Sunday, November 27, 2011

Virtual Classroom for Young Children?

November 27, 2011
On: Washington Post “Virtual Schools Expand Territory” Lyndsey Layton & Emma Brown.
My hair stood on end. That’s the best way I can describe my reaction to the article in the Washington Post reporting that Virginia public schools were paying for some young children to learn “virtually”. 
 When I think of virtual education, my mind goes immediately to the online course I teach for Northern Virginia College’s Extended Learning Institute, a course for adults who need college credits in their field and find that online learning helps them maintain their sanity by cutting out driving to “brick and mortar” classrooms. They are already working full-time and raising families. Online learning for them is the perfect solution.
Why would virtual education for young children make my hair stand on end? Because the courses I teach at Nova are on Early Childhood Education. I teach that young children do not learn subject matter in separate categories. Quality programs do not teach science for one period, language arts for another, and physical education in another. Young children learn all of these things all of the time through working with other children and knowledgeable adults. They learn not only how to write, but how to share pencils; not only how to observe a science experiment, but how to discuss that experiment while jockeying for position around the science table. Learning about vibration, letters, math facts, and insects goes hand in hand with learning to disagree without being disagreeable; to encourage a friend; to converse about a topic of interest.
According to the article, the most successful virtual student has a learning coach/parent at home to supplement the lack of social-emotional learning that is crucial to a child’s future, but that definition of success is test-scores. Test-scores don’t measure ability to get along in a group of diverse children. In the workplace that ability will be as important as the ability to do math or to read and write. Relating to your loving mother just won’t replicate this experience.
Most young children are also kinesthetic, or physical learners. According to my friend, Rae Pica, a nationally known expert on movement education, children learn best through movement. How much better can a math lesson get than when children learn to count, add and subtract by participating in a game involving the whole body? Physical cues integrate the various areas of the brain involved in learning all subject areas.
Creativity also gets short shrift in today’s test-driven world, but those we most admire in society, from the late Steve Jobs to Gloria Steinem, have lived on the creative edge, pushing for change to improve the lives of millions. I pose the question: Can young children who are educated by sitting in front of a computer from the age of four be able to access their own creativity when that treasure chest inside their body/minds is relegated to last place in their educational toolkit?
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), children learn through play in a nurturing learning community of peers and knowledgeable adults. Does this image match that of the child sitting alone, or with his/her mother in front of a computer screen? You decide.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

P.S. Metro Map as Art

Before we went on our field trip we reviewed the metro maps so the children would understand how they worked. Since the D.C. Metro names its lines after colors, the children were especially attracted to lines that were named after colors they favored. The Orange Line, Yellow Line, Blue Line, Red Line and Green Line all had their fans. Since there was an interest in the visual aspect of the maps, we invited the children to create map art. Above is one representation.

Dem Bones: Our Fabulous Field Trip

How do you take sixteen four-year-olds and eight parents to the Smithsonian? By metro, of course! We decided to finish our project on bones by visiting the exhibit, Written in Bone . The advantages of working with children in a center located near a metro stop can't be exaggerated. The trip was easy, the learning monumental. 

We prepared the children with personal metro maps easily printed from the internet. They consulted their maps frequently and asked questions such as, "How many stops until...?" and, "What's the next stop called?", all while hugging poles or sitting in seats, giggling, as the train moved and rocked, . Including this practical literacy element made my professional heart quiver. Embedded Language Arts! Project learning! The children weren't thinking of such things. They were learning and using their learning outside of the traditional methods of worksheets and flash cards. We had examined deer and cattle bones. We'd played physician's office and hospital with xrays and a light board, leg braces and slings. We'd created art, both small and large, representing our own skeletons. Now was the time to see what the professional anthropologists did with bones.

We reconnoitered on the Mall, a sweeping vista that mocks the usual meaning of the word in American culture, and walked to the Natural History Museum. I won't describe the marvelous exhibits to you. Visit the museum or its website for the details on those. Suffice it to say the children were enraptured, and they impressed their parents with their new vocabulary words and knowledge, as well as their burning curiosity about every aspect of the exhibit. They greeted the adventure of eating in the museum cafeteria with equal enthusiasm. That's the rapture of early childhood.

We will return to the human body this year. Already the children express interest in muscles, ligaments, and organs through their book sharing. The Magic School Bus and the Human Body has become a popular book in our small library. For now we say adieu to our project. I encourage you who teach young children in traditional programs to embrace a more project-oriented approach. The learning goes on and on.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


I went to another Hybrid training course. It was three  hours of rehashing of what I have learned in other Hybrid Training courses, except that I do pick up some neat tricks each time I am required to attend one. This time I learned about Wordle, which is a site for creating art through words. Here is the Wordle I created for this blog.

Wordle: Arts and Young Children
I think that it is much smaller than it appears on the Wordle site, but you can see how lovely something you create out of simple words can be. The site is here.
Enjoy the fruit of my morning in another training class!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dem Bones: Integrating Art and Science

Our two groups of four/fives took a walk before Halloween to see the neighborhood decorations. Skeletons adorned some of the trees and the children began talking about how they were scary. My teaching partner, Sue Nellor, and I talked about bones, and how we all had them. This led to our bone study. Since the arts are an integral part of our curriculum, we did more with bones in art than most schools would. Dramatic play included bone x-rays on a light tray. A human skeleton puzzle, created by Sue was on the science table along with cattle, and later deer bones. Books about the human body abounded around our large room. White chalk on black paper served as the medium for skeletal drawings. Several children made their skeletons look mean, and some cheerful, using the art experience to express their feelings. Other projects included making skeletons with sticks and using clay to explore a more 3d representation.

In staff meeting we discussed the ways we could enrich the learning and we came up with the idea of body tracings that included bones. The children had sung "Dem Bones", looked at posters about the skeleton, and felt their own rib, knee, back and shin bones on their own bodies. Would they be able to draw their own skeletal bones on their tracings? Would we end up with princess outfits and ball caps? We needed to see.

The children traced each other on white paper from a huge roll. That was the first step. The second was that they drew in their bones, guided by several posters and books with drawings of the human skeleton. The children each took to the task with enthusiasm.  It was fascinating to see how each child perceived the skeleton bones and translated that perception; some were all ribs, some many joints, correctly and incorrectly placed.  Some children couldn't resist drawing a face. The spine became a line down the center, or a line half-way down. The pelvis was included in some drawings. One boy asked where the penis bone was. A good question!

Next week we will visit the Smithsonian Natural History Museum by Metro. Our plan is to visit the Written in Bone exhibit to take us through skeletons to Thanksgiving, history, artifacts and other related subjects. Who knows what other arts activities will be born from this exploration?