Nature’s Gift To Early Childhood

It’s Saturday morning, my eyes are searching over the grassy, green field that sweeps our back field. I am thrown back by the beauty of nature and all that it has to offer. As we are deep into spring and headed for the dog days of summer, what are you doing in your classroom to promote such beauty and grace?

The early childhood classroom is much like the grassy field that envelops my eyes this morning. Or at least it should be. It should be open for possibilities, free to express sound, room for seeds to be sown and learning to be draped over each and every child just as the Laurel Oaks are canopied with new life.

Early childhood is the start of something beautiful. It’s fresh and new, it’s pliable, it’s moldable, it’s the chance to shape a world. However, in most cases it is not any of these things.

Take for instance, the habit of television in an early childhood classroom, the strict schedule of routines that really aren’t child-initiated, but more teacher-directed for their purpose, the closed opportunities such as color this pre-drawn tree green because all trees are green, or the one-child-at-a-time table session. Oh this one is my favorite. You know, the one where each child has a tree ditto in front of them and they are told to not touch it, do not touch the paint, do not touch anything while the teacher holds the paint brush for each of them and paints inside the lines of the tree. After a long while, she proceeds to the next child and so on. Oh my goodness, I know I would have been the child to get up running from the classroom as soon as the door opened yelling, “Save me before my adult life is crushed by the closed opportunities that wait before me!”.

Why is it that we can’t get passed the controlled nature of teaching? Why is it that teachers can’t let-it-go? Why are they so stuffy?

Many times it is out of shear laziness. Now I am being honest, it’s my down-fall most days. I can’t help with that problem, but sometimes it is out of a lack of knowledge. Many teachers in the early childhood field are given a quick set of trainings required by their state then thrown overboard into the classroom without a life preserver. Man overboard! That I can help with.

I want you to imagine a world with no limits, no boundaries, no one telling us NO. The joy of living each and everyday open to possibilities, the feeling of I’m safe, the urgency of learning, the excitement of a story. This should be your early childhood classroom. Each day a child should know that they will walk through your door and learn something new, feel safe and comforted, have anticipation to hear the story you’re going to read, and know that if they are told “no” it’s because of their safety and not because they can’t paint today.

As the winds blows through the field and the sun peaks through with a new day, allow yourself to blow with the flow and take a peak at the something new a child will learn from you each and everyday. It’s easy, so go ahead and release!

Until next time…go teach the children!

Not Your Average Lunch Tray

Last night my friend, sidekick, coworker facilitated a workshop on Totally Terrific Trays based on all learning domains. She has been gathering and gathering supplies to make any one’s tray totally terrific play! Keeping preschoolers interested and focused is a task for all of us, but making learning fun, interesting and fantastic will spark interest, curiosity, and inventiveness like nobody business!

Trays are wonderful because they not only allow for play, but they also teach self control, spacial awareness, and you can cover as many standards as your heart desire.

Organization is key and in the following photos, you will see just how simple it is to organize materials that makes tray play a sensation!

Setting these trays up for play takes skill, organization, and pre-planning. Don’t think on Monday you’re going pull materials and set these up. Tray play should be well planned and pre-planned, if possible weeks in advance. For those teachable moments where the children have inspired you, and there will be many, plan to gather the materials as quick as possible and then set those trays up as soon as possible to ensure you do not lose that moment of learning that has peeked their curiosity.

As Janie says, you are the facilitator and the children are the participates. Give them directions for the play, but do not show them what to do. Allow their imagination and approaches to learning rule the tray. They may find even more ways to play in their tray and they could be even better than your ideas! Children are curious by nature and some of the ways that they come up with play is awesome. That’s the power of learning.

In these next photos you are going to see some play at work by big people.

Here she is matching the alphabet pasta with the card. Notice the spoons? Twelve for $1 at the Dollar Tree! Too cute.

Leaving the grid blank allows for creativity. They can also use markers to write on the laminated material incorporating writing skills into this math activity. Use a magic eraser to remove marker from laminated material; it’s magic plus it promotes independence by the children.

Fine motor is so important for early childhood and using tongs and tweezers is a great way to develop those skills.

Leaf Man is one of our favorite books. The kids go crazy over this book! Find books that you can build units upon, take field trips with, and go beyond imagination with.

Magnetic letters and cookie sheets are essential in a preschool classroom. Cheap, but fully effective.

You can see just how easy it is to set tray play up in your classroom. Stay organized, be open to learning yourself, allow the children to navigate the trays and you will find yourself and your children open to so many possibilities.

Here’s a thought…the week before ask your children what type of tray play they would like to have the following week. Chart their responses and get to work on THEIR ideas. Don’t forget to recycle, recycle, recycle because as you can see you will need lots of storage. Don’t throw away anything that can hold a pom-pom!

Thanks Janie for a wonderful night of learning, as always awesome job.

Organized Chaos in the Preschool Classroom

Well, we are actually in our first week of school, so pre planning didn’t get blogged. That tells you just how busy I have been. It has been a whirlwind during the past two weeks and I am tired to say the least.

During the week of pre planning I had a lot to go through, organize and get rid of. I took over a site, so I basically had to start from scratch. When our classrooms are cluttered, it creates a chaos that can not be described. Much like our homes, when we remove the clutter from our lives they seem to simplify themselves.

As an early childhood teacher, you have to be organized. The preschool classroom is not a place for scattered thoughts. When children arrive in the morning, you have to be ready, when you go out onto the playground, you have to be ready, when they wake up from their naps, you have to be ready; do you get what I’m saying?

When you begin your lesson plans, think in units or themes. Have those items prepared ahead of time down to the outdoor activities that will accompany you. I like to use 2-gallon zip lock bags for outdoor activities. I place a label on the bag and it will go with me in line with the children. Organize your sand table and water table themed objects and activities in those bags, you will see a big difference in your transitions.

Again with the lesson plans, think in themes. Have things organized into bins or large bags labeled with your theme for that week or month. Do lesson plans two weeks in advance at least, so that items can be purchased and prepared in advance with time to spare if something comes up. We know that our days never go as planned, so being organized is key.

Now onto setting up your classroom. The environment for a child is essential in the learning process. There should be at least these learning centers in your classroom: writing, math/science, home living, art, blocks/transportation, library, and circle time learning area. Some to add are: wood working, computers, and listening. You should have sensory tables or bins in your setting daily. These sensory tubs and micro play activities are key in behavior modification and personal space recognition. If you have any questions about sensory play or micro play, please post them and I will get back to you as soon as possible. I will be writing a blog about micro play in the near future.

Until the next time we meet, remember that little lives are depending on you…