Tuesday, May 29, 2012

SOL Humor as Discipline?

A little story that makes me chuckle, for this Slice of Life Tuesday -

Several children were playing in our large cardboard car, having a grand time together.
I heard one call out, "Let's go to California!"

All of a sudden, from the back seat, someone was throwing plastic golf balls across our classroom. 
(We use these balls with our ramps...and, clearly, for more impish behaviors as well.) 
Throwing balls across the classroom is not an okay thing to do in the Big Cats preschool classroom - children get hit unexpectedly, projects get toppled unexpectedly, and the mood in the room changes unexpectedly.

Time to intervene!

I immediately squat down, with my hands on pretend motorcycle handles, and I rev my pretend bike, with  a police siren, too. "Whoooooooo Whooooooo!" my police siren calls out, as I move up alongside the cardboard car.

Leo, Oscar, and Gideon, playing in the car, look at me with total surprise.

I stop alongside the driver's door and say,
"Sir, I need your license and registration.  You are throwing golf balls from your back seat and that is against the law on these highways."

Gideon, in the driver seat, is stunned - 
"But, I'm the father, I didn't do it; it's my baby boys in the back seat, Leo and Oscar did it."

I continue, "Well, sir, as you know, drivers are always responsible for what goes on in their car.  Fathers are responsible for the behavior of their baby boys.  I'm going to have to give you a ticket and a big fine."

Leo and Oscar both get long faces.

Gideon turns to them and says, 
"You need to get out! We're in trouble.  The police says we can't throw balls.  You were doing it."

Oscar says, 
"It wasn't me! It was Leo."

Leo - to my surprise - jumps out of the car and sits down on a chair in the dramatic play center, arms criss-crossed across his chest, huge pout on his face, and asks "I can't play now?" to Gideon.

Gideon says, 
"Well, take a break.  You can come to California, but you can't throw balls."

Leo says, 
"Okay, I won't throw," and climbs back into the back seat.

Kielan looks up with delight and joins in, 
"Hey, I'll be Uncle Doug and sit in the front seat with you!"

and the whole ball throwing incident becomes a distant and one-time-only memory.

Yes, when possible, I like to be humorous in my discipline.  Children respond delightfully!  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

All about cars

I'm taking some time, this Memorial Day weekend, to write about the fun we have been having with our "Auto Repair" theme for the past many weeks.  All year long, the children have shown a lot of interest in cars, and, since spring break, I have been weaving this car theme into everything we do.

I want to document how I threw myself into 
this exploration, 
this theme, 
this inquiry, 
this emergent curriculum topic, 
letting the children's interests be my guide.  
Additionally, I hope to show how, throughout the fun, I intentionally wove in math, literacy, science, and social skills.  I am more convinced than ever that this is the way children should be taught - with their own interests at the core of their learning.

Now, I am wrestling with my longest blog post ever!!!

Thanks to my college pal Dale and her Chevy dealership, we had some awesome display signs for the dramatic play corner!  Add in a trip to a thrift store, where I spent $20.00 on a multitude of small toy cars, and the Big Cats Auto Repair had begun.  

The children were delighted with the bin of small cars (believe it or not, we had upwards of 100 small cars!).  For days, they made sets, patterns, groups, lines...all the while counting, how many did they have in all?  We look for patterns – all cars, all racecars, all trucks, all SUVs.  

We tried to count all our cars.  We put the cars end to end and went around the circumference of our large table; we had enough cars to create a second ring. 

For a couple of weeks, there was sand in the sensory table, and exactly 20 cars, with a taped parking spot on the table’s edge, for each car.  The children have loved counting these - and often wouldn't let us put the lid on the table until all the cars were back in their places.  As is true of most three and four year olds, some of the trickiest numbers to remember are 11, 12, 13, and that elusive number 15 (I believe it is the most forgotten number of all).  Our abundance of cars has allowed the children to work, work, work at understanding these larger numbers...over and over again, in an authentic, playful way.

Another math activity has been measuring the distances our cars go.  This has also included a lot of science fun, as we set up ramps in various locations and compared the distances the cars went.  First, we used skateboard ramps to test speed and distance of our cars, making predictions and measuring the results.

We also designed our own ramps using wood moulding, blocks,  and other odds and ends. We played around with the slant or angle of the ramps and the driving surface (carpet versus tile).  All the while, the children would tape off which car went how far, and measure the distance in various ways (their footsteps, small blocks, and measuring tapes).

One day, we painted our small cars, detailing them just as we liked.
I was impressed with the focus and attention each car received.  

We had many sensory explorations - including taking these very same newly painted vehicles and introducing them to an impromptu car wash in the sensory table!  So long, tempera!

Regularly, we are pressing small cars in Gak.  Can we cover the car entirely?  Can you guess how many cars are hiding in our Gak?

It wouldn't be my classroom, if we didn't try a bit of engineering!  This time, our influence was the book If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen.  Here, the narrator imagines the super powers and extras he would design into his dream car.  We set out to do the same.  First, we drew our designs:

We spent several days engineering our own small cars with special powers, and each of us wrote our own descriptions.  [In a separate post, I'll share the children's engineering efforts and their vivid descriptions of the powers that their individual cars have - there's no way I should add any more length to this post!]  Once again, engineering provided a playful, engaging opportunity for the children to challenge themselves cognitively, literately, mathematically, and physically (fine motor). 

There have been so many great opportunities for increasing literacy with this theme.  Certainly, our engineering efforts involved a lot of literacy as the children told great stories to describe their car's powers.  Additionally, we've been reading lots of great books about cars, including - 

The Life of a Car by Susan Steggall,

Joyce Slayton Mitchell, and

Cars and How They Go by Joanna Cole.

In my last blogpost, I shared how we went on a walk through the neighborhood to look at traffic signs and then came back and created our own.  The children loved this exploration.  You can see so much about a child's fine motor and literacy skills in these playful efforts.  

One on-going effort in our room is our alphabet wall about cars and auto repair.  We brainstormed everything we knew about cars on a large whiteboard in the classroom, sorting the words by their first letters.  The children are really excited by how many words they were able to brainstorm - and we continue to add to the word list with each new book or discussion that we have.  Truly, auto repair has continued to make our classroom "literacy rich"!

Try as I might, there is no way to list all the fun things we have been doing with cars.  One on-going activity is “tape roads” that we make all over the Gathering carpet, and then the children race small cars on these.  The children are mapping out the roads - thinking about how cities are made.  They build homes and city buildings all over.

Every day, they build many, many houses for our cars, all shapes and sizes, all sorts of stories to go along with them.
This is where the Green Lantern lives.  
This is a police house.  
I have lots of cars in my garage.
A princess pony lives here.

In the midst of all these cars, blocks, and creativity, we've had some tremendous social-emotional learning.  At one point, the big box of cars led to frequent arguments over who got which car, who had too many cars, and other contentious preschooler issues.  To the children's surprise and chagrin, I put the bin of cars away for a couple days.  During this time of deprivation, we brainstormed ways that we might use the cars more successfully.  These were great discussions!  For me, this is the heart of teaching at the preschool level - helping children develop the self-regulation skills to get along with one another.  At one whole group gathering, we did a "guided discovery" with the cars and the ramps, working together to see how they might be used best.  We playfully dramatized some of the arguments and sharing struggles that might occur.  The children suggested:
  • if someone throws a car, ramp, or other thing,
  • if someone hurts somebody else, or
  • if someone is yelling loudly,
then, that child will take a break from the cars.  They have lost the privilege of playing with the small cars for awhile.  Since this group problem-solving, we have had very successful days with the cars, ramps, and blocks.  I've overheard children tell one another, when someone grabs a toy - "You need to take a break." These preschoolers are amending their ways!  This is great social learning.

But let's not forget how much true fun and dramatic play the preschoolers are having!  As detailed in an earlier post, we made one large classroom car – which we can get in and out of.  

[We still haven’t figured out the roof, but we’re trying.  This past week, we painted the car a multitude of colors - "like a rainbow."]

I originally hoped to suspend this large car from the ceiling in our auto repair corner, to pretend to fix it.  However, we are enjoying playing in the car much too much!  We have pretended to drive to California, North Carolina, and New York City.  We bring our laptops, our “playstations,” our cell phones, our money.  We've have pretended to be Mom, Dad, Uncle Doug, baby sister.  The stories go on and on. There is so much to do with a make-believe car!  

The learning will continue for a couple more weeks...our school year ends on June 15th.  I think it is clear that a lot of academics have occurred through this emergent and playful theme.  It bears repeating, I am more convinced than ever that this is the way children should be taught - with their own interests at the core of their learning.  Why teach any other way?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

SOL Stop and Go

I'm determined to share a Slice of Life today!

Yet, my day has been 
herky jerky,
up down,
bits and pieces,
Stop, Go!

A traffic sign by Jackson

We went for a walk yesterday morning, to study the traffic signs around our school.  When we returned, we created a few of our own.  Let me just share a few of the children's adorable traffic signs - these make me smile.  

I love how you see the range of my preschooler's growing skills - 
simply enjoying using scissors and glue, 
writing scribbles, letters, and  words.

Many chose to make a Stop Sign...or the more powerful "STOP, Do Not Enter!"  Perhaps the subliminal message is that preschoolers need control?

"Stop, Do Not Enter" by Eleanor
"Stop" by Sydney
"Stop" by Salma
"Stop" by Ahmad

"Stop, Do Not Enter" by Naia

"Do Not Enter" by Liam
"Stop" by Jordan

"Do Not Enter" by Sukey

There were many unique signs created, as well, reflecting a diversity of interests and concerns:

"Free Playground" by Gideon

"Your dog can play here" by Alex

"Crazy Road for Cars and Trucks" by Lucca 

"Baseball field ahead" by Paul
"Co Amo" by Samiya

I loved Samiya's explanation of this - she read aloud the letters she had written, as if they were words - "Co Amo", she said, "That means you can drive fast."

"No Cars" by Leo

"Go" by Kielan

Well, I achieved my goal of creating a post today.  Forgive me that it isn't really my writing!  There is lots more to share about my preschoolers, but I'm letting them do the sharing today.

Hope you enjoyed!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

I had my preschoolers create individual cards for their beloved Moms, taking the time to find out their individual reasons for loving Mom.  I turned their precious answers into a composite poem.  

Happy Mother's Day!

I love you
you do nice things to me.

I love you
you let me
do skateboard,
ride my scooter when I want to,
ride my tricycle, when I’m going to the park.

I love you
you let me
play after dinner at night,
play computer,
go outside when I want to.

I love you
when I want to go outside and play with my friend,
you let me.

I love you
take me to the park,
play baseball outside with me,
give me things when I am hungry.

I love you
give kisses to me,
give me hugs,
give me kisses and hugs at midnight.

I love you because I love you.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

SOL Let's build a car!

Let me take this "Slice of Life" Tuesday to give you a peek inside the Big Cats preschool classroom, as we create a car, as part of our Auto Repair discovery.

The children decided:

Let's build a race car,
big enough for four people!

So, we started with four small classroom chairs, 
building the car frame around these.

"What does it need?" I asked.

Their list goes on and on:

steering wheel,
trunk (for luggage!),
cup holders,
dvd player,

We set right to work,
challenging ourselves to create these and many more car parts,
to make this car as realistic as
miscellaneous cardboard and newspaper allows.

After five days of center time focus on this work, here's what we have:

There's still plenty more to do.
(Including, a final coat of paint!  We have only primed the vehicle.)
We are having so much fun, creating together.
The learning and discovery is truly delightful.