Friday, May 31, 2013

Having trouble with their emotions? Wait a moment.

We recently had a day where all I could do was shake my head.

We rallied the children to go outside for a walk,
all the while, one tenacious child complained about going, because
she was not dressed for the weather...
although the day before had been in the high 80s, this day was in the low 60s, cloudy, with a continued breeze. This is spring in Washington, DC, varying, one day to the next.

Thus, one day, shorts, next day, jeans.

However - not for this little one.
For her, rules and order are required - if shorts yesterday, then shorts today.

She refused to put on the light jacket that her mother had hung in her cubby.
[There's a classic preschooler perspective - I'm not wrong; it is the weather that is wrong.]

I knew this was going to be a difficult walk.

We headed outside for our daily walk, all the same.
This little one would suffer the natural consequence of not dressing properly.
(Being a bit of a softie, I planned to shorten the walk.)

We stepped outside the school and her tantrum accelerated.
Here, outside in the air, was proof that it was chilly.
Why walk and work up a sweat when one could cry and yell?

Sharde, our beloved teaching assistant, took this child aside and worked one-on-one with her, challenging her to see how several classmates were also wearing shorts and not complaining.
"Let's all be together, one community. We'll warm up as we walk. It's not so bad out here."

I let Sharde work with her while I continued to lead the line away from the school.

The children were more or less happy with the walk when all of a sudden, as luck would have it, it began to drizzle.

Yes, it was no longer just cloudy, windy, and cool, but let's have some continual drizzle, too.
This was turning into Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Even for the teachers!

Now, it wasn't just the one child falling apart.

Many children were complaining.
I heard a chorus, "Ms. Ingram, Ms. Ingram! It's too rainy! We need to go back!"

I turned to the two line leaders -
"What should we do? Turn around and get back to class and have a dance party? [we needed exercise] Or stay on our walk, because this rain is light?"

To my surprise and amusement, the two leaders chose different options.

[What a day! What strong and different feelings this class has, today!]

I again gave the decision back to them.

"You'll need to discuss this together and come to the same decision."

Back and forth, the two children bickered. "Go back!" "No, walk!"
I studied the line leaders.
One was a first-born, used to calling the shots, "Go back!".
The other was a second-born, relishing the position of opposite, "No, let's walk!!".
No compromise in sight.

The children behind the leaders grew louder with complaints - "Let's go back! It's raining too much! Let's turn around!" 

The drizzle and wind increased - or was it just the complaining?
Ugh. What a disaster this walk was turning into. 
The child in the back with the teaching assistant was howling in pain and frustration. 
All the children were yelling.

I bent down to talk to the leaders -
"It seems like everyone is very unhappy. I'm going to insist we go with the majority feeling - let's go back to school."
The sweet second-born - who had been so adamant that we continue walking - quickly agreed, as if it had been a non-issue for him all along, "Ok, Ms. Ingram! Let's go back!". 

I turned the line around,
only to have the entire second grade class pour out of the school to the front entrance area,
holding a large butterfly cage.

"What are you doing?," I asked.
All my preschoolers - noticing the butterfly cage - quieted down to hear the answer:

"We are releasing our butterflies today. We have thirty butterflies! Would you like to watch?"

We were almost back inside the school.

It was still drizzling.
It was still cloudy and breezy.
It was still cold.

But no one was crying or yelling anymore.

The Big Cats stood and stared, in awe, as these lovely butterflies were released into the air.
Butterflies floating into the sky,
some wandering onto shoulders, hair, even outstretched hands of these enthralled preschoolers.
Big smiles on all faces.

The earlier misery was completely forgotten.

What a great walk we had!
We saw butterflies!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

SOL One thing leads to another...

A small moment, today.
Children making magic,
seeing the wonder in small things.

We were on the playground - our side alley, that is.
Plants on the windowsill were watered,
and then,
being children,
the rest of the water was poured out,
onto the alley.
The water moved like a river,
flowing downhill towards our entrance.
Children hooted and hollered,
standing over the river,
straddling it with their legs,
laughing together.

Nearby, a bin of chalk - and possibility!

Someone decided to paint the path of the water.

Others decided to follow suit.
With great care and precision,
a beautiful, colorful, water path was created.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

What if we made sculptures that moved?

We had a three-day spring intersession, this past week. Preschoolers through Kindergarteners were divided into mixed age groups to focus on one fun theme for an hour a day. There were so many fun topics for the youngsters - 

Artist’s World – explored famous artists and used various materials to emulate their techniques.
  Cooking = exploring food preparation and measurement, with special recipes of hummus, pizzas, and smoothies.
Healthy Bodies – studying nutrition, exercise, and care of our bodies.
International Cooking – cooking from around the world, including Mexico, France, and Spain.
Ooey Gooey Science – experimenting with a variety of mixtures to create bouncy balls, snow paint, lava lamps, and magic growing trees made from recycled newspaper.
  Sculptures and Motion – explored wire, recyclables, beads, and found objects to create sculptures that moved.
  Spanish – learning Spanish about the body, exploring through song and dance.
  Worm Composting – explored how worms help break down leftovers and create compost; the children studied the worms and their features and made worm houses.

Can you identify which intersession was mine, based on these brief descriptions? Well, I gave you a hint with my blog title! Yes, my colleague Jenny (Teaching Resident) and I ran an intersession on Sculptures and Motion.  It was an exploratory, process-oriented class...we had some fabulous 12 gauge aluminum wire, lots of recyclables and found objects, and curiosity. A few days before the intersession was to start, Jenny and I discovered a bin of plastic tubes/rods in the midst of all our recyclables, donated by a family earlier in the year [leftovers from some sort of shelving structure that had fallen apart]. We decided that the wire could be used with these rods in all sorts of fanciful ways - we would give each student these materials to begin with, and see what transpired with these as the catalyst. We weren't quite sure what the outcomes would be...the children would guide us. This is my favorite way to teach - let's just work with materials and see what happens!

To "instigate" their work and discovery, we talked to the children about sculptures that moved. We had the children stand as sculptures - and then move and wiggle different body parts, while holding the same pose. Jenny shared a couple of excellent, short videoclips about Alexander Calder's and Jean Tinguely's moving sculptures:

Calder's Circus- this is actually him performing it in the 1950s 

The question was posed - could we create sculptures that moved? 

To begin, we had the children explore the wire - bending and moving it into all different shapes and directions. We had the children wear goggles this first day, to encourage them to slow down in their exploration, to use the sharp wire carefully and thoughtfully. They were delighted by this new material. We then asked each child to draw a plan - a blueprint - of their sculpture design. 

Now, it was time to build!

We couldn't work with twenty students at once.  We decided to set up small groups, doing a variety of different things.  While some worked on creating sculptures, others did free-form building in the block corner, creating block sculptures and imagining their wire sculptures. Another small group worked with cardstock and markers, cutting paper gears and decorations to add to their sculptures. 

Lastly, I set up a tree stump with nails (partially hammered into the trunk), for freeform exploration of the wire and pipe cleaners, to channel some additional discovery by students who were using wire for the first time. 

We rotated the children through these areas, allowing each student a good thirty minutes  of sculpture work each of the three days of intersession.

It was fascinating to watch the children create sculptures. Each student was enchanted by the materials, in their own way.

The room was filled with children in motion,

following inner voices,

bending wire,
poking holes in styrofoam,
adding bead after bead to wire strands,
trying to connect the plastic rod to base (pressing, taping, gluing, connecting with wire, or other) 

swinging the wire around and around,
cutting colored tape,
adding cardstock pictures and gears,
coiling the wire around the plastic rod,

lacing ribbon and yarn,
gluing found objects and special gems,
coloring with markers,
wrapping the rod with wire, yarn, tape, or other, 
hammering holes into bottle caps to weave wire through,

rolling and walking the sculpture across the floor, to test its movement,
waving and bending the sculpture, testing its swinging motion, 
making patterns from beads, 
tying on spools and other found objects,
fixing and then undoing, rechecking one's work.

It was not just children the children who were immersed in this work. On the second day of intersession, Jenny and I totally forgot to watch the clock and announce clean up... the next thing we knew, the intersession period was over and my regular "Big Cats" came racing back into the room. What a scramble we had, all of us, putting everything back in its place.

I would love to explore wire sculptures again - for much longer than this three day special program. I've run out of time this school year...but, next year, yes!
There is so much more to discover! 

Here are just a few of the sculptures that the children created -  

Amira's sculpture was so tall, she had to stretch her hands up high and stand on tippy-toes to hold it.

Wilson's sculpture.

Micah's sculpture.

Elyse's sculpture, with blueprint.

Dagmawi's sculpture.

Calla's sculpture and blueprint; she was so proud of how she used spools beneath for sculpture to roll. 

Kayode's sculpture.

Sukey's sculpture.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What about respect?

Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers


I walked to school a new way the other day.
I happened upon a billboard displaying an elementary school's motto:


set up as an acrostic.

The letter "L" was for LEARNING.
The letter "E" was for EARN RESPECT.

I became completely transfixed by those last two words...
and never read further
to see
what "A" and "D" meant.


It echoed with each step I took to school.


Wow, those two words together really rankle.


Is the goal for students to EARN respect?


To say that your mission is for students to EARN RESPECT implies that
students arrive without respect.

I wonder, what am I missing here?
Am I misinterpreting the message?

I wonder, how does a student earn respect?
What does he/she have to do?

I am mystified.


I wonder about the word choice.
I wonder about highlighting this in one's motto.
Making this your community goal.

If I reduced my goals for students to four things,
as a four letter "LEAD" motto tends to do,
I can't imagine that I'd ever end up with


I wonder,
why not "learn respect"?
or, "expect to be shown respect"?
or, "see respect modeled by one and all"?
or, "You will be respected"?
or, "We respect you."

I hope my students feel respected by me.

I believe if they feel respected by me,
they will learn to be respectful,
to be respectful of others...their peers, their teachers, their siblings, on and on.

Should we demand that our students earn respect?


Should we provide a loving, caring, respectful environment
where they know they are cared about
and they feel
in their bones
our respect for them?

What does a child have to do to earn my respect?

Show up in my class.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why do you sit in a chair?

We've started a new fun ritual at the start of our day, wherein the students themselves take turns asking the question of the day on the whiteboard.  I've seen this done in older classes but I hadn't tried it at the preschool level. Laura McCarthy (Teaching Resident) decided to give it a try with our class and I have really enjoyed seeing how excited the children are about this daily pastime.

We invite the children to consider what they want to learn from their peers or what they want to know about their peers.

Most of the questions have been fairly predictable..."small" wonderings, such as

Do you have a pet? Yes or No?
What is your favorite food - macaroni and cheese, pizza, spaghetti, other?
What is your favorite - airplanes, helicopters, or trains?
What do you like for breakfast - oatmeal, muffin, cereal, other?
Do you like princesses? Yes or No?

This past week, Harper's question was open-ended:

Why do you sit in a chair?

I was delighted to see how the children answered.

Many were stumped.
"I don't know," being their immediate response.

Others puzzled long enough to reframe the original question, to make their answer fit their needs -
I like that chair! [points to a student chair] (Ferdinand)
That chair! [points to teacher chair] (Nolan)

For many, a chair was for sitting down for meals:
"So, you can eat lunch." (Soren)
"So, you don't spill food." (Sayid)
"That means you have to eat." (Ben)
"Because we eat." (Emma)
"Because we got to sit down eating." (Ellington)

Reia noted another favorite activity for chairs:
"Because we read books."

Dillon's response made me think of "rules" about chairs -
"Because we sit in a chair all the time." (Dillon)
[He is perhaps remembering adult voices, reminding him to sit in the chair.]

Other responses seemed to wrestle philosophically with the purpose of a chair -

"Because I don't want to stand up." (Harper)
"So, if there is something lower, you can reach it." (Sarah Lydia)
"So, we won't fall." (Anya)
"If it disappears, you fall off and hit your bottom." (Jamie)
"If you want to relax, you go to a chair or a bed." (Charlie)

I loved this question! I loved how one simple question gave me a window into children's cognitive they think.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What about food and cooking?

Kid need experiences to attach words to...if it’s not in the heart, hands, bones, it’s not in the brain. – Bev Bos

Time to share about our newest topic in the Big Cats ...

We've started a new exploration - all about food, with a special emphasis on nutrition and cooking. We've been talking all year about healthy food and healthy we're experiencing how delicious it is to cook and create together. 

We are taking so many fun tangents...such as creating a super big cardboard food truck! We needed something big enough for us to climb into, allowing us to pretend to deliver school lunches to our school (we watch a real truck come and go everyday in our alley), or to sell food to employees downtown and throughout the city, or perhaps it is a farmer's market food truck. So many uses for a good truck when you are working with food!

So, let's get working on the food truck...

It took a lot of hard work, focused creativity, everyone working together, but we did it!!

Don't forget that the truck needs a label! We'll write "food" on it.

On second thought, let's paint the truck and we'll add a new "food" sign later.

Cooking is a big part of this unit. We are creating at least one yummy and nutritious recipe a week, with a special emphasis on "healthy eating." The teachers are selecting the recipes based on available cooking tools and children's interests. We don't have a kitchen at our school, but we have we have an electric skillet, blender, wok, food processor, etc. Other than the recipe selection, the children are doing all the doing!

The process begins with the children

- sharing what they know about a particular recipe, 
- brainstorming lists of their wonderings about the food, 
- writing shopping lists, and 
- walking to the local grocery store for these ingredients.

Let me share a couple shopping lists that the children wrote -

(I particularly like how Bella's seems to replicate the quick, haphazard writing of adults' grocery lists!)

Here we are, walking to the grocery store to purchase the ingredients for our first recipe - making fruit smoothies.

Before going into the store, we reviewed and practiced our "store" behaviors - how to walk (holding that rope, moving slowly and carefully), what voice to use (inside, quiet voice), where to keep our hands (one on the walking rope, other on our hip), how to find ingredients (search with our eyes and calmly alert the teacher - "Ms. Ingram, I see strawberries!")

Believe it or not, we totally surprised a couple men that were stocking shelves - the children were so quiet, patient, and calm, they looked up at us and went wide-eyed, as if to say, "Wow! Look how many children!"

I thought a lot about how to organize the cooking experience so that each child gets the opportunity to measure and mix the ingredients.   We divided the class into four small groups (randomly assigned by choosing a numbered craft stick) for each cooking experience. Each recipe will be created four times from scratch.

Our first week, we made smoothies! Our ingredients included frozen mango and mixed berries, fresh strawberries and bananas, rice milk, and vanilla yogurt. Each small group worked together to decide the special ingredients to include in their fruit smoothie.  The children had lots of fun cutting, chopping, measuring, pouring, and pushing the buttons on the mixer, trying out the different speeds. Everyone agreed - yum!!

We enjoy the "science" aspect of cooking. One extension has been our sensory table, where we have been making many different "mixes" and seeing what happens when different ingredients are put together.  One day at morning gathering, we had a special visit from a crazy chef/scientist - "Chef Goop," who looked and sounded a lot like Ms. McCarthy except for her goggles, chef's hat, and apron. Chef Goop invited the children to explore mixtures with her - oil and water, flour and salt, salt and water, baking soda and vinegar, egg and flour. The children mixed, smelled, observed, guessed, and tasted (everything but the raw egg!). We explored and discussed the different chemical reactions of food - dissolving, emulsion, and more.  I was delighted by how much the children remembered from this dramatic improvisation...Chef Goop will be returning in the near future!

Of course, it wouldn't be my classroom if we didn't do some sort of engineering.  I found a new version of one of my favorite Russian folktales at the library - Grandma Lena's Big Ol' Turnip by Denia Lewis Hester and we built devices to get a giant turnip out of the ground. This led us to wondering about gardening - how plants grow, how to take care of plants, how big do plants become.

I'm amazed at how many great children's books there are about food - we have had some really fun read-alouds.  Let me share a few of our favorites thus far -

  • Truck Driver Tom by Monica Wellington (about a food delivery truck)
  • The First Strawberry by Joseph Bruchac (how important it is to speak kindly to each other)
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett (silly imaginative fun)
  • The Five Senses: Taste by Maria Ruis (how our body works)
  • Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley (commonalities between all cultures)
  • Lemonade in Winter in Emily Jenkins (introduces counting money)
  • Potato Joe by Keith Baker (familiar rhyme, delightful illustrations)
  • Hungry Hen by Richard Waring (turns classic "hen versus fox" tales upside down)
  • I Want to Be a Chef by Stephanie Maze (what would it be like to work in a restaurant)

We loved Tomie DePaola's Pancakes for Breakfast when we made pancakes in class...with this book, there are no words - the children told the story to us. What a great way to reinforce the learning from the cooking itself!  This week...we're building off of Eric Carle's Walter the Baker and making delicious pretzels. [For these, the children will mix the dough and roll out the pretzels but Ms. McCarthy will take home and bake for us. Thank you, Ms. McCarthy!!]

On several days, we have served lunch "farmer's market style." Here, the children are given five play coins to "buy" snack. The fruits, vegetables, and grains were set up as three separate stalls (tables) in the classroom and the children visited all three places to buy themselves a balanced snack. What a fun way to reinforce their number sense, too!

Yes, all of us - teachers and preschoolers - are really enjoying this new exploration. It is clear that we have many budding chefs and scientists!!