For the past several weeks it has been raining and with the rain have come out the worms. They are all over the place. A few students showed interest in the worms so we decided to bring them into the classroom and make a worm farm. The kids helped me put some soil in a tub, water, dead leaves, and finally the worms. We put a plastic wrap on top and secured it with a rubber band. The kids were fascinated and decided to continuously bring in more worms for our worm farm as well as food.
Slowly, I began to see more and more kids become interested in the worms. By the end of this past week even the kids that initially thought worms were gross were catching worms. I even had a couple of said children ask to make their own worm farm that they could take home. They made them using small cups. I not only saw the children become enthusiastic about the worms, but the parents as well became enthusiastic. They would tell me that my enthusiasm was catching and they were loving to hear their children talk about the worms and be okay with touching things they once thought were gross. They were seeing their children grow and were enjoying the conversations that it led to in the home.
On my own, I would have never thought to do a little worm project. I did not have any particular interest in worms. When I was a kid, I caught lizards. I love how following the children's interest take us into new areas that we have not been before. I learned and had as much fun as the children. Since I had never taken care of worms, we had to do research as a class to find out what we needed to do to take care of our worms. When I was taking my education classes and I was instructed about taking these opportunities to do meaningful research with the kids, I did not know what it would actually look like in the classroom. In fact, I was a little bit scared. Could I keep the children's interest? Now I realize how silly a worry it was because they are completely and utterly interested and are right there in the journey with you because it was something that they initiated.I have been able to do meaningful research with the kids several times this year and each and every single time it has worked out. I love that they are learning about literacy and research in a meaningful way.
April 25 2016
On the last day of school before Spring Break the students and I went on a picnic. I was inspired by Deborah Stewart
, to talk to the children about hibernation in January. This is a project I have done with the kids each year for a couple years now. So far it has been very successful. We read fun stories about winter and bears going to sleep. We pretend to be bears and hibernate. We go on a bear hunt. Once that song has been introduced we do it almost every day for several weeks by request of the kids. Then we make our own bears and our own cave using a box and put our bears down for a long winter's nap. The students really get into the pretend play and enjoy seeing their bears sleeping. Throughout winter they peek in the cave to check on their bears. I personally love this project because not only does it engage kids to talk about winter in a fun way, but it also teaches them about patience. The first time I tried this, I was afraid the kids would not be patient enough to wait until the first day of spring to see their bears again. But so far, the kids have been good sports about this. We mark on the calendar when we will wake up the bears and we wait.
On the day of the picnic, the students made their own peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches as well as their own ants on a log snack. It teaches the kids how to spread a knife, but it is also a fun way to guide them toward making their own foods. I have one child in my classroom this year that is very picky. She told me she did not want to make her food as she would not eat it. I asked her to go ahead and make one. When it was time to have our picnic I found her eating her sandwhich with jelly all over her cheeks. I was happy to see that having her be a part of making her own food aided her in eating that day. The students brought their own blankets and set them down on the grass with their bears. After they were done eating they threw away their trash and began to play. There were bubbles, jumping ropes, chalk, and many different kinds of balls set out for them. Of course they also had the playground as well. I feel that the longevity of this project will make it something that the kids will remember when they get older and hopefully they will remember it fondly. So many everyday things that we do I feel that they will forget them. But the fact that this is a 3 month project and something that comes up in conversation throughout those three months as they are waiting for the bears to wake up, I think that will make it more memorable. I hope they will remember our pretend play and silliness and therefore when they grow to be an adult remember the importance of play and pass on that knowledge to the children in their care.
March 28 2016
We had a very rainy day this week. As the rain kept falling the kids were aware that we would not be able to go outside that day. I don't know if it was the rain or simply how the kids were feeling that day, but as we gathered for story time I had a couple of students that were not interested in hearing a story. Instead, they kept singing "Rain Rain, Go Away." I felt myself having to make a decision. I could let myself feel frustrated because they were singing while I was trying to read or I could pay attention to what I was seeing and realize that it was not the time to read. I didn't finish the whole book that day. I set it down and began to sing along with them. We sang Rain, Rain Go Away;It's Raining, It's Pouring; and lastly I Had A Little Turtle. The kids giggled and were engaged as they were waiting to hear how I would change the song by using one of their names instead. We sang each song several times. I couldn't help but smile as I looked at their happy faces while they sang. We sand songs they did not know when we had begun our journey together, but now that we are near the end of the school year they knew them very well. I like to think they took a lot more out of singing and moving than me forcing them to hear a story they were not into listening to that day. It was what they needed at the time. For some, I assume it may have offered them comfort as they listened to the hard rain pouring down. Sometimes it is not about our plans, but about their needs.
March 13 2016
Lately, I have been noticing similarities in the difficulties children and adults face when socializing. For example, this week three children were playing with the Magnatiles. They were not building together, but each had his or her own project that they were working on. At some point, two other children decided they wanted to play with the Magnatiles too and were only thinking of their needs. They needed certain pieces to build what they wanted to build, and so while they did ask if they could play they did not make sure the other children had given their consent and began to take some of their pieces to build what they wanted to build. I then heard the other children protest. They had been using those pieces. I heard one of the new kids in the area say, "But I need it." Kids this age are egocentric. They don't have the ability to think of others and put themselves in someone else's shoes yet. There was a problem. The new kid needed it and the kids that had been there now had their structure taken apart by the child that took the pieces without consent. The five year old understood the problem and apologized and said, "I can help you put it back together." However, the three year old was adamant that she indeed "needed the piece." It was harder for her to understand how the other kids felt when she decided to just take their pieces. Seeing the five year old do the right thing nudged her along a bit, but I could tell she thought it was unfair.
This instance reminded me of interactions I have had with many adults and things that I have done. How many of us consider our needs and our wants and want to see what we want to do come to fruition over other people's wants and needs? Often in collaborating with colleagues I have noticed there is not much collaborating going on at all. Instead, there is one person telling everyone else what is going to be done and other people because they do not want to create a problem simply do as they are told. It can be hard to come to a compromise that everyone can agree with. However, trying to be "nice" and avoid problems by simply letting other people do as they wish is not the healthiest choice we can make. For many people it builds up resentment because they do not have a voice. Yet, here in preschool my kids are practicing these very important skills that will help them hear other people's needs and express their own. They have many opportunities to solve problems and come to an understanding with other children. They can't do this alone. They need guidance. I serve as a mentor many times teaching them ways they can express themselves in a healthy manner to get their point across. But, if someone was never taught these skills they are left with few tools in their belt. Because these people never had the opportunity to learn how to express themselves, dysfunctional relationships form where people rather than being direct with their intentions say things in a very passive way thinking that it is the nicer way to say things. But it is not the nicer way of doing things. It simply makes him or her feel more comfortable because they are able to say whatever they want but in a way that prevents the other person from directly talking about the situation. I realized this is just a remnant left from our early years when we were egocentric. I realized how important these years are in practicing these skills so we can be functional adults that can solve problems and can communicate with one another.
In many circumstances, I have witnessed adults handle children's problems and thereby not giving them the opportunity to solve their own problems. They simply state things like, "That wasn't nice" or "You have to share." I admit, it is easier to do that then to take the time to listen to the children's problems and help guide them, but saying these blanket statements doesn't help children process through their feelings and learn how to communicate with others. They just know an adult forced them to act in a different manner. And sadly they have also not learned how to negotiate and solve the many different problems that arise in adulthood. In adulthood, when someone inadvertently hurts their feelings or does something they don't like, they don't know how to go up to that person and say, "Hey, I didn't like it when this happened." Instead they writhe in their own thoughts about the other person. To him or her, it is all the other person's fault. And then you hear people talking negatively about this person who was so hurtful towards another person when in reality we all make mistakes. We are all human, and most wrongs can be corrected with a simple conversation. I have most of my kids for only one year. Many times I doubt that is enough time to practice these skills, but I hope that as they grow to be adults, solving problems and negotiating becomes second nature to them. A tool they can use without giving much thought because they have used it so much already.
March 6 2016
For the last several months, the students have been experimenting with kite making. In the art center, they have all sorts of materials to make things. For many weeks, I have seen students use a hole puncher, string, and paper to make kites. They would decorate them. Then they would take them outside to try them out. I have no idea how many kites have been made, but there have been plenty. This week, I noticed how there interest in kites has not waned so I showed the kids how to make a kite using a plastic bag. Some kids still chose to make their kites using paper, but many attempted the new approach. I saw many students making kites, and I realized that all of this kite making has made many of them experts in tying simple knots. Watching them experiment with their kites reminded me of when I was a kid tinkering with my own ideas and materials. I watched kids run while looking behind them to see their kites fly.
I saw kids get tired of kite flying and so they would tie their kite to a pole so they could go on with their play without having to continuously drag their kite around. I saw kids with their kites on the swings. This is such a simple idea in a world of making things more complicated. It is something the kids have been able to do all on their own from the first day. I see the sense of accomplishment in their demeanor and their eyes. They are always so excited with each new kite that they make. As they fly the kites they notice that the strings that are glued to paper do not stay on well. The strings tied to a hole in a piece of paper do not stay on either because the hole eventually rips. The kids with the paper bag kites walked around letting the other kids know that their kites were still in good shape as they noticed the other kids having difficulties. Next week, I am bringing in dowels for them to experiment making kites with dowels and plastic bags. I cannot wait to see their tinkering and what they will come up with next. It is the simplest of things that make memories and give kids learning opportunities. Since the kids have been interested in kites, I have also taken the time to read them stories with kites in the plot such as Curious George Flies a Kite by Margret Rey and The Wind Blew by Pat Hutchins. I like to sing songs while the kids are playing and so of course I have also been singing, Let's Go Fly a Kite from the Mary Poppins movie. Nothing has been planned in advance. It all just came naturally as I noticed the kids interest in kites. We also watched a few youtube videos of other people flying their homemade kites. As they were watching the videos, they were discussing among each other what they liked and what they were inspired to make by the videos. It has been extremely satisfying to see the kids so engaged and following their own interests. It is something I could never fabricate by forcing themes and subject matter upon the kids. It is a much more relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere for everyone.
February 29 2016
Recently, I have been noticing that the students' creativity and problem solving skills have gotten better since the beginning of the school year. The students are able to build structures and move pieces around as they are thinking about what they are trying to build. Near the beginning of the
school year, I gave them a set of Magnatiles and the students were barely interested in it. They noticed how they were magnetic and how they stuck to the oil pan. They put some pieces down but did not build with them. Since I borrowed the Magnatiles they only had them for about two weeks. Recently I borrowed the Magnatiles again, and the kids were able to build structures with the Magnatiles. It was interesting to see because they had never built with the Magnatiles before. In fact, most of my kids this year are not that interested in building. They are more interested in pretend play and creating different scenarios for their play. This confirms my idea that preschool students can have free choice and do not need to be forced into other areas. They are learning just the same no matter what they choose to play. The skills they are building, such as problem solving and logic, will transfer to other areas. Had I not presented the Magnatiles to them again, I would not have realized they had developed these skills. They were building castles and all sorts of neat towers. They had discovered they can make a square using two triangles and could quickly make cubes.
In the beginning of the school year, many of my students liked to simply dump toys and seemed to not put much thought into their play.I admit I have a lot of kids in my class that talk about playing video games and with their tablets. It seems these types of games do not transfer to knowing how to play with open materials. Everyday for the first couple of months there was a long clean up time
because of the dumping. I could have stopped the dumping from even occurring, but I felt the kids would learn from these experiences. No one else was going to clean up for them. Lately, I noticed that they had learned how to play and were no longer dumping toys on the ground for no reason. They haven't done this for a couple of months now. I could have made rules and been very strict, but all on their own they have become more purposeful in their play. I think that if I had been strict, I would not be seeing the creativity I am currently seeing. They would probably feel like they couldn't do a lot of things they are always doing such as moving different toys all over the room to use in different ways. This trepidation would impede their ability to create.
This week I gave the kids a new toy, a marble run. I was sure they would want my help and would not really be sure what to do with it on their own. They proved me wrong. Right away the students were saying they wanted to create their own marble run and they wanted to try to create their own all by themselves. None of my students wanted my help. I saw them looking at the different pieces. I saw one child at first try to make a real roller coaster which goes up and down, but try after try he saw that the marble would not go up. All on his own he realized he had to create a
structure that would make the marble go down. As I watched different students tinker with the new toy, many were talking to themselves out loud letting me in on their thinking. They were communicating with each other as well, asking for pieces they needed. I was surprised. These kids had had little interest in constructing and building with toys and now they had developed these skills. They had also developed collaboration skills along the way. It didn't even take much time. Kids can really learn when they are given the opportunity.
February 21 2016
We had been reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff. This made the kids excited about making their own cookies. We marked it on the calendar and looked forward to baking cookies together. I have two classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. That means I had to cook with two classes. Now if I were to think about everything that could go wrong I would not wish to cook with the kids, but I don't think that way. And nothing has gone wrong. Kids have the ability to rise to these occasions. While cooking with kids may look chaotic to adults watching, it does have its own sense of order. I certainly do not feel crazy. I enjoy to cook and look forward to sharing these moments with the kids.
We began by talking about the recipe and the ingredients we would need. After gathering the materials and washing our hands we began to cook together. We took turns measuring out the ingredients and pouring. The kids took turns mixing with a spatula and with their hands.
In the end, the kids made the dough by themselves. I was just there to read the recipe and to guide them along. Because of this, it took us an hour just to mix up the batter! The kids were not forced to help with the baking process and yet most of the kids helped throughout the whole process. Who says little kids do not have a long attention span? We talked about how the dough felt. It went from feeling grainy to creamy. We talked about how the butter felt in our hands. We talked about how in baking we had to be accurate with our measurements. The kids had to count out two eggs and two sticks of butter. We had to make sure we had a large bowl and a small bowl. There were so many practical skills that we were practicing by having fun together.
February 15 2016
This week, we read Three Little Kittens
several times throughout the week. I teach an afternoon class and a morning class. Both classes began to talk about whether they had a dog, cat, or fish and how many of each they had while reading the book. Each time this happened, I simply paused, looked at the kids, and allowed them to discuss. They looked at each other and noted the similarities and differences, they looked at me as I said, "I only have one dog. Just the one." I continued to hear, "I have two dogs and one cat." Then another child, "I don't have a dog. I have a fish."
I could have told all of the kids to be quiet and listen to the story, but I didn't. I let it go on for a few minutes, and once we were done discussing about our pets we got back to the story. This is not the first time this has happened while reading a story. It usually doesn't happen the first time around as that time they are intent in hearing what the new story is about. It happens during the second or third reading. By that time, they have an idea about what is going on in the story and can read along with me. I realize, I could force the kids to talk to me about some question that I ask about the book, but their own ideas are more real to them. We could talk about something very abstract pertaining to the stories we read, but the children won't have any connections to that. They do have a connection to the fact that they have pets. It reminded me that in our way to teaching literacy, we first must allow children to talk about what is important to them, the simple things. Later they will be able to analyze a story and pick it apart. Right now I am content to talk about what they know and what is real to them in their everyday lives.
January 31 2016
"Risk taking encourages problem solving, critical thinking and has been identified as a fundamental prerequisite for fluent reading. Children who are afraid to risk rarely become fluent readers" (Murphy, 2003, p. 86).
It has been said that the millennials, of which I am a part, struggle with risk taking. We had helicopter parents. It became common to hear adults say when someone got hurt, "Well, where was the parent/teacher when this was happening?" While, I myself did not have a helicopter parent and was allowed to take many risks when younger. I still internalized that attitude. I work in a school environment, and I hear other teachers tell kids to not climb up the slides or to not swing on their bellies. It is hard to be the odd ball especially when we are taking recess at the same time. I also worry about the consequences of something happening when I am allowing kids to take risks and I am asked that question, "Where were you when he fell?" It feels like it is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Because of this, I don't allow the kids to take many risks. I try to allow them to be as kids as much as possible, and I try not to have many rules, but I struggle with the fact that other people might think I am not doing my job because I let them take some risks. When I look at my own childhood I recall being allowed to climb up the slides, to walk on the monkey bars, and do all sorts of risky things. No one ever got hurt. This may be one of the reasons that I can read so well.
However, this is not something that one can simply do in one's own classroom especially when the classroom is part of a bigger institution. There has to be an actual culture change in how adults view risk taking in order for this to change. Adults have to become okay with letting kids explore their own boundaries and figuring out for themselves what their bodies can and cannot do. One day we went by a nearby pond where there were rocks, my kids began to throw them. I sensed that this made my assistant very nervous so I said, "Before throwing a rock just make sure no one is in front of you." I tried hard to make it a can statement rather than a cannot statement so that the kids would still feel empowered. I thought about myself. I would certainly know how to throw a rock without hitting someone. At what point would kids have the same ability and be trusted the same? As I watched the kids throw and look at where they were aiming, I thought to myself, they do seem to have a sense of control. They are not being reckless. The more moments I've had observing kids do things that adults consider risky, the more I realize kids are not reckless in their risk taking. They look at their surroundings, get a sense of their bodies, and move within their own comfort zone. It's liberating and empowering to discover what one can do. What a great loss it would be for kids to not try things that are scary and never realize in the end that it is not so scary. Without taking risks, how would anyone know what they have the ability to do and not do?
Murphy, L. (2003). Play: The foundation that supports the house of higher learning. Rochester, NY: Ooey Gooey, Inc.
January 25 2016