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.