

Games Are Fun! - Teacher Sue

We play many types of games here at Small Friends.  We have the luxury of having a parent helper focusing his/her full attention on helping the kids to manage the play of the game. The essential part of this process is helping to manage turn taking, which is a huge part of why we play these games. It is by no means the only reason, as games help the children to experience and learn many important skills.
Some games we play will focus on a certain theme such as color matching. The children will practice lots of skills: language modeled by the adults, 1 to 1 correspondence, reasoning, identifying attributes (colors, shapes, sizes), taking turns, cooperation, and patience just to name a few.
The children are playing a game called “Go Away Monster” where they choose a piece from inside a bag. They match the corresponding piece that belongs in their bedroom . If they happen to choose a monster the child can throw the monster in the middle and say "Go away monster!!" They get a kick out of that for sure!
While playing games in the preschool setting our focus is mainly on turn taking, sequencing and agreement; the mathematical/critical thinking, language, literacy, social and emotional development naturally occur during the experience. We try to create an environment where everyone is working together to create a mutually satisfying experience just having some fun playing a game with friends!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Blocks Area: A Closer Look - Teacher Sydney

The Block Area has been a busy area in our room over the past month, especially in our Older Class. For many children this is the first area of the room they hurry into each day. It is often filled with excited voices, activity and occasional shouts as a carefully constructed building comes tumbling down. To many people looking at this area with a quick glance all they see is children busily at play. That is, I believe, an important part of what it is, but with a closer look, we can see that much more is happening in this area.

It is an area where children are learning and practicing basic math skills such as spatial thinking, geometry, sorting, symmetry, balance, weight and proportion.


As there are often several children working in this area at a time, they are also getting to practice basic social skills such as cooperation, taking turns, negotiation, problem-solving and empathy.
The other day, I sat down to listen as I watched the children building and took notes on what I heard:

“Can I have that when you're done?”
“Oooh, that's a cool tower!” (as someone walked by and saw what others where making).
“I know how to make that stay up...use this block,” (after a tall tower came down for the third time).
“Oh, sometimes that happens. - we can build it again,” (again, after a tower came crashing down).
Since we keep many other props near-by such as cars and trucks, animals, people and furniture, this area also is a place filled with imaginative and creative play. The children often build zoos for the animals or houses for the people and then act out the different roles as they continue to play with their structures.

In order to extend the Block Area and add a literacy component for the older class, we have also initiated a book that we call “The Builder's Notebook”. If the children build something that they want to keep and remember, they ask us to take a photo. The only requirement being that they also have to tell us the words that should go with it. In the beginning, the “stories” are often about how they built the structure. Then they become much more involved stories of what could be happening in the buildings. We share these stories with the rest of the class before putting them in the notebook. As you can imagine, the idea of having your building in the notebook is an added incentive and we are thrilled with all the construction and stories that this produces.

After taking this closer look at our Block Area, I realize once again that what looks like “just” play to most is actually a center of busy learning and creativity.



Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bringing the Outside In: Sunflower Study - Teacher Jean

We have many ways of bringing the outside into our classrooms at Small Friends. One fall favorite is to bring in sunflowers for a variety of activities. Every Spring, the children plant sunflowers that we get to enjoy when everyone returns in the fall.
At the science table, the children develop fine motor skills by examining large sunflower heads filled with seeds, using tweezers to pull the seeds out and magnifying glasses to take a closer look.
Language skills and science concepts are developed when adults engage them in conversation about texture, pattern, how the seeds are useful to people and animals, and how they grow new sunflowers when they are planted in the ground. We sing songs and read books about plants and what they need to grow.
We use the seeds to play counting games to teach and reinforce one-to-one correspondence, as well as the social skills needed for cooperative game play.
We create sunflower-themed art while talking about the stem, leaves, petals, and seeds.

We also teach the children to “draw what they see” by taking the time to look at each part of the flower and draw it as they see it. The next school day, they use watercolors to paint their line drawings.
The results are always beautiful, and no two are alike.





Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Creating Community - Teacher Lisa

One of our priorities in kindergarten, along with the academic and other personal goals we have for the children in our classroom, is giving them the skills to recognize and practice what it means to be a community.

Children acting out Caps For Sale
One of the benefits of having a small group is that we end up operating more like a "school family" than we might if we were a larger classroom of 25 or more. But it can also be challenging sometimes because the children don't have as many social options. With a group of 8, is inevitable that every child will need to learn to work successfully with every other personality in the room.

A retelling of Brown Bear, Brown Bear
One of the first things we do as a class is to establish classroom jobs. These rotate every week and everyone takes a turn in each position. Children learn that each contribution is imporant even though some are more desirable (Line Leader) than others (Caboose). They have repeated opportunities to practice making even the unexciting contributions with a positive attitude.

Another community-builder we start during our first week together is our Friendship Jar. We begin with 2 or 3 popsicle sticks in the jar that have behaviors for us to practice. We draw one out during our gathering time and that is our intention for the day. Each week we add another stick. Sometimes additions are random and sometimes they are a direct result of interactions we are observing between the children. Here are the sticks we have so far this year:

A third practice that we have just added to our routine is one we learned about at a workshop last year and we love it! It's called a Daily Greeting. As part of our gathering time, we form a circle and greet the person on either side of us. We touch opposite hands together, look each other in the eye, and say, "Good afternoon, (person's name)" as we turn in a circle. We call this particular greeting minuet. We will add others as our year continues. There is something sort of magical about this very simple practice as children connect with one another, and it sets a very collaborative tone for the day. 

These are specific activities selected because they help establish a healthy, positive environment, but there are general things we do as well. Singing songs, taking a moment to share how we're feeling, working in our garden together, and making most of our work time collaborative and social in nature all help to build a sense of community and give children practice at effectively supporting and communicating with one another.

We find that when we take the time to establish these routines and rituals we not only create opportunities for children to practice healthy relationship skills, but we also establish an environment where they feel supported in taking risks and trying new things - preparing them for a lifetime of growing and learning.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Science Explorations - Teacher Marah

We find science everywhere in the classroom. Repeating experiences in different activities provides opportunities for cause and effect to take place.  Recently we have been exploring mixing colors. In the younger class we glued red, yellow and blue cellophane onto white paper plates and mixed two colors into shaving cream. We talked about the surprise of other colors being there too.

Another favorite activity is to put water in an ice cube tray and put one color in one end of the tray and a second color in the opposite end. We ask them what colors they think they will make. Then we give them a dropper and they start mixing colors in the middle. With the younger class, we mostly let them explore what they make (and it's good fine motor practice squeezing the dropper). With the older class we use the scientific method of guess, test and record. They guess what they think will happen, they do the experiment and then the parent writes down what did happen.
We also read some great books about mixing colors. Mouse Paint, White Rabbit's Color Book and The Color Dance  were favorites.
With science, we are trying to introduce the children to the concept of scientific method which involves 1) Making observations, 2) Thinking about why things happen, 3) Trying out reasons or potential causes, 4) Observing results, and 5) Drawing conclusions.
This all happens at the children's developmental level and is all done through play and exploration.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Self-directed Learning in Our Classrooms - Teacher Jean

As I watch our older class playing cooperatively with one another, I am grateful that Small Friends continues to devote a large portion of the day to self-directed play. The children get to choose how they will engage with the materials and people in the classroom, and in so doing, they get a lot of practice with some essential life skills that will serve them well throughout their learning years and beyond.

When they share a set of materials, the children have to practice communication skills: negotiating, problem-solving, standing up for themselves, and taking others’ perspectives. These are skills that are needed in the workforce, in families, and in civic life. And they don’t come easily. It takes lots of practice and support from the adults in the room, giving them the words to communicate their wants, needs and ideas, and helping each child to listen to the others.

Many times there are tears when a child is required to give someone else a turn with the coveted toy or prop for imaginative play, but there is also a sense of pride that comes with learning to control one's own behavior, resist impulses, and let others have their fair share.

Since play is an "open" rather than "closed" task (one that needs to have a "right answer"), it is a context in which children can practice taking risks - another essential life skill - without fear of failure.

Traditional literacy skills also begin to emerge naturally as the children are exposed to literacy during this self-directed time. The children are encouraged to write their own names on their art work as they are able and interested.

The writing center is used for drawing and writing notes to parents and to each other.
There is plenty of opportunity to enjoy reading and story telling without the pressure to perform. Stories are enjoyed on the couch in all combinations: child-child, child-adult, and solo.
They are re-enacted on the flannel board or when children perform their own mini-plays.
All of this literacy exploration builds a foundation of the fostering joy and enthusiasm for reading, writing, and storytelling.
On the surface, the extended choice time that we offer at Small Friends may look like "just play," but when you examine it more closely, something deeper and more meaningful is revealed. Fred Rogers sums it up nicely:  "Play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood."



Sunday, October 7, 2012

Kindergarten: Making Connections by Teacher Wil

One of the things we try to do as teachers is to make connections between different aspects of the curriculum in the hope that eventually children will see these themselves.This week, we were learning all about the letter A. We made an "A" alligator to remind us of the sound "A" makes.  During handwriting, students learned the proper strokes to making both A and a. 

At story time, we read books such as Ten Apples Up on TopThe Seasons Of Arnold's Apple Tree, Apple Pigs and The Mouse and The Apple. We were able to extend our reading into a combined math and art project where the children drew a picture of themselves and used apples to make apple prints on top of their head. At this stage of KG, many children can count by rote to 100, but may not be able to have one to one correspondence in their counting. They learned that they had to check frequently to make sure that they had ten apples on their print!  
Children practiced counting and adding by playing "Race to Ten" with apples on an apple tree.
On Thursday, everyone brought an apple to school and we played "Guess My Rule" - the children try to guess the criteria someone else is using to sort the apples into groups.  We graphed the colors of our apples. Afterwards, they practiced cutting apples with a knife (closely supervised) and made the most delicious apple sauce! 
Finally on Friday, with the help of parents and grandparents, we made a trip to the Oregon Heritage Farm.  First, we stopped at the packing plant.  The children were shown how apples were washed, waxed and sorted (a computer keeps track of every single apple!!) for shipment to grocery stores or into gigantic trucks for juicing. This was followed by a hayride through the orchard,  seeing farm animals,  a hay maze, a gigantic apple bouncing room and an old tractor! Each child tasted fresh cider and was able to choose an apple to take home.  As a class, it was wonderful to share the excitement of being at the farm with friends.  Using a simple theme, we were able to connect so many aspects of learning in a way that was meaningful to kindergarteners and most importantly, it was fun!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Process vs. Product - Teacher Sue

How many times does your preschooler bring home an interesting, unidentifiable object that to the adult eye has no rhyme or reason? You get ready to slip it in the recycle bin when s/he is not looking because it simply isn't a beautiful piece of art. The crucial element of this item is the process your child went through to create his/her masterpiece. The process the child goes through is the way a child learns a new motor, social and/or language skill. The product or skill cannot be achieved without due process. That is the crucial step that we emphasize through the preschool activities we plan for the children.

The other day the children went outside to explore spraying colored water onto butcher paper on a wall.
They had such a great time experimenting spraying from different distances.
They worked together to spray two colors on top of each other to get a new color.

They took turns and traded spray bottles.

And at the end of the day, what is left is certainly not a beautiful masterpiece. The children, however were engaged, challenged and definitely interested in the process!