Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why is there gelatin in the sensory table?

Set up:
sensory table, molds of clear gelatin, pipettes, straws, liquid watercolors

Bev Bos



Five minutes:

"What are these?" 
"Why did you put these here, Ms. Ingram?"

Daring to touch.
"It feels like jelly!"
"It feels like a cracker!"

Ten minutes:



"It reflects your fingers."

"It looks like bubbles."

Pipette to gelatin.
"The color goes in!"
"Mine is changing color!"

Twenty minutes:


"The paint is going in! See!"
"Look how many straws I got!"
"It is a birthday cake!"

Thirty minutes:


Breaking gelatin with dropper.
"See, more pieces!"
"It's swippery!" [sic]

Forty minutes:  All in!

Boisterous laughter.
Hands together.

Fifty minutes:


"Yuck. I am not touching that."
"It is gooeey oooey, I don’t like it." [Big smile, but NOT touching.]

One, undeterred. 
Searching for more materials to extend the play – 
Oh, funnels!  Yes!”  

Sixty minutes:  Done.

Let's clean out the table....

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What about balls and ramps?

When the children returned to school after our winter break, I introduced a new center:  balls and ramps.  This idea is taken directly from my wonderful conference with Bev Bos this past summer, wherein she provides seemingly endless quantities of:

  • 1-inch cove moulding
  • wood blocks
  • cardboard tubes
  • other odds and ends for support beams and tunnels
and she lets the children explore these.  

I have long been a fan of cardboard tubes and balls, and I typically spend a good month or so exploring these with my preschoolers.  I loved the idea of extending this play with a variety of wood pieces - and I particularly liked the idea of creating a "discovery area" for this exploration, one which would be available to the children at their choosing.

Here's how Bev stored all the odds and ends for children to create ramps:

Here are two photos of the fun we teachers had with balls and ramps at Bev's conference this summer:

When I returned from the July conference, I asked my husband (Tony) if we had any such "1-inch cove moulding"... soon thereafter, he was in Atlanta visiting our brother-in-law, who just so happens to be a trim carpenter, and together they went through his workshop searching for pieces of wood moulding that might work with marbles, ping pong balls, or plastic golf balls.  Tony carried home a suitcase full of moulding for me to use in my classroom this year - and with that kind of effort, I won't quibble about it being larger than 1-inch.  The children are having a blast with these loose pieces, creating ramps throughout the classroom in all sorts of unusual ways.  Here are some photos with the preschool "Big Cats" this month:

Perhaps you are wondering what are the children learning with such play?  Well, let me help you:
  • Mathematics, including counting, quantifying, comparing and measuring, and understanding spatial relationships,
  • Cognitive skills, including attending and engaging, persistence, curiosity, motivation, predicting, and inventing,
  • Social emotional skills, including self-regulation, working with peers, and taking turns,
  • Science, including cause and effect and how things work, and
  • Love of learning!!
And here are some of the things I've overheard the children say, as they work with the balls and ramps:

"This is really working..."
"I have an even cooler idea...watch, it falls down, and goes like this..."
"What are you building, Sydney? May I build with you?"
"Ha, ha, ha, Lucca, that's great!  Whoa! Look! I did it, too!"
"Let me tell you how this works.  Here's how it goes. You have to drop it and bounce it, first."
"Let's finish this. Let's do it!"
"Did you see these?  Look, it opens!"
"What I wanted to do was add these two together...but...oh, here it goes!"

Yes, balls and ramps are here to stay.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What to do with the Tiggers?

It happens so very quickly. He moves so very quickly. Highly-reactive, in a physical way! Today's example, he is carrying his lunch debris to the trash can; he pauses to look at the book that the Teaching Resident is reading to a small group of children. Another child moves into his line of vision. WHUMP! He throws an empty milk container at this child and then the rest of his trash. I am furious. There is milk and rice on the carpet. He just can't help himself; he never plans to react this way. If he sat and thought about it, he wouldn't do it. He is very sorry. It's just impulse. Throw! Shove! Hit! Smack!  

He sees I'm upset and he runs away, to the other side of the room.

Another day with my Tigger.

They are exhausting to teach.
They are exhausting to parent.


Yes, you know...as in A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh:
The wonderful thing about Tiggers
Is Tiggers are wonderful things
Their tops are made out of rubber
Their bottoms are made out of springs
They're bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy,
fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

For many teachers (and parents) this is truly "challenging behavior."

For many teachers (and parents) this is behavior that should be tamped down on.

I'm here to say:
Enough with the scolding! Let's seek to understand.

This is very, very common behavior.
Developmentally "within the range."
Not in the least surprising to me.
It is very common for three year old children
(often, but not always, boys)
to be highly physical, reactive, and impulsive.

In a much earlier blogpost, I described multiple intelligences as defined by Howard Gardner  (Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Naturalist, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal).  Let's highlight one:

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence. Breakfast table squirmers and the first on the playground, they pick up knowledge through bodily sensations. Athletically gifted, they show interest in sports, dance, acting - anything physical. They communicate using gestures and body language, like to act out their thoughts and are clever mimics. Occasionally they express their skills in crafts like woodworking or sewing. Without appropriate outlets, they may be labeled hyperactive. Learning comes with touching and moving. Motivate them through "role play, dramatic improvisation, creative movement and all kinds of physical activity," says Armstrong. Hands-on activities are their learning opportunities.

This year, I have several "Bodily-Kinesthetic Intellects" in my class.
They are perky and fun a lot of the time. But exhausting.
They learn with their bodies.
They discover with their bodies.
They hurt without realizing it.

What do I do in my classroom to support these students?

How do I discipline these physical, reactive, impulsive friends?

I honestly think that it is very likely that different temperaments, different intelligences require different discipline approaches.
No two children are exactly alike - why should our discipline be one rigid, unwavering way?
Tailor the discipline to the child.

With these "Tiggers", I try to:

  • let some of the small stuff go - no need to tamp down on every little mis-step
  • recognize and compliment when they show restraint, 
  • be a calm force in a reactive field (and forgive myself when I fail!),
  • minimize my words, 
  • lose my moralizing tone, 
  • take them by the hand and engage them in a moving, physical activity with a simple "Let's go..."
  • give them a physical outlet - a simple walk down the hall with me, or washing out paintbrushes, or wiping tables - before I speak to them about the "wrong-doing,
  • be present and quiet, alongside them - give them a chance to open up.

When the child is calm, and I am there beside him/her, I try to encourage reflection and amends.  Dan Hodgins  suggests that you help the child recognize the problem:

1. Ask, "what happened just before you hit Jamie?"
2. Restate what is the real problem, "Jamie took your truck and you are not done with it."
3. Help with solutions, "Jamie could ask first," "You could hit this box," or you could say, "This is mine and I'm not done yet."

I also find it helpful to teach my whole class about our different temperaments - and all the different ways that people show anger and frustration.  I teach children to give one another "wide berth" when one is frustrated or angry.  

Last, but not least, I try to step back and think about the individual child and the overall classroom experience that day - to reflect upon personal struggles the child might be having, plus, how many physical outlets I have provided, and how many "powerful things" I've allowed the children to do.  Am I providing an environment that allows children to learn self-regulation?  As Bev Bos, Michael Leeman, and Dan Hodgins emphasized in the "Good Stuff for Kids" conference this past summer:

the more "powerful" experiences that you give to children, the more self-regulation they acquire, and the less discipline issues that arise.

What does it mean to support or provide power for a preschooler? I know I already shared these from Bev, Michael, and Dan, but they are so important that I'm going to repeat them again here:

  • Jumping
  • Hammering and sawing (using real tools - with adult guidance)
  • Provide lots of physical space
  • Ziplines
  • A variety of movable objects
  • Ladders
  • Climbing walls
  • Allow children to raise their voices, to be louder than you want
  • Have a loud space (not just a calm down space)
  • Visual guidance (rather than adult voice)
  • Allow children to take things back and forth between centers/areas of the room
  • Give children choices; be flexible with them
  • Sword fighting with rolled-up newspapers
  • Ignore healthy "bullying" between children- such as - "Hey, go get that block for me" (retire the teacher's voice re: bossiness - especially if it's not an issue for the receiver)
  • Put out pretend fires
  • Construction - in as big space as possible (most workbenches are too small)
  • Crates for pulling and filling
  • Rough-housing and tumble play
  • Clay pounding
  • Singing
  • Dressups - especially capes
  • Tug of war
  • Arm wrestling
  • "London Bridge"
  • "Motorboat"
  • "Red Rover, Red Rover"
  • Boxes for kicking
  • Running
  • Handshaking!

Whew!  Yes, Tiggers can be challenging.
There's no single approach or technique that creates a perfect day every day.
Patience, understanding, and compassion are essential.

A final word of advice from Bev Bos:

When you are struggling with what to do, just gently hold the child's hand and look at it, study it. You'll know what to do, with your eyes on that sweet gentle hand.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What if a spaceship grabbed you?

We had another wonderful engineering exploration this past week.  The special book was Alistair in Outer Space by Marilyn Sadler, a completely fictional tale that I have fond memories of reading to my own boys many years back.

"Alistair was a sensible boy.  He made lists of things he was going to do and lists of things he was not going to do."

It is one of those books that humors adults as well as children.  I decided it would make an excellent starting point for engineering...

I read up to the point that dear Alistair is happily walking along the street to the library, to return his books on time, when, suddenly, a spaceship filled with Goots, snatches him up into outer space.  And then I closed the book.

With their rapt attention, I whispered, 
"We have a problem."
Total silence filled the room.  

The children just stared at me, wide-eyed.
What?! We aren't going to find out what happened?! 

"We have an engineering problem.  We are engineers.  We know how to fix things.  What can we build that will prevent Alistair from being taken up into space?"

As usual we would use nothing but recyclables.  Alistair was represented by a small paper "doll" I had created - "this figure needs to fit into your device." After our devices were built, we would test the devices by using a small fan as the spaceship - could they prevent Alistair from being blown away?

Immediately, there was a chorus of voices as the children brainstormed how to solve the problem.  As usual, I was mesmerized by the diversity of thoughtful ideas and creativity expressed by these young children.  They are problem-solvers!

Eleanor asserted, "We need to put some weights on Alistair, something heavy like rocks, so that he cannot be taken by the spaceship."

Lucca created a rocket ship and said, “It’s a rocket ship.  This is a shooting thing and this is for battles.  He’ll climb in this, and he’ll be crying, and he’ll stop crying and be safe in this rocketship.

Billy created a rocket ship and said, “Mine is big and has a lot of tape.  He jumps in it and it flies up and away. And he gets away fast.  It is a rocket ship.”

Alex made a pool and said, “I am making a pool for him to jump in and hide.  No, he doesn’t go in there.  The spaceship falls in the pool and it gets stuck to the tape.  And Alistair is safe.”

Salma created a device to hide Alistair and said, “He jumps into here and he goes climbing towards here and jumps down, then he goes over here.  Then he goes back here and hids.  He stays safe.

Naia created a sled and said, “This is a sled; it goes really fast as a rocket ship or a car.  Alistair has it with him.  It has a special extra – pieces of tape, so it can stick to the ground.  And when it’s time to go fast, they come up, and it goes up in the air.

Gideon created a device that releases a parachute and said, “Alistair climbs onto this and climbs up and goes across and falls in here.  And, the parachute jumps out and he lands back at the library, so he can get his book.

Paul built a device to make the spaceship crash and said, “The library is broken by the spaceship.  This device, it has a hose to spray the spaceship.  And it makes it fall by the water.  Alistair jumps on it.”

Samiya created a device to hide Alistair and said, “He jumps on it and lies down.  He hides.  It can’t find him.  The string wraps him and keeps him stuck.”

Sukey created a rocket ship and said, “Alistair jumps on it.  It is a rocket ship.  It saves him. It comes.”

Oscar created a car and said, “There is a car.  He jumps into it and stays in because it is a racing car.  It gets away fast.  Oscar is the driver of the car.  It even has a remote control steering wheel and makes the TV go on.”

Yes, it was a wonderful engineering exploration.  This is true learning through play.  Although they are laughing and talking and, to the untrained eye, simply cutting and taping recyclables, the children are:

  • thoughtfully planning what to build and then following through, which are essential school-readiness skills;
  • orally writing and editing descriptions of their projects (I not only take notes on what they build, but read these aloud to the children, allowing them to refine or modify their ideas);
  • collaborating with one another about how to improve their projects (developing real team-work skills);
  • attending, focusing, and persisting on their ideas - work habits that will serve them well in future years of schooling; 
  • cutting and manipulating tape and cardboard - essential fine-motor skills, which will actually help them in holding writing tools; and
  • developing essential literacy skills, as they consider who are the main characters in a story and what is the main problem or plot. 

With all this rich learning, let's remember:  let them play, let them play, let them play! 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King!

I had been feeling quite timid about having a forthright discussion about Martin Luther King with my three year olds. We "threes" teachers had discussed how best to have this discussion with our young students.

Obviously, there was no need to go into graphic detail about the demonstrations, the violence, his assassination. Leave this to future years of schooling, a more appropriate developmental age.

At the same time, as I told my Teaching Resident, Martin Luther King should be a thread woven into the fabric of what we do in the classroom, supporting us, always present. His approach to resolving conflicts is the approach we have in our school. His standing up for justice, asserting himself, standing up for what is right is a skill I want to nurture in my students. I want them to question authority, to dare to challenge the norm - not simply to be oppositional, but because they are thoughtful, reflective people who seek fairness. I work to create a classroom environment where we have frequent discussions - at whole group time, with small groups of children, and one on one - about why we do things a certain way, how best to make make amends, whether something is right or wrong, what is fair, and what ideas do we have to make things better. I believe it is important for the children to see me make mistakes and to hear me apologize when I do something hurtful. It is essential to hear different opinions and ideas from one another and learn that is okay, and to learn to be respectful of our differences. All of these are me "weaving Dr. King into my daily program."

I am inspired by my colleague Tsitsi, our Pre-K teacher, who shared her lovely curriculum with me about Martin Luther King. Tsitsi experienced her daughter being the only African American in an early childhood program and since that time has made it her own personal goal to not let this discussion be ignored or set aside. Using an anti-bias approach, she is forthright about our nation's history (at a developmental appropriate level), and encourages discussions about differences and similarities, what is just, and how to resolve conflicts. When I popped into her room last week, the children were creating a large school bus with multicultural faces at all windows of the bus - a bus for everyone. Delightful.

Tsitsi's insightful approach fueled me. For our read aloud yesterday, I read Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney and asked them to think about why is Martin Luther King a hero?

(There are many books for children about Martin Luther King - I loved the simple, direct writing by Jean Marzollo and I am particularly drawn to the artwork by J. Brian Pinkney. The beautiful illustrations are created with scratchboard and oil pastels.)

When I read about whites and blacks being separate - sitting in different parts of the bus, attending different schools - the children gave that part of the story an immediate "thumbs down" - as is our classroom ritual whenever we hear or see something that isn't right. When I read about this being the law, they looked at me very puzzled, not understanding. I had the sense that I was reading a fantastic tale from which their daily lives are much removed.

The children were delighted by J. Brian Pinkney's illustration of Dr. King's speech in Washington, D.C., at the Lincoln Memorial, showing the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument. One after another and all at once they exclaimed,

"I live there!"
"I live in Washington, D.C.!",
"I have been to the Washington Monument!"
"I know that place!"

Yes, three year olds are a very sweet and simple age. The world is oh so good.

I named Martin Luther King as a true hero, because he dared to speak up about things that were wrong, insisting that things needed to change. He challenged people to behave better. I emphasized that he never hurt anybody in trying to get what he wanted. I did a little bit of preaching,

"It's the same thing we do here in the Big Cats' classroom, " I said,
"We use our words, not our hands, when we are angry.
We speak up and tell our classmates, 'I don't like that.'

As our discussion concluded, one student exclaimed,
"Wow! And I thought superheroes always fly!"

Perhaps there are many different ways to fly.
I am soaring at how invisible the pain in our world is to these children.
They have families who love them dearly and
classrooms where they are safe, nourished, trusted, and challenged.

May this provide the strong foundation for them to be future leaders who seek to solve disparities in our world.