"In this classroom, relationships are fostered, families are respected, and children are honored.
In this classroom, nature's gifts are valued and children's thoughts are captured.
In this classroom, learning is alive and aesthetic beauty is appreciated." -Unknown

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fall Explorations with Natural Materials


It's my ABSOLUTE favorite time of year: Autumn, Fall, Color Extravaganza, or whatever other beautiful and colorful term you may choose. We live in northern California, so we don't get to experience the leaves changing as quickly as when I used to live in North Carolina, but there are definite signs of Autumn beginning to emerge. One of them is the sudden appearance of acorns, pine cones, and the like and what do children naturally begin to do? Collect! 

Following the lead of the kiddos I pulled out a bunch of baskets and said, "Go for it!" The wandered all over the playground seeking, finding, and collecting nature's treasures. 

We have a very tall chain-link fence around the perimeter of the playground and I knew lots of goodies would be found on the outside of the barrier since when I pulled into our parking lot each day I had begun to hear "pop, pop, pop!" as acorns crunched under my car tires. 

I took six or so kiddos with me and we began exploring beyond the boundaries. We reviewed all the safety rules and they were ready to go. 

After a few groups had traversed and collected to their hearts' content, we made our way back onto the playground to spread out our bounty.

We discussed the treasures that had been found. How they were alike and different and they began naturally sorting the items: acorns with caps, acorns without caps, acorn caps without the acorns, pine cones, and more.

We even discussed some found items that weren't from nature and we determined those were man-made materials that we either saved or threw away. 

We explored some bark that was found and tried to determine which of a few trees on our playground, where we believe it originated.

Today I pulled out our mortar and pestle we purchased last Spring from Costco and the kiddos began grinding up their finds. They quickly determined that it was more difficult than they originally thought. We had a discussion about how Native Americans in the area we live used to grind up the acorns for a variety of food items and how much work it must have been to prepare a meal back then.

Some friends mixed a variety of items creating nature stew. We saved all the ground materials and plan to use them in art projects.

We may pursue nature frames like we did a few years ago. The possibilities are endless and always new and exciting!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Uniquely You...X-ray Handprints

I always try to make sure I have something posted in the room for our Back to School Night Parent Informational Meeting that is both reflective of recent activities in the class and interactive for the parents attending. In the past I've done a number of different things. One thing that was a hit was the year I took close-up photos of each child's hands and then let the parents see if they could determine which set belonged to their child. 

I really liked that activity and the parents were really engaged with it. One thing they discovered was that it's harder than one would think to pick out the hands when displayed among others, unless your child has distinguishing characteristics (moles, freckles, certain color of fingernail polish,etc.) I loved the idea, but wanted to change it up a little. I was viewing the BioColor Instructional DVD and realized, I had found just what I was looking to do.

We began by squirting some white BioColor paint into the child's hands and instructing them to rub them together.

We then encouraged them to place their white painted hands down on the white paper. Pretty uneventful so far, huh? Just wait.

Next we squirted out black BioColor across the end of the paper. It doesn't take much to do the job. 

You or the child then scrape a squeegee across the paper spreading the black BioColor paint across the entire surface.

The ending result looks like x-rays of the child's hands. BioColor paint is extremely diverse and unique and has many possibilities. This is only one of them.

We then cut out the x-ray prints after drying and matted them on a paper with actual photos of their hands. We added a tab to the top of the paper with the identify of the owner of the mystery hands, so families could lift the tab once they thought they had discovered their child's hands. So much fun!

Using the white BioColor on the white paper in this process was kind of like working with invisible ink and had great "Wow!" moments as the handprints emerged on the paper with the addition of the scraped black BioColor.

Be sure to view the DVD to see lots of more activities you can do with these amazing paint products.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Reflections on My Former Life

Many people who follow my blog or have only known me as a preschool teacher, don't know about my former careers. There have been a few: from a secretary in the Business Department at my high school when I was a senior there to working in the legal field to cleaning businesses and churches to being a Creative Memories Consultant to doing a construction clean-up business with my husband (throwing and loading construction debris into our dump truck and making dump runs), all prior to becoming a teacher. 

I was reminded of my time working in the legal field when I had a dream the other night. My oldest daughter has been offered and will soon begin a job at juvenile hall in the probation department in the county where we live. Maybe that inspired the dream, maybe it was something I ate, who knows?? 

In my dream I was working in the district criminal office of the clerk of court in the county where I used to live on the east coast. It was my first day on the job and I was asking if any of the people I used to work with were still there, had retired, moved on, etc. After the person showing me around left the room, I sat at my desk and though I was grateful for having the job, was sad that I wouldn't be spending my time each day with the kiddos I love so much. Then I woke up and was so relieved that it was just a dream.

Don't get me wrong, my jobs in the legal field (I was also a legal secretary for 3 years) were great jobs, but just didn't fulfill my heart's desire to work with children. I mean, as a child I did spend lots of time behind my house writing and drawing on the chalkboard we had attached to our smokehouse, pretending that I was teaching students. (little did I know) However, I didn't even fully realize this dream until I began homeschooling my oldest when she was 4 and began teaching group studies like Little House in the Big Woods. My natural creativity and enthusiasm began revealing itself. 

My second birthday; little did they know the bundle of
dynamite the world would experience through knowing me. lol
As I was driving to work that same morning, I had a realization. Not that the people I dealt with on a daily basis while working in the legal field were hardened criminals, but they were people that either tried to take advantage of the system and/or just made bad choices. They were the opposite of the people I felt empowered and able to impact. With my current vocation/passion/cry of my heart AKA job, I can impact the lives of little people and help them see the value of making good choices, help them realize that their daily decisions don't only impact just themselves, but all of those around them, and that they are responsible for the decisions they make.

When we impact a generation, we are literally TOUCHING the future. As early childhood educators we have the amazing privilege to help shape the people they will become and the huge responsibility to teach them how to make tomorrow brighter than today. We are so blessed!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ready for Kindergarten: Name Writing

Each year I give the parents a questionnaire asking several questions about their child, family, pets, etc. I also ask if they have any concerns and goals for their child. Many times parents list that they'd like their child to be able to write their own name. This is only one of the many things that is a progressive skill that develops over time, yet one that I often see as a goal of the parents.

I was very excited when I was given the opportunity to participate in Deborah from Teach Preschool's blogger book study reviewing her new book, Ready for Kindergarten! After I read her book, I was ecstatic that FINALLY a book about kindergarten prep had been written that was totally developmentally appropriate and covered such a huge myriad of skills in a very easy to read and able to implement format. I also knew that I wanted to share some of my experience with children and writing their names, which is covered in Chapter 12 of the book.

Photo courtesy of Deborah Stewart, Teach Preschool

Note: I received a complimentary copy of Ready for Kindergarten in
exchange for participating in a blog book study. All opinions and
beliefs expressed in this post are my own.

What many parents don't realize is that preparing for writing one's name is a developmental skill that begins long before a child picks up a writing utensil. Play is the key! When children play with blocks, play Bingo/Lotto games, manipulate small items, and play with droppers/pipettes they are preparing for writing.

Some other great fine motor activities include: playing with Bristle blocks, using tweezers, sewing, and manipulating chopsticks.

Even more practice can take place with beading, connecting small pieces like with the Cootie game, painting at the easel, and lacing cards.

We definitely don't want to forget activities such as torn paper art where the child picks up and manipulates small pieces of paper and play dough. All of these activities build up the little muscles that will be needed to write.

Once your child shows an interest in writing implements, it's the perfect opportunity to make sure they have lots of writing utensils available such as: chalk with chalkboards and sidewalk chalk. You can provide pencils and pads of paper for your child to pretend they are writing down an order in a restaurant dramatic play scenario or pretending to work in a post office provides instances of writing exploration. 

Setting up a Writing Area will provide your child with many writing utensils, such as: pencils of varying sizes, thin colored pencils, thick colored pencils, thin crayons, thick crayons, thin markers, thick markers, chalk, and dry erase markers. Having a variety of types of papers will provide different textures, colors, and experiences. You can also incorporate chalk boards, magnetic letters, sandpaper letters, tracing cards, stencils, and Boggle Jr. Having cards with familiar words and your child's name are also useful. If you work in a classroom setting, providing the names of all the children in the classroom will provide exploration in writing other's names.

Children enjoy seeing their name throughout their environment and get excited to try to write their name themselves. In my classroom, children find their name in numerous sites, including: our Owl Chart (attendance), name cards, job cards, on the ABC wall, on their sign-in folder, on their sign-in sheets, and in the writing area.

We have a routine when the child arrive daily. They place their jacket/backpack in their cubby, wash their hands, turn over their Owl card (to show they are present), and then they sign-in for the day.

Our three year-olds have a sign-in sheet like this one. Their name is printed at the top and they are encouraged to "write" their name. I tell the parents that the goal at this age if for them to feel good about having a pencil in their hands. It doesn't matter if it looks like "chicken scratch". The end product isn't the point, it's the process.

The sign-in sheet for the older children looks like the one pictured above. The children may trace their name on the left and attempt writing it on the right. We aren't super emphasizing the letter formation specifically, but when the child becomes interested the numbers and arrows can serve as a guide for them. At any point, whether three or four or even five, if a child is upset or distraught over the process, the parents are told to not worry about the task. It's meant to be enjoyable. If it isn't being that way, don't do it.

Before you know it, the children are writing all over the place: in the writing area, on the playground blacktop, in dramatic play, in the block area, and signing their name to their artwork. If a child completes artwork, but isn't able or interested in writing their name yet, we will write their name for them. As we write it we state the letters, so the child becomes familiar with the letters in their name.

Learning to write his or her own name is quite an accomplishment and one to be celebrated, but we must also remember to celebrate all the accomplishments along the way. It's vital to provide small challenges to a child, while not overwhelming him or her.