Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Parts of a Tree Collage

Our school district uses the Creative Curriculum for all our preschool classrooms.  This is a new curriculum for me.  I am finding that I like it, but it will probably take me all of this year to fully utilize all the resources and to get a handle on how to best implement it with my littles.  One thing I do really like is that there are unit studies which span approximately six weeks.  This allows you to really immerse in a topic and to explore many different aspects of the topic in depth.  We are currently about two weeks into our study of trees. 

During one of the "Investigations" of our unit, we introduce the children to the three main parts of a tree:  roots, trunk and crown (which includes the branches, twigs and leaves).  There are several projects suggested in the curriculum itself, but I came up with my own collage project to reinforce the concept of the parts of a tree.   Using yarn for roots, real twigs for trunks, and crumpled tissue paper for the crown, my students made their own three-dimensional "trees".  This project was a good way for me to assess their understanding of the vocabulary of this unit as I was able to point to the parts of their collage and ask them to name each part.

While the academic skills of naming the parts of a tree was a major focus of this art project, many other skills were practiced during this activity.  For example, for the littles with fine motor issues, the process of squeezing glue to put onto the paper is a hand and finger-strengthening exercise.  Additionally, carefully placing small pieces of yarn for the roots works on pincer grasp and using the finger muscles.  Crumpling squares of tissue paper into balls also works on those skills.  When you stop and think about it, it's kind of amazing all the various learning that takes place within a simple art project.  

Please enjoy the photo gallery below.  It is so fun and interesting to see the different variations of this project.  I just love littles art projects!!  SO MUCH!!!

Monday, September 29, 2014

How Ralph Waldo Emerson (the snail) got his name

So, in yesterday's post, I told all about how we came to have a snail as our classroom pet.  Truly, snails are the perfect pet.  They are small, easy to care for, not loud, not stinky, fascinating to watch......the list goes on and on.  

Anyway, as I indicated last time, Speedy Jones Turbo, our classroom snail has some FRIENDS!!!  Yes, we now have 3 garden snails as pets in our classroom.  Prior to the two new additions, we had discussed the necessity of acquiring another snail, perhaps as a "back-up" snail in case Speedy (ahem) didn't make it.  The weekend after this discussion took place, Mrs. DeNier and one of the first grade teachers in my building, Mr. McKean, both scoured their yards for snails to bring to school, with no luck whatsoever.  I, on the other hand, did not look for snails in my yard AT ALL (even though I live on almost 2 acres and have plenty of room to search).  When I walked out to my garage that Monday morning to leave for work, I saw a snail on the outside of the garage, stuck to the wall.  I went inside to get a Dixie cup to transport it to school.   On my way inside, I saw ANOTHER snail on the sidewalk.  This was quite remarkable since I have lived in my current home for 11 years and cannot recall EVER seeing snails just hanging around. 

So, I drove to work that day with two little Dixie cups full of snail in the cup-holders of my van.  One of the snails crawled to the top of the cup during the drive and perched itself right on the rim of the cup, making me quite nervous about losing him in the van on the way to school.  Luckily, I was able to nudge him gently back into the cup and transport him safely into the snail habitat in our classroom.

Naturally, the littles were MAJORLY excited to come to school on Monday and find out that we had acquired two new snails.   We did not hurry to name the new snails for some reason.  However, we did find some snail coloring pages that I put out at the art center for coloring.  One afternoon, Miss Moritz decided to sit with the littles and color her own snail.  Being a precise and meticulous artist, she took her time and created a beautiful snail to hang on our small classroom refrigerator.  She decided to name her snail, Ralph, which she wrote at the bottom of her paper.  She then asked Mrs. DeNier what Ralph's middle name should be.  Mrs. DeNier randomly suggested "Waldo", thinking of "Where's Waldo?".  As they went to tape the snail picture on the refrigerator, they noticed that the brand name of the refrigerator (which was conveniently and serendipitously located to the RIGHT of the taped-up snail picture) was EMERSON.  It quickly dawned on them that this was a SIGN that one of our newest snails should be named, Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

News of Ralph and his name spread throughout the land school.  (Okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration.  I think just Mr.  McKean was told of Ralph during his lunchroom duty.)  Within the day, Mr. McKean came to me with a "Ralph Waldo Emerson" quote in honor of the newest snail.  I promised to include this quote in my blog post.  Fortunately, the quote is actually a perfect one to include in a post that relates to young children.  

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote is ideal for young children because it truly reflects their complete and utter lack of pretense.  They just are who they are.  They make no effort to disguise their thoughts and feelings.  For this reason, it is very refreshing to be around littles.  They demonstrate the ability to be true to oneself on a daily basis.  I love it.

Our other snail has been named Carlo Spiderman which is a combination of two names suggested by the littles.  I guess his last name is Snail.  We didn't get past Carlo Spiderman for some reason.  
Below on the top left you can see the snail picture that was the inspiration for Ralph Waldo Emerson's name.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Speedy Jones Turbo (& Friends)

Our school district has a "no fur or feathers" policy when it comes to classroom pets, or even visiting animals.  While I understand the rationale behind this policy, it does limit the options we have for bringing live animals into the classroom.  

Recently, our class took a field trip to a local forest.  While on a nature walk, our guide noticed a leaf on the ground that had a shiny line across it.  She stopped and pointed this out to the children, telling them that this meant a snail had left a trail on the leaf and that a snail must be nearby.  She challenged them to look carefully for the snail near the trail.  I admit, I was skeptical that we would find a snail.  However, Mrs. DeNier, one of my assistants, found a snail!!  The children were able to get a close look at the snail (although it was holed up in its shell the whole time).  We decided to bring the snail back to school with us and make it our classroom pet.  

A funny side-story is that I held the snail in my hand all the way back to school on the bus.  I have now earned the nickname "The Snail Whisperer" because the snail bravely came out of its shell in my hand and was absolutely fascinating to watch on the ride back to school.

Once back at school, the snail was placed in a temporary home until more suitable housing could be found.  Additionally, research was done as to how best to care for a snail pet.  It turns out that a container with a bit of soil, a shallow dish of water, and some bark or pinecones for shelter is pretty much all that is needed.  We also learned that garden snails can live 10 to 15 years in captivity.  So, the joke now is that the snail will be with me for the next decade or so. 

Of course a classroom pet needs a name.  On the way back to school, our bus driver suggested "Speedy".  Later, in a class discussion, the name "Turbo" was also suggested.  So........we initially decided the snail would be called, "Speedy Joe Turbo".  However, one of the littles kept saying, "Speedy JONES Turbo" which we liked better.  So, Speedy Jones Turbo it is.  

Below you can see the beautiful habitat we created for Speedy complete with a "foresty" backdrop (more about that in a future post) and a custom made name sign.  In the photo the brown blog you can see on the cucumber slice is Speedy.  

Miss Moritz, my other classroom assistant, has decided that I could moonlight as a snail photographer.  Perhaps this is because I spent about 20 minutes (or more) on a recent Saturday trying to take an amazing photograph of Speedy.  One of my best "shots" is shown below.  I have gotten even better since that one was taken though.  ;-)

If you are paying close attention, you will notice that the title of this post indicates that Speedy has "friends".  I have decided to make that the topic of a future post which will show up later this week.  Suffice it to say that we are a bit snail-crazy around here.  SNAILS ARE AWESOME!!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lessons from the Littles: Let Your Brain Dance Today!!!

I don't know about you, but it often seems to me that grown-ups have a lot to learn from children.  Maybe it's just because I am blessed to be surrounded by littles every day.  All I know is that when I slow down and see the world from their perspective, even if only for a few minutes, I come away with a renewed sense of wonder and awe.

Case in point:  My afternoon littles have recently requested that I play "dance" music for them at around the same time every afternoon.  This occurs during our centers/free choice time.  I have baskets of jingle bell sticks, rhythm sticks and scarves near our group area.  They have free access to these during centers time.  Sometimes the scarves are used in their creations, such as when they used them to decorate Mabel's duck pen (I will write a separate post about Mabel sometime soon). 

However, during "dance time", the scarves are waved with great abandon, jingle sticks are in full jingle mode and creative dance moves are bountiful.  I find it completely impossible to not be 100% joyful when watching the littles dance.  Their faces are wreathed in smiles.  They giggle, sometimes uncontrollably.  They move without the insecurity or self-consciousness of adults, listening to their inner dancers and spontaneously expressing their uniqueness.  I absolutely love watching them.  And, I admit, I equally love busting a move with them.

One of my little friends has a particular knack for getting his groove on.  He recently introduced the rest of us to a move that we now refer to as the "crab dance".  I cannot recall ever laughing so hard as I did when he first demonstrated this feat of movement to the rest of us.  It is now, by far, one of my favorite dance moves to do.  ANYHOW...... the "crab dance" is a frequently requested song in my classroom these days.  I wish I could show you a video of it in full swing.  It is unforgettable.

A few days after the premiere performance of the crab dance, I observed my little budding choreographer busting a move during centers time.  However, there was NO MUSIC playing at the time.  So, I asked him, "_____________, are you hearing music in your head right now?"  He replied, "WHAT??????!!!!!!!!" I said, "Well, I saw you dancing a little bit there and wondered if you were hearing music, like, in your brain or something."   At this point, my little friend pointed to his own head and said something I do not think I will ever forget.  It is something stated simply, yet profoundly and in such a way that I felt I had to share it here.  He said,

"My brain.  He dancing."

I smiled at him.  He smiled back at me.  A big ear to ear grin on his face.  And for just a moment, time stood still.  I was struck by the realization that something very meaningful had just been communicated to me by an innocent four-year-old.  I thought, almost immediately, how amazing it is to allow oneself to get caught up in the beautiful dance of life.  To embrace each moment wholly and without reservation.  To appreciate the beauty in the small stuff:  a snail exploring a surface with his eye stalks; a grasshopper hanging upside-down under a slide; a tiny glittering jewel an expanse of a wood-chip covered playground.

As adults we forget to notice the small stuff, to our great detriment.  For if you spend much time around the littles, you will realize that it's all small stuff.  And also big stuff.  And it's important to listen to the music and let your brain dance.  Every.  Single. Day.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Art Gallery

As I have mentioned before, I am heavily influenced by both the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education and by my Montessori training and background.  With that said, I am adamant that the majority of decor in my classroom be child-created, not commercially produced.  I want their artwork to be a featured part of our classroom aesthetic.  

I have four bulletin boards in the classroom.  Instead of using bright fabric or paper to cover them, I chose tan burlap fabric as a background for each bulletin board.  I used burlap ribbon purchased at Hobby Lobby for the borders.  I will not change these bulletin boards for the entire school year, other than changing the artwork the children make or the photos of our classroom activities.  The background and border will remain the same.

I know that many of you are used to the bright colors that are traditional in early childhood settings.  And perhaps, you will be turned off at the thought of using neutrals as a background and reducing (or eliminating) the amount of commercially produced materials on your walls and bulletin boards.  If so, please look at the photo below.  In this photo, you can easily see that it is the individual artwork made by the children that draws your eye to this space.  By making the background neutral and not busy and by backing each piece of artwork with a black "mat", the children's artwork pops.  Your eye is naturally drawn to the color, texture and form of their creations.  No distracting smiling apples or school buses, just beautiful, unique artwork.

You cannot see it well in the photo, but the little pieces of art were created on small squares of cardboard cut from cereal boxes.  We put out a variety of collage materials and allowed the children to glue to their hearts' delight.  This gallery wall will change throughout the year.  When they create new pieces of art, we will ask them if they would like to take their artwork home or add it to the gallery wall.  This is one of my favorite places to look at in the entire classroom.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Apple Math Game

I like to have simple games out on the shelf in my classroom for two children to play together.  Not only does this promote social skills, it can also reinforce academic skills.  A simple way to make a game for young children is to use seasonal stickers in a grid format on cardstock.   Find some objects to match to the stickers, make a die, and you will be ready to go!!  As you can see below, I used apple stickers and apple erasers for my apple math game.  I purchased a blank foam die from our teacher supply store.  I programmed it with 1, 2, and 3 dots per side using a black Sharpie marker.  I found some small ceramic votive holders at the dollar store to hold the erasers.  Placing all the materials in a basket, I added this game to our Toys & Games shelf.

This is a game for two children to play together.  Each child gets a gameboard and a jar of counters.  They take turns rolling the die and placing that number of counters on their board.  The person who finishes filling their stickers first is the winner.  One of my assistants and I modeled playing this game during large group time.  It has been a popular activity in our classroom over the past few weeks.  My littles love playing the "apple game" with a friend.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Birthday Celebrations

I think it is important to make children feel really special on their birthday.  We have so many restrictions on bringing food into the classroom that our children are not allowed to bring birthday treats.  So, before school started, I did a lot of browsing online to look for ideas that would make their birthday at school very special.  I have been really inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education.  Reggio Emilia classrooms usually have a special display that is kept up year-round to honor children on their bithdays.  In my classroom, I adapted a few of the ideas I found online.  Here is a post from Fairy Dust Teaching which features Reggio Emilia-inspired birthday traditions.  You will find some beautiful ideas here.

One idea that I saw was a teacher who hung orbs from the ceiling labeled with the children's names.  On their birthday, she placed an LED candle in the orb so it was glowing when they arrived at school.  I love this idea!!  So, I searched for options to use for the candle "containers".  At Michael's craft store, I found small metal birdcages on clearance.  Perfect!!!  I also found some packages of small chalkboards in their dollar section.  So, I purchased the birdcages and chalkboards with the intent of hanging them from the ceiling in my classroom.  BUT, I later found out that due to fire safety issues, the fire marshal has banned us from hanging things from the ceiling.  Determined to put my plan into effect anyway, I decided to line the top of my cabinets with the birdcages.  We labeled the chalkboards with their names and used twine to attach them to the birdcages.  You can see them in the photo below.

So on a birthday day, when we enter the classroom for the first time, I make sure the lights are turned off and we tiptoe in to see whose birdcage has the candle glowing inside.  I keep it on top of the cabinets when we walk in, then we take it down and the birthday child holds it while we sing "Happy Birthday" to them.  We also have a Melissa & Doug wooden birthday cake playset that comes out only on birthdays.  The birthday child places the correct number of candles on the cake and pretends to blow them out when we sing to them.  Below you can see a birdcage with the lit candle.  I also bought the candle at Michael's.  It is an LED candle and has a little switch on the bottom to turn it on.  It flickers like a real candle and even smells like vanilla!!

Another tradition that we have for a birthday is that the birthday child gets to make a special piece of artwork for our birthday bulletin board.  We have cakes with each child's name and birthdate on the board.  On their birthday, they create a piece of art and we put it on the board in place of their cake.  In the photo below you can see that we have had three birthdays so far this year.  The birthday art is displayed on black construction paper with a white label for the child's name.  Their artwork will stay up all year.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Yes, I did actually start teaching full-time this year!

So, of course I got all excited about my new full-time teaching job and set up a blog to share with you all the details.  THEN........I didn't blog.  For a long time.  Because, life happens.  I am realizing it is a very busy transition to go from staying home full-time to working full-time.  And in addition to doing that, I am currently rehearsing for a play that I will be performing in October along with four other lovely ladies and also taking a graduate class.

I am not sure where to start with sharing everything I want to share.  It may end up being a really random string of posts that seem disjointed.  But, since I'm the blogger, I can be random if I want.  haha

I guess I'll start this back-to-school post by sharing some photos of my classroom.  It took many, many hours and a lot of rearranging to get it where I wanted it.  However, I am pleased with the result.  As I may have mentioned before in an earlier post, we follow the Creative Curriculum.  So, I am required to have certain interest areas available in my classroom.

The photo below shows my dramatic play area.  I have a play kitchen that I made this summer out of an entertainment center.  The second photo shows it better.  It turned out really cute.  The littles play with it every single day.  

The tall doors on the left open to shelves with play food, dishes, etc.

These two shelves and the bead table are part of the Toys & Games area.  The table at the very edge of the photo is actually slid back to right between those shelves in the open area.  I just moved it for the photo.

I wanted a lot of space for children to build so my Block area is right next to where we meet for group.  You can't see it in the photo, but there is another shelf full of wooden unit blocks.

Sand and water play is a required part of our classroom.  Right now I just have garden sand in the table.  It is kind of a pain to change it out, so we will probably have it out for most of the year.  The littles love it.

This is my Library area.  I will write another post about the couches and chair.  I slip-covered them because the ones I inherited were all torn up and did not fit into my color aesthetic for the classroom. ;-)