Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday SOL What does mid-year look like?

This is a Tuesday "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers. Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

We are mid-year in the Big Cats. Every day, the children choose their own fun, working and exploring where they desire. There is cheerful "instigation" and coaching from teachers, guiding the children to extend what they have chosen to do, or to try something all new. Our centers are purposefully set up to reflect their interests and our "guided discovery" process from earlier in the school year allows the centers to have ample materials that are both accessible and organized. I have tried to set up a 'laboratory' or 'scientific' environment, a wondering and questioning place …we are constantly working "at" things, trying to figure things out - What can I do with this? How might I do that? What is the problem? What might we do? Why is this broken? How might I fix it? What are some ideas?

Yes, we are mid-year in the Big Cats, and I am so pleased with the kind-hearted and curious work that my preschoolers are drawn to doing. The Big Cats love to work at things, to try. They are happy with the "gray," with things not being perfect or absolute, with trying to make something work. They love exploring.

Let me share an anecdote:

Paxton was playing in the block center with the ramps and toy cars, and he found a small car with its wheel broken off. He raced over to me, in the art center, and asked to use the science tweezers to pull at the wheel, to see if he could loosen it free from the axle. Dmitry came over to investigate what Paxton was doing. Paxton worked at the car for awhile and then passed it to Dmitry, to see if Dmitry was able to remove the broken wheel.

Dmitry, using the tweezers, trying to pry the wheel loose,
Wow, I almost got it.
That's really hard.
Wow, I strong.
Almost…almost…got you off.
Oh boy.
This is.
I almost got it.
I'm getting tired.

Paxton -
Can I try, too?
I'm going to have one more turn, okay?

Dmitry -
Ok, your turn.
You have to try it.

Dmitry passes the car to Paxton.
Paxton takes the tweezers and he, again, tries to pry the wheel loose, explaining,
I think someone should snatch it off.
I'm going to be a helper.
I'm going to do it all the time.
That was a really good hard one for me, Ms. Ingram!
My Dad has some really good tools, Ms. Ingram.
He has even bigger pliers than we do.

Micah walks up and observes -
Want me to try?
I'm really strong!
You can give me a turn.

Paxton -
And I am super strong, too, Micah!
Here, try!

Micah, takes the tweezers and struggles to remove the wheel, emitting groans -
eeeeh yah!
eeeeh yah!
She is really struggling. Luke walks up to see what is going on.

Paxton -
Luke, he can try, too. He's a really good fixer.

Micah -
He's really, really strong! 

Micah gives Luke the car and the tweezers. He begins to work on the car, and Micah cheers him supportively -
Can he? Can he?

Katherine, painting a picture at the same table and observing their hard work, adds a commentary,
Daddy has a thing in the basement that fixes bikes.
But it can't fix cars.

Paxton -
Can it fix trolleys?

I love their camaraderie and good cheer, even when working hard.
I love how these kids are working with each other.
I love how they support one another.
I love their instinctive sharing.
I love how they don't shy away or flinch from the difficult, from the challenging.
I love how hard they work, how they persist, how determined they are.
I love their conversations.

Yes, I am happy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday SOL What do you have to show for it?

This is a Tuesday "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers. Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

Engineering with my preschoolers.

Let me share about one excited preschooler - I'll call her Laurel.
Laurel loves to create.
She rushed over to the table to be one of my first engineers.
I handed the small group blue paper to draw their 'blueprints', designing what they wanted to build. Laurel declared, as she drew, "I'm making a ball. No, I'm making a monster. Yes, I'm making a monster."

She searched through the recyclables and fixated on a paper towel roll. I encouraged her to gather several pieces of cardboard, but, no, this was the only recyclable she wanted to use - one paper towel roll.

What she needed was tape - lots of tape, lots of different colors of tape. She worked tirelessly, using red tape, black tape, pink tape, yellow tape. She covered the paper towel roll with tape. "Yellow is my favorite!" she declared, wrapping this fourth color around and around the roll.

What next captivated Laurel's interest was all the found objects - especially, the jar of blue items. There were many, many small blue foam 'snowflakes' and she needed these in the monster. She picked up a few and put them inside the roll, only to find out - immediately - that what went inside the top of the paper towel roll fell out of the bottom.

"It comes out here!" she exclaimed, irritated.

Me - "What might you use to stop it from doing that?"

"Oh. A snowflake. Yes, a snowflake. I'm going to put it on the bottom. To stop it." She chose one of the foam snowflakes as the base [it measured almost exactly!], securing it with more colored tape. This took some doing. She asked for my help holding the small snowflake, while she cut the tape.

[From an adult perspective, this might seem so insignificant - working with a paper towel roll, adding tape, trying to close or block the base opening…however, consider for a moment the hard work of this task for a three year old, cutting and manipulating the tape, without it getting all twisted, while working with the round edges of the paper towel roll.]

Laurel persisted and finally covered the bottom successfully. She tested the new base by throwing in a snowflake. Then another. Then she added in lots more found objects from the jar. Many many snowflakes and … "Oh, look a key! He needs a key!"
I try to figure out what she's thinking about, to see what is her purpose…I ask, "Why are you putting those inside? Is the monster taking those things?"
She doesn't answer me; she is too busy searching for objects to put into this paper towel roll. Finally, when it is full to the brim, she declares, "Now I need to cover the top."

Still trying to figure out what she is planning, I interject - "You are covering the top? You are covering both ends?"

"I'm going…I'm going…I'm going," she begins, but then she is lost in thought and action, making a cover for the other end of the paper towel roll. Finally she continues,

"He put some keys inside. He doesn't have anymore. He doesn't have anymore monsters. He just have one friend. And snowflakes. Those things are his family."

"Let me show you," she declares, and she tears off the tape at both ends and shakes the paper towel roll.  "See these! Look!" Many found objects fall out.

Laurel notices a few things still in the roll; "Oh, it is stuck." The next thing I know, she is unwinding all the tape from the outside of the roll, undoing the taped base, deconstructing the whole thing. Within seconds, we are back to:

A blank paper towel roll.
Laurel sets it down on the table and scampers off to play dress up.

Welcome to design and construction by preschoolers.
An engaging, involved, focused, demanding, rigorous activity,
invisible results.

Thank goodness I sat and chatted with her while she worked (and took notes)…otherwise, I wouldn't have realized Laurel had created anything!

The following photos are not "Laurel," however, they illustrate the work involved in working with tape and cardboard recyclables when you are only a preschooler. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tuesday SOL What about snow?

This is a Tuesday "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers. Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

Happy New Year!
Today was our second day back at school and, much to my surprise when I woke up this morning, it was snowing! I had heard that we might get a dusting, but unfortunately this 'dusting' came during the morning commute…I struggled to get in to my classroom, my typical 30 minute commute tripling in length.

Yes, I was late to school.
I don't think I have ever been late to school.

That slog of a commute gave me so much time to watch the falling snow and plan a snowy extension to today's learning. I always find nature so engaging for children - and isn't it particularly magical when nature is a fresh snow?

After gathering, I took a small group of children outside when it was still snowing, to collect fresh snow for our classroom. We had so much fun!

Back in the classroom, one large tub of snow was dumped onto the sand in the sensory table - snow on a beach! The children were surprised and elated by this combination…making snowballs, trying to build a snow man, watching the sand and snow mix together, surprised by how cold the sand became.

Snow in sand. It was so cold, it started melting... you can make an outside snowball

There were still three more large containers of snow…and these I added to the art table. The art table had been readied for a process art activity with found objects and paint. What if we used the paint and the found objects with snow? Why not? What might happen? Let's see!

I added a few extra tools - tongs, eyedroppers, tweezers, stirring sticks, spoons. I watered down the paint so that it might be useful with a dropper. Then I stepped back and watched the children explore...

immediately seeing

Excited preschoolers,
touching and squeezing the snow
filling eye droppers with paint, squeezing paint onto the snow
making dots, speckles on the snow
adding spoonfuls of snow into the paint
picking up snow with tongs
I love pink
I love purple
I love blue

Curious preschoolers,
dropping found objects in the snow
retrieving them with tongs
stirring them into the snow
dropping found objects into the paint
adding in more snow, to the paint
I'm making soup
I'm making spaghetti
Look! I got it all gone!

Focused preschoolers,
picking up tongs full of snow,
plopping the snow into the paint,
watching, watching, watching
as the paint moved up the snow ball,
the snow slowly filling with paint color
not melting but growing in color,
Stirring, stirring, stirring
meticulously removing every bit of snow from the containers
We are making snow!
It's turning to dark red
My snow is all pink
This is cold

Feverish preschoolers,
rapid questions, incessant demands
I need tongs!
What about tweezers?
I need another tray!
I need more water!
I need a clean squeeze thing! 
I want pink, too! 
What are those? 
I need something to mix!
Where did you get that?
I need a spoon!

Alert, excited, restless, engaged.

I was the guide on the side,
moving quickly to support them,
all things at once,
taking pictures,
making notes,
asking questions,
pointing them towards supplies,
encouraging them to resolve problems themselves
Where are they kept?
Has anyone seen where those are kept?
Where did we put them?
What just happened when you did that?! Wow!
What if you ask a friend where she got hers?
How might you get the paint out of the eyedropper?
What happens to the snow when you do that?
Did you ask her if you can have some?
Where might we get water?
Will that fit in there?
What happens to the paint when you put snow in it?
What do you think will happen?

I, too, was alert, excited, restless, engaged.

This is my favorite kind of centers work!

And it sure helped me to forget about that horrid commute.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tuesday SOL What about the holidays?

This is a Tuesday "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers. Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.


I am having the most delightful winter break. We have stayed home, relaxing together, lots of special time with family and friends, plus sleeping in, going on long walks, watching movies, writing, reading…yes, delightful! After the wedding in November, this is exactly the Christmas and New Year's that I need!

There was an interesting article in the Washington Post ("My Jewish Child Was Asked to Wear a Santa Hat") about the 'dilemma' of celebrating holidays in schools and it described three approaches -

Schools tend to take one of three broad approaches. The first is what you might call Modified Christmas, in which most or all activities are at least peripherally related to Christmas, be it performing a play about Santa or drawing wreaths during art. The second model could be called Christmaskwanzakkah, a multicultural mix that may or may not involve any teaching or acknowledgment of the divine. The third model is the No-Holidays Holiday: Schools avoid celebrating any holidays, though they may have an event or a song built around “shared religious values” such as “peace.”

I guess I fall into the third category - I don't celebrate the holidays with my preschoolers. I simply believe that families should be the teachers of the holiday traditions. I teach at a public school in Washington, D.C., with families from diverse backgrounds. I use the month of December as a time for children to bask in the normal routine…to build, paint, dress up, explore with abandon.

Sometimes holidays are mentioned by the children and this is by no means taboo - I ask the children to tell me more, where did they go? what did they do? what happened? These are ordinary loving, respectful conversations, children learning to share what they know and to listen to one another. These discussions come up organically, not something I orchestrate or pre-plan.

Mid-month, there was a buzz about gifts…wanting to make something for Daddy, wanting to paint a picture for Mommy. Our engineering with recyclables area took on a whole new focus - what could I create for someone else? Honestly, this wasn't in my "plan" - my classroom lends itself to this kind of child-directed purpose, child-created fun.

They had a great time, creating whatever they wanted. In the end, there were tea sets, magic wands, one robot, treasure boxes, a vase, telescopes…

A Robot for Daddy by Nicky

We had a beautiful December together and I am looking forward to lots more magic, exploration, laughter, and love in the new year! 

(I am really going to miss sleeping in late each morning, however.)

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What can we do with yarn?

During our first trimester this school year, in every classroom (preschool to sixth grade!), students read Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett. The book tells the story of a child who finds a magical box of yarn that never seems to run out as she knits sweaters to keep everyone in her town warm. Throughout the school, students wondered about their own personal gifts and how might they share these with others. 

Preschoolers used the text as a launching point for an exploration of yarn as a material. We used the yarn in so many different ways:

  • Painting with yarn
  • Creating mixed media collages, with yarn as one possibility

  • Cutting yarn
  • Painting yarn lines at the easel
  • Tying things with yarn 

  • Creating simple machines - yarn as cranes, pulleys, lifts    

  • Passing a ball of yarn
  • Throwing a ball of yarn
  • Measuring things with yarn

  • Tracing yarn lines 
  • Drawing in and around a 'cobweb' of yarn on the table
  • Using yarn as bandages in our doctor's dramatic play
  • Making bracelets
  • Sewing with yarn

  • Using yarn with clay
  • Wrapping items in yarn ("yarn bombing")
For a couple of weeks, yarn was in every center of our classroom, to be used and explored in any (safe!) way that the children desired.

My favorite yarn activity was dipping yarn in watercolor paint, changing white yarn into a new color.

We repeated this activity over many days. I set up paint containers with rainbow colors and the children used tweezers to retrieve the yarn from the paint, then laying this bright yarn onto paper which made a yarn print.

I enjoyed watching the children explore the tweezers with the yarn and paint.
Specifically, I enjoyed watching their hands at work.

Truly, it is magical to watch children's hands at work.

I loved watching them try to pick up the yarn with the tweezer…some resorting to lifting the yarn onto the tweezer…

Some worked with two tweezers at a time,

Others used their fingers in the paint, moving the yarn about with their hands.

Some dipped the tweezer into the paint - not the yarn - and dragging this painted tool across the paper.

One young artist dipped the yarn into the watery paint and then pulled the yarn taut, sending sprinkles of paint everywhere.

Many children found mixing the colors together to be an irresistible goal, quickly turning each watercolor paint container into brown.

Starting with the same materials, using these in different ways,
all succeeded in creating magical paintings.

Here are just five:


It was so much fun to explore yarn in depth…to see limitless possibilities of this basic material.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday SOL What topic interests us the most?

This is a Tuesday "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers. Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

It is Intersession week! This week - Tuesday through Friday - we have Intersession for an hour each morning instead of centers. Each child explores one topic for the whole week, often a topic that is not usually part of the school curriculum. All the children work in mixed age groups - preschool and Pre-K students together, in groups of only 10-12 students [compared to my usual class size of 22!]. The Teaching Residents run classes, some parents run classes. Intersession is a chance to work in new ways with different students and teachers, and typically a different classroom, too. It is interesting to see how children handle the the new routine...for one crazy hour each day, everything is a little mixed up in a totally fun way!

Last week, I shared with my preschoolers the eight topics we were offering this year: 

 Spanish Dramatic Play 
Slimy Science 
Painting Without Brushes 
Instrument Making 
Martial Arts 
 Knitting and Beading 

I was curious to see what they were most interested in, so I created eight stations throughout the room, and at each station I acted out and described what you might do in the class. After I did my "sales pitch," I said - "If this sounds like a fun class to you, come join me at this station!" [Basically, I was having them 'vote with their bodies,' giving me an excellent visual of their favorite topics…and helping me to assign them to a particular Intersession.] 

Well, the joke was on me! Every time I concluded my pitch and declared, "If this sounds like a fun class to you, come join me at this station!", my entire class of preschoolers would come running over to this vicinity. Yes, they ran from station to station, as I shared what was great about the topic.

I turned to my Teaching Resident and said - "Well, this "voting technique" was a total fail on my part! These preschoolers love everything we do and I don't know anymore about their favorites now than I did at the outset of our day." 

The idea of choosing one topic to the exclusion of all others made absolutely no sense to them.

Clearly, they are happy will all the choices offered - and amenable to try new things. This is a great disposition to have!

Ms. Wright and I are leading the "Forts" Intersession and we had such a fun start today! We have these amazing 'blue blocks' [Imagination Playground blocks] to use.

[We've had two large sets of these for a couple of years (I blogged about playing with these in the side alley at our old school location), but this year our collection tripled in size…yes, we have six sets of these Imagination blocks. These blocks are now considered an indoor recess play item…and shared amongst all the classes from preschool through sixth grade.]

However, for Intersession week, my group of 12 fort builders has access to all six bins of the blocks! We are working in the all-purpose room, an enormous space for a group of only 12 students.

At the outset, we gathered in a circle and I asked,
"Why build a fort?"

There were two instantaneous replies:

"for being comfy"
"a fort is a cozy corner"

How lovely!

Here is their list of necessary items to create a fort:

blankets for a roof
a door to go in and out

The children set right to work to create the largest fort ever…they ran and ran, grabbing blocks that they needed and laying them this way and that, surrounding a large canvas flooring.

Ms. Wright and I asked a multitude of questions, guiding and building alongside - What shape should the fort be? How high will we make the fort? What pieces work best for that? How many long pieces do we have? What should we use the cylinders for? How will we make a door? Will there be windows? What should the windows look like? Will Ms. Wright and I fit in this fort or is it only for children? (Yes! We were invited to be in the fort, too!)

I couldn't believe how quickly it grew in height…how well these children worked together, focused on the same goal.

There was much debate about the door to the fort - Should it be a drawbridge? Should it be more like a real door that opens when you pull on it? Should we build it with blocks? Should we use a cloth? All of this debate was simultaneous with trial and error - blocks put in position to be a door, then toppling over, then swung open, then dropped to the floor like a bridge, then a call for a sheet followed by the need to place it just so - How to hang a sheet? How to weigh it down so that it stays in position? It was fast and furious work.

With the walls and door completed, now we needed to think of the interior amenities. A couple rectangles were brought in as beds, some squares as seats, and several curved pieces were brought in to be "rocking horses" in the fort…but these pieces shown above had another purpose. Any guesses? Tess said "We need a bathroom!" and Cameron declared, "I can make a toilet!" and then the children worked together on creating these, with Nora declaring - "We have five toilets in our fort!"

Near the end of this interior design, Ms. Wright and I began to lay a large sheet on top of the fort for the roof. All the children raced inside the fort for this fun step in the process, squealing with delight - "It's a real fort!

As we worked to anchor the roof, something changed personality-wise inside that fort - was it a sudden fear? heady delight? preschooler exuberance? Instantaneously, the children crashed down the exterior walls and we were left with this:

A muddle of blocks and still happy preschoolers.

They went right back to work on a new fort.

By the end of our Intersession hour, we never did succeed in getting a roof on any structure. But we sure did a whole lot of fort building.

Yes, we are going to have a super fun couple of days.

Update 12.30.14 - Yes, the "Forts" intersession was a blast! I can't resist adding in photos from the rest of our fort building fun…here's what we did over the next many days:

Drafting blueprints of their dream forts

Can't we make this just a little higher?

We have to have a place for our horses