Thursday, September 29, 2011

Seizing the Teachable Moment

More often than not the children are amazing at directing their own learning and it is up to the teacher to pay attention and seize these teachable moments. 

The other day, I had many engaging centers set up around the room for our activity time.  I do carefully plan each one with the children’s interests and abilities in mind. 

However, one child became fascinated by a lone sunflower laying on its side on the science shelves.  He began looking at it with a magnifying glass and then took it to my assistant to show her that it had fallen off the sunflower plant that we had in the room.  I saw this and went over to explain that I had brought that one in from a bouquet that I had in my house.  In hindsight, I should have directed him back to the plant, to look for evidence of it breaking off the plant or to compare this flower to the others on the plant, as this one was much larger than all the other flowers.  He then said he wanted to look for seeds.

We got him a tray and a pair of tweezers and he began to look for seeds at one of the tables.  This exploration garnered a lot of attention and soon several other children wanted to look for seeds.  We got out more trays and more tweezers and scissors to cut apart the flowers…and began to cut the flowers off our large potted sunflower one by one.

The plant was past its prime, so it was a good time for this.  When we did not find traditional looking sunflower seeds we were all perplexed.  Luckily, I had a couple of books on sunflowers in our non-fiction library and we searched the pictures.  Sure enough we found that the seeds of the smaller varieties of sunflowers look much different than the large plants, and we were able to determine that what we were extracting were indeed sunflower seeds.  Many of the children wanted to take them home to plant.  They filled baggies with some of the seeds, and we kept some for the class to plant in the spring. 

Then they began to look at what was left of the potted plant.  They started asking questions about the white particles in the dirt.  We also made predictions of what we would find if we lifted up the leftover stems.  Then we checked our predictions. 

Now for all of this, we had to sweep aside the activity that had been set out at that table, but the spontaneous discovery that ensued was much more valuable.  Had we been unwilling to change our plans or switch activities in such a flexible manner, this opportunity would have been lost. 

We are not diving into a sunflower unit following this discovery.  The children that were interested were satisfied with finding the seeds and taking them home.  It is okay for this teachable moment to be just a moment.  However, the learning that is most important from this day will be lasting;

If I want to know about something, I can take it apart. 
I can find books and look in them for information. 
I can make a prediction and then find out if my prediction is accurate.
Sometimes I am wrong and that is okay.  What I find is still very interesting. 
Learning can be contagious. 
And most importantly, when I am interested in something, my teacher listens to me and validates my interests.  Therefore my thoughts must be worthy. 

All this learning from a dead flower and some flexibility.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Magic Monkey Bananas

Our class enjoyed a wonderful cooking project and delicious snack today...Magic Monkey Bananas.

No More Cookies!Yesterday we read the story No More Cookies by Paeony Lewis.  In the story a child tries to bargain with Mom for more cookies devising clever plans to get her wish.  In the end, Mom decides to help her make an alternative dessert using bananas. 

So today, we peeled halves of bananas...

rolled them in melted chocolate chips (we used Ghirardelli semi sweet chips as we have a dairy allergy)...

rolled them in sprinkles....

stuck a popsicle stick in one end, and put them on a tray covered in wax paper.

We then put them in the freezer for about half an hour.

They were absolutely delicious!! 

The recipe is in the back of the book.  I made sure to send a copy of it home with the children today as they all wanted to make it with their families. 

Gross Motor Painting

This is one of my favorite uses of our large outdoor plexiglass easel. 

We found these big, flat toilet brushes at a dollar store. 

We put paint on trays and lay them in front of the easel just below it.  We then cover the easel in rolled craft paper.

The children love the big slapping motions they can do with this kind of painting.  They are thrilled to be able to reach the very top of the easel.

 Some of them even jump to reach it.

There is a great deal of  gross motor action going on with big arm movements, hard slaps, reaches, jumps, and so on.  They enjoy making the circles that the brushes make when pressed on the paper, but then they soon discover what happens when they rub the brushes up and down or sideways.  They also get excited about layering the brush marks and seeing the colors change. 

Some even paint with two brushes at a time.

It is all about the process...but they can be used for a product as well.  I used the dry paper to make valences for our classroom windows.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tie Dye Playdough

Every year we make playdough during the first week of school.  It is a simple first cooking project, has such wonderful sensory components to it, isn't affected by food allergies and we don't buy playdough so...
we NEED to make it.

As Bev Bos has said, children need lots and lots and lots of materials!  So we make a ton of playdough, at least a batch or two a day for several days.  In the past, we have made it one color.  It is pretty impressive to see the HUGE mound of playdough on the table from which children take chunks for their play.

This time we made four different colors.  The playdough was placed in large clumps on the table along with a few tools.

At first the children played with individual colors separately.  Then one child started adding bits and pieces of other colors and the exploration took off from there.  Soon we had tie dyed playdough.

 A few children noticed that they could layer the playdough colors and make a rainbow piece of playdough.

Then they discovered what happened when they rolled their cut up layers...

The children greatly enjoyed these experiments with the color mixing also noticing when they created purple playdough from the red and the blue blending together and so on.  

And of course, the possibilities for creativity were endless...

If you are ever in my area with a spare $10,000, you could buy one of these delicious fruity popsicles.  (I was able to bargain mine down to $20)  Entrepreneurs!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Beginning of New School Year

The beginning of each school year is such a magical time.  

We see such transformations as entirely bare classrooms (we pack up our entire school each May to make room for an art show) turn in to warm, bright, inviting spaces. 

Because we are a cooperative nursery school, our parents have been and continue to be an integral part of this transition.  They help us unpack the boxes and place the furniture, clean the toys, clear the debris from the playground, plant flowers and fill our kitchen with food, just to scratch the surface.  Then they join us in the classroom each day as one of our assistant teachers.  There is a great deal of adult learning going on as the parents learn the routines of the classroom and how each teacher sets up activities or wants snack prepared.  There are meetings and orientations and committees to join.  

And then it arrives….the first day of the first week.  Children who were tentative about leaving their care givers' side start exploring their new surroundings.  New friendships start forming and old ones are reconnected.  A special relationship begins between child and teacher. 

I am looking forward to a wonderful  school year learning along with and from my new students.  We enjoyed getting to know each other this week while we…

cooked... for real,

 and pretend,

dressed up,

played music,

worked at the work bench,





blew bubbles,



counted snack,

explored the sensory table,


and so much more.