Friday, November 22, 2019

What about the five senses?

Throughout this first trimester of school, the Big Cats have been exploring the fives senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. We have:

  • created our own sound museum (varied containers made of different materials, with five acorns each),
  • gone on listening walks (total silence, stopping to share what we hear, creating a 'sound' poem),
  • banged on drums,
  • worn blindfolds when playing Magna Tiles and painting pictures,
  • worked with pumpkin-scented playdough,
  • tasted a variety of apples (Granny Smith was a favorite!),
  • made visual timers (clear plastic bottles and mixtures of oil, glitter, paint, and waterbeads),
  • participated in smell tests (the children had the funniest words for smells they could not see),
  • listened to John Coltrane (he put sounds from his environment into his music),
  • hidden in a dark cave (well, a cardboard box...),
  • dared to take three growing bites of lunch foods we didn't think we'd like,
  • raced toy cars through paint (because, why not?),
  • explored birdseed, waterbeads, sand, shredded paper, and more, with our bare hands,
  • created a sensory alphabet (cover the cardboard letter with glue and then dip it into all sorts of different materials and textures),
  • on and on and on.
All the while, we think about which senses we are using, and why things are the way they are. Preschool is a time of wonder.  Children learn best when their senses are employed. Learning in the Big Cars classroom is hands-on, active, and process-oriented. There will be lots more experimentation throughout this year.

"Experience is not the best teacher, it is the only teacher. 
If it's in their hands, it's in their hearts, and in their brain." 
- Bev Bos

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Why are they having so many tantrums?

This question came up over and over again at my family it does every year...and I thought I might ramble a bit on this topic...

Families wondered -

Do they tantrum at school?
Every little thing seems to set them off.
They fall apart when they get home.
The smallest thing upsets them!
They'll dig in their feet and refuse to move on, screaming and crying, over and over.
There's been a real uptick in tantrums since school began.
They really don't do this at school?

preschoolers do NOT do this at school.

preschoolers save this for their loving families.

One part of these tantrums is simply due to the adjustment to the school year. It is such a big transition, to be in school all day long, with so many peers, following rules, keeping to expectations, trying to take a nap with twenty peers, going to aftercare with a different set of many new things, so much new learning. Home, where you are assured of love, is the perfect place to fall apart.

(This teacher is certainly thankful that this is mostly the case - children save their tantrums for home!)

My suggestion - make home a soft landing. Try to lessen the expectations on kids, have an easy and predictable routine - maybe some fun exercise together (a walk outside? a dance party?), favorite foods for dinner, a nice bath and some books, early to bed.

Also, ask yourselves how much power does your child actually have? How might you weave a little 'freedom of choice' into their time with you? No, they don't get to make the big decisions, but, can they have a little say on some things? A sure sign that your child needs to have a little more say is when you start having problems in one of three areas: toileting, sleep, or eating. Here, children can assert control and there is very little that you can do about this. If this is happening at your house, think about your daily routine with your child and find ways to relax some part of it - for example, lay out options for lunch and let them choose from these for their lunchbox; same for getting dressed -  keep 'appropriate' choices in their bureau and let them choose what they want to wear. Maybe you have ten minutes to play with them... let them decide WHAT you will play with them and then you follow their every command. This is so satisfying for a preschooler! Such a boost!

In addition to giving them a little say or power in their lives, look for ways to have them help with the household. They want so much to be a part of the action! These are excellent years for cultivating self reliance and responsibility. With your guidance, let them DO real work - set the table for dinner, take their plate to and from the table, push the vacuum...honestly, children are looking to DO.

And, truly, preschoolers CAN DO.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

What is nap time like, this year?

The quiet one.
He surprises me by singing loudly, a medley of our classroom jingles:
  • "Everybody's safe, everybody learns, everybody builds the community..."
  • "Find your square and sit right down..."
  • "Big Cats! Let's line up!"
I shush him, reminding him - it is nap time.
"Settle down, hon, it is time for nap. Let's take care of one another. Shush!"

To no avail.

The singing keeps on.

Is it louder?!

I get him up from his cot and walk him outside the classroom, into the hallway. I crouch down, looking at him eye to eye, and remind:

"John, we are quiet at nap. You cannot talk, sing, or be loud at nap."

He asks, "You take me for walk?"

He has seen me do this with others.

Me - "No. We are NOT going for a walk. You are able to be quiet and it's time for you to show me quiet. What will you do - sit and be quiet on your cot, or lie down and sleep and be quiet? Those are your two choices."

"Sit and be quiet," he says demurely, resignedly.

Me - "Okay, good. Let's go back in."

I am so proud of him. I am so proud of me. Yay! Mutual understanding, mutual respect achieved.

We walk quietly to his cot, he sits down, and before I can even walk away, he sings loudly - bellows, really -

"A, B, C, D, E, F, G..."

Sweet cheeses!

Game over.

Preschoolers are powerful beings.

Monday, October 7, 2019

What did I forget?

The weekly note from my principal included a shout out to a very long list of teachers, with the words "A big thank you to the following teachers who completed all their administrative paperwork for the new school year." I scanned the list to see my name - and, ha! Amusingly, my name was NOT on the list.

I just assumed it would be there.

You see - I didn't know I had forgotten to do something.

I thought this was hysterical. I immediately found myself in a weird kind of limbo - aware that I did not complete something, but I had no idea what it is that I hadn't completed.

In addition to all the other to do's on my list, I needed to figure this out.


Thursday, September 26, 2019

What is that in the tunnel?

Time to make a move forward. Listen to your inner voice and you will know exactly what you have to do.

The preschoolers raced out onto the playground, and up onto the playscape,
and the next thing I heard was screams from within the climbing tunnel.
I ran to the tunnel to see what was the matter,
to see who was climbing over whom.

No one was hurting; there was a grasshopper* in the playscape tunnel!
A big beautiful green grasshopper!
An amazing find!!

Thankfully (?), someone had left a trash cup on the playground,
so I was able to catch the grasshopper.
I moved the grasshopper down to the mulch, along the brick wall,
where it delighted the children for some twenty minutes or so.
I encouraged the children to work like scientists,
to stand back a little bit and observe;
we sang “What do you see as you look closely?”
The children were in both awe and fear -
especially when the grasshopper would unexpectedly fly.
Truly, the children swarmed the grasshopper, trying to get a very close look.
As the grasshopper climbed the wall,
I lifted children individually to see it up close.
We wondered why it kept licking its front legs.

Later, after lots of observation
(and so many students playing very close to the grasshopper),
I moved the grasshopper into a bush/undergrowth by the side of the school.
Time for it to have a little privacy!

Back in the classroom, quickly trying to think of a way to extend this learning,
I placed some simple coloring pages of grasshoppers in the writing center,
to discover during our centers play. While the children colored, they shared their thoughts.
Their thoughts form almost a story:

(Me, prompting) A grasshopper came to the playground. We found him in the tunnel.
What did you notice?
(T) He wanted to have a ride.
(W) He wanted to go down the slide.
(E) I saw it. He was walking. See that wall over there. He walked under it, on it.
(C) I was running away from the grasshopper because it was about to climb on me,
all the way to my head.
(J) Why was he licking his hand? Because he ate something - our lunches!
(B) That’s just what he wants.
(L) That it flew...I saw it walking on the tunnel and I went down.
(S) He flied and I run away and then I came back and then I saw him licking his hand.
(T) He so creepy.
(W) He want to climb up the wall.
(Sh) When I saw the grasshopper, it was trying to get in my eyes, and I run and run and run.

An unexpected inquiry about grasshoppers!! Totally exciting for all.

*Full disclosure - I found out the next day from one of my parents,
who is also an entomologist, this grasshopper was actually a katydid! Ah, well,
still great learning, all around!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Does it spiral because there are too many of us together?

These are ubiquitous in the preschool classroom.
Every day, there is a story time - children gathered on the carpet, listening to the teacher as they read a picture book aloud.
In this early part of the school year, the children are learning how to sit within a group of classmates and listen to the story. This is such a foreign art for the average three year old! I mean, really, aren't you nestled on someone's lap, when a book is read at home?
Here at school, you must sit without touching another student, several feet distant from the teacher, and you should sit quietly, listening. Honestly, my books are short and concise for these first many weeks - the children have so much learning to do about the routine of a read-aloud, that I dare not read a long, rich, interesting book, but instead spend my time 'setting the stage' with the children, noting and complimenting their seating, their quiet, etc.
I am losing my excitement about these read alouds! I feel so shackled by them.
I hear Bev Bos' wisdom...she only read to those children who wanted to listen to her. She let other children - the uninterested - engage elsewhere in the room, playing at the dollhouse, mashing playdough or clay, building with blocks. If the book was interesting enough, they'd wander over. Oh, and she didn't make them sit in a particular way, she didn't make them put down toys they had been playing with....
(Isn't that respectful of children - to let them decide what they want to do? Choose their own learning?)
She didn't die on the hill of the read aloud. (My emphasis.)

In the public school classroom, everyone gathers and sits for story.
End of statement.

Another wild idea by Bev Bos - if the children didn't seem to have any interest in the book she chose, she'd close it and pick another. Again, respecting children where they are.

Here's what my most recent read aloud looked like  -
One child running around and around, unable to sit still.
Several other students watching him, captivated.
One student is in full tantrum, and my teaching assistant is doing her very best to figure out what is wrong.
Another student echoing every line of the book.
Others yelling SHHH, I CAN'T HEAR!
Still another student yelling, No! No! No! (To whom? I wonder? Yet, I cannot figure this out...must keep the book going.)
One child trapped in the classroom's bathroom, needing our assistance, calling for teacher's help, with tummy troubles that are above his skill level.
One child is crying because another has chosen her favorite spot on the carpet.
Another child is crawling across my lap while I read.
Several students are holding books of their own, flipping pages, oblivious to mine.
Half a dozen of my students are seated with their backs to me, having lost attention due to all of the above.

Yay, beginning of the year read-alouds!

They can only improve.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

What do you do when you are waiting?

"You can live life as if there are no miracles, or
you can live life as if everything is."
- Anonymous

These first six weeks of school are, necessarily, focused on guiding children to understand the routines of school...and there is simply no end to all the small things that children must learn how to do in a preschool class. The more that they can fulfill these tasks and routines independently and/or automatically, the more their play will be rich and varied in the very near future. 

It is life-giving for me, to mix a little magic in with the soften the 'work' of it, and to make these more fun. Otherwise, teaching routines would be dull, dull, dull. Children absorb the learning much more easily when there's a little silly or surprise to go along with it. Song provides a lot of magic, and I sing through many of our routines - gathering on the carpet, readying ourselves to listen to a book, and, even, singing 'baby sooooaaaap" to the tune of 'baby shark' as I remind them to take one squirt of soap when we are washing our hands.

This week I discovered a little bit of magic of the children's own making. When we wash our hands before snack and lunch, we line up one-by-one at the sink. This line, when the children initially line up, curves alongside the art table, past the easels, and around the back of the room - 22 preschoolers can make a long line! Well, lo and behold, in addition to singing as we wash our hands, these preschoolers have been making art at the easel (see the picture above). I was too focused on the hands at the sink to notice this fun sideline activity. Then, the hand-washing was complete, the children were happily seated at the lunch table, and I walked by the easel, and - whoa! What a surprise! I can't help but feel that these students will become strong academics in the near future - they have made great use of their time, throwing themselves into a creative task, together, as they wait their way through a drudgery of a task!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

What time is it?

Another school year begins in the Big Cats preschool classroom, and the children are at all different levels of acceptance about being there. It is all SO new - long days, so many classmates, so many new adults, new routines, new activities, new expectations, new, new, new.

Our first day of school was a half day for the children, with dismissal at noon. Even this was too long for some. At about 10 a.m., I noticed one little girl who seemed ill at ease about being in the classroom and I went over to her, to find out what was wrong. She declared, "I want my Daddy!" and the tears welled in her eyes.

"Look at this calendar.," I redirected, showing her the visual calendar on our front wall. "See how it says "Centers"? That's what we're doing now - we're playing. Then, see, we have "Read Aloud," then "Lunch," then "Goodbye." We just have a little bit more to our day together. After lunch, we all go home. Come, let's play."

She went quiet, gazing at the schedule. I figured I had helped her understand time, a bit.

A moment or two later, maybe 10:10am, I found her sitting in her cubby, unzipping her lunchbox. "I see you with your lunchbox, Cindy; what's up?"

"I'm going to eat lunch," she quickly replied.

"Well, it's not time for lunch yet," I said cautiously, fearing that she might begin to cry again. "It's early in the morning. Remember our schedule? We are playing together now, in Centers."

"After lunch, Daddy comes. I'm eating lunch now," she replied with conviction.

Ah, I see.

She's keeping 'preschool time.'

The signs said Lunch, Goodbye. Let's skip all that fluff leading up to Lunch and get straight to the good stuff: we all know, Daddy comes right after lunch.

My laugh for the day!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Have you seen our restaurant?

Today, I ‘stopped by’ the new restaurant that has opened in our classroom and I thought I share a restaurant review ;-)

This is a small and casual place, with only two tables, but many willing and excited wait staff. You will not go unattended! Yes, the service is speedy and friendly. The restaurant has a real ‘family’ feel to it, especially in that you sometimes have to bus your own table. It is a very casual environment, with one host talking with her grandpa on the telephone as she directed me to my table. One challenging moment -  two hosts showed up at the front counter to welcome patrons, and they got into a loud but brief argument over which one would use the phone.

It’s clear that the restaurant is training new staff. One waiter put a hot frying pan right on my table, in the midst of my meal - that was a surprise! Another waiter took off her shoes as she was taking my order. I wonder if the wait staff is able to earn a living wage, because one great waiter was in her fire chief uniform, and she explained that she was getting ready to go to her next job.

What are the food specialties? As soon as you are seated, potato chips are delivered to your table as an appetizer. I had a delicious bowl of “Carrot and Lemon Soup.” Chef R breezed into the dining area with the suggestion “Try our cakes!” and Chef M was right behind him, adding “Try our pancakes!” Then, Chef H chimed in “We’re making cake in no time at all!” Do you know the special ingredient in their delicious sandwiches? Two small, thin cookies! A true culinary delight.

It’s clear that the restaurant is not yet accustomed to serving crowds, because when I ordered many of the menu items, I received the answer “We don’t have that.” Here’s hoping they work out the kinks in the days to come! Yes, if you have a chance to eat at the Big Cats’ new restaurant - go and enjoy their novel approach to good food.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Did you see the blossoms?

Spring weather means that we can get out and about more. The preschoolers and I went for a neighborhood walk, to see five flowering cherry trees, in a park located a mere two blocks from our school. I wrote this poem based on the children's own reflections about the fun we had together.

We went walking,
to see the cherry blossoms,
past the construction,
down the block,
around the corner,
heard the ambulance,
saw cars and trucks,
more flowers, blue and yellow,
we went walking,
all of us,
to see

There! See!
like snow,
picked up by the wind.
Let's jump for the branch,
shake the blossoms
gather blossoms for bracelets,
stand still and feel,
these beautiful blossoms
like snow.

Oh, what else?
Look and see -
big trees to climb,
sticks for digging,
worms, worms, worms,
bugs in the grass,
a green caterpillar.
We run in circles,
pause on the bench, and
eat a snack.

Looking back,
over our shoulders,
down the hill,
we see
the roof of our school.
We are so close
and yet
so very far away,
with beautiful blossoms
like snow.