Sunday, January 25, 2015

Play: Learning in Motion

I read in the Washington Post today about a preschool classroom in Arlington.  In the column, the teacher, Launa Hall, describes her struggles to teach reading skills to preschoolers while feeling guilty about not being able to allow them to play. The Pre-K standards she uses are doable in a play environment, but the mandated curriculum in which they are delivered, as we say in the trade, are not developmentally appropriate. The joy of childhood is a secondary characteristic, not a primary one, in public Pre-K programs. 

In our program, children are given multiple opportunities to construct their own knowledge. During our early morning, late afternoon, and outside times, when we set the environment for learning, they do just that! 

New York City

The picture above is New York City. Several children have been to New York recently, and, have parents who talk WITH their children, rather than down TO them. They come back to school with a fund of knowledge that flashcards and lesson books can't teach. If you look hard enough, you will see the Port Authority, and the Empire State Building. The builders were inspired by each other, and as an impromptu small group demonstrated their knowledge in the block corner. This whole enterprise was preceded by a flurry of drafting in the drawing/writing center. 

Design Team 

Our modeling of drawing, planning, and building all year contributed to this project, but the children did it on their own.

We went on a hayride in October but children are still conspiring to create their own. These girls asked me for rope, but I didn't have any. I was at a loss on how to help them, but one of them "got an idea" and organized a committee to create a "hayride" out of a wagon, scooter and tricycle. They did it themselves, based on their own past experience playing on our playground, and interacting with us and other children.

After the snow, children wanted to create "plows". Here is a picture of their idea:

Snow Plows
The boy on the left has worked out that a Tonka truck with a tire and a seat on it, pushing a shovel, makes an admirable snow plow. The boy on the right is using his friend's idea to make his own plow. Children learn from each other, as well as from adults. Vygotsky explained this many years ago. The children learn within a social network. That network includes each other as well as their teachers! 

Our program is alive with discovery and design. Interactions with adults are frequent, and powerful,but not coercive.We "teach" through setting the stage, following the learners and enabling their ideas with materials and methods. A program for preschoolers needs to be rich in materials, ideas, and loving interactions with knowledgeable adults.Those adults must, daily, discuss among themselves where and how the children are going with their learning, knowing that math, language and science are inherent in children's interests. The children are on their own developmental train riding into the future. We need to climb aboard. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Newsroom: A dramatic play center for literacy

We continue to encourage the children to interview staff, and other children for our newspaper. How utterly dear it is that they continue to be passionate about gathering news and stories. Before the holidays, parents presented our Pre-K children with real pens and notebooks. They carry them to assignments with pride!

Young boys going to an assignment

Taking their new notebooks and pens, John and Phillip (not their real names) proceed down the stairs to interview one of the teachers of the twos, Sarah. They talk to one another on the way down, trying to decide what questions they will ask her about her job. They enter the classroom, welcomed by the twos teachers, and sit on the floor, ready to write. Here are some of the questions:

Where do you work?    
What's your schedule?
What days do you work?
When do you go to work?
Why do you work?
and lastly,
What time do you go to bed?

These questions are simple, and maybe even obvious, but Sarah treats the children with respect, appearing to contemplate her answers before she gives them. She explains that she works at our center, that her schedule varies each day,and  that she works every weekday. She pauses at the question, Why? How do you explain the reasons for working to small children? She makes the answer seem totally obvious! "I work because I love children, and I need money to buy food". One of the boys admits that his parents work to earn money as well. Sarah decides to say that she goes to bed at ten every night; something the boys understand--they also have a set bedtime! 

During the interview John and Phillip write down the answers, asking Sarah for spelling when they feel unsure of their developmental writing skills.

The next step is to format this edition of our paper, inserting the interview, with pictures taken by myself. Parents will read the stories on the walls of the school, and other children will get to interview our Director. Some stories have been about the new marble run in Creation Station, or about a mother's visit to tell about her newspaper job at the Washington Post. 

Organically, we integrate developmental spelling, drawing, speaking and listening skills into a whole. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Not only are we integrating literacy and social studies, but we continually nurture connections within the community. Teachers, parents, children are all linked in a learning journey. In a Pre-K program, nurturing relationships between and among all members of the community makes for excellence in education. This is how it should be.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Numbers, numbers, who has those numbers?

I received a comment from a professor about my second last post. "Those numbers are a great idea! Where did you get them?" Well, I got the idea from a long-ago workshop about behavior management for children with sensory issues. In the workshop, the trainer (I do not remember her name. Mea Culpa.) explained a system where the children had numbers beneath their names and corresponding numbers on the floor so that every day they would know exactly where to go. This technique taught numbers, number order, and personal space. A neat, efficient way to give children their own spots on the floor or rug. If there were arguments, they weren't about favoritism. They were about who had what number. That kind of argument is constructive. We want children to argue constructively; it nurtures verbal and cognitive skills. 

I got the numbers themselves from Jan Brett. As you can see by clicking on the link (no, she isn't paying me for this referral! I wish!), the numbers come in different sizes, and the larger ones are those I use for the floor. The smaller ones are push-pinned under the names of the children, which are posted all year in alphabetical order. (So the children learn alphabet awareness, also.) As you can also see, there are little pictures from Ms. Brett's books to correspond to the number displayed. So if a child does not yet recognize numbers, that child can practice counting the little hedgehogs on his or her very own number. An elegant example of integrated, differentiated curriculum! 

Putting the numbers on the floor is easier on tile. My assistant, Mary Kehoe, and I put them on tile by simply using clear contact paper over them (or, rather, Mary did this, and I cheered her on. I'm not handy with contact paper.). This was at another center. On our rug at Clarendon, we have used colored duct tape, carpet tape, masking tape, and other ideas. They aren't as stable on a carpet but that is what we have. Budget time for repairs!

Young children in a group tend to get a bit panicky about someone else getting their spot, chair, toy, etc. Wouldn't you? Giving them a spot of their own every day for lining or sitting (with Mary, we used the numbers for circle as well) provides some sense of security. They understand that, if numbers are rotated, they will always get a chance to be number one.