Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tuesday SOL What about imagination?

It is Tuesday and this is a "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers.  Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

I am fascinated by what makes children think "outside the box."  What makes them imagine?

For me, working with found objects and recyclables are often the catalyst...an inexpensive and fun way for them to unleash their wonder.

We've been delighted by these in recent weeks. 

Everyone collected 10 or so small, inconsequential, extra items from their homes. At morning gathering, everyone dumped out their objects and we studied them. 

(Well, almost everyone dumped out their objects...preschoolers are fickle beings, new to sharing. Several children were very sad about having to share these treasures with others, and I suggested that they return their objects to their backpacks, until they felt ready to share. Learning to share can be very difficult - even leftover, small "extras" from home.  Children get attached to small things, even things that seem ‘without purpose’ to us adults.)

We discussed what we saw. The children were very interested in all the different materials, textures, purposes. With these materials in hand, the children began discussing the purposes of objects, how things work, what they might be used for, what was similar about our items, what was different...and, also, imagining new uses for things. 

After gathering, I moved to a table and worked with a small group - six students at a time - continuing our exploration of found objects, but allowing the children to be more focused in their observations.  We had set out the found objects on trays and the children took whatever they wanted, exploring these in the smaller space at the table.

From this one small group activity, I gained so much insight about children's different approaches to learning (and understanding about how to engage them in the future) -

I saw lots of "logic" - children creating categories of objects, sets, lines of materials...often putting “like” items together. One little girl was fascinated by keys, searching through the trays for all the keys.

Many seemed fascinated by touching the objects, perhaps enjoying the sensory sensation...

one played with a ribbon strip, stroking it over and over, rubbing it onto other objects, totally engrossed,
another lined up a collection of objects and then, discovering a small brush in the mix, stroked each item, one by one,
one child delved into the pile of objects and seemed to select items simply by touch or feeling; "I love this pom pom!" she told me.

Several children told stories, picking up the items and inventing different make-believe purposes -

"The dragonfly takes off and look what happens - he flies! Hold onto the rope, ready! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...I need the butterfly because it saves the bad guys...it doesn't live in this town."
Another..."I'm making an enchanted forest."
And another had endless imaginative ideas, unable to settle - "I building a ship's tower, no a castle tower. No, I'm making a fish design. Now it is a trap!"

Still others were fascinated by how things work, manipulating the materials in different ways -

one child with a piece of foil, rolling it up, unrolling it, wrapping things in it, unrolling it again;
another student, full of questions - "What are you using that for? How does this work?";
still another, laying out pieces, connecting objects inserting a ribbon through holes in the objects, and
one other, putting objects inside one another, as if to create a container.

Certainly, some children had only a fleeting interest in the objects - landing momentarily at the table, then running to the dress-ups or elsewhere for a bit (but they often returned to inspect the materials again).

Overall, however, I was delighted by the children's concentration -
one child created a large design using a variety of objects, and not saying a single word - seemingly following a plan that I could not see;
another child worked for some forty minutes at the table, holding pieces up individually and studying, adding a "Look, Ms. Ingram!" every now and again and then laying the pieces down as if solving a puzzle...

Over the next several days, we spent some time dividing the found objects by color, in a variety of clear glass and plastic containers. We created jars of red, yellow, blue, green, gold/brown, silver/gray, purple, black and white materials. So much fun!

Last week, I read the story Regards to the Man in the Moon by Ezra Jack Keats. Here, Louis is being ridiculed by peers because his father runs a junkyard...his Dad insists that it isn't junk - all one needs is imagination...and the next thing you know, Louis and pals create spaceships and head to the moon. My challenge to my preschoolers - can you build a toy or something fun out of our recyclables and found objects? Then, they blasted off!

This story was great for our first engineering effort. The children were allowed to build whatever they wanted. Everyone drew a plan [or ‘blueprint’] first, before starting to create with the recyclables and tape. We had many varied creations, including:

The tallest tower in the world,
a wiggly thing,
a boat,

a beach,
a mountain,
a police car,
a helicopter,
a spaceship,
a book.

Here are a few things I've overheard, as they explore the objects and create - 

"need to make something!!
Look - I found a blue thing...I know where it goes!
This one is bendy.
I’m trying to hook this.
What is this? I don’t know what it is!
I don’t think they use this anymore.
Ms. Ingram, I’m making a little helicopter...I’m making a helicopter cable that hangs down.
What is this?!
I’m making a rollercoaster.
I’m making a parade – see!
This is bendy, bendy, bendy.
How to get this thing out of here?
Hey, I got these apart.
La, la, la, squish, squish, squish.
This is hard – listen [taps it on side of containers].
Look, I catch the tiger! (using ribbons, necklace to create a lasso around a toy animal)

And, in the midst of building, an enthusiastic  - "I need to go get some more!" [recyclables] 

Hoping to instigate on-going exploration with these materials, I expanded our science area to include the found objects and simple recyclables, plus tape. My hope is for the children to dare to touch, explore, consider, create. Thus far, the children are mesmerized.  We are having fun with our imaginations!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday SOL What about a class full of thoroughbreds?

It is Tuesday and this is a "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers.  Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

A couple weeks ago, I read an interview with Lucy Bowen McCauley, who is director of an eclectic group of dancers in the D.C. area...she described them as follows -

"I call them thoroughbreds. You've got 10 different beautiful horses that will run the race differently. You choreograph for them differently. Sometimes to bring out what they're really good at, sometimes to challenge them a little bit in their weak spots."

Since reading this, I have been filled with insight and delight about my own classroom of preschoolers this year.

This is an unusual bunch -
strong and varied wills,
sure of themselves in very different ways,
determined about different things.
They are solitary personalities,
with very little interest (let alone knowledge or "how to") in being together.

I'm not at all sure why they are this way -

perhaps it is developmental, with many still very "two" in age, "all about me,"
perhaps it is birth order, with many firstborns or single children, unaccustomed to having to negotiate or share,
perhaps it is disposition, with many strong introverts, having no real need to play with others.

I'm not sure it matters why they are this way.

As the teacher, I simply need the honest and frank acceptance of who they are as individuals.

I love thinking about them as thoroughbreds.
My preschoolers - pure breed, beautiful, strong horses that will run the race differently.

To repeat,
"You choreograph for them differently."

Love it!

Honestly, thinking about them as thoroughbreds has helped me to
embrace them individually,
rather than rushing to consider them as a whole, as one entity.

I realize my work this year will be to
allow them the freedom of individuality, while
holding them to my expectations of getting along with others,
in hopes that we become a great team together.

This new prism -
"my thoroughbreds" -
has me thinking differently about our day ...

  • I am increasing the activities that can be done by individuals, rather than in small groups. For example, during centers, there are several extra things that are available for one child at a time, or for just two to be together - a tree stump with wire and nails for solitary exploration...easels with room for two total...window gazing in the alley for one or two at a time...story boards for one child at a time...book reading throughout the room.... 
  • I am thinking about the day differently, providing more opportunities for "solo" play or choice, rather than whole group...allowing children to not play together, but to pursue their own interests.   I am purposefully taking children out of the room for solo walks with me, to collect snack or help me refill my tea...offering moments of alone time. (Imagine how hard it must be to spend eight hours a day 'together,' in such a large group of peers, with the constant subliminal text "share with one another, get along with one another, speak up, be together.") I am respectfully allowing them to be alone, if they want to be.
  • Simultaneously, I am ratcheting up my expectation that they participate in our one whole group time each day (morning gathering, when they are strong and fresh, ready to take on the day) - requiring them to be with others, knowing this is their "weak spot" and encouraging them to rise to the challenge.
  • I am weaving in opportunities all day long for children to share about themselves, to learn how they are similar and different from others in the room. I am intentionally helping them make these connections as I work with individual children, "John likes such and such, too...you have this in common..." Slowly but surely, they will begin to see past themselves to others...but, hopefully, with their strong self still very much intact.

My thoroughbreds.
I love them!


Do you know this old song? I've been singing this to my class ...

Over and over,
I'll be a fool for you,
'Cause you've got - personality (Walk) - personality (talk) - personality (Smile) - personality (charm) - personality (Love) - personality 'Cause you got a great big heart Well over -and over I'll be a fool for you Now, now, now 
over and over What more can I do?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How can I grow antennae?

One of the most difficult things to learn as a beginning teacher is how to be alert to all the preschoolers at once, how to work with a few, and, simultaneously, have antennae up for all those who are not at your elbow -
where are they?
what are they doing? 
how are they doing? 

Melissa, my Teaching Resident, posed this question to me last week -
"How can I grow antennae?"

I am delighted by Melissa's question because it tells me she sees the essential need for this skill and she is challenging herself to be fully present in her teaching.

For some teachers, "antennae" are instinctive. I think they are instinctive for me.  Even as a young child, I was hyper-sensitive, hyper-aware about others, "watching the crowd," observing.  (Nosey?)

But what if it is not instinctive?
How to learn the skill?

This is our challenge right now.
With 23 active preschoolers, each of us needs to be aware of all the students, all the time.

It is my job to teach her skills like this,
to make my teaching transparent,
to verbalize how,
to guide her,
to create lessons and opportunities for her to learn this essential skill,
in the midst of teaching preschoolers.

So, I am wondering,

How to grow antennae? 
What do I do? 
How did I learn to be alert to everyone?

How do I teach this?

This past week, during our "free choice" center time, when Melissa was able to be in a more passive role, I challenged her to take a mere 5-10 minutes, standing in one place, and get a mental snapshot of where every child was in the classroom and what they were doing at this moment. She had a basic data sheet with all the children's names, where she wrote very brief notes about each child. I asked her to think about -

Why was the child doing whatever he/she was doing?  
What does it tell us about what the child likes or needs?

This very simple task helped Melissa to look past those children who always get teachers' attention, and to take in the whole room, to see everyone.

After school, we reflected together about this brief observation. By stepping back and observing - for mere minutes, only - she noticed so much that will inform our future planning. For example -

- what activities delighted children,
- which children are beginning to form friendships with others,
- who played alone, yet, happily,
- which children had trouble choosing an activity or entering play,
- who seemed to need sensory, tactile stimulation,
- who needed active, moving play,
- what activities were not of interest to anyone, and
- much more.

I think it is marvelous that one only needs a few moments of "antennae" to learn so much!

I have no doubt that I have excited Melissa about how valuable it is to see everyone. I also know that I need to provide many "mini-lessons" with this goal in mind. I realize this understanding and perspective is not going to happen with just one lecture by me or even one opportunity to practice...this "growing antennae" will be our subtext for the next many weeks.

I'm excited about how much more we will learn and do,
working together as a team,
with our antennae up for one and all.

I'm excited that it is our goal together.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday SOL A wonderful exhibit

It is Tuesday and this is a "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers.  Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

Just had an awesome trek to Philadelphia with a couple of my dear friends for the primary purpose of seeing the Ezra Jack Keats exhibit at the National Museum of Jewish History, before it closes on October 20th.  I am awash with thought and inspiration.

I have always loved his picture books: The Snowy Day, Regards to the Man in the Moon, Peter's Chair, Whistle for Willie, Dreams, Goggles...and so many more. What fun to slowly, carefully, quietly peruse Ezra Jack Keats' story boards, his notebooks of ideas, his paintings. I enjoyed reading all the biographical information and seeing the connection of his childhood to his books - not only in his setting (the city, where he had grown up) but in his feelings as an outsider, somewhat invisible to others. I felt as if I was getting inside his head, seeing how story ideas came to him and then grew into picture books.

Every original page of The Snowy Day was on exhibit and I was mesmerized by his artwork.  I have always found the picture book compelling, but, the originals - wow! I couldn't believe the textures and layers to his art. I hadn't realized that each page was collage - he used both paint and varied papers, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other materials to meticulously create his scenes.

Although each page is made intricately, the results are simple. On most pages, Ezra Jack Keats hones in one thing - and expresses so much.  Consider this one, from  The Snowy Day , where snow falls on top of Peter's head. Ezra Jack Keats paints a beautiful marbled background sky, and very simple depiction of the action. Yet, he conveys the child's surprise and delight. (I love the one "squished" eye from the weight of the snow.)

I am fascinated by how Ezra Jack Keats zeroed in on what is most important, capturing the essential. Doesn't this say something about the power of editing? Keep it simple!

I am touched by how he clearly valued
the little feelings,
the small experiences,
the simple actions
of children.

What a delight!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesday SOL Just playing

It is Tuesday and this is a "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers.  Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

Sharing a tiny slice of my life today - the thrill of my preschoolers discovering not only that there were medical dressups and doctors' kits in the dramatic play corner, but that their teachers will play "make-believe sick" with them!

Melissa (Teaching Resident) and I feigned coughs, fevers, fainting, and other forms of sickness and we were surrounded by children doctors, working hard to cure us of our ills. Here's what the doctors shared with me, as they checked my ears, listened to my heartbeat, gave me shots:

"Your teeth are coming out."

"It won't hurt too much."

"You need six shots."

"Ms. Aponte is very sick."

"There is a giraffe in your ear."

"You have a fever."

"I'll give you a heartbeat."

"You need to go to hospital."

"You have a cough."

"Here's a bandaid."

"Here's a shot in your ear."

"Shot-time! It's gonna hurt! Ding!"

I thoroughly enjoyed their enthusiastic play, their constant banter...so glad I took notes, because just re-reading it has made me laugh again. Ah, preschoolers!

Friday, October 4, 2013

How can I fall asleep?

Six weeks into the year, there is calm and quiet at nap time,
the children understand and expect nap.

How do so many children get to sleep in one room?

I do my part,
reading a book,
shades down,
curtains drawn.
Then, soft music, and
whispering teacher voice.

I am fascinated by all their different rituals before sleeping -

Some are quick -

pulls blanket up,
over head,

takes off shoes,
takes off socks,
puts socks on arms,
pushes blanket to side,
fixes everything just right,

"I did a lot of running.
I am sleepy, Ms. Ingram,"
and turns over, on his stomach,
hugging pillow,

still another,
arm to the sky,
finger pointing,
drawing images,
just for a few minutes,
draw, draw, draw,

eyes on me,
staring, staring, staring,
a simple plea,
"Ms. Ingram, will you pat my back?,"
and, as I do,

one more,
plays with her lovey bear,
hugging close,
making it a pillow for her head,
moving it to her side,
finding the best spot,
leaning on the lovey,

Some take more time, and
more interaction with me -

from side to side,
on left side,
no, on right side,
no, left side,
no, right side,
back and forth,
over and over,
wearing himself out,
then, finally,

tossing and turning,
moving about from head of cot to foot of cot,
move, move, move,
feet out of bed,
head out of bed,
move, move, move,
a quiet cry,
"Ms. Ingram, I'm not sleepy,"
and, almost simultaneously,

whispers, non-stop,
telling stories,
to oneself,
chatter, chatter, chatter,
little bit louder,
then a reminder from Ms. Ingram to be quiet,
one more moment of self-talk,

still another,
tossing and turning,
moving about from head of cot to foot of cot,
move, move, move,
feet out of bed,
a reminder from Ms. Ingram to lay down,
he lies flat on the cot,
blanket on the floor next to him,
hands over ears,
shutting out all noise,

yet another,
our class songs,
ram sam sam,
head, shoulders, knees, toes,
a b c d,
turns onto his side,

last one to sleep,
tossing and turning,
moving about
from head of cot
to foot of cot,
move, move, move,
picks out her hair ribbon,
twists it, turns it,
move, move, move,
takes off shoe,
takes off the other one,
finds small toy,
plays with it,
drops the toy,
teacher comes over,
fixes blanket,
pats back,
teacher moves away,
move, move, move,
takes off the blanket,
stretches feet to the sky,
spreads them, pointing upward,
move, move, move,
feet down,
puts blanket back on,

Every child with their own unique ritual for going to sleep.
Why does this surprise me?
No two of us are alike.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tuesday SOL What about our outdoor play?

It is Tuesday and this is a "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers.  Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

The good news is that I have followed through on one of my summer goals  - every Wednesday, the Big Cats walk to our local national park for a morning of exploration in nature.  (See my earlier blogpost about this.)

Exploring outdoors, 
is an essential part of preschool.

The bad news is, we only got to have four weeks of this fun tradition. Due to the shutdown of the Federal Government, the park is closed.

This is so, so sad for my students.

I am unable to find the words to express my frustration with our political leaders and this ridiculous impasse.

Why try?
Time is better spent figuring out what the Big Cats will do tomorrow....