Sunday, November 28, 2010

Self portraits-a record of growth

Once a  month the children in my class create a self-portrait and sign it with their name. This is an incredible way to document their growth and development.  You can see how they view themselves, their body awareness, their developmental stage of drawing and representation, and their ability to write their names.

Each month we create this portrait using a different art medium.  In September, we used markers.  In October, we used crayons, and this month, we drew the form with sharpies and then painted in the figure with block tempera paint.

In the past, I have had the children create frames for the portrait and we simply cover up last month's  image with  the new one.  This year, they traced their bodies and created name cards.  The portrait is hung under their names on their big body drawings.

At the end of the year, the collection of portraits is given to the parents in a book which is a collection of photographs and art samples from the year.  It is a treasured addition to this memory book.

Friday, November 26, 2010


We had some fun with the leaves that are covering our outdoor classroom.

We read the book, The Little Scarecrow Boy.
The Little Scarecrow Boy

Then the children went home and asked their parents for some old clothes.  When they brought them in, we had some fun stuffing them with the fallen leaves.  We even used the pumpkin in which we had drilled holes a few weeks earlier.
It was really fun for the two year olds to come outside and see the new friends on the playground.  They even got involved by the end of the week and made their own.  We used inverted plastic bags written on with sharpies.

Marble & Ball Mazes

The critical thinking that was happening in the classroom this week was incredible.

 As an extension to the activity of putting marbles through paper towel tubes and cove molding, we put out several different kinds of small balls and marbles on  a tray.  We used ping pong balls, small wiffle balls and golf balls.

We then closed up the regular blocks and featured the Kapla blocks;smaller, uniform rectangles.
We also put out pieces of poster board on the carpet to act as work spaces for the children and provide a smoother surface.

At group time on Monday, we discussed what a maze is.  Several of the children had experience with a corn maze and some had seen them in puzzle books.  We let them know that the materials would be available for them to create their own mazes and see how the different balls and marbles would go through the mazes.  Then we let them play!

The results were fantastic.  We saw children working both alone and cooperatively.  They were making hypothesis of what would happen when they tried the balls through their structures, testing them, and making changes.  They were solving problems in many different ways; when walls would fall down, or the ball would get stuck.

An example of this can be seen here.  These two girls tried to make a ramp and a covered bridge.  When they tested the ball going through the building, it did not work.  They analyzed it and realized the roof had to be higher, leading them to make the changes seen below.
The higher level thinking skills that were being utilized by these four year olds while engaged in this block play were extensive.

This is truly playfully learning.

Turtle Tank Frustration

I love animals and believe they are a great addition to any classroom.  Children learn responsibility while they care for them and greatly enjoy watching them interact in their environments. 

However, on Wednesday, as I was the last one in the building before the holiday exodus, cleaning the turtle tank once again, I was feeling quite frustrated. 

Tuck and Tim, our turtles, are quite interesting to watch.  They come to the edge of the tank when it is feeding time, and the children adore watching them swim around the tank. 

The one thing about a turtle tank, though, is it is hard to ignore when the filters need to be cleaned and the water needs to be changed-the smell is quite foul.  So, for the sake of my fellow co-workers and my own aromatic enjoyment, I find myself elbow deep in putrid water more than I would like.

How about you?  Commiserate with me and share your classroom pet stories.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Group Fingerpainting

My class had been turning every paint experience that we put out into finger painting....even full arm painting.

Obviously, this was the experience they were craving, so we knew we needed to provide this.

Discount School Supply sells finger paint mural paper.
We covered the table with this paper, put blobs of paint on the paper and let the children work cooperatively.

They painted until the paper began to give way, and then we would replace it.
Some would draw pictures in the paint and then erase and start again.
Some wrote their names and experimented with letters.
At times, they would make a train and walk around the table while each had a hand on the surface sliding through the paint.

This is such a process oriented experience that the product becomes absolutely irrelevant.

This was available everyday for a week, and was always full of children.

One of the most poignant moments was when that young boy I had written about previously with the aversion to sticky, messy art, fingerpainted!!

The Creativity Crisis

I posted an article in our online newspaper today on the creativity crisis we are facing in America.

Early Education teachers who are working hard to develop thought provoking learning centers and engaging opportunities for children to think, question and create are providing children with a strong foundation to exist in this competitive world.

Our work is critical.

I want to thank all of the educators, directors, principals and policy makers who are working to promote the importance of early learning and appropriateness of play!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Play Has Become Controversial!

“Play has become a controversial topic”

I heard this sentence at the NAEYC conference in California this week and I was deeply saddened.

 How can this be?

Play is the most natural behavior in which all humans and animals participate.  It has been studied and documented by the early theorists, such as Piaget and Erikson, and further proven to be of inherent value by the slew of brain research concluded in the last ten or so years. 

And yet, in 2010, it has become a controversial topic?  The NAEYC held meetings this week to develop a position statement on play.  The early childhood community is gearing up to defend a fundamental construct of learning. 

Play is being removed from the classrooms and being replaced by more seatwork and standardized test preparation.  Kindergartens are losing their block centers, dramatic play areas and sensory tables. 
In order to secure funding and to ease the angst of parents concerned for the success of their children, programs are often adopting curricula that their own teachers do not believe in, or are, in fact, against. 

I spoke with many talented and devoted educators this week who want to implement emergent curriculum in their classrooms and follow the lead of the children. These stressed teachers are fighting with center directors about having to follow rigid curricula.   Quite a few spoke to me of the lack developmental appropriateness of these curricula.  A few were actually teary eyed as they spoke to me of their struggles. 

It is the time to stand strong, fellow educators.  We are in the classrooms with these children every day. We know the value of play and the critical role it plays in creating life-long learners. 

But, we must be willing to educate not only our students, but our parent populations and our communities.  I am urging you to attend meetings of public policy, to network with other educators who understand the value of play, and to stand strong in your convictions.  In order to do this, you will need to truly understand what it is and how it is, that children learn this way.  We need to be able to articulate and document the incredible learning that is occurring while children play.  We need many voices. 

As I reflect on my week at the NAEYC conference I am invigorated by the time I spent surrounded by dedicated educators, administrators and policy makers working diligently to provide incredible learning opportunities for children. I also leave this experience with an incredible sense of responsibility to be an advocate for play. 

I want you to join me in this endeavor and I’d love to hear how you will do that.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Never stop learning

I had to explain to my students yesterday why I would be out of the classroom for the rest of the week.  I told them how I was flying to California to learn how to be a better teacher and to help others learn more about teaching.  We talked about how grown ups still go to school.

As I was telling them what I'd be doing one boy said, "Yeah, I know, its called college."

As I put the final touches on my packing, I do feel a little like I am off to college. I haven't attended an NAEYC conference in many years and the one I did attend was local for me.  Tomorrow, I am flying across the country to spend four days going to classes with people I do not know. And, I am also presenting.

While preparing for the workshop, I have had to challenge myself and analyze my teaching carefully.  I know that  spending time in the workshops will give both credibility to my philosophy as well as pose new provocations for me to reflect upon.  As educators, it is our responsibility to continually review what it is we are doing and if we are doing the best we can for our students.

It would be fantastic to meet any of my blog readers, so come to my Friday session at 10am;
  Become a Polar Explorer, feather a nest, and make it rain inside: Emergent Curriculum is not only possible in preschool, it's incredible!

I am excited to share what we have been doing here in our little red schoolhouse and to learn from so many other talented educators.