Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Another afternoon in the classroom

Well, I spent another afternoon in the classroom today.  I did not take any new photos of the room layout because it doesn't look a whole lot different than the last ones I posted.  I did rearrange things a bit, though.

I got good news from my new principal that I can store some of the items I don't want in the room elsewhere in the building.  I was VERY happy about this and hope that they are all moved out by the time I get back there on Monday.  That will really help me start to visualize the space a lot better.

I organized the office supplies in my desk and was thus able to empty a few more boxes, so that was good. There are just so many various boxes and so much visual clutter in the classroom that it's overwhelming.  I find it difficult to focus with so much disorganization.  I am certain that the same can be said for children in many of today's elementary classrooms that are plastered with materials, posters, and other visual clutter.  I am actually doing my final project for my college class this summer on that very topic.  I am very passionate about classroom design and hope that my vision for this new space can be actualized.

I did snap a few photos of a bead-stringing activity just to illustrate a bit of what I think about when displaying materials on a shelf.  So, here you go..........

This first photo shows how materials are typically displayed in an early childhood setting.  There is not anything inherently wrong about this.  The storage container is neatly labeled with a photo and nicely contains the materials.  

The photo below shows how I prefer to display materials.  Do you notice that the materials themselves (in this case the colored wooden beads) compete with the bright yellow of the tub for visual attention?  In the wicker basket, the colors of the lovely beads themselves draw your eye to the materials, making you want to explore further. 

Another thing to note here is that oftentimes it seems that way too much of a given material is displayed at a time.  The tub shown above was nearly half full of beads and had about 10 tangled bead strings lying on top in addition to a rubber-banded batch of pattern cards.  This can make for an overwhelming activity for the child who takes the beads off the shelf.

In contrast, the wicker basket holds fewer beads and has two bead strings.  At the beginning of the year, I wouldn't even add the pattern cards to the basket.  I like to have a variation of bead-stringing out on my classroom shelves all year round.  I change the beads out to reflect seasonal or holiday themes and colors.  I also start the year with larger beads, and swap them out for smaller ones later in the year when the children's fine-motor skills are more refined. I would then also add the pattern cards later in the year.

Monday, June 9, 2014

First steps

I was very excited to have the carpet in my classroom cleaned at the end of last week so I could get in there today and start moving furniture around.  I'll share a few photos with you of how the classroom looked the first time I saw it on June 2nd and what it looked like today after I pushed everything around.  Keep in mind this is a true work in progress.  I've added a few sentences to describe the space so you can get a sense for the positives and negatives.  My school is about 50 years old.  The classroom was NOT designed with early childhood in mind.  But I'm going to make it work, and it will be fabulous!! 

From the doorway, looking into the classroom.............the wall opposite the door is all windows.  There are no outlets on that wall. It is great to have all that natural light though, and I have a plan to soften up the windows a bit and still allow a lot of light in.

 The next photo was taken from the doorway, but looking across to the opposite corner.  You can see from the above photo and this one that the walls that are perpendicular to the door and windows each have a white board flanked by two bulletin boards.  I am planning to have my large group space in front of the wall pictured below.  One noteworthy comment is that there is one outlet on each of the "whiteboard" walls, located directly under the whiteboard in the center of the wall.  This has quite a bit of bearing on how I will have to set up the space.

 This next photo was taken from the "window" wall facing the wall with the doorway.  You can see the door to the far left in the photo.  What you can't see very well here is that I have a little teeny tiny tiled area in front of a set of cupboards.  There is a sink on the far right.  I desperately wish for more tiled floor, but pretty sure that's not happening.  So I'll have to get creative with messy and wet materials.  The table right next to the door hold two classroom computers.  I had wanted to relocate them to another area, but have to leave them here due to the lack of outlets.  After moving things around today, I actually feel okay about this location for them.

So..........on to progress made today.  I just snapped two quick photos before leaving for my college class.  I am too tired at present to write a whole lot about this photo.  I know it looks like a hot mess.  Right in front of the doorway is a big jumble of items that I am hoping to get rid of or store elsewhere (i.e.. I don't want them to stay in the classroom).  I am finding that this may be a difficult task, but we'll see what happens.  One little teaser I'll add here is about the tape that you can see in the center of the photo if you look closely.  I have a big project that I am going to be working on (in all my spare time.......haha) that is going to go where the taped area is.  I wanted to allow for this big item as I arranged everything else, thus the tape.  I have no idea when this project will be started let alone done, but suffice it to will be AWESOME!!  Very excited about it!

 This photo is from the doorway looking into the room.  To me, the most exciting part of my preliminary room arranging is that I was able to fit my teacher desk and file cabinet into the space in a way that makes a very small footprint as well as making them virtually invisible.  So..........can you find a file cabinet and teacher desk in this picture?  If you have to look hard, I will feel that I've succeeded in one of my goals.  This is the children's space, not mine.  If I had my way, there would be no "teacher area" in this space.  But........I am required by the district and ECERS to have a work area.  At least I was able to make it a minimal part of the entire layout. 

That's all for now.  I am one tired puppy.  I had a Puppet & Storytelling enrichment class for children at my house from 10-11:30 this morning.  Then I headed immediately to my school to work until about 3:45.  Then I went to my college class which was from 5-8:30, and got home around 9:00.  It is now 11:00 p.m.  I feel good about what I did in the classroom today, but I admit to feeling quite overwhelmed by all that is left to do.  One day at a time............

Friday, June 6, 2014

This not that

As I mentioned in my last post, I have pretty strong opinions (that you won't convince me to change) about the aesthetics of learning environments for young children (actually for all children).  I like to describe my viewpoint as "not wanting my classroom to look like the teacher store threw up in it".  You know what I mean, right?  I was guilty of this as a new teacher.  There are SO many cute decorations, bulletin board borders, posters, cut-outs, etc.  It is hard to resist.  It wasn't until I took training to be a Montessori teacher that I realized how all the cutesy stuff is really for the adults, not the kids.  If you don't believe me, I challenge you to do this.  If you know a little person who has been a student in a classroom that is decorated in the style of cute-to-the-max, just ask them, off-handedly, an open-ended question such as, "What was your favorite thing about Ms. So-andSo's classroom?"  I can pretty much assure you that their response will NOT have anything to do with bulletin board borders or cute room decor.  Most likely, they will mention their friends, their favorite toy or material, etc.  Now, you nay-sayers may be thinking that a young person from  a non-cutesy classroom might also mention friends and materials, not decor.  And you are right!!  And that's the point!  The cutesy stuff doesn't matter to them.  And in many cases it is so visually distracting and creates so much visual clutter that the environment does not feel relaxing and peaceful and can, in fact, detract from learning.

I believe that children deserve to learn in a very carefully prepared environment.  One that is free from extra clutter on the walls, on the shelves, on counters, etc.  Instead of cutesy posters on the wall like this.
Source:  Amazon

Product Details

How about a piece of handmade art like this?  This beautiful pegboard cross-stitch was made by Allison from Dream a Little Bigger.   Love it!!  I want to replicate this in some way for my classroom.  Unfortunately, I don't have much empty wall space.  One is windows, two are white board/bulletin board combos, and the fourth is cupboards.  It would look lovely in my house too, though.

Gigantic cross stitch wall art tutorial at Dream a Little Bigger

Or a project that the class has worked collectively on?  Or individual children's art, tastefully displayed? There are many options for enhancing an early childhood environment with aesthetically beautiful decorations that acknowledge a young child's ability to appreciate loveliness.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Some thoughts

I know blog posts are more interesting with photos, and I will have many to share here, but right now the only classroom photos I have are ones where literally everything in the room is pushed off to the side for the carpet to be cleaned.  So........not very interesting.  But.........the carpet is getting cleaned today and tomorrow.  So when I go back on Monday, I will get to start arranging everything and I am VERY excited about that!!

A few initial thoughts about my new teaching gig..........

First, it will be a lot different than teaching in a private Montessori school.  In my last teaching job, I had full autonomy over everything and was blessed with a HUGE classroom which had 2 bathrooms right in the room, a kitchenette with storage, a foyer for coats/backpacks, an office for me and another storage room just for me.  Yes, I was very spoiled, and I knew it and appreciate it at the time.  I'll also note that I was teaching in a room that had been designed specifically to be a preschool classroom.  So, that explains all the bells and whistles.  Contrast that with my new placement which is in a public school classroom.  The school is about 50 years old, so kind of short on square footage as well as storage space.  BUT........I am going to make it work and it will be fabulous.  I have so many ideas spinning in my mind.

Second, probably because of my Montessori background as well as inspiration I've gleaned online from looking at Reggio Emilia classrooms, I have a very specific aesthetic for how I believe environments for children should be prepared.  And it is quite a bit different than the way many classrooms for young children are arranged.  In the college class I'm taking, I am actually doing my final project about classroom design, materials selection, etc.  I will try to share that project here on the blog in some way.  I know there are others out there who believe, like I do, that young children deserve and can appreciate a room that is beautifully prepared and (hopefully) devoid of the bold primary colors and icky plastic toys that are so common in early childhood settings.  I admit, I am kind of a snob about this (i.e. very picky about what I want in my classroom), but I will find research to support my beliefs because I know they are supported by best practice research.

Third, it will be different teaching in a setting that is a.) not Montessori and b.) part of a public school district.  Mostly, I am going to look at this as a positive thing.  Yes, I love my Montessori.  However, I am honestly looking forward to being able to have a housekeeping/dramatic play area as well as a block area.  I am looking forward to being less rigid about how materials are used than I felt I could be in a Montessori classroom.  Also, I think being part of a larger entity will be nice in terms of connecting with other teachers.  I think I am one of 12 ECSE (early childhood special education) teachers in my district.  So I am already excited about team meetings.  (I know that is kind of geeky, but I really am!!)  The one possible disadvantage of being part of a public school is that I don't have as much freedom in setting up the classroom as I did before.  But I'm really looking forward to the support I will be able to get from my colleagues, both other classroom teachers and district administrators.

So, overall, I am REALLY REALLY excited to start getting my classroom ready.  I have so many ideas that I will share here over the summer.  And when I meet my little ones in August, I will have a TON to share.  I hope you will stay tuned with me!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Starting Over

After three years of staying home full-time to homeschool my sons, I am starting a new adventure this fall.  I have accepted a position teaching early childhood special education in a public school district.  I accepted the job in February and have been anxiously awaiting the day when I could finally get into my classroom and start setting up.

Yesterday, the day I'd been waiting for finally arrived.  I had been SO excited in the days leading up to Monday.  However, as I drove to my new school (about a 25 minute drive), instead of excitement, I found myself suddenly tearing up.  I had a long wait in road construction, so I called my husband at home to try to ferret out why I would be SAD on a day I had looked forward to for so long.  The only thing I could figure out is that on my first drive to my new job, it finally sank in that I'm ending a chapter and starting a new beginning.  While I'm looking forward to the journey ahead, I realize that I am also sad to leave behind my homeschool days with my sons.  I know that we are making the best decision as a family, but starting something new is still hard.

Anyway, I am writing this blog to document my new adventure in teaching.  I will have a lot more to say here soon, but for now, I have to go write a paper for a college class I'm taking this summer.  More about that later too!