Monday, October 31, 2011

Update: Chair Raffle Winner

Four times a year, I find myself staring at the computer monitor as 6:30pm approaches and I watch the completion levels slowly creep towards 100%.  It's stressful and makes me anxious, but there's no denying how fantastic my teachers are as they thoughtfully complete the Checkpoints (we use Teaching Strategies GOLD).  The data that we get from their assessments and documentation effects the weekly planning and individualization for the classroom.  It's very important work (VIW?).

As stressful as it is for me, I know it's also a lot of work for the teaching teams.  So this year, I thought I'd put some incentive behind it other than the customary thank you that I always send their way.

Teaching teams who had all of their work done before 6:30 tonight were eligible to have their classroom entered in a drawing to win this beauty.  Certainly something to desire for one's classroom environment; as it has been sitting in our living for about two weeks, I've grown somewhat attached to it, but I will deliver it to whomever is declared the winner.

The process was simple.  I monitored to see who was done, slapped that classroom's name on a mini Post-It note, and prepared to launch it into the great pumpkin.  Using some foresight, I realized they'd all stick together, so I folded over the top to make even mini-er Post-Its.

What I love right now?  Is that as I'm writing this post, several teachers are trying to reach me via Facebook to inquire about the winner.  Ha.  Joke's on them as the winner hasn't been pulled yet.  I'm all about suspense.  I wrote a nice email to our Executive Director acknowledging that they had accomplished their task and then left them hanging' with this:  "And the winner is..........................  going to be announced on Monday."  Bazinga!
The Great Pumpkin

The excitement is building... who will win?!
I'm waiting for my hubby to get home to help me draw the name so that I can avoid a conflict of interest.  I'm not sure if he knows this is his task, but I do know that he'll be happy to get that mini recliner out of the house.  He even cut his finger on it bringing it up to the unit the other day (don't worry, all has been since fixed).
Now we're cookin' with gas!  And doesn't he look thrilled?
He reaches in to pull out the winner....

Hurry!!!! Who is it?!

And finally... the winner is revealed.   Congratulations to the classroom below!

Those toddler/twos will be so excited!!!
The next Checkpoints are due in February..... leaves me plenty of time to find another fabulous prize!  Thanks again to my amazing teachers for all of their hard work!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mini Recliner Raffle

Bribery will get me everywhere.  Our Progress Checkpoints are due next Friday and I have offered a fabulous prize to be given away in a raffle; each classroom that has their Checkpoints done by 6:30pm on Friday will get their name entered into the raffle.  Usually I offer "semi"-fabulous prizes; this one though?  Deserved to be called fabulous.  Downright amazing!  I can't wait to see who wins!

Isn’t this chair so inviting? It’s practically begging a child to crawl in, recline, and dig into a book.

Building a Study

Whew!  Feeling a little overwhelmed today as I attempt to encourage teaching teams to begin studies rather than randomly choosing random activities with the sole purpose of covering objectives for observation.  Not to say that meeting objectives isn't important; it is.  However, it's almost important that learning experiences be meaningful to the children so they are engaged and excited about learning.  We want children to retain what they've learned, not flush it because now we're moving on to something new.

I helped one teaching team better understand this today as I asked them to identify the integration of content areas with their recent study of pumpkins.  We uncovered something that was a little alarming -- there was no literacy tied into their study!  Of course, now that we've identified this, we can address it going forward.  I demonstrated how to create a map with the content areas and how to tie those objectives into the learning.  We need not pull children aside into small groups to show us how to do something just so we can say we've observed it!  Pish-posh.  Identify what you need to observe and document and then think outside of the box on how you can create the opportunity for observation.  Need to see some gross motor?  Offer the children a structured activity outdoors.  I fear teachers are so overwhelmed by the notion of objectives that they're missing the teaching component.  We learn best when we're invested and interested in the topic. 

Personally, I hated math and science growing up and my grades properly reflected this fact.  It wasn't made fun and exciting and it certainly wasn't integrated into something that I did enjoy.  If you have a child who loves to visit the art area all day, rather than trying to redirect her to another area, consider how you can bring other content areas to that interest area.  Work smarter, not harder.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Crayons {Renewed}

I've seen several posts about recycling old crayons & melting them down into large rainbow crayons; I've also been mesmerized by such crayons while visiting the SCARCE recycling center.  Perhaps it's because I've been crazy busy lately and looking for a delightfully mind-numbing task.  Perhaps it's because I'll always love school supplies.  Or perhaps even still, it's because I love to get crafty. 

Whatever the reason, I picked up a bucket of discarded crayons from one of my sites today with a mission to recycle them.  I patiently peeled off all the wrappers (this was fantastic and soothing, much like bubble wrap).  The only part that sucked was when a wrapper would occasionally get stuck under my nail.  It hurt a bit.

The anal retentive side of me insisted on sorting the crayons by color after the removal of the wrapper.

I then began breaking the crayons into pieces using my hands and then a knife to make the pieces small enough to fit into the silicon muffin tin.

I decided I wanted to make solid colors as well as the rainbow chunks I had planned on.

I put in the oven at 230 degrees for about 20 minutes....

I won't lie --- they didn't look very good when they came out & I was a little bit nervous.  Did I just waste all that time for nothing?

I left them to harden on the counter top for a while & when I came back to see them?

Mission accomplished.  I can look forward to making more in the future when classrooms decide to recycle their used crayons!  I'm thinking of sharing a set of these with my littlest cousin, E who is likely just about ready to do some exploration with color.

What do you think?  I might explore other options for size/shape.  I saw a link online where they used a butterfly-shaped muffin tin.  Could be cute, but I wasn't crazy about the shape being the focus rather than the medium.

There's another batch in the oven right now & I'm more than a little excited about this project!!!

Update on the project:
I'm conisdering a used crayon drive at school/home (I live in a condo building with lots of kids so it can't be that hard, right?) to continue this project.  I also found an adorable way to package these for gift-giving.

I had three strawberry containers sitting on the counter from my score at Target (end of the season, only $1.75 for the pack & they were at the peak of perfection).  I ran them through the dishwasher (heater off) and put the crayon pucks (pretty accurate, don't you think?) in a horizontal line.  Love.  Thinking about wrapping a ribbon or twine around the outside and attaching a simple tag for gift giving. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dabbling in the 5th Edition [Creative Curriculum Style]

The many delegate agencies of DFSS (Department of Family Support Services) recently came into the good fortune of having the 5th edition of the Creative Curriculum system purchased for each preschool classroom.

The Creative Curriculum is fantastic as it is encourages classroom teachers to plan around the interests of young children through concrete experiences.  The newest edition is amazing as well ... however, I do have some reservations about the system.  The system includes the 5 books and parent resources, e-books for the teachers to send home, and a classroom library of about 75 books.  It has the potential to be a powerful tool.  My concern is that this new system comes with study guides, similar to the study starters of the previous editions, which are quite... planned?  Laid out?  Scripted?  I'm not sure how to describe it, but there is almost a prescribed day-to-day format within each study.  I love the notion of studies with young children as it allows them to construct deeper relationships with the material or topic.  I don't want my teachers to feel that they have to do only these topics or follow the tiemline as it's dictated in the system.


My plan for this coming month is to sit down with my preschool teachers and talk about studies in preschool and what a quality study should look like and how to begin, investigate, and celebrate their studies with children.  I don't want to discourage, but I also don't want the teachers to be limited.

What are some of the studies that you've done with preschoolers (or younger)?  How did you begin the study?

Wish me luck!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Setting a Focus

I had a supervision meeting with my Executive Director today and we talked about how things are going but we also talked about what's to come at the agency.  I really like this kind of discussion as it opens our eyes to the possibilities and helps us to create a road map.   While I am a self-starter, I also like to know the general direction I should be moving in.  Sometimes swimming alone out there gets lonely!

My goals for the 2011-2012 school year include increasing (introducing) documentation panels to our teaching teams and helping them create appropriate documentation; introducing new and exciting materials to the classrooms (different writing utensils, different sized papers, etc); and focusing on the physical environments (get. the. clutter. out).  These are the things my supervisor is hoping to see change in the next year.  I'd like to throw my own personal goal in there as well:  respecting tiny humans as people.  They deserve nothing less than what we'd want for ourselves.

News came through the pipeline today regarding support for me as well; I got the go-ahead to post for a 0-3 Education Coordinator.  This position will complement my role as the 3-5 Coordinator and will allow me to better support my preschool classroom teams and children.  I would have to monitor 9 classrooms instead of all 16 classrooms.  I'm exciting to post the position and see who submits lesson plans -- and I also hope that current coworkers also seize this opportunity to apply.  Overall, I am just happy to think I may have someone to constructively vent with at work!

It's hard to believe that July is already half gone, but there is no time like the present to seize the day and make the simple changes that could possibly inspire my teachers to make bigger changes!  Maybe I'll inspire myself!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Noodle Blocks

After finding the inspiration online, my dear ECE friend and I decided that we too wanted to make new and interesting blocks for children to explore... out of noodles!  Not the pasta kind, the kind you take to the pool with you!  I read a blog post about the idea and was instantly ready to begin.  I visited our Dollar Tree right by the agency I work at and was oh so pleased to find that they had the noodles for $1.  I picked up 10 in various colors and looked like a fool walking to my car with them and stuffing them into my backseat.  

Not the easiest thing to carry, but well worth it!

Megan and I got to work tonight for a professional development dinner/brainstorming session that was centered around the noodles.  She came prepared with two fantastic beverages from Starbucks (oh how I love the way Starbucks sparks my creative juices and fixes anything) and I was prepared with a bread knife.  Hot date, huh?  Sounds more like a plot from Law & Order, but it was amazing!  I started cutting and was almost more intrigued by the way the bread knife slid through the foam noodle like hot butter.  I felt like I was cutting a baguette for dinner.  It was truly an interesting experience.  As I was cutting the noodles, it occurred to me that some of our blocks should have a slope to them.  So I began cutting some of each color to have an angle (just like bread). 

Then we realized that we could play with the height of the noodles as well.  So you'll notice the varying heights of the noodles.  Imagine the mathematic conversations you could have with a tiny human while exploring these blocks. 

More bars in more places?  Anyone?
We had so much fun with these blocks that before we knew it, we had both built our own creations!  We began to think about what our tiny humans might do with them in their first interactions & are quite excited to see their reactions!  If you choose to do this activity & share the blocks with your very own tiny human, please post some pictures so we can scope it out!

"It looks like a gate!"

"It looks like the city!"

One warning with this project, the foam is likely to attract little teeth (and lots of bit marks as a result) so this may be a project that needs to be 'redone' every now and then.  But even that experience is a good exploration of texture as well as cause & effect. 

Happy slicing!

What You'll Need:
Pool Noodles
Bread Knife
Cutting Board

Illinois Early Learning Standards:
6.A.ECa  Use concepts that include number recognition, counting and one-to-one correspondence.
6.A.ECb  Count with understanding and recognize "how many" in sets of objects.
6.D.EC    Make comparisons of quantities.
7.A.ECa  Demonstrate a beginning understanding of measurement using non-standard units and measurement words.           
7.B.EC   Show understanding of and use comparative words.
8.A.EC   Sort and classify objects by a variety of properties.
8.B.ECa  Recognize, duplicate and extend simple patterns, such as sequences of sounds, shapes and colors.           
8.B.ECb  Begin to order objects in series or rows.           
11.A.ECa Use senses to explore and observe materials and natural phenomena.
12.D.EC   Describe the effects of forces in nature (e.g. wind, gravity and magnetism).       
19.B.EC   Coordinate movements to perform complex tasks.
5.A.ECd  Visual Arts: Investigate the elements of visual arts. 


Monday, June 13, 2011

Love and Nature

There's just something special about being outside; soaking up the sunshine and fresh air.  Add a tiny human to the mix and suddenly you can't help but notice and appreciate the little things right along with them.  A perfect example can be seen here.  The littlest things catch their eye and what should be a brief walk between Point A and Point B turns into an extended lesson -- if you follow their lead.  I encourage you to do this, maybe not every time, but on occasion.  Get down on their level and be present in the moment with them!

And why not bring some of the great outdoors inside with you?  You could give your tiny human a bag for collecting treasures outside and bring them back inside to explore.  My favorite choice for this is a muffin tin.  Yep, you read this correctly... a good ol' fashioned muffin tin!  There's nothing better for classifying materials.  After a trip to the beach, you could sort seashells by color, size, or shape.  If your tiny human has an eye for "jewels" (rocks to the lay person), why not bring them inside and do some classifying?!  No special equipment required.  When it comes to exploring with children, keep it simple!!!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Water Hose Limbo!!

Summer can get hot... why not cool off in a new way and have some fun with your tiny human?

What You Need

A water hose!
A squirt nozzle attached to the water hose
An adult to hold the water hose
A grass or other soft surface
Portable tape, CD or MP3 player and music (optional)

How to Play Water Hose Limbo

1. Attach the squirt nozzle attachment to the water hose.

2. If you choose to play music, set up the tape, CD or MP3 player in a location that is out of the way of the water stream.

3. An adult squirts the water stream so that the water stream creates a limbo pole. The adult holds the squirt nozzle so that the water limbo pole is high enough for all of the preschoolers to walk under the water limbo pole without getting wet.

4. Preschoolers take turns walking under the water limbo pole until each preschooler has had a turn.

5. The adult lowers the water limbo pole a few inches so that some preschoolers must duck their head or squat a little to walk under the water limbo pole. All preschoolers take a turn with the water limbo pole at the same level.

6. Continue to lower the water limbo pole each time that all preschoolers have had a turn to pass under the water limbo pole.

Variations of Water Hose Limbo

Animal Limbo - Combine Water Hose Limbo with Animal Limbo for a fun outdoor party game for preschoolers.

Party Themed Limbo – Adapt Water Hose Limbo challenges to work with a party theme. If you’re having a pirate party for preschoolers, call out limbo tasks with a pirate theme such as “walk under the plank” and “duck under the pirate sword”.

Tips for Preschoolers Playing Limbo

Don’t Eliminate Players – Focus preschool games on trying out ideas and having fun. When kids get eliminated, they don’t get to keep exercising. Keep all preschoolers in the game and keep the activity focused on fun and fitness.

Allow Different Limbo Positions
- Many preschoolers can’t limbo in the traditional limbo position. Adapt the game so that preschoolers can be successful. Allow preschoolers to try out different ways to pass under the stream of water. 

Activity resource: 

Illinois Early Learning Standards:
12.D.EC Describe the effects of forces in nature (e.g. wind, gravity and magnetism).
32.A.ECa Begin to understand and follow rules.
32.B.ECa Engage in cooperative group play.
32.B.ECb Begin to share materials and experiences and take turns.
19.A.ECa Engage in active play using gross motor skills.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Painting: Computer Style

I had the pleasure of spending some one-on-one time with a child at our agency this evening as she was the last child to be picked up and the teacher had something to finish... I quickly volunteered to hang out with this child, who shall from here on out be known as Boop (my nickname for her).

We sat at the desk and Boop noticed on one of the blog posts I had up that there was a painting of a rainbow.  She asked if I had painted it.  I was quite proud and confirmed that I had and then asked if she was interested in making a painting of her own.  We began this adventure by exploring how to change the color on our paintbrush.  Once Boop mastered this task, she was ready to go!  She exclaimed over the different colors and how the lines worked.  There was some serious conversation about lines and shapes.

Boop is working hard, using lots of colors and lines.
After she felt 'finished' with her painting, Boop told me the story of her picture. 

Boop's masterpiece

I began to write the story that Boop dictated and after I was done, she said she wanted to write the story too...

Look at that determination! 

The finished story.

Boop's Story:
"You climb up the stairs, then you're in the house.  The monster eats you!  The monster feels much better, but then the shark ate the monster!  It's a spooky place and there's wolves there.  There's crocodiles and sharks.  There's a balloon and the crocodile is going to pop the balloon."

Reflections from a Two's Teacher: Rainbow bottles

The teacher who received the rainbow water bottles sent me this incredible reflection:

Hello Danielle,

The children showed a lot of interest in the color water bottles you made for us. I sat with them and showed them what the water bottles were able to do. Then I asked them questions. What do you see in the bottle, etc... Some of them named the colors in the bottles and some of the kids said it was juice. I then gave each of them a bottle and I let them explore the bottle. Then we started looking at the reflection of colors on our hands and arms. We also observed how the bubbles appeared when we shook the bottle and turned it upside down repeatedly. The kids tried carrying more than one bottle, so I asked them about the weight of the bottles and some kids said "it's heavy" and some of the kids said "it's not heavy". This was a great experience for the kids.

Thank you for your great ideas.

I don't know about you all, but I instantly started to think about the math implications involved with this type of project!  What math skills do you think the children in this classroom will be exposed to as a result of receiving the water bottles?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Recycled Rainbow Reflections

After a long weekend with family and a long walk downtown on a hot sunny day, we had several (six) large water bottles on the kitchen counter... I begged my husband to resist the urge to throw them away and allow me some time to think about what to do with them.  I've been collecting a bag of recycled goodies for the children at my agency but this was just a unique opportunity to have six fairly similar bottles, all clean, just sitting there!

I did what any rational teacher would do.  I made rainbow bottles!  Each bottle has a different color and is sealed with hot glue.  What's the point?  This is a fantastic way for tiny humans to observe light and its properties in a hands on way; the light shines through and leaves a color reflection.  It also allows for some experimentation with color mixing.  Overall, it just appeals to the curious nature of tiny humans!  It took me roughly 20 minutes to make and now I have 6 bottles to share with the two-year-old classroom!  I can't wait to see how surprised the teacher is when I show up on Tuesday! 

Just add water (and food coloring)!
Sealed with hot glue.

 This type of activity is open-ended and children can participate in making the bottles as well.  You could add oil to make a "lava lamp" which always turn out cool.  You could add items like beads, buttons, or glitter to make it even more interesting!  I kept it simple because I'm interested in seeing not only how the children explore them but also how the teachers utilize them.

Note the color reflections on the windowsill & imagine what this might inspire in a child-centered art area of a classroom.  Imagine the possibilities!

20 minutes later, all packed up and ready for delivery!

Illinois Early Learning Standards:
11.A.ECa  Use senses to explore and observe materials and natural phenomena.
12.E.ECb  Participate in recycling in their environment.
25.A.ECd  Visual Arts: Investigate the elements of visual arts.
26.B.EC    Use creative arts as an avenue for self-expression.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Back to Basics: Nature

Frequently when out on a walk with young children, they begin to collect pieces of nature and stash them away in their pockets.  Sometimes the adult demands the child empty her pockets at the door; sometimes the adult accepts this and allows the child to bring those treasures into the house or classroom; and sometimes, just sometimes, the adult encourages the child to bring those items in for further exploration and conversation. 

The mental image for me is the fall nature walks that teachers usually take with children.  They encourage the children to collect the leaves and then allow the children to make nature collages.  But I've been giving this type of experience some thought...

Why not further extend their understanding of nature and the composition that is nature?  Encourage children to bring the leaves into the home/school and begin to break down the leaves.  How?  Mortar and pestle (you know, that thing you got to make guacamole but never really use)!  Children can grind the leaves down to the most basic levels and experience all that the leaves have to offer with their 5 senses.  Then, children can use the created "leaf dust" to make a representation of a tree.  Or whatever else their little hearts desire.

Don't have a mortar and pestle?  I'm willing to bet you could find one at GoodWill or HomeGoods.  We got ours as a wedding gift... and it now resides on the shelf... unused... waiting perhaps for a tiny human!

A sad little mortar hanging out just above the cereal...

Ours came from Crate & Barrel, but you don't need to get super fancy for grinding up nature!

Just imagine the possibilities!!!
Happy Nature-Walking!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Reflection on Relay

Materials had been purchased for two of our sites and disbursed to the classrooms with no real intentionality or explanation.  Teachers asked "Well what is that platform for?  Can I put it in the hallway to get it out of the way?"  This type of question lead the project to its core, looking at the materials and equipment in the classrooms and how to intentionally introduce them to not only the children, but also to the teachers. 
To keep the project manageable, it was brought back to just one site with 6 classrooms.  Teachers participated in a workshop about clay; they were introduced to its properties and given tips on how to use the material with young children.  Teaching teams were then asked to share documentation from the experiences they offered children and those pictures were shared via website for teachers to see and reflect on.  Other items like articles and reflection questions were also shared via this website.  After the first clay workshop, teachers did offer clay in the classrooms but it didn't last long; so we invited Allen (another Relay participant who has proven to be invaluable and one of my best resources yet) to lead a workshop on clay with an emphasis on mathematics.  Teachers shared their "ah ha!" moments long after Allen's departure.  It is the agency's intention to continue to work with Allen to support the needs and development of the teaching staff.
For me, the Relay Project has been a life-changing experience.  I've gained so much by sharing experiences and reflections with a group of my peers that I might not otherwise have been able to meet with; knowing that time was set aside each month to meet helped maintain the focus.  I have seen things and met people I otherwise might not have had the opportunity to; a personal favorite was meeting and chatting with Lella Gandini.  I have learned to do nothing without joy.  The joy I find in my work keeps me motivated and energized, even when things get difficult and frustrating.  My only wish is that I had been involved from the beginning.  I've seen myself grow (and continue to grow) into a reflective role at the agency and at the advice of a friend have "embraced the baby steps" and "do everything with love."  I feel better equipped to guide my teaching teams into reflective practice and intentional teaching as a result of participating in the project.  I see the changes and growth when I enter a classroom and see a documentation panel hanging on the wall, when previously there may have been commercially-made art.  I intend to follow through with these changes long after our closing meeting this June; the benefits have proven to far outweigh any obstacle.  We are moving forward in our growth, no matter what.  The project has helped me to see that there will always be obstacles, but we just need to find the way around them.
Our project within the Relay Project has changed and shifted several times and changed hands over time, however the overall goal has always been the same:  provoke and inspire our teachers to share meaningful, intentional, and high-quality interactions and experiences with the young children in their classrooms. 
Moving forward, no matter what.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The 5 most important words

I need a drink now?
The weekend is finally here?

Actually... no.  What would you say are the five most important words?  At first I thought this was an open-ended question but it was quickly answered by the speaker at the Cardinal Stritch graduation ceremony this past weekend in Milwaukee.  Please, thank you, I'm sorry.  Ha.  These kids are graduating college with the same rules or guidelines they learned in kindergarten!  All I Really Need to to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten?  Bases, covered. 

By using please, you are showing that you cannot do everything yourself.  You need help from others to succeed.  Thank you shows others you appreciate them and their efforts.  I'm sorry.  Pretty self-explanitory.  We're all human and we all mistakes, but we learn from them and grow.  Edison once said, "I have not failed, I've simply found 10,000 ways that do not work."  When we screw up, it's important to reflect on the error and keep moving.  Just keep swimming. 

What would you say are the next 5 most important words?  Why?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Music of my heart

What’s the music inside you?
Lame, right?  I mean c’mon, this question made me think of the Nsync song about the music of the heart but after I finished singing the song in my head (and humming out loud), I began to consider the real message.  What’s your passion?  Remember that expression about doing something you love and never working a day in your life?  That’s what we’re talking about!  What’s the one thing you love to do and would do even if no one was paying you?  For me, I thought about the environments of early childhood classrooms.  I would LOVE the chance to rearrange, repurpose, and redecorate early childhood classrooms.  It’s one of my passions!  I often do it with classroom teachers while visiting and just begin making simple suggestions and before you know it the entire room has changed and the behavior problems that once were the center of every team meeting have disappeared and now we can focus on the actual learning.  That’s my education music.  I also have some scrapbook music in there as well; I could spend an entire day scrapbooking without batting an eye.  And blogging… it’s no secret that I love to blog and even if no one else reads it, to me it’s a simple way to document my growth.  An online journal, if you will, that helps me in my journey of reflection.
What’s the music inside you?  Go ahead, sing the NSync song, and then answer the question.  ;)

Monday, May 16, 2011

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I attended a graduation ceremony this weekend for my lovely cousin who completed her studies to become a teacher (Go Emily!) and in the moment, the speech shared by the keynote felt trite and way. too. long. 

But after letting that speech and the sentiments marinate for a bit, I feel the speech was not only appropriate, but quite 'catchy.'  The gist of the speech left the audience with three questions to consider in life.  Seems little cheesy at the get-go but after hearing the message, I truly think this man had the message of reflection in mind with his speech & I sat in the US Cellular Arena in Milwaukee, WI with a light bulb above my pretty little head. 

This week I’ll be sharing the questions with you and seeking your thoughts…

What do you want to be when you grow up?For me this question hit home because my dear friend Megan and I have been asking each other this question for the past two years and as scary as it can be, I’m not sure I know the answer yet.  When I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher.  When I was in college, I wanted to be a teacher.  Then I became a teacher and saw the opportunity to affect more than just 20 children with my knowledge and passion.  I dove into a position as the mentor for our teachers and have enjoyed the challenge so greatly that I now wonder how to make an even bigger impact.  It’s important that we keep growing, keep pushing ourselves and find the tasks that require us to do something greater than we ever imagined we could.  It’s easy to settle into the comfortable and put ourselves on auto-pilot; but imagine what you could be missing!  Don’t settle for ordinary. 

So, the obvious next question here is simple.  What do you want to be when you grow up?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bribery and Teachers

Let me begin this post by sharing the challenge set out before the teachers at the beginning of our Spring season for the assessment cycle...

The classroom with the most observations entered into the GOLD system will win a semi-fabulous prize.

The season ends tomorrow and I began to graph the trends of documentation collection for the entire year and have realized that yes, I need to award the teacher who collected the most data, but I also need to recognize the outstanding efforts of one of our infant teachers.  I bet you're wondering, Why is she so special?

For the fall season, this particular teacher collected no observations.  Considering our assessment tool is observation-based, you can imagine the sense of alarm I experienced after completing the fall cycle.  Winter?  Winter brought us 1 observation from that classroom.  Sigh.  Now I also need to recognize that during the past few months, this teacher has been dealing with some incredible turnover and poor work ethic of partner teachers.  Spring.  C'mon Spring, bring us something good!  No whammys, no whammys, big money.... STOP!  Spring brought us... drumroll please... ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY EIGHT observations.  WHAT?!  Who is this new woman and how did this happen?  I could not be prouder of her work & the work she has done with her new teaching partner, who has been working hard to collect observations and create documentation panels, etc.  I have been smothering these teachers with love in celebration!  They were, in fact, blushing.


Is mine!!!

P.S.  In case you're wondering, the winner this season had 289 observations collected for Spring Cycle.  SERIOUSLY?!  My teachers are kind of amazing!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

We Organized the Chaos!

I cannot express enough how proud I am of the teachers I am fortunate enough to work with!  There was a shot a while back about the teacher's workspace overwhelming the children's environment [as seen here].  Cue a late night staff meeting that turned into a bit of an in-service...

I am the happiest Education Coordinator on the block!  I can't tell you how pleased I am and how much I enjoyed observing the children in their newly designed spaces today!  They were so engaged and busy!


Best.  Teachers.  Ever.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

So there I was, sitting on the couch surfing Facebook and reading comments left on my page regarding my blog. A dear friend made a comment about reading her journal and noticing the heavy mention of “the journey” after reading my post about valuing the journey (January 3, 2011).

Cue the epiphany!

When it comes to the journey of a teacher (anyone in education really), we need to focus on the process of the journey, not the product. So much like the way I ask teachers to focus on how the children are experiencing materials and forming relationships and understanding with them, I need to stop and observe the relationship teachers are forming with material and theory. I’m embarrassed to say that I have instead been focusing on the end product of where I’d like the teachers to be rather than appreciating where they are and celebrating the journey with them. It’s an interesting thought and I am eager to further develop it and to share it with others.

Now back to Facebook!

My teachers are the best!

As you may have noticed from checking out my profile, I work, live, and play in the city of Chicago.  This being said, my agency is only one of many delegate agencies funded by the city's Head Start grant.  Today I had an opportunity to explore Teaching Strategies GOLD reports with my colleagues from other agencies and I had the brightest, most beautiful "AH HA!" moment while participating in a conversation.  My teachers are the best!  Overall, I have some of the most amazing teachers who are willing to do anything for the children we serve and although we have some weak spots, we are something to brag about!  I was very proud & can't wait to get back to the office tomorrow to smother my teachers with some much needed love!  To all the teachers out there, thank you for all of your efforts.  They do not go unnoticed!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Problem Sovling by Ooey Gooey's Lisa Murphy

An article like this is too good not to share with the education world!

Teaching Problem Solving to Young Children

Teaching Problem Solving to young children
We have all witnessed it… the children who, at the ripe old age of six, or maybe even four, can spell their names, count up to 100, recite their phone number, play a musical instrument, dance for grandma, and maybe can even write a few words, but! when on the playground with peers, and someone takes their shovel, bike, truck or jump-rope what happens?

So how do you teach problem solving to young children? My off-the-cuff answer (although very honest and true) is SLOWLY, PATIENTLY and CONSISTENTLY!

Nothing happens over night, if you get a new group of children each year it might be best to spend the first few weeks observing who has a handle on problem solving and who might need some assistance. I have had two-year olds who could get shovels back and six-year olds who still throw tantrums!
First things first: lets take a look at the surroundings and make some assessments through observation… is the fighting and arguing between children stemming from possible environmental issues? i.e.: Is there only ONE of the favorite objects? Too few for the large number of children? Might I need to acquire more? Is the arguing happening right before rest time? Lunch time? Just back in from outside playing? Are they extra tired and hungry? Is it always on Mondays after the weekend?

I had a group of children one year who always fought, bickered and pestered each other on Thursdays…. after some detective work I found out there was a TV show that most of them were watching on Wednesday night! The show was keeping these young children up too late for their 6:00 am arrivals to before-school care. Dealing with the environmental factors that might be causing the headaches might often be all that is needed to restore the peace.

However, when a child has something and another child wants it (turn on the bike, swing on the swings, the yellow truck)… I will show/teach/model to the child HOW to ask for it through words such as:

“Tell him that you’d like a turn when he is finished.”
“Ask for a turn when she’s done.”
“See if he wants to trade.”
“What would you like to do while you are waiting?”
I had a two-year old that would bring the cars he would “trade” over to the other two-year old who HAD what he wanted… “Trade?” he’d say..offering his bounty… most of the time this worked for them. Sometimes it didn’t, then you use one of the above “ask for a turn when he’s done” scenarios.

Sometimes children will throw a fit, take, or grab. If I witness this I will calmly say, “give it back and ask for a turn when he is finished.” Sometimes the child will literally sit and wait – watching until the other child is “done” with it. Often this then turns into a power struggle and enters a whole different realm that has nothing to do with sharing or getting shovels back. This is a time when I would observe if this is a current hot item that we might need multiples of, or if a simple lesson in patience is in order… “What would you like to do while you are waiting for Noah to be done?” might be an appropriate action.

CHILD #1: I want to swing! She has been on the swings since we got out here!
TEACHER: Tell her you would like a turn when she is finished.
CHILD #1: I did and she said she’s not done!
TEACHER: What would you like to do while you are waiting?

SIDEBAR: Oftentimes the minute the child ON the swings (pushing the truck, riding the bike) realizes that you (as the grownup) are not going to MAKE him/her get off the swings (give up the truck, get off the bike) just so little Beth can have a turn, will often jump off the swing on her own accord, “share” the truck or hop off the bike…BUT! That will happen only if this is the problem-solving pattern that happens ALL THE TIME – not just when you are feeling extra patient and are in a good mood! Consistency is key!
The real secret is focusing on the child who “wants it” and teaching methods of problem solving: waiting, requesting, and/or finding something else to do.

In a nutshell:
When conflict happens, grabbing, taking, screaming, whining over an object or an item, take their hands and sit with them. Do not HOVER over them three feet taller making the children LOOK UP at you. Get down – facilitate a dialogue between them. Preschool teachers are planting the seeds of problem solving when they do this; elementary teachers are keeping the skills alive and cultivating a deeper understanding. Please note that if you work with school aged children you cannot assume that they know what to do just because they are older… Resist the urge to simply say, “Go use your words!” I know some of the words a three, four, seven or ten year old will use!! So do you! It’s not pretty. We must take responsibility for teaching them the words we expect them to use as both members of a school environment and the community at large as well. Problem solving skills and learning how to get your shovel back are skills that will last a lifetime, long after the art as been thrown away, cubby tags have faded and report cards have been forgotten.

If children do not learn how to get their shovels back when they are little they will grow into adults who don’t know how to get them back either; playground antics, stolen shovels and grabbed away trucks turn into stolen staplers, borrowed scissors, lost computer discs and missed parking lot spaces. Grown ups who get fired from their jobs do not get fired because they cannot do their work, they get fired because they do not know how to deal with people! They do not know how to communicate! They do not have problem solving skills! Translate this to our preschool, kindergarten and primary classrooms – do children get kicked out of school if they can’t tie their shoes? If they get a “D” on a report card? If they cannot turn on the computer? No. But they will get kicked out if they bite…hit… kick… all which are manifestations of a lack of PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS!

CHILD #1: He took my shovel!
TEACHER: Tell him, “I want my shovel back please”
CHILD#1: “I want my shovel back please”
CHILD #2: But I had it first and then he grabbed it away from me….

SIDEBAR: You know the drill… this bantering could go on for hours! See how it becomes a power struggle instead of problem solving?? This is when the teacher/parent/adult needs to MODEL problem solving skills, not be the boss and take the shovel and give to one child -or take it away or make them find something different to do. These methods are the easy way out and teach only that the ADULT is in charge… no one is learning anything for himself or herself!
TEACHER: Where might you find more shovels? (Now you are also modeling THINKING THROUGH and finding ANOTHER OPTION i.e.: problem solving)
CHILD #2: The bucket by the sandbox has shovels in it.
TEACHER: Let’s go see…

Walk over to bucket together and go from there.

Again, see how an ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUE could be stemming the whole debate? If there are only 10 shovels for 120 kids that is not enough! I worked in a school once that had 108 children in it and they only had four bikes on the playground. What were being dealt with, as BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS were really what? You are correct – ENVIRONMENTAL ones!

The secret to creating an environment that has minimal behavior problems is learning how to control the environment instead of the little people in it. Our goal is for the adult(s) to be involved and acting as a facilitator, assisting and guiding as the children learn these skills for themselves. Playing judge, jury and referee doesn’t teach anything. Facilitating independence and problem solving does NOT mean that we toss them back into the play lot with a strong “Go use your words” as we turn our backs and resume our discussion about last night’s party with our co-teachers. That is being disengaged, disconnected and is not teaching important skills that will last a lifetime.

We start out super involved, super connected, who needs what from us and how are we going to make sure they get it. Then slowly we back away, watching, observing… asking ourselves, “Is it working?” Anna Quindlen says, “each day we move a little closer to the sidelines of their lives which is where we belong if we do our job right.”

©2002 Ooey Gooey, Inc.
Lisa Murphy

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Admit it

There's some scent in your life that stops you dead in your tracks & takes you to another place, time, or emotion.  If you said no, you're lying. 

Delicious, no?

I had a flashback to preschool twice this month.  Once while frequenting the South Loop Target as I tend to do (too frequently) and another while sitting in a preschool classroom with children.  Different scents, same place in time.  The first was "Elmer's Paste" and the other was a box of new Crayola crayons (the 48 pack, which, consequently, I was never allowed to get for school because 'the list says 24').  Immediately flashed to my kindergarten classroom (circa 1990) and the teacher freaking out because Tommy (how fitting was that name!?) was under his table eating paste.  The crayons reminded me of kindergarten because for my birthday (September) I always got school supplies. And it made me the happiest child on the planet.  There's a home video of me at my 5th birthday party opening a box filled with nothing but school supplies. 

What are the fragrances of your life, preschool and beyond?  Are there times you literally stop what you're doing and inhale deeply to reflect on that time?  I know you do, just asking...

Calm in the midst of chaos

Such a valid question in the early childhood education sector along with every other!  We all feel stress and chaos, but this question was targeted at teachers of children birth thru 5.  What do we do when start to feel overwhelmed?  This applies in the classroom, as a baby's cries can sometimes be like nails on a chalkboard, but also to the climate of the profession as a whole.

As a Wisconsinite turned Chicagoan, I can't express enough how heartbreaking it is to see how chaotic life has become in Wisconsin.  My teacher friends are fearing for their jobs while still being expected to put on a happy face for their students!  Could you do it?  I'm not sure if I could. 

Stand tall and proud my fellow ECE professionals, some day we will be respected as much as doctors and lawyers (I can say that because my brother is in law school and my mom says we're both important people).  We just have to continue to make our voices heard.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Little victories!

Ladies & gentlemen...
Today marks the first day in the history of my career as an education coordinator, I have approved lesson plans from all 16 classrooms for the current week!  Next step, getting all 16 of them in, edited, and approved before Monday!  Hey, a start is a start and I am proclaiming this to be a win for me!

Lesson plans:  0

Have a great day!

What makes a good teacher?

Each month, I like to post a question for the teachers at one of our sites to ponder over and leave a quick response to; I realize this is one of those things that I should be doing with all of our sites and plan to as soon as I can find a safe place to post such an activity!  I love their responses!

What do you think makes a good teacher?  What's the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mondays are hard

I'm not sure what it is about Mondays, but they sure are not easy.  I spent the weekend doing a whole lot of nothing and with daylight savings, I feel pretty out of my realm today.  I need this feeling to pass quickly though as I have a lot to accomplish this week! 

One of my biggest goals for this week is to observe in classrooms to ensure teachers are implementing their lesson plans.  I feel like they write such amazing plans, I approve them, and that's the last thought they're given until the next week's cycle starts up the process again.  So this week?  I'm hunting for evidence of lesson plan implementation; not sure what it will look like yet and am aware it may look different in each classroom.  Our children deserve our best, even when we don't feel our best. 

Teaching without a plan is like going on a road trip without a map.I'm not saying you have to follow it exactly, but without that notion of "where are we going?" how can we get anywhere productive?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Life Skill 101: Organization

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

In the life of an educator (or let's face it anyone trying to juggle 8 balls at once), there is little as important as organizational skills.  When we allow things to pile up over time, it can be like trying to dig out after an avalanche.  This desk space (meant to be for the children mind you) is sending such a strong message yet I'm wondering if the teacher is even aware of this message.  What is this workspace saying to you?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Flannel board love

I am a HUGE fan of flannel board activities as an additive literacy activity for preschool-aged bambinos.  And?  I make my own, saving myself a bundle!  Last night I created a set of 6 flannel board activities that include critical thinking prompts (riddles) and cute pictures to accompany!  The set includes:  Transportation, What Shape Am I?, Who's Hatching, On the Playground, Mystery Colors, and 5 Little Monkeys (fingerplay).  I made them all in about an hour!  I used the patterns found here.

Not too shabby!  I used milk filters (I'm from a small town in Wisconsin) and love love love them because you can trace ANYTHING onto them with a Sharpie and then color w/ crayons and the colors are super vibrant!

 I am kind of in love with flannel board activities so if you're looking for ideas or have a few of your own to share, please do!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Found: Inspiration

So I was lurking on Facebook and found this photo in a friend's album and all I could think was Huh.  Which
quickly turned into Duh.  It seems so easy!  I know that I cannot rely on others to inspire me or tell me the path that I need to be on... they can encourage (and nudge) but I have to be the one to take the first step.  Likewise, my teachers need to take the first towards change and I can encourage and support them as much as they will allow. 

Just a thought.

All things considered

I've been waiting my whole life to figure out what I want to be "when I grow up."  From the age of 4 all I wanted to be was a teacher.  A second grade teacher just like my Auntie Jean.  I went through all of the hoops (thanks Wisconsin, you had quite a few) and graduated with my BS in Education for Birth- Age 11 in 2007.  However, my love had shifted.  I was no longer looking to be a second grade teacher like my aunt, I was focused on the littlest of learners... preschool!  I had done some student teaching in a kindergarten classroom and loved every moment of it.  It was painfully obvious, however, which children had not attended a 4K program before entering 5K.  I spent a year teaching at a Head Start in Wisconsin and then quickly realized (after a glance or two at my checkbook) that I couldn't stay.  I couldn't support myself that way.

In 2008, I applied to a center in Chicago and within an hour, had an interview scheduled.  I am still with that agency today but am now operating in a very different role.  After arriving in Chicago, I felt empty.  Bored even, which is not what one desires when working with such an exciting group of people!  I decided I needed to go back to school and earned my masters in Curriculum & Instruction (emphasis in ESL) in 2010... 6 days before I got married.  So the chaos of it all is behind me now and I'm wondering how to use what I have to support the teachers. 

As their Education Coordinator it is my responsibility to make sure the teachers feel loved and supported as they strive to meet and exceed the many different standards in ECE (NAEYC, Head Start Performance Standards, Teaching Strategies GOLD, etc.) and do it with a smile.  The smile, oddly enough, isn't the hard part!  I feel very fortunate to have a strong bond with most of the teachers and I think their trust in me comes from my experience in the classroom as well as my experience with the agency (I worked my way up from Lead Teacher to Ed Coord).  Thus far, my focus has been on organizaiton of paperwork and time management, a skill most were struggling with (and one of my strong points).

Now that their paperwork is coming together, I am digging into their environments and trying ever so patiently to help them understand why the decisions they make are so important.  Why the placement of one piece of furniture can change the entire "vibe" of the classroom.

Environments have long been a favorite area of education for me and I am trying to make them as exciting and engaging as possible for the teachers as well so that they can share that joy and excitement with their tiny humans.  I spend a lot of time watching HGTV and love to reorganize my home on a regular basis!  I enjoy going to Goodwill and finding amazing deals on items for home and school.  Perhaps some good will of my own will come into play as I attempt to "makeover" one of the neediest classrooms within our agency... afterall, I don't have my own classroom anymore!

All things considered?  I'm doin' alright.  Just need to get everyone as excited about it as I am...
We're gonna need a bigger boat.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Just Do It With Love

A common expression, especially in my experience as an Education Coordinator.  The things we do in our classrooms reflect the love we have for the children within them.  This week I've spent a large amount of time at one of our sites and have some concerns about the environment and the messages being sent to the children.

Science Area:  Spring 2011

I worry because although there are labels, they don't reflect the actual items present on the shelf.  Additionally, the materials seem to have just been thrown onto the shelves without much thought.  The materials have been the same since I began observing the room in the fall.  Now's the time to change!  With spring approaching (well teasing us really), I plan to intervene in the most supportive ways possible to help this teacher support her children through acts of love!

What constructive feedback would you share with this classroom teacher?

Spread the love!