Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What are you thankful for?

Thanksgiving is upon us!

I seek out each preschooler individually, and
pose the simple question
"What are you thankful for?" -

I am thankful for the food,
chicken on the bone, and pasta, and cooking on these days.
I’m thankful for my pound cake.
The last day it was my birthday and I said “thanks.”

I am thankful
I’m going home to see my Mommy and Daddy, and I am really thankful for going to see my cat.
I am thankful for my Mommy,
my Daddy,
I am thankful I am going to play baseball with my Mommy and my Grandpa and my Daddy,

I am thankful for trucks,
an airplane toy,
shaving cream,
Thomas and Diesel, and let me tell you something else – a shark eating Thomas!
I am thankful for giving me my Snoopy, when I wanted my Snoopy in the bed last night.
I am thankful for shots.
I am thankful for Easter and eggs, and I am excited for all these things.

I am thankful for pandas,
flowers and trees.
I am thankful when someone gives me a present.

I see the children wrestling with the concept of "thankful,"
with their responses slow and thoughtful.
Thankful is new and unfamiliar.
Is this question about birthdays, when we say thanks for gifts?
Does thankful mean food? What is our favorite Thanksgiving food?
Perhaps being thankful is about the sheer delight of certain things?
Is thankful the same as who do you love?
Perhaps thankful is all this and more.

I am thankful for children who remind me how much there is to learn and know,
how big and special is this world,
that the smallest things matter.

I am thankful for today's fun,
hanging out and laughing together under a fabric parachute.
All of us, huddled together.
Such a simple,
surprising, and
silly moment.
Preschoolers full of joy and delight.
A small moment,
a moment to treasure.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Is it time for the Three Little Pigs?

Yes, the Three Little Pigs is one of my favorite engineering stories.  I believe this is my ninth year of sharing this particular lesson with little ones - and it continues to rock!

The preschoolers were challenged to design and build a house using only cardboard recyclables.  Because this was engineering - and not simply an opportunity to create a sculpture - each cardboard house was subjected to a test:  could the Big Bad Wolf blow the house over?  Much to the delight of the children, the Big Bad Wolf was a blowdryer.

Here's what the children built:






(Sarah Lydia)

















My favorite "nuggets" from this year's Three Little Pigs engineering effort, in no particular order:

  • I closed the book midway through, with my traditional "engineering story" pronouncement ("We are closing the book because we have a problem to fix - what is the problem?") and the children squealed - "Ms. Ingram, you can't close the book!  The wolf is going to blow the house down!"  [Me - "You are right!  That is the problem!  The wolf is going to blow the house down.  We need to build a house that he cannot blow down."  The children were mesmerized.]
  • The delight on children's faces as they worked freely with the tape, scissors, and cardboard, designing as they pleased.
  • Watching children become totally transfixed by adding details to their projects, only to have them cover up - or undo - these details in the final product.
  • Children working together, helping one another cut tape and hold pieces onto their projects.
  • Overhearing Jack and Arlando talking about the engineering cycle, as they woke up from their naps (Jack - "I really like to find the problem, which is step one, you know, and I like to build, which is step three."  Arlando - "Well, there are five steps in engineering. I saw it on the board.")
  • Sophie deciding that she was no longer going to make a house for the pig, but "something pretty that I like."
  • The excitement as we tested each of the projects, re-living the script "Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in!" , "Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin!" and then the blowdryer turning on, trying to blow over the house.
  • The stunned looks and quiet classroom when several projects failed - and the children's great ideas for their classmates on how to improve their projects ("it needs more at the bottom," "you need to add more pieces").   For me, one of the most important aspects of this playful engineering is that it provides children a safe and fun way to learn from failure.
  • Children asking to get the recyclables and tape out again so that they could add more details to their projects and try the test again.  
  • Dillon asking his Mom, at pick up, if he could use her blowdryer when he got home....
  • Overhearing the children repeat the story, over and over, to one another, for the next couple of days, voicing and acting the different parts.

We'll do lots more engineering this year, but this was a grand kickoff! These children are thinking like engineers....

I always feel as if I should share "credits" for this engineering curricula:

All the engineering exploration that I do with preschoolers began with:

Fall 2003 NAEYC Conference, Chicago, Illinois
Workshop on “Children’s Engineering,” led by Vince Walencik and Liz Kendall of Montclair StateUniversity, New Jersey

Here's an interesting tidbit - Vince Walencik and Liz Kendall said that New Jersey required their early childhood teachers to take a technology and engineering course for children...

I wonder if that is still true?
I wonder why that isn't true everywhere?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Learning how to juggle

Because you can only learn to juggle step by step, juggling is a great
model for learning in general.

We learn to juggle drop by drop. It is not through success, but through many small mistakes (drops) that we learn to juggle. We learn from these mistakes and keep on trying until we accomplish the skill. Through juggling we learn that with practice we can accomplish great things. 

Upon arrival to school, you receive a text message from your teaching assistant - she has missed her commuting connections; she is going to arrive late.

Deep cleansing breath.
Learning how to juggle.
Several plates in the air.

Photo person drops by your classroom before school with surprise instructions - please have parents review these proofs, check off if they want picture, and, if they don't, have them take a new form to set a new sitting date...I'll be back at end of day to collect this information from you.  How can you continue the planned morning activities and still get this information from families (without a teaching assistant to help)?

Deep cleansing breath.
Learning how to juggle.
Several plates in the air.

Quick, make sign for families, add reminder to daily message, hope that it takes care of itself....

Your principal says your report cards are overdue and she needs them right away; you feel certain you posted them on the school's Dropbox some ten days ago...hmmm.

Deep cleansing breath.
Learning how to juggle.
Several plates in the air.

Quick, take a minute to search... There they are - you inadvertently placed them in the wrong folder; you need to upload them again; you can fix this during the children's nap-time....

You shared the new specials schedule with families, celebrating the addition of a P.E. class; children and families arrive expecting this class, but you have just found out that - for unknown reasons - P.E. isn't starting this week.  So, do you pop everyone's bubble?

Deep cleansing breath.
Learning how to juggle.
Several plates in the air.

No, you decide to take children to the P.E. room and do an improvised P.E. of your own.  You've never led a class in this room before - the heating system has such a loud and unexpected growl, the children cannot hear a word you are saying....

Deep cleansing breath.
Learning how to juggle.
Several plates in the air.

You dare to strain your voice, projecting over the heating system. As if on cue, one child's nose starts to bleed and bleed and bleed - and you don't have any tissues in this room, there's no bathroom nearby, and there are 21 classmates throwing balls....

Deep cleansing breath.
Learning how to juggle.
Several plates in the air.

Back in the classroom, nosebleed is stopped, children are at centers, teaching assistant has arrived; you should call the child's family, to be certain that the nosebleed is a common experience and not some new, unusual thing.  You go to the family contact folder...hmmm...this family's telephone number is missing from your contact info folder....

Deep cleansing breath.
Learning how to juggle.
Several plates in the air.

You go to the principal's office to get the family's current info; there is a big meeting in the principal's office which you will be interrupting....

Deep cleansing breath.
Learning how to juggle.
Several plates in the air.

You get the file and go to photocopy it - but someone's in the midst of a big photocopying job....

Deep cleansing breath.
Learning how to juggle.
Several plates in the air.

There is a new phone on the wall of your classroom, allowing you to call families and continue working with the children...you dial out, but there is so much happy noise in the classroom that you cannot hear a darn thing on the other end.  You hang up.   Admin person runs in from reception area - I'm transferring a call to you from someone's mother, pick up your phone!  It turns out, you can't hear the new phone ring, either. You pick up phone, and continue to hear nothing.  You dart back to the reception area. Admin is not happy - I just put the call through to you!  Back you run to your classroom....

Deep cleansing breath.
Learning how to juggle.
Several plates in the air.

As you talk to the family, you scan the classroom, keeping eyes on the children...ahhh,
  • two students standing ineptly on the side of play activity, unable to negotiate the wide gulf of friendship, how to play together, how to join in; if you weren't on the phone, you could work some magic;
  • a couple children are running wildly around in the classroom, squealing, taking advantage of you being on the phone, giving all the signals that they need another location or another play idea; if you weren't on the phone, you could work some magic;
  • one child begins screaming loudly - he has just spilled water from his water bottle on his clothes and he detests this cold sensation; you know he will not be consoled until he has changed his clothes; if you weren't on the phone, you could work some magic;
  • two classmates run up to you with lots to share, talking over one another, ignoring your signal to hold their thoughts just for one moment, calling out, so excited, so elated...if you weren't on the phone, you could work some magic;
  • one child begins emptying math manipulatives from the cabinet, one by one, trying to find the perfect one with which to play? A pile of loose, small, mixed-up pieces begins to grow; aack! if you weren't on the phone....
Deep cleansing breath.
Learning how to juggle.
Several plates in the air.


Finally, nap-time.
You are certain that you'll get a moment of calm now.
You have to get to those report cards!

Except, one child; he does not want to take a nap; yesterday, he had an accident during nap and he doesn't want to repeat this; he needs several repeat trips to the bathroom before he feels calm enough to fall asleep. Finally, he falls asleep. Also, the few remaining restless ones fall asleep.  Yes!

As if on cue, a child wakes up crying from a bad dream....

This is just one of those days....


At day's end -

Take home folders are not stuffed and ready to go.
One child's jacket and another child's winter hat are completely, utterly lost.
There is something unknown spilled all over the floor in the snack area.
Not one family has signed the photo log, to indicate whether or not they want photos.
Principal has not received the report cards.

Truth is, somedays, you are not a skilled juggler.
Tomorrow's another day.

It is not through success, but through many small mistakes (drops) that we learn to juggle. We learn from these mistakes and keep on trying until we accomplish the skill. Through juggling we learn that with practice we can accomplish great things. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Read aloud - Chicken of the Family

Harper came into the classroom squawking like a chicken.  "Bawk! Bawk!"

I asked her,
"Are you a chicken, today?"

"Bawk!  Bawk!," she answered.

"Well, I speak chicken.  Let me tell you what I did this morning," I joked. "Bawk! Bawk! Bawk!, Bawk! Bawk!, Bawk! Bawk! Bawk! Bawk! Bawk!," all the while doing hand motions for the various parts of my morning routine, such as brushing my teeth, waving goodbye, driving a car.

She couldn't keep a straight face.  She started laughing, and exclaimed,
"Ms. Ingram, you are not a chicken!"

I knew I had the perfect book for our read aloud. My next-door neighbor is Mary Amato, author of the children's picture book Chicken of the Family. When I told the children that the author of today's story lived next door to me, they stared back in surprise. I told them that she had a special room - a studio - where she wrote books..."all day long, she writes books, much like some of us work all day long, writing and drawing at our special table." The children were amazed.

This was the first time I have ever read Chicken of the Family aloud to children. I have shied away from reading this story because of its topic. It is a (somewhat autobiographical) story of older sisters teasing their youngest sister, Henrietta, insisting that the little girl was not human, but actually a chicken.

It seemed to me a book for slightly older children than the preschoolers I teach. I feared the content was too intense for my three year old preschoolers. What do they know about teasing? Isn't teasing the stuff of siblings? Isn't it a bad idea to introduce the concept of teasing to my little ones? I didn't think it was relevant to my preschool class - they seemed too young to understand. Certainly, I didn't want to cultivate teasing....

But come on, a main character who is told she is a chicken? On the same day that my student comes to school squawking like a chicken? It was time to read the book aloud. I dove in.

From the very first pages, Henrietta's sisters are teasing her. There was no avoiding this concept! The children and I discussed the difference between teasing and joking. A vibrant discussion ensued. I explained that a joke is funny to the person who says it and to the person who hears it, but that teasing is funny only to the one who says it. It makes the other person feel badly. The Big Cats really understood this. I added that sometimes you might think you are making a joke and it feels like a tease to the other person - and we definitely need to say we're sorry then. I shared,

"The other day, I joked with Sayid that I was going to turn him into a frog, and he got scared and very sad, and I realized that what I said was not a joke but a tease, and I apologized to him and I'm going to try not to make that mistake ever again.  Sayid did not think what I said was funny."

[Sayid beamed with pride when I shared this true story.]

"So, probably, maybe, everybody teases.  But they shouldn't.  Certainly, everybody makes mistakes, and we just need to say, 'Oh, I made a mistake.  I am sorry.'  And try real hard to be better."

The children had so much to share:

"Mama and Papa don't tease me." [Ferdinand]
"My Mommy says no teasing in our house." [Ellington]
"Look, the girl on the pillow, in the bed, sad." [Dillon]
"Nobody ever tease me - No!" [Ebony]
"I don't know why the sisters are laughing at her, I don't know why." [Bella]

The children with older siblings were immediately sympathetic to Henrietta, the youngest sister.

"It was scary.  [My brother] scares me." Nolan chorused.
"Those girls were teasing her and I do not like that." [Arlando]
"Yes!" declared Sarah Lydia, youngest of three, nodding her head in understanding.

According to the story, the big sisters place a raw egg on the Henrietta's mattress plus two loose feathers on the floor; at wake-up, Henrietta is convinced she is a chicken. This illustration (by Delphine Durand) of the raw egg on the bed was profound and upsetting to my class, with many sharing their concerns with me later in the day:

"There was an egg in the bed and I wonder why her two sisters put it there." [Zoe]
"I don't like the part where they put the feathers on the ground." [Charlie]
"The egg in the bed.  She didn't know the egg was there." [Emma]
"I wonder what would happen if it cracked." [Sophie]
"I was worried the egg was going to crack." [Anya]"
"I was worried a whole building and a dinosaur would crack the egg," Jack said, with a laugh.
"I thought she wanted to crack it if she sleep on it." [Lukas]
"It was a bad thing, that egg in the bed." [Jameson]
"I think the Mom and Dad would be mad to have egg in bed." [Sayid]

I asked the children if they had any thoughts they wanted me to share with my neighbor about her book. They added:

"She thought she was a chicken and she went to a farm." [Reia]
"The sister's on the farm and they say she is a chicken." [Ben]

Harper was captivated by Henrietta playing and dancing with the chickens, saying "I thought the chicken was being silly.  I think that big chicken decided to go around like a chicken dance."

Soren suggested giving the sisters a taste of their own medicine - "I thought the sisters should be chickens and stay with the Farmer so long."

"The sister was happy and she played chicken and she danced,"  Saadiq reasoned. He's only three years old, but he understood what is perhaps the main point of this sweet story - Henrietta made the best of a difficult situation.

It is the sign of a good book when everyone has something to say about it. It is an especially good book when you find yourself talking about it all day long!

Back to my feelings about this book's content/topic  - I underestimated my preschoolers! They thoroughly enjoyed this book. Its message was not too intense but, in fact, relevant and thought-provoking. I'm definitely adding it to my growing library of "must-read books" that wrestle with tougher or darker social-emotional issues. I am reminded of Bev Bos' advice to share and discuss big things with little ones:

"We need to pay attention to what's not easy to teach because it's what kids really need."

Perhaps it is especially beneficial that I read it to preschoolers, being at the age when the concept of teasing is somewhat foreign and not "the norm." Chicken of the Family proved a great book for nurturing children's empathy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What about voting?

In light of the national elections, thought I'd have a little fun.

We had to decide which of two Betta fish to keep, and
which one to give to the other preschool class -
Red Fish or Blue Fish?

So, we took a vote.

The Blue Fish won by one single vote.
Clearly, we have a divided electorate.
The Red Fish would be given to our neighbors.

The divided electorate was not happy.

Several children spoke up when we got the Red Fish ready for its trip next door....

"No, Ms. Ingram, I said we keep the Red Fish."

"Yes, I know that you voted for the Red Fish, but more children voted for the Blue Fish.  We will keep the Blue Fish."

"No, Ms. Ingram, I said we keep the Red Fish.  Not the Blue Fish."

These voters were unable to see past themselves.
These voters have no appreciation or understanding of another point of view.

Perhaps the naming of our Blue Fish would go better?

"Let's brainstorm some names for our class fish...."

The nominations poured in...

Flo fish.
Blue One.

On and on, as many names as there were students.
Yikes, how was this going to work? 

These voters were unable to see past themselves.
These voters have no appreciation or understanding of the other point of view.

"Let's vote..."

I had children vote with their bodies,
with me calling out each nomination one by one,
asking the children to stand when they wanted to vote for the called name, and then
move to the other side of the room,
making their votes visually clear to one and all, and
ensuring that every child only voted once.

Several children were upset that they could not vote again.  Or change their vote.

As you might expect, most fish names got one single vote.

In the end, Sharkie received three votes and won the naming contest.  And yet, upon reflection, had I unwittingly mislead or confused the voters?  Was there lack of clarity in the procedure for voting?  Were the voting rules unanimously understood?

"Are you voting for Sharkie?"
"I want Clifford."
"I haven't called Clifford yet.  I just called 'Sharkie' and you stood up, which means you are voting for Sharkie.  If you want Clifford, you need to sit down right now."

The voter throws herself down onto the floor in tears.  "I want Clifford!"

It can be very hard when your candidate does not appear to be doing very well.
It is particularly hard when your candidate loses.

These voters were unable to see past themselves.
These voters have no appreciation or understanding of the other point of view.

It remains to be seen,
how will Sharkie the Blue Fish be accepted by such a divisive populace?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Is there joy in the alley?

This is a "make lemonade from lemons" post.

Our school's location this year includes no outdoor playground.  But, we do have an alley!

There is an alley between our school and the high school next door.  There is construction at one end of the alley, as a new YMCA is created, rendering the alley a virtual dead-end.

Our principal negotiated with the high school to close off the alley during the school day and use it as a play space.  Now, at different times of the day, students are using it.

Every morning our food truck arrives.  (Here we are, headed out for a walk, just as the lunch truck arrives.)

After the food truck comes, it is time to play in the alley. The first classroom outside gets to close the gate at the end of the alley, so that no trucks visit during playtime.  

(If a truck delivery must occur, we have all practiced getting our children quickly onto the adjacent sidewalk.)  

You'd be amazed at how much fun the long, open alley space can be.  Especially when you have been cooped up inside.  Let the children run!

When we go to the alley, there is plenty to do. We have hoola-hoops, chalk, and bubbles ready to go. The most fun of all comes from the new "Imagination Playground" blocks that our school purchased. These large, durable, yet lightweight blocks are stored in two enormous bins near our alley door, allowing us to make a playground every day...and pack it up and bring it inside when our outdoor session is over.

I wish I had a time-lapse camera to show you the daily transformation of the alley...here are four photos that give you a small taste of the fun....

When a class heads to the alley to play, the children all carry a block or two outside...

Bleak, you say?  No, it really is not!  I am amazed at how fabulous this "found space" has become. This flexible building system fosters teamwork, competence, gross motor skill, exploration, imagination, and joy! Every day, something new is created.

For the Big Cats, with a classroom alongside the alley, there has always been plenty to see.  And now, when it is our outdoor play time, there is always plenty to do!