Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sketching and Painting Daffodils - Teacher Marah

We have so been enjoying the flowers blooming outside our room in our garden. In the fall, we planted daffodils and tulips. While the daffodils were so beautiful, we decided to do a line drawing. We started with bouquets of daffodils from our garden.

Teacher Marah worked with groups of children and we walked through what the parts of a daffodil look like. We talked about how many petals there were, about the "circle" or "oval" part in the middle and how it had "ruffles" and "tiny circles" around the edge.

We then drew our daffodils by each detail with teacher Marah. We drew the petals. They were shaped like "long circles", "ovals", "eggs," "circles with pointy edges". We then drew the long stems and talked about the long leaves and how we would draw them so that we could paint them in. (No one-line stems or leaves).

On the next school day, we worked on painting our daffodils with water colors. We had asked them what colors we would need to paint them. We had green, yellow and orange. We worked on looking at the individual daffodils in the bouquets again and then used the colors to paint them.

We ended up with beautiful unique daffodils, all different shades of yellow, yellow and orange, and white with orange centers. Now they are on display like an art gallery on the wall in our hall where we can enjoy them every day when we come to school.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Playing on the Playground Leads to Classroom Success - Teacher Jennifer

As I was outside on the playground with my older class the other day, I was in awe of all of the different movements that each child was attracted to. I watched as some children did not want to leave the spinning motion of the tire swing, smiled as their bodies propelled the swings forward and backwards, and concentrated as they walked across the balance beam. Some children were attracted to hanging on and crossing the monkey bars. Others could not get enough of sliding down the slide. I smiled to myself because what these children do not realize, is that they are EXERCISING and preparing all the muscles in their bodies to be engaged students in the classroom. 

As teachers, we talk all the time about how the activities we design and promote in the classroom will help develop the fine motor muscles in the fingers and hands. Play dough, spraying with water bottles, using pipettes to paint with, and peeling sticker backs off of stickers take coordinated and strong fingers. However, did you know that these activities would not be possible without a strong core and both sides of the brain working together? 

I remember being fascinated learning that there there is a natural order of things when talking about a childʼs gross and fine motor development. According to the Moving Smart website and blog, a childʼs muscle control and coordination develops from the top down and from the inside out--starting at the head and working towards the toes while building out from the torso to the limbs. This order of priority, established by the brain, insures that the large muscles necessary for coordination and locomotion (getting from here to there) are all organized and in control, before taking on the complex mastery of the more than 60 combined muscles in the hands. So you see,
on the developmental totem pole, the hands come last. But writing your name isnʼt all in the wrist. It involves much of the whole body!


1. The upper body must be strong enough to hold the body in an upright standing or sitting position.

2. The shoulder muscles must be strong enough to control the weight of the arm, and flexible enough to rotate freely to position the arm for writing.

3. The upper arm holds the weight of the lower arm and hand, delivering the hand to the page.

4. The lower arm provides a sturdy fulcrum on which the wrist rotates.

5. The wrist holds the hand steady and rotates to the appropriate position.

6. The fingers fold around the pencil which is held in place by the thumb.

7. Together, all five fingers do a precision dance on the page: a. placing the pencil at the exact angle to meet the page, b. pressing down and maintaining the right amount of pressure to leave the imprint, and c. coordinating the tiny up, down, left, and right movements across the page.

If any of those muscles in that chain of events donʼt do their job, writing his/her name will be a very hard thing to do! Which brings us full circle back to the monkey bars and the playground and why it is important to develop the large muscles first!

While children are playing on the playground, they are building core strength with all of the movements they are trying out! Having “core” strength refers to building muscle
strength throughout the body. All the muscles surrounding the chest, stomach and back, along with the hip and neck muscles make up the core muscles. Having a strong core leads to stamina and endurance for physical activities, contributes to good balance and coordination, and will transfer into the classroom with readiness skills, stronger attention skills, and endurance when learning something new. Having a weak core can lead to injury, fatigue, and frustration. When a childʼs body is strong, running, climbing, and jumping around the playground is second nature! This leads to increased confidence socially, physically, and academically. How do we build core strength? Itʼs very simple. PLAY OUTSIDE!! 

Letʼs take a look at what is happening to our childrenʼs bodies as they play on the playground equipment and how that will transfer into the classroom. (This information comes from “A Chance To Grow....a non-profit organization that implements S.M.A.R.T movements in the classroom!)


The balance beam encourages balance and body awareness. When a child walks slowly across a balance beam, his/her body is developing balance and where it is in space. Body awareness helps children sit still and remain seated in chairs in the classroom. It also leads to understanding oneʼs own left and right, and in turn, having the ability to read from left to right! Studies have shown that when a child is able to walk unassisted, placing one foot in front of the other on the balance beam, the brain is ready to learn how to read!


The primary purpose of the monkey bars is to encourage eye teaming. When a child is moving across the bars, he/she must look and grasp the rungs one by one. In doing so, the childʼs eyes must work as a team to fuse together the image seen by each eye into one single image, or the child misses the rung and cannot get across. Eye teaming is an extremely important skill for reading! When reading, the eyes must also work 
as a team to fuse the image seen by each eye or the child will see the text as double. The monkey bars and hanging from the bars also require increased strength and endurance in the core, hand, arm, and shoulder muscles! If the child wants to hang upside down, the core muscles are working overtime to propel the body in the opposite direction.


Besides being so much fun, the tire swingʼs primary purpose is the encourage body awareness. When a child is spinning, the fluid in the inner ear is moving and sending information about where the childʼs body is in space. This is called the vestibular system. At the same time it is stimulating the same part of the brain that popular impulse control medications stimulate. This produces a calmer, more focused child. Spinning is a highly arousing activity for the nervous system. It will also help to increase muscle tone and core muscle activation (especially in the back), and increase alertness and attention. However, caution MUST be used when spinning a child on the tire swing.
Listen carefully to the childʼs request. If the child looks unhappy or says, “ENOUGH!” end the spinning activity immediately. Some childrenʼs bodies are just not ready or comfortable for this!


According to the website,, swinging is a fabulous cardio and muscle building exercise. It provides organizing and vestibular stimulation for the brain. The body becomes comfortable with a new kind of movement while the eyes learn how to see the world while moving around. Rapid swinging increases the alertness of the child, while slow swinging relaxes and calms the body. When the child engages with the adult swinging him, opportunities for eye contact, language and simple motor planning occur. Holding onto the ropes strengthens hand muscles and keeping upright while swinging strengthens neck and core muscles. As “pumping” skills develop, the child is developing motor sequencing which leads to isolating different body motions that coordinate with each other to produce a child in motion! Independent swinging builds overall strength, endurance, and confidence.


When a child wants to go down the slide, he/she realizes that they need to climb up a ladder to get to the top! Climbing gives children a chance to stretch their muscles, which increases and maintains flexibility, while pulling up with hands and arms builds upper body, grip, and arm strength. Climbing steps and ladders develops leg strength and coordination. When they get to the top, children get to slide down! Sliding, once again, contributes to vestibular stimulation and children learn to keep their torso balanced as gravity pulls them down the slide! They get to experience “weightlessness” for a few fun seconds.

Who knew that the playground held the secret to classroom success and fine motor development? In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them MOVE!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Learning Through Dramatic Play - Teacher Elaine

We believe as early childhood teachers that play is a preschooler’s work. Dramatic play is an important part of a child’s development. It gives children the opportunity to pretend to be someone different and act out their new roles. Imaginative play encourages creativity and abstract thinking along with building literacy and social skills.

Areas in our classroom are often changed to engage the children and give them the opportunity to interact with each other in new situations. The play dough table might become a bakery or the block area transformed into a kingdom with a castle, knights, princesses and dragons. 

We like to set up a grocery store complete with cash registers, money, grocery carts and shelves stocked with various food items. Clipboards and pencils are provided for list making. While the younger class often focuses on discovering how many items they can fit in their shopping carts, the older children are more deliberate in what they buy (planning for a party or special meal). Money is often counted or exchanged and negotiations are worked out to take turns being the cashier, customer or banker. 

Dramatic play is also incorporated at group literacy time. Stories are often read, retold on a flannel board and acted out by the children. This helps the children become familiar with various characters and easy scripts that can assist them in re-enacting the story. We often begin with familiar stories like The Three Billy Goats Gruff or The Three Little Pigs because there is a lot of repetition in the language and the stories are engaging. 

A puppet show area also encourages children to make-believe, learning to use their language and imaginations to create new scenarios and express what they are thinking. They need to listen to others and take turns in order to tell their stories. 

Keep encouraging dramatic play activities with your children. They are not only fun to watch, but are wonderful ways to engage children, build self-esteem and support important skills in a preschooler’s early childhood development. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Getting to Know Mother Goose - Teacher Lisa

We had lots of fun with nursery rhymes in our classroom during the month of March. We sort of stumbled into it during our week of Chinese New Year celebrations back in February. It’s the Year of the Ram (or Sheep, depending on which Zodiac calendar you consult) so we taught Baa Baa Black Sheep during our literacy time. Both Jennifer and I noticed how easily the children picked it up and how enthusiastically they sang it. Several parents mentioned that their children had been singing it at home as well.

If they were having so much fun with Baa Baa Black Sheep, we thought they might enjoy learning some other nursery rhymes as well. And as we looked into it a bit further, we found a multitude of studies that correlate reading success to early experiences with nursery rhymes. Nellie Edge, a well-known early childhood teacher/researcher sites several reasons for this on her website:

1. Children who have memorized nursery rhymes become better readers because they develop an early sensitivity to the sounds of language.

2. Nursery rhymes are short and full of alliteration and rhymes. Children can quickly internalize the language and make them their own. These memorized rhymes are ideal vehicles for playing with language and developing phonemic awareness.

3. Children delight in the visual images and strong rhythmic character of nursery rhymes. Visual imagery and the rhythms of sound have a powerful effect on cognition.

These are just the first three points from a much longer list, but you see what I mean? There are SO many good reasons to expose children early and often to nursery rhymes – not the least of which is the fact that they elicit joy and delight.

So we’ve continued introducing them and playing with them and integrating them into other concepts this month.

Shapes were a math focus in March and we nimbly jumped over candlesticks from shape to shape in this game.

We sponge-painted black sheep in February, so we decided to continue “illustrating” other nursery rhymes for a book each child will take home in May. Since many of them will have memorized the rhymes by then, they will be able to “read” these books on their own – an incredibly empowering experience for young literacy learners! Each illustration project was intentionally selected to reinforce a concept or skill we’ve been working on, or explore a new medium or artistic technique.

Our Jack Be Nimble page was an opportunity to practice cutting out one easy shape.

Our Hickory Dickory Dock page focused on shape recognition and spatial awareness. We also wanted to begin exposing the children to the concept that simple shapes can come together to create other pictures – a helpful realization as they move from scribbling toward drawing more representational pictures.

Our Twinkle Twinkle Little Star page was a chance to do a “wash” with water colors and then create texture with salt. Some of the children enjoyed that so much that we put the materials out again another day for open-ended exploration at our “self-help” table.

Our Jack and Jill page provided fine motor practice with the pipettes (which we had noticed that the children particularly enjoyed when they were in the water tub a few weeks ago) and was a new painting technique.

The older class was exploring space, so we had fun with Twinkle Twinkle and Hey Diddle Diddle at the seed and light tables, and with the rocket ships.

During our literacy time, we put characters from the nursery rhymes in the pocket chart and “read” them from the top of the chart to the bottom, moving from left to right along each line – modeling skills the children will bring to text later.

We met Wee Willie Winky on Pajama Day and again used the pictures as we recited the poem to model what happens when we read.

We also used these silly “voice sticks” when reciting the rhymes to play with fluency and expression. This elicited lots of giggles!

Did you know that the alphabet and just about any nursery rhyme can be sung to the tune “99 Bottles”? It’s true! So we’ve also been singing that every day and it’s a wonderful auditory example of an AB pattern as we sing the alphabet between each nursery rhyme (another concept we’ve been reviewing).

This week we met Humpty Dumpty – appropriate as we near Easter AND as we began to talk about the eggs the children found in the incubator when they returned from spring break. We will illustrate that one with coffee filter “eggs” painted inside salad spinners.

We will continue to integrate nursery rhymes for the rest of the year. Perhaps we’ll meet the Muffin Man when we set up the grocery store and we’ll row, row, row our boats during our transportation theme. This has evolved into a wonderful way to take something that is naturally appealing to young children and integrate it into our classroom for the pure joy of it AND to provide scaffolding for so much other learning!