Wednesday, February 27, 2013

We Love to Act Out Stories! Teacher Sue

Retelling stories is always a preschool favorite. Children love repetition and by retelling or acting out a favorite story the teacher can nurture that love of repetition while enriching many pre-reading skills. Oral language skills, vocabulary and narrative understanding are enhanced which are foundations for early reading and a basis for comprehension.

We always begin by reading the story from a book. Here, we are reading “The Three Little Pigs”.

 We spend another day retelling the story on the flannel board as a group to help with comprehension and sequencing.

Then the children get to choose familiar roles and act out the story for their friends using story props to help.


As a follow up we put the story parts on the flannel board so they can retell it on their own or with friends.

On Pajama Day they had fun retelling the story/song “There Were 10 in the Bed”!

Through this process we watch the children become part of the stories, interacting with the materials or props. This engagement creates a deeper, more personal understanding of the story as well as developing a feeling of self-confidence.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Nurturing Conversations - Teacher Sydney

The other day our classroom seemed especially energetic (a teacher term for a bit noisy) but as I looked around, I realized it was just the sound of all the children happily engaged in conversations as they worked on various activities. As I reflected on this, I had to smile since that is exactly what we hope will happen. Most of us know that reading to your children is extremely important, but did you also know that engaging in conversations is equally important? We worry about how to foster literacy and how to encourage children to want to read but we often forget that verbal language is the first step towards this process. A rich verbal vocabulary is one of the first paving stones on the road to literacy. It is our job as teachers and parents, therefore, to nurture the spoken word as much as possible by providing plenty of time and opportunity for real conversations, not just giving instructions, but conversations. Reflecting further, I realized we do this at Small Friends in many different ways.

First we plan our daily schedule with lots of time spent in what we call Choice Time, where children get to choose to do what is important or engaging to them. Then we set up the environment so that the choices provide opportunities for different kinds of verbal engagement. It might be a chance to work with just one or two friends at a “micro environment” we have set up like the one in the photo below with panda bears. We purposefully designed this activity for two children at a time to provide a chance for the children to interact more directly.

Or it might be at an activity at the Light Table or the water tub. These are also places that we often limit to smaller groups of children so that when the children are there, they can really be engaged with the materials and with each other. Playing side by side as they explore the materials together often leads to animated discussions.


Sometimes areas that are purposefully arranged for larger groups, like the Play-dough Table, the Block Area, or the Invention Table, also provide opportunities for several children to be involved in a conversation together as their play evolves into a group effort.

Finally, at Small Friends, we are extremely lucky to have the high adult to child ratio that we do. Having two teachers and two parents in the room allows us to initiate, to join in, and to extend conversations as often as possible. We do this by asking open-ended questions such as:
“What do you think will happen next?”
“How did you do that?”
“Why do you think that happened?”
“Which one of those did you like the best? Tell me why.”
Building verbal language is also why, when you are the parent leading a science experiment with the children, for instance, we ask you to help them slow down and observe what is happening and to try to describe what they are seeing. We also often ask parents to write down what the children say partly because doing so models that we feel their words are important as well as giving us an insight into their thinking.

Even our Snack Time rituals are established with the importance of nurturing verbal language in mind. Adults and children sit down together and, hopefully, have a chance for a little quiet conversation (this is where those open-ended questions again come in handy).
As it says in our Small Friends handbook, “We consider language and language development to be crucial to a child's development. The environment and the activities are set-up with language as the central focus.” It always makes me smile as I look around our classroom and see all the wonderful conversations taking place. It may not be a quiet place, but it is a place filled with the wonderful hum of children actively engaged in learning.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nurturing Independence - Teacher Meryl

Preschoolers are expressing themselves in many ways - communicating their thoughts, feelings and needs more clearly and in the process moving toward a greater independence. From my own experience, my daughter was always very independent and needed little encouragement to do things for herself. My son, however, was very different and it took a staff member at his school to remind me that I needed to be a little more proactive. At the time he was just five and had experienced a few weeks at school. Apparently he needed his shoe lace tied and put his foot out in front of the first adult that went by. She was very indignant because he had nearly tripped her up! My first thought was, “How creative,” but hers were definitely more along the lines of “Teach your child to be more independent” and there was no please attached!

It can be hard as parents and teachers to take a step back and let our children try things for themselves, but home and classroom environments provide many opportunities to foster independence in a safe and nurturing way.

At school some of these opportunities start even before entering the classroom: hanging up their own jackets and school bags, writing their name at the sign in table and putting the name card into the basket provided.

During the children's time in the classroom there are many times when independence can be encouraged

Preparing a snack and helping themselves and others at the snack table…

Washing their hands…

Learning how to use different tools…

Taking ownership of their work…

Putting on jackets before outside play…

Our role is to provide that extra time they need to learn these skills and in the process help them to learn to take care of themselves, demonstrating, suggesting and guiding in ways that will help each child to gain success. There is most definitely a little sadness in “letting go” - after all it is our job to love and care for our children! But when you hear that little voice saying “I can do it!”, celebrate and take a step forward together.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Winter Fun - Teacher Elaine

There is nothing more exciting than a snow day in Portland.  Mother Nature delivered one morning on a younger class day. “Can we play in it?” were the first words we heard.  Of course, we put on our coats, hats, and mittens and headed out the door.  The children threw snowballs, tried to make snow angels (hard to do with a dusting of snow), and just had a great time playing with each other.

There are many fun activities that we do during the winter season.  We made snowflake prints with stamps, paint, and glitter.  As in nature, each was beautiful and no two were alike.

We played several “mitten match” games during our free choice and group times.  Simple matching activities help children recognize similar shapes and patterns while practicing the concept of one-to-one correspondence.

Our water tub was transformed into a habitat for penguins and polar bears with Styrofoam snow and glass block icebergs.  We set up an experiment with various ice shapes to observe and predict what would happen if we added table and rock salts along with some watercolor paints.

Some questions that we asked were:
What happens if we sprinkle salt on the ice?
Why is the ice melting?
What changes ice to water?
How did the colors get into the ice?

Cooking activities can help preschoolers build basic math concepts and practice language and listening skills.  Hot chocolate is an easy recipe for beginners.  The children scooped and measured cocoa, powdered milk, and water.  We asked them to count a specific number of marshmallows to add to their cups.  By “reading the recipe”, they learned how to follow the sequence of steps.  The end result was delicious hot chocolate on a cold January morning that “I made all by myself”.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sketching With the Kindergartners - Teacher Lisa

Each month the kindergartners are very fortunate to be able to spend an hour sketching with Teacher Sydney. If you don't already know this about Sydney, she is a very talented artist! The children are always excited when they see "Sketching" on our schedule for the day.
During their first couple of sessions this year, the children explored different shapes and lines. Teacher Sydney helped set the tone for their time together by sharing a story about a young artist who learned to recognize the beauty and value in his art even when it didn't look exactly  like what he was trying to draw.

At the beginning of each session, the children spend time looking carefully at their inspirations and talking about what they notice. Sydney writes each idea down and then reads through the entire list one last time before the children put pen to paper.

The children do two 30-second warm-up drawings, looking carefully at their inspiration. Sydney encourages them to try and think of their eyes as little bugs, crawling along the part of the item they are sketching. As their eyes move along a leaf, petal or stem, their pens move similarly along their papers. This is really hard to do!


Inspirations are usually relevant to the season. This year we sketched dahlias in October, gourds in November, holly in December and cyclamen in January. Within only 4 sessions, the children have begun to experience the rich diversity in the plant world.

Observing through an artist's eyes can be remarkably similar to observing as a scientist...even within a single category of inspirations (gourds in this case) there are many different qualities to notice.

One of the enormous challenges for children this age is to resist the urge to draw their idea of something and instead try to draw what they actually see before them. Even after closely observing something and talking about all of the things they notice, the temptation to draw it the "way they've always drawn it" is very strong. We love to watch as this evolves throughout the year!

As with so many of the projects we do at Small Friends, the goal of these sessions is not the end product (although their results are impressive) but rather the process: seeing the world through an artist's eyes and feeling the pleasure that interpretation through art can bring.

I love our sketching sessions for all of the qualities listed above and for the rich art experiences they provide. These alone make our trips down the hall once a month sooo worthwhile! But I also love the way that learning to observe, describe, evaluate, apply new ideas to those they already have and adjust their thinking based on new observations not only enhances what the children experience as artists, but also the way they experience their world.