"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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Block Creativity 101

I absolutely love it when the children use the hands-on building blocks provided and combine them with their creativity and imagination to express themselves. The things that our adult minds would think they would create are very rarely what it becomes, as it should be. 

Sometimes I provide a provocation, to promote interest in the area, but most of the time their creations are developed in their minds long before they remove a block from the shelf.

We often see them combining multiple types of blocks and/or blocks with other materials.

This little one used the magnatiles to house our cork friends.
I had taken a photo of each child and adhered them to a
cork. The kids use them for all kinds of adventures.
Love how the kids
 posed the dolls
around the structure.
 "I'm queen of the hill!!"

Unit blocks, color blocks, beaded blocks

Unit blocks and bamboo blocks

Unit blocks, tree blocks, foam forms we use as "caves" for
the woodland creatures

Sometimes we see them using them to count or to "set" things in motion.

Then there are the times when it's an amazing confidence booster.

After building with the brick blocks
this friend placed his "cork friend" on
the top and announced, "Look how
tall I am!"

Sunday, February 26, 2012

We Tip Our Hats to You, Dr. Seuss!!

This Friday, March 2nd is Dr. Seuss' birthday and many places will be celebrating with Read Across America. Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel, changed the face of children's books and sent out messages with real heart. From the environmental awareness of The Lorax to the reminder that even the "littlest" things are important in Horton Hears a Who, there was a clear message. From the encouragement to try new things in Green Eggs and Ham to the warning against commercialism in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss made us sit up and take notice. 

When there wasn't a word that rhymed, he simply made up a new one, and boy, could he make them up. From rhyming to alliteration we find ourselves almost singing along with the rhythm to tying our tongues in knots trying to get the words out.

"Like Norman Rockwell, Ted Geisel personally created every rough sketch, preliminary drawing, final line drawing, and finished work for each page of every project he illustrated.

Despite the technical and budgetary limitations of color printing during the early and mid-twentieth century, Dr. Seuss the artist was meticulous about color selection. He created specially numbered color charts and elaborate color call-outs to precisely accomplish his vision for each. Saturated reds and blues, for example, were carefully chosen for The Cat in the Hat to attract and maintain the visual attention of a six-year-old audience." -The Art of Dr. Seuss booklet 

Today I visited Turtle Bay Museum, a local treasure that is temporarily housing the traveling exhibit "The Art of Dr. Seuss: A Retrospective and International Touring Exhibition". As you left the gallery of the museum and entered the Seuss doors, you were transported into the magical world of Dr. Seuss. Below are some of the images we were able to view.

From the Unorthodox Taxidermy collection:
In the early 1930's he evolved from two-dimensional artworks
to three-dimensional sculptures. What was most unusual for
these mixed media sculptures was the use of real animal parts
including beaks, antlers, and horns from deceased Springfield
Zoo animals where Geisel's father was superintendent.

From One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish

From Yertle the Turtle

Green Eggs and Ham is the fourth best -selling
children's book  in the English language.

"I meant what i said and i said what i meant.
 An elephant's faithful one-hundred percent!"

Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Get 'Em Outdoors! Part 1

"A new study shows that even brief encounters with parks or forests may have beneficial impacts on human hormone cycles, critical to the body’s response to stress." Conservation Magazine
I read the above quote today from an article another blogger had posted and it made me think about all the outdoor activities we do. Kids love variety and using their imaginations. I started looking through some of our outdoor images and decided to share some of them with you. This will be part 1 and will cover some of the outdoor activities from the 2010-2011 school year.

Obstacle course: river stones, hoops, tunnel, mats.
We visited Whiskeytown National Park one morning and found
animal tracks on the beach into which we poured plaster of Paris
and later lifted out the track casts. Too cool!!

Dancing to music from the iPod while watching the shadow dance.
Planting a flower garden
Parachute play with our 5th grade buddies.

Each fall we set up a farmer's market and the
kiddos enjoy pulling a wagon and pushing
around a wheelbarrow of fall harvest items.

Body outline chalk drawings. Lots of fun!

Each year we celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day with
a variety of activities. After creating a treasure map inside, we followed
the master treasure map and ended up digging for treasure in the sandbox.

Visiting the school garden is always a hit. Some of
our lunch items come from there.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

It's More Than JUST Buttons

My paternal grandmother, Della Elizabeth Cox Stout was born in the late 1800's. She went to school for a very short time, then had to quit to go to work in a mill to help support her family. Due to her limited time in school, she didn't learn to write her name and would always make her mark with an X for her signature and never learned how to read. Due to her lack of formal education, she always felt limited as to what she could offer as an educational experience. 

When I was preschool age I was always wanting someone to read books to me. I guess that lifelong love started really early. My Mama, Daddy, and older siblings were often busy and couldn't take time to read to me. My grandma couldn't read to me because she had never learned how, but she found ways to entertain me. She would often tell me stories of her childhood and she had a very special item that always did the trick. She had a cardboard box mailer that was labeled Rose Petal Perfume where she kept a variety of buttons.

She would pour out the buttons and we would sort them by color, size, buttons with two holes, buttons with four holes, buttons with no holes (the holes were underneath), and more. We would make up stories about what kind of clothing the buttons would go on and stories about the people who had the buttons on their clothes.

My grandma told me many times that she couldn't wait until I could go to school and learn how to read and satisfy my hunger for learning. Little did she know that she was one of my BEST teachers. She took the time to make me feel special. She listened to me. She made me feel important and understood. 

Not everyone has the educational background and a degree on the wall, but EVERYONE can be a teacher, if they share their passion, listen to, and make time for children. My Grandma Stout taught me so much more than she'll ever know.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sure I Planned It...Not Really, But LOVE It When It Works That Way!!

Sometimes everything just goes right. I don't know if all the planets have aligned, I've been smiled upon by the early childhood gods, or just gotten lucky, but I'm so grateful when it happens. That kind of happened today in our class. 

Our current curriculum has been talking about life in the country, food grown there, animals that live there, and products derived from there. We had the discussion yesterday about the connection between sheep, yarn, and a sweater. We discussed shearing, carding wool, spinning it, dying it, and making it into yarn. We had a card for a visual. I didn't get a pic of it, but figured with these images from the web, you'd get the idea. It looked something like this.

Our favorite sub, Barbara, (since my name is Barbara, as well, the kids call her "the other Ms. Barbara") was helping out that day. She was planning to work with us again today and said she could bring in some of her knitting to show the kids. Cool beans! We had a plan.

She was able to show them the hat that's her current project, the yarn, and her special knitting needles. She placed the beginnings of the hat on a child's head so they would see how it would fit.

We then prepared to read our story. This is part of the "planets aligning" part. I had planned to read the book, Don't Worry, Douglas!, actually planned it the week before because I felt like it was a great story about worry and forgiveness, while being entertaining. We had met Douglas the bear last year in the story Hugless Douglas, so some of the children had a familiarity with him already. 

As we began the story, the children noticed that there were sheep in the story. Douglas' Dad gives him a gift of a red woolly hat. Douglas is so excited about showing his new hat to his friends that he doesn't hear Dad telling him to take good care of it. As he goes along the hat gets caught on a tree branch. Unbeknownst to him, he continues along doing cartwheels and the like, further unraveling his hat. His friends, the sheep have several ideas of how to make it better, but to no avail. At this point, the other Ms. Barbara let the kids pull the yarn she had been knitting to give them a visual of just how easily the yarn could unravel. Perfect!! What a great real life example.

The children learned a variety of concepts in the story: what happens when yarn unravels, the emotions of feeling like you disappointed someone, new vocabulary, and more. One word that really stood out to us was how "he trudged home". I asked if anyone knew what trudged meant. One child stated that it was walking. I then asked how was he walking if he trudged along. Another child said he was walking slowly. 

I just LOVE it when that happens!! Have you had a similar experience? I'd love to hear about it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Love Nature? It's Only Natural!!

“The most effective kind of education is that a child 
should play amongst lovely things.” — Plato

It's only natural for a child (or adult) to long to be out in nature taking in the beauty and wonder of it all. Nature is an amazing teacher. Nature awakens all of the senses.  So what can one do to foster love for these experiences?? The following are a few of the nature exploration opportunities we've enjoyed.

We call these "nature packs". We use clear
backpacks (from Lakeshore), small clipboards
with paper, colored pencils, and a magnifying glass.
The children are encouraged to look around at things
in nature. Observe them closely with the magnifying glass
and then, if they'd like, they can sketch what they see.
This can be done individually, with a friend, 
or in a group.

This winter we haven't experienced much rain,
but we normally do. Last year our rain came 
a little later than usual, which may be the
case this time, as well. Last year I found these
adorable rain boots and purchased 4 pairs so
we could take the kids out on rainy days to do
some exploring. We call them "monkey boots".
We were so fortunate that when we decided to
try them out, one of our preschool dads who just happens to be 
a park ranger, was hanging out with us. He
was able to help us identify the birds, mushrooms,
plants, and worms we saw. What fun!!

Another valuable resource we have available to us is
an Outdoor Learning Laboratory aka "the pond". Our
ranger dad was able to be present when we went there
for a visit with our buddies and was able to give us on
the spot nature lessons about the ducks, geese, and other
animals that live and frequent the area. Thanks, Ranger Jeremiah!

Another activity we began doing this school year
was "nature frames". I saw this idea when visiting
a Reggio exhibit in Monterey in the fall.
Simply place some old picture frames, without the
glass or the back insert, on a flat surface. We then
encouraged the children to collect nature items and
arrange them within the frame. The kids had a blast
collecting and arranging. It was a group activity so they
had to all agree how it was to look.

Then there are always times when the kids come up with
their own experiences without any adult guidance, my favorite.
One day some of the kids began collecting and sorting natural
materials on their own. Love it!!

An amazing resource a friend of mine discovered awhile back and
after viewing it and drooling for a bit, I ordered by own copy. This 
book is amazing. It has short, concise lessons that you can do in
a short while or you can extend into larger experiences. Not every
lesson applied to animals or plants in my area, but lots of them do.
I ordered it through Amazon. It's definitely worth checking out.

I realize not everyone has access to the resources we do, but
with a little effort and creativity you can enhance the experiences 
of your children. I'd love to hear and see pics of what you do!!