Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Did the day fly by?

Let's contrast my earlier blog entry - about the pressured environment of public school preschool classrooms - with one about my cooperative preschool. I am wrestling with how different these programs are. Why must they be so different?

Let me tell you about yesterday - we had such fun!

On Mondays this month, I am teaching a "2s theme class," focusing on art and nature...meaning, I spend the morning with a delightful group of 2 (and newly 3) year olds, exploring and playing together.

I only see these children once a week, but I know many things about them individually and developmentally:

- they like to move and act, especially like animals,
- they don't always come right to the art table but prefer other toys in the classroom,
- they think scissors are a very interesting tool and want to practice cutting everything and always,
- they don't land long at any one thing but will return again and again to favorite areas,
- they love music and dancing,
- they laugh and sing as they work, and
- they love it when I am silly with them.

Today, I set up materials to create bird nests, based on a fun learning experience I had seen at a workshop at the National Zoo, wherein you provide a variety of materials for children to create bird nests in their own way. My materials were red clay, ribbons, wire, pipecleaner, yarn, and tape, plus a couple natural items that I thought would last (sticks from by-gone day lilies, and narrow, slender branches from a cedar tree).

Knowing how much young children enjoy scavenger hunts - and knowing that birds are scavengers, too - I decided to "hide" each of the materials throughout my classroom in a variety of oh-so-obvious places for them to find. I took care to set each supply on identical cloth napkins, to help the children focus on the "new, found" item.

When the children arrived, they found a ball of soft red clay at their place at the art table and a pair of scissors. I invited them to be like birds and fly around the room to find treasures with which to create a bird nest, just as birds do. I had special classical music playing, to help us move like birds.

The children were delighted, instantly throwing their arms out to the side as wings, and saying "tweet, tweet," as they raced to find a treasure and bring it back to their clay base. I flew around the room with them. They cut the materials that they found and placed them as they thought best. They molded and mashed other materials into the clay base. We got out a little more clay, to roll and mash and mold like eggs. The children wandered off to play with their favorite toys and then returned to the table to add some more details to their nests. (When they wandered over to the easels, they found feathers had replaced the usual paintbrushes.) We overheard:

"I have a tree in my nest."

"My bird likes pink."

"I need eggs for my nest."

"They have blue eggs."

"Where did you get that?"
"I will show you!,"

and off two children flew together.

As we worked on our nests, we discussed what birds like to eat, where they live, what real nests look like (we saw two in Ms. Jennifer's PreK classroom!), what cats do to birds, what would a mother bird feed her baby bird, what do birds use to build their nests, and many other bird topics. Later, we read many special bird books, including Feathers for Lunch by Lois Ehlert and Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman.

Pardon me - but the morning just flew by. :-)

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