"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

Saturday, July 21, 2012

10+ Ways to Know It's a High Quality Program

This post is for families looking for a high quality program or educators setting up and/or maintaining a program. By no means, is this the end of the list of items that you should be able to see, but it's definitely a start. Also, this list is focusing on the physical indoor environment. There's lots more to be said about the emotional/relationships that should be occurring and the importance of the outdoor environment, as well, and perhaps those items can be covered in later posts. These items are also numbered, but not in order of importance, but simply to keep up with the number of items we are listing. So, let's get started...

1. Pleasing to all of the senses: The sights should be appealing, the sounds should be pleasant, the smell should be to your liking, and there should be hands-on experiences to meet the needs of the kinesthetic (tactile) learner. You'll note I didn't mention taste. Though that is equally important, if you're visiting a program it very well may be something you don't necessarily experience. 

2. Open and inviting: It should be open enough for children and adults to maneuver around freely, including individuals with adaptive equipment, but not open enough to encourage running in class.

3. Clean and organized by areas or interest centers: In our class we have these areas: dramatic play, music, blocks, manipulatives, math/science, art, library/listening center/reading loft, writing. We also rotate some centers throughout the year including: a train table, a Lego table, a dollhouse, a zoo, a light table, and more. The shelves should be open and inviting and not too cluttered, so that children feel at ease choosing items to use and know where to return them. 

4. At the Children’s level: We must ask ourselves, "Who is this classroom set up for? Is everything on a level that appeals to the children in my program?" One suggestion I have heard, that is timeless, is to get down yourself on the level of the children in the program. This may mean walking around on your knees or even on your hands and knees. Then ask yourself, "Is everything meant for the children's benefit on a level that they can access it themselves and see/experience it fully?" If the answer is "no", you may want to make some changes. An example of this is the low shelving, but another very important aspect are the wall displays. If you have a calendar, ABC wall, helper chart, and the like, can the children easily reach to utilize it? If you are displaying their artwork, documentation of their work/experiences, etc., can they view it easily? I want all usable activities (calender, ABC wall, helper chart) easily within their reach and generally display things no higher than 4 feet up a wall.

5. Natural lighting/Plants: Children and nature go hand in hand, so for the time they spend indoors, it’s beneficial to bring the outdoors inside. Natural lighting is both aesthetically pleasing and promotes a sense of well being in all of us. Our program has fluorescent lighting and we spend much of the time with the lights turned off or at least dimmed to a degree. We open the blinds (and doors, when we can) and let that natural light permeate the environment. Hanging prisms and/or beautiful wind chimes and placing beautifully colored items in the window can accentuate and take advantage of the glorious sunshine. Plants are another way to bring nature into the classroom and provide opportunities for children to be helpers by taking care of them. Be sure to check to verify that the plants you have chosen are not toxic to children. A site such as this lists common toxic plants http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/lawn_garden/poison/poison.html   It’s always a good idea to find a site or book that contains plants common to your area. 

6. Natural materials: I love incorporating natural materials and fibers into the preschool environment. My classroom has a variety of colored shelves, tables, and chairs, none of which I can change at this time. However, I am making strides to change the things I can. I use a variety of baskets and wooden materials throughout the classroom. There’s just something about these natural items that are warm and inviting to us all.  

7. Real materials: Just like the natural materials listed above, these give the children a sense of pride and responsibility as they are being trusted with them. Using real dishes and pots and pans may increase the chances of something breaking, but it gives the children real life experiences that they don’t get with plastic items. Incorporating real materials such as: bird nests, sunflower heads, seashells, fossils, wooden tree blocks, driftwood, and the like, help them have genuine natural experiences. 

8. Cozy areas: Classrooms have areas for large groups and small groups, but it is essential that there are places for only one or two children to gather. Sometimes children are overwhelmed with stimulation from many others and need a place to go that’s cozy, calm, and reflective. We have a bench with stuffed animals on it, a soft sofa in the library, and our reading loft for this purpose.

9. Inviting provocations: We want children to feel free to pull items off the shelf  that they wish to engage with, but often setting up a provocation (invitation) with a variety of materials is effective to have children choose to participate that maybe wouldn’t have chosen to otherwise. Items should be aesthetically pleasing and should pique curiosity and wonder about the items and often inspire and invite children to explore them.  

10. Ratios: Much can be said about ratios. However, most programs based on their licensing and such, have determined ratios based on the size of the classroom and the number of children allowed to be enrolled. The best scenario is always one adult to the lowest number of children possible. Our program is licensed for 20 students and our license ratio for adults to children in 1:8. It’s also good to look at the schedule for indicators of individualized and/or small group attention. In our program we have ample exploration time where the children choose their own activities, two large group times, and small group times.

11. Diversity: You should be able to see the representation of the children attending throughout the classroom in books, dolls, posters, in cooking (food and tools used) and materials along with artifacts and things viewed in their everyday lives. This diversity includes: race, ethnicity, abilities, ages, and lifestyles.

There are many more things to learn and see when you take the time to really look at a program including the relationships, philosophy, outdoor environment, etc., but this should give you a good foundation of things you should see in a high quality indoor classroom environment.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

We Are All Alike...We Are All Different

Before you know it a new school year will be beginning. We'll be gathering lots of little ones together that don't know each other, haven't played together before, and it's a whole new experience for many of them. As the adult caregivers we have the amazing opportunity to invite all these little people into a new relationship, our classroom family. For some of them, this will be their first play experience with children they haven't known all their lives and learning about each other, how we're alike and different, and how to accept all of it and work together is the beginning of embarking on a new adventure.

One of the obvious differences would be appearance: different skin tones, hair colors, eye colors, heights, weights, physical abilities, etc. We display multi-cultural, varying skin tones, different ages, different abilities, and the like through dolls, books, posters, and more. One book we choose to use to demonstrate likenesses and differences is We Are All Alike...We Are All Different by Laura Dwight and a group of kindergarten children. 

The photographic images and kid-drawn images are appealing and encourage the children to look at themselves and their friends.
We then pull out the Crayola Multicultural Washable Paint. They come in 8 colors: Beige, Bronze, Brown, Mahogany, Olive, Peach, Tan, Terra Cotta.

I would choose the two colors that I thought were the closest to that child's skin tone, as one color rarely would match. I'd blend the two colors on the back of the child's hand to see if we came up with the right combo.

Once we determined the color or color combo that matched that child's skin, we'd mix up a small batch of the color in preparation for their self-portrait. You'd hear them saying, "My skin is beige-bronze." "My skin is peach-tan."

Each child then painted their personalized skin-tone on the face outline and we waited for it to dry. 

Continuing our self-portrait project from the day before, the child looks at him/herself in the mirror determining his/her eye color, then add eyes, a nose, and a mouth. Another look in the mirror determines hair color and we measure yarn to match the length. This little guy has spiky hair on top so we measured it for his portrait, also. LOVE IT!!

Here's the end result. Each child's is uniquely his or her likeness. We listed the color or color combo of the skin paint at the bottom of the portraits.

We wanted to get the parents involved, so we took photos of each child's hands to see if the parents could identify them. Most parents admitted that it was harder than they thought it would be.

These are a couple of many activities you can do to develop and understanding and acceptance of likenesses and differences among the children in a gathering. What kinds of things do you do in your program?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Volcanoes and Dinosaurs and Summer, Oh My!! Part 2

The dinosaur adventures continued as we did various art projects, had a variety of sensory experiences, learned about and made our own fossils, had a dino hunt, and more...

We have these plastic dinosaur templates with punch-out centers.
We lightly taped the centers down and the children painted around
them as they chose to do, leaving a cool dino print when the
center is removed.

We created cloud dough, which we dubbed "Dino Dough" and
had lots of dinosaur adventures in it. It smelled great and felt, oh
so silky. (5-8 cups of plain flour, 1 cup baby oil; I began with
5 cups and put it out, but added more flour as the days went by)

We learned about Animal Defenses through our GEMS guide
and discussed how dinosaurs could protect themselves.
We used an overhead projector (a dinosaur in its own right) and
projected images on the blinds. The kids loved the adventure
of seeing things in a new way. (This is a T-Rex hanging out
near an erupting volcano)

We had a generic dinosaur and discussed which one was better
able to protect itself through it's defenses.

Each child was able to choose the defenses they wanted for
their dinosaur. After they were dried we projected "their
dinosaur" on the wall and they shared the defenses
they had given their dinosaur.

Animal Defenses is another guide created through
GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science) at
Lawrence Hall of Science, UC Berkeley. They are an
amazing resource. You can find more information at
this link: www.lhsgems.org  Click on guides to see
all the ones they have available.

We later used the outline stencils to make another view
of the dinosaurs.

We played "Pin the Horn on the Triceratops".

We made dinosaur tracks with paint.

We did the story of the Baby Stegosaurus, "Are You My Mommy?"
during group time and left the board out for the children
to re-enact it themselves. 

We discovered dinosaur skeletons buried in the dino dough
and gently brushed away the sediment.

We created our own fossils from either a T-Rex footprint...

or lying small dinos in the dough, then baking on low heat.

Be sure to go back to our previous post to read more
about this adventure.

We did dino sticker stories. Each child chose some dinosaurs
to place on the paper and then dictated a story to me, which I
wrote down exactly as they said it. We later discussed the role
of an author and read their stories at a group time.

What an adventure we've had. We had three full weeks of dinosaur adventures, explorations, and learning. What an amazing way to end our school year!