Saturday, April 24, 2010

How have I taught friendship? (pt.2)

Recently, we had a rainy day and therefore indoor play in our "Social Hall" - a large, cavernous, echoing room that correlates with children wanting to yell and run. (It is my least favorite room in the school - and the favorite of most children.)

Carter and Zach were very excited, telling me enroute to the Social Hall, "We're going to play bad guys!"

"Bad guys" is one of those organic games that happens every spring with three and four year olds - usually little boys. The game has rules that I've never figured out, involving running, chasing, yelling. I don't like it much, because it seems to scare a number of the quieter children. Often, the "bad guy" follows classmates around, pulling them to do something, exclaiming, "I am a bad guy! I am getting you!" Of course, many children scream in response. Over the years, I have heard many adult responses. There's the classic angry adult - "Stop that right now, xyz! You are making her cry!" Or the more muted frustrations - when there is a crying response, the adult solves it by saying, "I don't think they want to play," or, "Let's play something else." Sometimes, I've insisted that the bad guys chase invisible foes only (i.e., nobody in the class!). Some years, I've put a total kibosh on it because I was simply unable to deal...I'd decree, "Ms. Maureen's class does not have bad guys and we do not play that game."

But this year, ha! I'm empowered from the "Power of Peers" training (see March 21st entry). I can't help but think, hmmm, is this an opportunity to practice our friendship skills? Are these bad guys just doing some awkward socializing?

Back to Carter and Zach exclaiming, "We're going to play bad guys!"
I found myself saying in response:
"Remember our friendship skill - ask your friends if they want to play with you before you start the game with them."
"Oh, yes, of course!" said Carter, very maturely.

Carter and Zach go to Eisleigh. "Play bad guys?"
"No, I don't!" said Eisleigh.
They run to Colin, "Play bad guys?"
"No, I don't" said Colin.
Carter gets Julia's attention. "Play bad guys?"
"No!" she shakes her head, "I'm riding this bike."
They talk to Alexander. "Play bad guys?"
"No, I don't" said Alexander.
Carter and Zach ask each of their classmates, but come to the shocking conclusion,
"Nobody wants to play bad guys, Ms. Maureen!"
"What can you do, Carter?", I responded.
"Well, I guess we can play by ourselves, right, Zach?"
"Yes!" agreed Zach and they were off and running. Just the two of them, yelling and laughing and racing around. Nobody else was drawn into the antics, nobody was pressured to join them. Amazing!

I have been thrilled by the children's absorption of these friendship skills. These visuals are posted in our room - a classroom "protocol" has been clearly established. Perhaps most importantly - I have leveled the playing field for all the quieter friends have words, a script, to move them out of voicelessness. My younger friends have words, a script, to get them playing with friends rather than alone. My rambunctious, demanding friends have words, a script, to slow them down. Everyone is learning that friendship requires respectful interaction - it takes two (or more!) to play. The children now see "You MUST play" is not respectful; you have to respect your friend's "no" just as much as the "yes."

Certainly, I could have simply made the rule that the children can't play this game. But, then, what are the children learning? Ms. Maureen has the power? It's really interesting (and invaluable) to consider what is going into the behavior - the why behind the behavior.

Not only am I seeing children behave in a more friendly manner with one another, I see children who are learning to self-regulate - to set limits on their own behavior.

It's really been exciting to watch.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How have I taught friendship?

Inspired by the workshop that I wrote about in my March 21 entry, and emboldened with a .pdf of the visual aids used by Ted Povey and Phil Strain and their colleagues, I have been faithfully incorporating these into my classroom.

May I first say - it felt a little "forced" and "contrived". My typical curriculum is free-flowing, open-ended, and exploratory. I am keen on teaching how to be friends, but I never imagined it could be broken into a formula. Here I was with five large posters teaching specific friendship skills. (I mean, who'd have thunk it? That is the point of my circle time? How will this even work?)

Mondays and Wednesdays I have a teaching assistant; Fridays I fly solo. So, I decided to introduce the friendship skills one a day on the days I have my amazing Maria to assist; Fridays would be our "review" day.

Skill 1: "How to Get Someone's Attention."
Skill 2: "How to Share."
Skill 3: "How to Ask."
Skill 4: "How to Give a Play Idea."
Skill 5: "How to Give a Compliment."

"How to Get Someone's Attention" is the foundation for each of the other skills. Once you get someone's attention, you can share a toy, ask for a toy, suggest a game to play, or give them a compliment.

I have been delighted at the children's receptiveness to practicing these skills. At circle, I read the "poster of the day," explaining the action/friendship skill. Then, Maria and I act it out in front of the children, first demonstrating how to do it correctly and then showing them a "wrong" version. Seeing their fascination, I have acted it out with individual children, too, explaining the skill again and showing how varied it might look. The rest of the day (and every day thereafter), I look for ways to repeat the skill, embedding it throughout the morning. (Transitions are great for this - for example, having them get one another's attention to go to the bathroom, get their coats, or put their lunchboxes away.)

This past Friday, we spent time at circle telling the two co-oping parents what we learned on Monday and Wednesday. James was sitting at circle, got up, and said
"S'cuse me, Ms. Maureen," tapping me on my shoulder, "Ms. Maureen!" insisting again, "I am trying to get your attention!"
(Honestly, I'm not a big fan of the children getting up out of circle and moving about, unless we are moving to a song or game - but, wow, he was demonstrating what I taught him earlier in the week!!)
"Yes, James?" I responded.
"Ms. Maureen, remember when you did that bad sharing, when you threw the toy at Ms. Maria and she said "Ouch! No!," James continued, "Ms. Maureen, you can't share like that."
His recall of this skit by Maria and I was extraordinary. He got it. My little physical friend saw and understood - there was a better way to share a toy.

Daily, I am seeing that this is not a "circle-time only" performance or a one time only success. The children are practicing over and over. Maria and I have noted the unexpectedly delightful result that there is less yelling - children are walking over to others, to get their attention.

Another example: At the playdough table, Colin often chooses to speak to me rather than his buddies when he needs something or feels some frustration. (This is pretty typical behavior for an introspective 3 year old.) At the playdough table this past week, he turned to me and said:
"Kate has all the playdough! I need some!"
"Did you get her attention?," I responded matter-of-factly.
Up he gets from his seat, walks around the table to stand behind Kate (who was sitting across the table from him originally!) and he taps her on the shoulder, saying, "Kate, Kate!" and waits for her response.
"Yes?," she responds. (This cracked me up - rather than just short-circuiting the routine and handing him playdough, she is going to work the role.)
"Please may I have some playdough?" and he puts out his hand, palm up, open stretch - no grabbing, simply waiting.
"Sure!" and she gives him a huge amount.
Colin is so into this success, he moves to Victor, saying "Victor, Victor!"
"May I have that cutter?"
And then to Zach, "Zach! Zach!"
"May I have that muffin pan?"

Have I turned them into robots? Is it not delightful, positive interaction and play?

How long will this last?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why are you playing games?

I just got back from spring break and an emotional visit to my parents' house, where my 81 year old mother exhibits obvious signs of dementia - repeating questions, forgetting information, anxiety and confusion about where she is and with whom, and inability to hold a conversation. Coincidentally, my father's Wall Street Journal contained a thought-provoking article on "How to Outsmart Alzheimer's" (by Amy Dockser Marcus). Much of the information comes too late for my Mom, but I was intrigued by its spotlight on a new community center concept led by Dr. Kenneth S. Kosik which "tailors a regimen based on a combination of physical exercise, diet, cognitive challenges, music therapy, and social interaction to try to stave off the disease." Sounded a bit like a preschool classroom! For me, it sparked renewed interest in intergenerational centers - the wonderful possibilities of an environment of children and seniors. (Check out Grace Living Center, in Jenks, Oklahoma, and its incredible combination of a preschool within a nursing home. Yes, I need to blog about this place one day soon!)

Back to the WSJ article, Kosik and his colleagues noted:

". . . high levels of linquistic ability - which involve processes the brain uses to retrieve information - developed early in life might prevent dementia later on."

The center uses a variety of games, including Connect 4 and Mastermind, "which require skills such as planning moves ahead in order to win," as a way to help seniors have the social and cognitive challenges they need.

Where am I headed with this? Parents, I want to sound the horn for "family game night." We often have "Friday Night, Game Night" here at the Ingram household, and preschoolers are not too young to join in the intergenerational fun! Teachers, there is tremendous social and cognitive value in playing games at school. I have a whole variety of circle time games that involve the whole class in "thinking together" fun. Plus, at center time or free play, it is great to play board games with one or a few children at a time. Here are some ideas for games that preschoolers enjoy:

Our current favorite board games are: Snail’s Pace Race, all types of Bingo, and Matching (Lotto) games. Group games that we do at circle (and would be fun at home, too) include:

Near and Far – basically, what I remember as the game “Hot and Cold.” We have a “detective” child (or two) step out of the room -with an adult - as the rest of us hide some medium-size object. (This varies depending on my theme. Most recently, with a “restaurant” set up in the classroom, we hid a toy cash register.) When the object is hidden, we call the detective(s) back into the room with a boisterous “We’re ready!” and then the detective(s) search for the item with the only clue being our voice saying “You are NEAR!” or “You are FAR!”

I Spy With My Little Eye – I describe something in the room, they try to guess; whoever guesses tries to create an “I Spy” riddle for us to figure out.

Bug in the Rug – a “detective” child steps out of the room -with an adult – as I direct one child to hide under a blanket in the center of the circle. The rest of the class remains sitting in a circle. We call the detective back into the room with a boisterous “We’re ready!” and then the detective tries to figure out which child is missing. (This can be incredibly hard to figure out!) There’s a little chant with this – “Bug in the rug, bug in the rug, who might be the bug in the rug?”

Pass the Animal Voice – sitting in a circle, first child imitates an animal; then the child sitting next to him/her repeats the sound and adds a new one of his/her own. This gets very tricky for little ones after about three sounds, but they can do it! Lots of laughs.

Transportation or Animal “Families” – I create picture cards, 2-3 each of a particular theme object; the children choose a card hidden in a hat and immediately begin making the sound of that object, walking around the room until they find everyone else who is making the same sound as them. Also, lots of laughs – and very noisy.

Who Has It? - a “detective” child steps out of the room -with an adult – as I direct one child to hide a very small object somewhere on their person or perhaps under their circle time pillow seat. Everyone remains sitting in a circle. Everyone acts like they are hiding the object. We call the detective back into the room (once again with a boisterous “We’re ready!”) and then the detective tries to figure out which child is hiding the item.

There are many, many more games...I could blog for awhile on get my drift! I credit Responsive Classroom with many of these ideas - and they have many more suggestions. There are many resources, really, and I keep adding to my repertoire, to keep circle time engaging and active.

I know games are great for helping children to socialize with each other. I know they are a fun way to learn such skills as sequencing, routines, rhymes, linguistics, numbers, planning, and logic. If the Wall Street Journal article is right, I might also be preventing dementia!