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...

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Value of Transition Time - Teacher Marah

When we transition to a different part of our day, we have group time. There are many important lessons going on during this time. Besides it being the best literacy opportunity to share many wonderful books with the children, we also want them to practice sitting in one place for a short time, learn fun songs and play games or reenact stories that we will transfer to the flannel board in our library area.

We share many songs that have fun motions.

Sometimes we practice getting in a circle for singing a song like Willaby Wallaby and practice friends’ names. Or like in this picture, we were all in a circle sharing our juice to make our special witch's brew at our Halloween celebration.
It can also be a time to try an experiment or sum up one what we did during our activity for the day.

After we cut up pumpkins during free choice, we did an experiment at group time where we took some of the seeds, put them in a wet paper towel in a baggie and put them in the window to see what would happen.
They actually spouted and their roots grew into the towel. Now we have planted them in dirt to see if they will continue to grow.

Another favorite activity is to act out stories. We read the story on one day and then act it out the next two days. Teacher Sydney is helping to choose the "cast" for the story "Sitting In My Box".
Half of the class will be the actors one day.
Half of the class is the audience one day.
Then we switch so that everyone gets a chance to be an actor and an audience member.

Group time is a very important learning time at preschool. Children are learning to follow rules, how to sit in one spot, how to wait for a turn to talk, how to love great books and songs and how to transition from one part of the day to the next.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Spooky Science - Teacher Wil

October is a month that started off with our Kindergartners shouting out "It's Halloween!"  While I am not sure if we were successful in explaining that Halloween was on the VERY last day of the month, we were able to use much of what delights young children about Halloween in our science curriculum.

We started off by reading lots of books about bats.  This gave us lots of things to ask questions about: where do they live, what do they eat, and do they hurt people?  We learned that bats often live in caves - so we looked at books and magazines about caves.   We found that some caves have stalacties and stalagmites in them! How were these formed?  We performed a simple experiment with epsom salt and baking soda solutions.  A string was placed between two jars of solution (one set for the epsom salts and one for the baking soda).  We wondered what would would happen? We watched for days as a "stalactite" grew on the epsom salt solution and below it, a growing mound of salt deposits.  The baking soda solution - well - it grew really pretty crystals. It did not work as we had expected - but that too is part of science.

The children were then given a chance to make their own stalactites and stalagmites that were placed in caves that they had made using paper mache.  The caves were painted (each according to the designer's own wish).  Some children were interested in making the caves look realistic whereas others wanted the caves to be their favorite color.  Bats, spiders, flies and ants were then added to the caves with moss and spider webs adding spooky touches.

On another day, the class experimented with spinning ghosts.  Each child cut out four ghosts and bent the ghost arms in different directions. One ghost had a paper clip on the bottom. The children were asked to predict which one would spin.  Then, from the loft, they let each ghost go and observed what happened.  The children had time to try the paperclip on different ghosts to see how that changed their predictions.  We graphed both their predictions and their observations.

Halloween would not be Halloween without pumpkins and Jack O' Lanterns. The children sorted the pumpkins, measured the circumference of the pumpkins and we ran an experiment to see if they would sink or float. Before measuring the pumpkins, each child was asked to cut a string that they thought was big enough to go around the pumpkin. Lisa had cut a string that was too long to go around the pumpkin which the children could compare their string to in advance of actually measuring the pumpkin. This gave the children an opportunity to adjust their theory of how long the string needed to be. Strings were then hung to make a graph.

We made a poster of the children's pumpkin observations.

Before submersing the pumpkin in water, each child was asked what they thought would happen - would it sink or float? Then, each child was asked to record what did happen.  We repeated the experiment with a pumpkin that we had carved into a Jack O' Lantern.  After watching the whole pumpkin float, about half the class was sure the Jack O' Lantern would sink because it had holes in it.  Interestingly enough, Jack floated until the lid came off. Then to cries of delight, he went blub blub blub.

Jack O' Rotten is now out in our garden - where we will watch with wonder what will happen to him over the winter months...

As teachers, we can nurture a love of science in children by allowing them the chance to ask questions, predict what might happen and then let them experiment to see what actually happens or how they might influence what happens.  We help communicate what they see by making graphs or letting the children draw what they have seen.  As the year progresses, the children will be able to describe their observations in their own words.  Certainly, some scientific explanations are too complex for 5 year olds, but by modeling the scientific process, the children can make better sense of the world around them and learn to never stop asking questions!