Friday, September 21, 2012

What about walking to the park?

Outside play is an important and truly essential part of a preschooler's day.  However, our new school location does not include a playground.

Obviously, this impacts the way I plan outdoor play and exploration for my preschoolers.

The local playground is only 2 blocks away, and my colleagues and I began making plans for how to teach preschoolers to walk to and from this place safely.  We received walking ropes, to help them travel.

Before school began, it seemed very likely that a daily playground trip would be very doable.

But I have learned so much since then!

It is the local playground for three local schools.  This means, we not only have to factor in distance and time for this fun, but there is an unpredictable organizational/scheduling component, a need to be flexible - to be able to walk away - should too many other school children be at the same small location at the exact same time.  (Imagine telling your class of preschoolers that you are not stopping at the playground, after they have just walked - from their perspective - a long way to get there!)

The first day we used the walking rope, we practiced within the school building only, up and down the hallways.  I have partnered each of the children, two holding on to one ring of the rope, encouraging the pairs to look out for one another, reminding one another to hold steady on the ring.

For me, in the lead, with my hand on the first ring, it feels like a resistance weight workout, trying to move 22 preschoolers simultaneously.  By week's end, my body is exhausted from these daily sessions.

But this is not a cardio workout - for any of us!

Our first trek outside with the walking rope ended up being a 40 minute excursion.  The children were delighted and delightful.  They called out to trucks, using their free hand to give a big, boisterous wave...on that first trek, we saw a postal truck, a moving truck, a firetruck, an ambulance, our school's lunch delivery truck, three dump trucks, and a tow truck.  There were animals to see as well - we saw a cat, several dogs being walked by their owners, and lots of birds.  Plus, there were so many homes and businesses to study - one classmate lives a mere four doors away, so we had to make a special stop there for oohing and aahing; other places had planters, small gardens, sculpture and art.  Every single thing that the children observed resulted in the entire walking rope coming to a complete standstill so that children could point, wave, chatter.  Yes, we went on a 40 minute excursion that very first day and we went exactly 1/2 a block.

The children had made so many wonderful observations, they had been respectful and taken care of one another, they had a lovely dose of fresh air.  But, gross motor muscles? Cardio workout?

So I am looking at outside time a little differently now.  I have scheduled an outdoor walk for the exact same time each day - there will be daily fresh air - but I adjust the length of the adventure as needed.  On days when we have dance class or access to the indoor play space (for running and moving), I shorten the walk and create a particular learning goal or purpose for the adventure.  I have decided to identify different purposes for each outing, and to document the learning.

This past week, I read the children the book Before John Was A Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford, which imagines the childhood of John Coltrane and emphasizes what an extraordinary listener he was and how he wove the sounds of his environment into his music.  It is a great book for preschoolers at the outset of a school year, as it poignantly illustrates the value of listening.  We now go on regular listening walks, stopping ourselves along the way and purposely practicing going quiet and then reporting on our observations - the sounds we heard.  There has been great learning about the difference between naming what you see (example, a truck) and hearing the actual sound (vrmmm, vrmmm).

We are considering all the ways to work math learning on these treks - perhaps keeping a running total of the different types of trucks we see, making predictions about what we will see, or walking until we see "x" number of a certain thing.

At least twice a week, we will make it to the playground to run and play.  There is a baseball field next to the playground, and we have run bases and played other games here.  (What a delight to see the children run in such an open space!)

Although not every walk results in running around freely in a wide open space, we are finding other magic and learning.

13th & Florida:
A Jazz Poem by the Big Cats

Honk honk, vrmmm vrmmm
Eeeeaw eeaw
Trstpp! Trstpp! Trspp!
Waaa, waaa, waa!
Bee bee beep beep
Baaahnp, Baaahnp, Baaahnp
Unh, unh
Zoom, zoom, zoom
Eck eck hrmph hrmph
Brwang, brwang
Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!
Alaya, alaya, alaya blmp blmp
Ah – ah – ah – ah
Mmmm mmmm mmmm

[These are the sounds we heard as we walked; they include trucks, buses, helicopter, power drills, coughs, hammers, birds, and many more.]

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How are they supposed to sleep?

My classroom has a long expanse of beautiful windows, some 30 feet, floor to ceiling, alongside a very active alley.
Fabulous, right?
Yes, the light is lovely.

There is lots to see.
I've begun keeping a running list of what the children see in the alley.
I want to get some binoculars for all along the windowsill, to encourage observation.

Many delivery trucks come down the alley.
There is a high school on the other side of the alley from us, so we see students, teachers, lots of people.
There have been bicycles and skateboarders.
It is quite fascinating to preschoolers

Unfortunately, it remains so during nap time.

A darkened room is an essential environmental clue for preschoolers that nap is about to begin.

There is so much light in my room that when I turn off the overhead fluorescents, no one notices.  (I often don't bother turning them on.)

I was told during the summer that room-darkening shades would be installed in my classroom as part of the building remodeling.
But, the contractors are gone,
we are in our fourth week of school, and
nap time has been near impossible.

On our very best day, half the class fell asleep.  (We had played many running games on a nearby field.)

Check out this visitor during a recent nap:

Yes, that would be a backhoe/power shovel inches away from "trying to sleep" Big Cats.  Everyone sat up in their beds, with a squeal, "Look!"

Six times, back and forth, the backhoe/power shovel lumbered by,  picking up large pieces of concrete from a construction site at the end of the alley and carrying these out.  As it moved out of the alley, the backhoe/power shovel made its backup warning sound "baaahnn, baaaahn," and construction workers guided it past parked cars, barking "All clear!, that's good!"

This is the stuff of preschooler dreams - construction equipment in action.

With the exception of a few who had fallen asleep before the construction equipment came down the alley, the children were either out of their beds, pointing and exclaiming, or standing on their cots, huge grins.  There was no going to sleep now!

I'm investing in curtains...these children and their teacher need nap time for napping!!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

An extraordinarily beautiful idea

Somewhere in the midst of my Back to School night rap with families, I bored myself.
This year (like all years?),
I felt as if I had no time to prepare...

moving into our space just five days before the start of school,
lost/caught up in a whirlwind of unpacking boxes and preparing the room,
welcoming new students and families,
busy at home with my youngest entering his senior year of high school,
my husband away, traveling for work,
my aging parents whose care I am coordinating from afar,
a personal goal to contain my "working at home on classroom stuff" to more respectful, family-friendly levels...

all this whirlwind of life
left me insistent that I would make no big deal of this year's Back to School night, but, instead,
corral my preparations to small moments of time allotted beforehand, and
draw on my years of practice and expertise in these events.

In the midst of this, I was handed a list of
"don't forget to mention"
by my principal, and, somehow,
these small extras became the gist of my talk with families.

I had not located any of my Back to School files from yesteryear...

Where were the handouts on
how children learn best?
how to help your child transition to preschool?
the power of friends?
the value of social-emotional learning?
the value of play?
how the brain develops?

So there it was,
Back to School night,
and my agenda was basically the list of reminders from my principal.

What I had was information on:
drop off and pick up,
nutrition guidelines,
clothing guidelines,
our specials schedule,
the school calendar.


Yes, somewhere in the midst of my Back to School night rap with families, I bored myself.
And I went off script.

I had the families share about their child and themselves,
we played a get-to-know-each-other game, and
each family made an acrostic poem about their child,
which I am turning into a beautiful paper quilt on one wall of our classroom.

The evening served it's main purpose - helping families feel connected.  It was not my most polished effort ever.  However, it is a good start.  There is lots of time ahead for more sharing with one another.

Let me add some "wonder and magic" from my new colleague next door, Aisha Bhatty, a Reggio-inspired teacher -
she had each of her preschoolers paint a picture for their families.
At Back to School night,
she provided the families the same paint and materials as the preschoolers and
asked the families to recreate their child's painting.

This is such an extraordinarily beautiful idea for Back to School.

It sends the powerful message of
slowing down and observing,
being present with your child,
trying to truly "be" with your  child,
seeing and understanding how you child works, focuses, learns.

Is there a more important message for families?

And for teachers.
Slow down.
Be present.