"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, April 9, 2014

Conversation and Problem Solving with Preschoolers

As part of our GEMS: Elephants and Their Young study, we have been doing lots of hands-on learning activities, reading books, and learning facts about elephants. I found the DVD, Disney's Whispers: An Elephant's Tale two years ago when we last did the study, at our local library, and recalled how rich the story-line was in it. I knew when planning the unit that I wanted to check the movie out again. If you can't find it locally, you can click on the title above to find it on Amazon. It has actual footage, but has voice-overs kind of like Homeward Bound.

We don't ever just put in a movie for the class, so I was showing ten or so minutes of the movie each day. We got to the scene where elephant calf, Whispers was with grown elephant female, Groove and he was very thirsty. They came to a watering hole and Groove asked Whispers if he should go get a drink. He tells her he should and she informs him that there are nine lions waiting around the watering hole, so he shouldn't go. At this point, my kids began throwing out suggestions of how the elephants could get to the water. I turned off the movie and began our conversation. It went something like this: 

Child 1: "The elephant could put on a lion costume and get a drink."
Me: "Well, are elephants and lions the same size?"
Child 1: "No, elephants are bigger, but when it put on the lion costume, it could pull it tight so it's small."

The elephant and the lion costume she will wear.
I told the group I wanted to write their ideas down, so I wrote the problem at the top, then as each child shared, I wrote their "solution". 

Child 2: "The grass could camouflage them so they could sneak up to the water." (This friend is really into army stuff and camouflage lately, so his response didn't surprise me.)
Me: "OK, I'll write your idea on the board."

Child 3: "They could go under the water."
Me: "That might work, but I have a question. Did you see the water at that watering hole?"
Child 3: "Yes."
Me: "Do you think it was deep enough for them to go under it?"
Child 3: "No, I don't think so."
Me: "I don't think so either, but that's a good idea and might work if the water were deeper."

Child 4: "They could put grass on them to hide them."
Me:"So, would that be camouflage, like D suggested?"
Child 4: "Yes, it would be good camouflage."

Child 5: "They could sneak in when the lions were sleeping."
Me: "Oh, OK. That might work."

I also discussed what a decoy is and gave an example of one going in to distract them and asked if that would work. They have been learning about the strong relationships the elephants in the her have with each other, so they decided that they wouldn't want one to get hurt to help the others.

In addition, I introduced the concept of a stampede and we discussed what that would look like. I asked if that was a possible solution. They decided that wouldn't work either because they would stop to drink and could get attacked.

After all five possible solutions were written on the board, I asked each child to vote for the one solution they thought would work the best. We introduced the concept of tally marks as we voted and then counted the votes.

As you can see, sneaking in when the lions are sleeping got the most votes, but one child expressed concern that the lions were pretending and weren't really asleep, kind of like the opossum in a book read earlier in the year called Don't Laugh, Joe!

After the session I asked each child who suggested a solution to draw a picture of their idea. 

I love it when an idea prompts them to question and try to come up with a solution, then modifying their answer after additional information is provided. 

Some prompting questions should start with "How..." and "Why..." You'll note a couple of my questions were "yes or no" questions. It's good to mix it up a little. It's also important not to ask too many questions that you know the answer to, but are trying to get them to remember.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and I can only wish I had the iPad at the ready and videotaped it, but all in all, amazing time. 

This is a great link for asking thinking questions: http://learning.qahs.org.uk/files/2013/01/Thinking-Qs.jpg 

Monday, March 31, 2014

On the Level: Questions that Promote Problem Solving

As we continued our construction unit we began exploring the concept of things being level and balanced.

Mr. Tyler, a former preschool parent and builder visited and showed us all the different sizes of levels he uses in his job. As he showed each level, he explained what type and size of items for which he would use each one. He explained how you look between the two lines to see if the air bubble is centered.

He passed several levels around so the children could manipulate them and see the movement of the air bubble.

Then we put the new knowledge into action. Mr. Tyler set up some boards and placed the level on each of them. The children had the opportunity to observe it up close and make a determination if the board was level or not. If it wasn't, they directed him as to what they thought he should do to make it level.

Around this time I was pinning items to Pinterest and discovered Deborah from Teach Preschool's post from almost a year ago about exploring balance. We decided to set up some of our own investigations.

Some of the set-ups were balanced, others weren't. The children were encouraged to move the items around and try to achieve balance.

It was interesting to see the items and the way they moved them, stacking and re-stacking trying to make them level.

Of course, you had to get down on the level of the items and look closely to see if your goal was achieved.

Not only were we exploring measurement and balance concepts, but we wanted to pursue it further through literacy and to encourage problem solving thinking. Deborah's post recommended the book Balancing Act by Ellen Stoll Walsh. I love her book, Mouse Count, so I was eager to share this book with the children, as well. Little did I know just how amazing this book would be and the deep thought process it would promote.

The story begins with two little mice that use a long stick balancing on a rock to create a teeter-totter for themselves. Just as they are reveling in their victory, more friends decide to join them. With each new addition the balance is shifted and they have to figure out how to restore it. I was asking things like, "What could they do to get it to balance again? Is there a way everyone can join in the fun?" The children were brainstorming and predicting the result that would happen for each scenario presented. We were also discussing how many animals were on the teeter-totter. As we counted and/or the children could state the totals without counting, we went further stating how many were on each side and doing the addition to match it.

Even as the bird joins the fun, the children had to determine, "Is there a way for all of the animals to be on there and it balance? Why did it work for the bird to be on one side and all the others animals to be on the other side?" It brought up additional conversation about not only the number of equal items sometimes balancing, but the weight of the items mattering.

Then came the biggest dilemma, the stick breaks. "Is there a way to make the teeter-totter work again?" The interactions were priceless. As one child suggested tape or glue, others would reason why that wouldn't work. 

Eventually, one child came up with the solution that the mice choose to do. Such amazing conversation took place during the story. There was problem solving, predicting, ideas shared and then revisions to the ideas, often by the same child that shared the initial idea. Of course, after the group-time I stated that I wish we had set up the iPad to record the activity, but alas, we hadn't. To that end, that special time will live on in my memory and hopefully, in theirs, as well.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Preschool Construction: Measuring Up

We've been working on a construction unit lately. This is always a hit with the kids and one I enjoy, as well. We always put out construction tools, talk about safety (helmets and goggles), and lots of building materials, but this time I really wanted to put an emphasis on the importance of measuring.

One of the first things we did to embark on this endeavor was discussing blueprints and the use of drawing lines. I put out several rulers, paper, and pencils just to see what they would do with them. We discussed holding the ruler in place to make the lines. 

Some children drew houses and buildings, while others simply worked on drawing lines.

We then had Mr. Tyler, a former preschool parent and builder pay us a visit. He shared lots of his tools, but did a huge emphasis on the importance of measuring and showed some of the tools he uses to do so.

I think they could have listened to him all day.

We then set up a provocation for measuring. I placed rulers and measuring tapes on the table with some everyday items for them to explore.

Lots of exploring began to take place. After a bit we began discussing how to place the metal part at the beginning, as that was the 0 mark and then measuring. 

It was really neat hearing the kids counting to determine how many inches each item measured.


Then we took the measuring tapes outside and there was measuring going on all over the place.

We even got our kid tape measure in on the action.

We even began a discussion about diameter. We began with measuring the diameter of each friend's head while we were inside, then they began measuring diameter on items outside. 

I love it when I see a simple idea grown and expand with endless possibilities. I can say with certainty that this activity "measured up" to and beyond my expectations. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Preschool Blogger Lessons Learned After Two Years

You read that right, it's been two years since this journey began. Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing when I began this venture. I felt inspired and wanted to share that inspiration with others. I have always enjoyed taking photos of the children in my care and wanted to share some of our adventures. Little did I know how far-reaching our blog could touch and the incredible people I'd encounter and relationships that have developed along the way.

So here are some of the lessons I've learned along the way:

First, blogging lessons learned:

#1 A picture is worth a thousand words.

I'm a very visual person, as many of our followers are. Blog-wise, people tend to skim if it's just a lot of words, but those words paired with good explanatory and tutorial photos, create a lovely balance. 

#2 Sometimes less really is more.

In the last year I have put out less blog posts than I did the first year. 45 in the first year and 28, including this one, in the second year. I'd rather post high quality information and photos than to just feel like I need to pump out a post each week. Don't get me wrong, many amazing bloggers put out one or more post each week and do an awesome job of it. I've just determined that with my other commitments, it's not something I can do at all times.

#3 You've got to be true to yourself.

You're never going to please everyone and consistently striving to do so is futile. I'm originally from North Carolina and use terms that are a part of my culture as endearments. Yes, I strive to be professional, but at the end of the day, I have to be true to myself. 

Now, educator and life lessons:

#1 Be mindful of your motivation.

Yes, it's fantastic when you come up with this spectacular idea and have a plan of how you think the children will perceive and put it into action, but how do you deal with it when things don't go as planned? Many times I have an idea of the direction the children with take the idea and it's very different from what actually occurs. We love being able to send children's work home to share with their families, but not every child progresses in that way. We have to be ready to document their journey in other ways, whether by photos, documentation, and other mediums. We've heard until the cows come home, that it's the process, not the product, but sometimes we just need to breathe and remind ourselves of this.

#2 Rome wasn't built in a day.

We have to give ourselves as educators and caregivers, an ample supply of grace. There's no way to do everything you'd like during a theme. With the plethora of ideas floating around through blogs and sites such as Pinterest, it can be overwhelming trying to prioritize what you're doing. We have to learn to focus, prioritize, and truly believe that it's okay to "shelf" this amazing idea for now.

#3 Why are we doing this again?

Being caregivers, it's so easy for us to take care of everyone and everything better than we take care of ourselves. It's easy to get caught up in the themes and the plans and if you are in a state or federal program, the assessing. At the end of the day a child's not going to remember particular ideas or projects as much as they will remember that adult that took the time to show that they truly care through words of encouragement, comfort, and guidance and actions of truly listening, sharing a thumbs up, a hug, and/or a smile.

So, two years have passed. I'd like to think that I'm not only older, but wiser, as well. At the time of posting we've had 173,962 page views and are blown away by that. Many things have changed, but many have remained the same. Thank you for sharing this journey with us as we strive to remember that it's for the children.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Feeding the Birds: Winter Food Source

We've recently been learning lots through our theme of Winter. We've been learning how animals and people cope during this season. We have discussed wearing extra layers of clothes, eating/drinking warm food/drink, using a heat source, and more for people. We then began thinking about animals during this time of year. We have discussed how some hibernate and others migrate. We have discussed how fur helps animals stay warmer and how some animals have blubber to keep them better insulated. We began discussing the local birds that do not migrate and decided we wanted to do something for them. Thus was born the idea of making a bird-feeder.

We began with collecting the cardboard inserts from paper towel rolls. We cut them in half and used a hole punch to punch two holes at one end. We then provided each child with a good amount of peanut butter and a plastic knife. 

Each child was encouraged to spread the peanut butter all over the roll. Advising them to either hold the end of the roll or inserting their hand in it, helped them have more control while spreading.

After it was covered well with peanut butter, each child got to roll the peanut butter covered cardboard roll in birdseed, covering it as best they could. In the bottom corner of the photo above you can see a completed one.

When the roll was covered to the child's liking, it was placed in another tub to dry a little. When it was "set", a pipe cleaner (chenille stem) was folded in half and the two ends turned up so that it could be a hanger for the feeder. We did place them in plastic baggies to transport them home.

The children were instructed to ask a parent to hang the feeder up and to report back to us the bird sightings they observed.

Modifications should be made as necessary. For example, if you have children with nut allergies, something else would need to be substituted for the peanut butter. The assistant who provided the plastic knives filed down the serrated edges, but you might choose not to do this and use it as a lesson in safety. 

The children were very excited about the whole process and I can't wait to hear about their bird sightings.