I think of this every day when we launch into our long-awaited free choice time in my classroom. The children are so happy. Finally, after our circle time, our literacy rotations, our specials, our lunch, recess, and rest, I allow them what they've been waiting for. Play is a child's bliss.
Monday, October 3, 2011
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
We had tadpoles in our classroom. They were my first as well as the children's, and I learned as much as they did. It turns out that it's a very short season in a frog's life when it swims like a fish and eats little bits of spinach. Then suddenly it's a froglet and must be returned to the pond post haste, or it'll drown. I missed the chance to drop off our froglets, with their proud, brand-new little front legs, with our science teacher. She took the rest of the school's froglets back to the local nature center, from whence they came as eggs.
So my daughter and I loaded them in the car and took them ourselves. It was just before dark on a peaceful spring evening. I took photos of the froglets' homecoming to show my students, sad that they couldn't see them as frogs after all our careful observations and conversations about these little guys. My daughter and I wished them good fly hunting and all the good things in a froggie life, then released them back into the pond.
In the meantime, I was busily planning a trip to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in DC. Specifically, I wanted the children to see the folk art wing, where they could see art created with tin foil and bottle caps and bits of wood, and other stuff that would look familiar to them--and yet brand new--after our work with found materials. I couldn't wait for my low-income students to set foot in their very first art museum.
But it wasn't working out. The museum was hesitant to schedule a docent for a group so young, and if we waited until the museum opened to the general public, then we couldn't get a bus. I was disappointed and annoyed--the first field trip that I had conceived of from scratch and eagerly anticipated, and it wasn't gelling.
But then there I was with my lovely daughter, among frogs and birds and dappled sunlight, and I knew I'd found our field trip. We would come visit our frogs! It turned out that the nature center does a frog lesson just for our age group. We're going to take bag lunches and frolic around the pond for the better part of the day. It'll be grand.
We go on Friday. The children can hardly wait to see "their" frogs.
Next year, I'm going to figure out how to go the the Smithsonian American Art Museum AND the nature center. I love field trips.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
My school has an education partnership with NASA, and our recent science fair is currently highlighted on their website. You can check it out here:
I'm especially excited about this because it includes a photo of the little pre-K science project my class did. As the photos scroll, look for the one that says "Float or Sink," made out of bread. It's brief, but it's there!
There are times when pre-K can feel like a bit of an afterthought in an elementary school, and it made my day to see that our work was included in our submission to the NASA site. Yippee for us!
It was a really fun experiment, too. Big, airy slices of bread (low density) float on the surface of the water, but if 4-year-olds mash up that bread into tight little balls (high density), then lo and behold, they sink! Good times.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
I wanted to make sure you saw this article over at Slate. I didn't know about these two, independent studies on the importance of play in early childhood, and I am really glad to know about them and their consistent but independently reached conclusions that play is essential. Two more studies to point to in the growing body of data calling for a focus on play in early childhood education.
I think about this issue every day, about the pushing down of curriculum. I think about how my pre-K classroom for at-risk four-year-olds is what many people envision a Kindergarten classroom to be. I bend over backwards to keep our learning fun and hands-on and full of light-hearted exploration, but I'm still asking them to come meet me in what I have designed, and it normally involves numbers, letters, and concepts that they are expected to know before they get to Kindergarten in my school district. I jealously guard their precious self-directed time, but it's still not enough in a day of so much curriculum to get through. I think about how many middle-class peers of my low-income students, in their private preschools around town, are getting lots of richly resourced, free exploration time.
There are times when I'm proud of what my students are learning and all the fun they're having while they're learning, and then there are times (when I read this article for instance) and I think, yowza, my program is part of the problem.
I have a lot to think about.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
I was getting to the point where I hated rest time. We would be on the playground, running and playing and getting fresh air, and I would already start to dread going inside, because it meant minutes on end of policing a wiggly group of pre-K children who would rather do anything, anything, than lay quietly on their mats. I tried offering them books. One book. Two books. Unlimited books as long as you stay on your mat. I tried little stuffed animal friends. I tried passing out everyone's journal. I tried letting them choose their own spots, and I tried assigning spots. I tried music and no music. I tried singing a little ritual song as they lay down. I tried guided relaxation. I tried stern looks. I tried shaking a little egg shaker when they were too loud (which was always). The only thing left, the thing I'm not permitted to do, was to get rid of rest altogether.
Besides, they are only four, and a whole day at school is a very long time when you are four, so a true rest would be a good thing. If only I could figure out how. Instead, they were subverting any rest rule I made, and I was spending a chunk of each afternoon in the role of police officer, which is by far my least favorite role. I would sit at my computer and try to accomplish something (this is supposedly my planning time/lunch break, because they are supposedly asleep), and chaos would erupt behind me. (Sadly, I have a built-in wall desk in my classroom, so having my back to the action while I'm at my desk is not something I can fix.) I hated rest and so did they.
It was time to try something completely different. It just wasn't working as read aloud time, so I recast it as read aloud time. I read aloud to my own children at home almost every day, even though they are now eight and eleven years old, and it's something I love to do. I can read aloud quite happily for long stretches of time.
I told the children that today there won't be books to look at, or animals, or journals. Today I would read a book that's just words, no pictures. They will lay on their mats just like statues and listen, just like a statue stands in a garden and listens to the birds. Then I read aloud from a book of fairy tales.
On the first day I tried this, seven children out of fourteen fell asleep. This is up from zero. And the other seven were as quiet as, well, as statues. The next day, nine fell asleep. The next day, eleven, out cold. My wonderful assistant, who is out of the room for most of this on her lunch break, says that listening to me read fairy tales in our darkened room, in my purposefully lilting voice, is hypotic, as if we are all in Sleeping Beauty's castle under a deep spell.
I love rest now. True, I'm still not ticking anything off of my endless to-do list, but I am getting a mental break, a dose of deep quiet, and a journey to never never land in the middle of my day. More importantly, the children are, too. The rest of the afternoon, after we open the blinds and fold away our mats, is noticably smoother.
Now the number of sleepers tends to hover around nine or ten. Today, one child asked me if we were having rest (we don't have it on Wednesday due to an early dismissal, so he was making sure today was a normal day). Yes, I said, and he said, yay! My clearest indicator yet that I'm onto something. Something hypotic.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
I love reminding people I meet that while Virginia spends millions to run the Virginia Preschool Initiative (the program in which I teach), to prepare 4-year-olds from low income families for Kindergarten, that's actually a bargain.
Sounds like Mr. Bernanke thinks so, too.
"In the long run...the most important fiscal issue is whether the structure and composition of the government budget best serves the public interest. Research increasingly has shown the benefits of early childhood education...to promote the lifelong acquisition of skills for both individuals and the economy as a whole."
- Ben S. Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman
Saturday, March 5, 2011
I just held my first round of parent/teacher conferences with the parents of my pre-Kindergarten students. In some ways this felt extraneous, since I see these parents every day when they pick up their children (it so happens that I don't have any bus riders this year). But in other ways it felt absolutely essential, because most of them speak Spanish as a first language, and my Spanish is only good enough for a casual conversation, not for an in-depth discussion. (I am working on this. I need to improve my Spanish, stat.) At the conferences, we have time devoted just to that one family, and I have a translator, and I have materials ready for them to see and for us to talk about. So it's very useful and very artificial at the same time.
To cut down on the artificial quality of it, I try to keep it as conversational as possible. I greet them at the door, to communicate that they are my welcome guests, not an appointment. I offer them cookies and water. I sit next to them so we can look at the portfolio and discuss it together, not across the table from them like I'm conducting a job interview. I ask them if they have questions or concerns or comments, so I'm not talking the whole time.
I've been the parent in this equation at many, many parent/teacher conferences, and I would have liked (and occasionally received) this kind of treatment. But the bottom line, what I always wanted to know (especially when mine were really small, as the children in my class are) was this: is my child loved? Is my child safe? Does my child have friends?
So that's the message with which I start and end the session. I'm so glad to be your child's teacher. I love your child. Your child is safe here. Your child has friends. Frankly, how many letters your child knows, or how high your child can count, feels like small potatoes compared with that. Or, perhaps what I mean is that any academic issues feel solvable after that.
I'm humbled after all these women and men up-ended their schedules to sit down with me and attend so carefully to every word I said. I'm reminded what a huge gift and responsibility I have to care for and educate their little ones, every day. It's the way I feel about all my own children's teachers. I am trusting them with so much.
My parenting life informs my teaching life every day.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Well, no book has it all, and that's why we need a million, but The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Erik Carle comes pretty close. Sometimes I think I could develop a year's pre-K curriculum around it.
Rich vocabulary? Check.
Rhythmic text? Check.
Growing pattern? Check.
Days of the week? Check.
Opposites (little, big, hungry, full)? Check.
Science lesson on metamorphosis? Check.
Science lesson on the effect of healthy and unhealthy foods? Check.
Social studies lesson about the value of restraint? Check.
Gorgeous collage artwork to study, discuss, and try for ourselves? Check.
Big guffaw laugh on the Saturday page? Check!
I love this book. Mr. Carle, thanks.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
This is an example of some of the teaching materials I found in my new classroom. This tagboard matching game was in a tattered, taped box from the Judy Instructo company, copyright 1966.
I'm trying to keep some of these, the ones in good shape with all their pieces intact, because a little bit of times past seems like a valuable thing. Besides, that car! That sink! Number 3, here! They crack me up.
But at the same time, I can't keep too much. There are so many other materials to have on hand. And people of color, or artifacts outside of main stream 60s Americana, are not represented in these materials.
It's a balancing act.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
I am starting my position mid-year because the teacher I'm replacing retired after many, many years of teaching. There was a lot of stuff in the classroom. A LOT of stuff. She didn't throw or give anything away, as far as I can tell. I have found instructional materials from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s. I know how incredibly lucky I am--I have heard stories of teachers walking into absolutely bare classrooms.
We all have our own styles, and I am finding that I need a little less stuff and a little more space to function well in this classroom, so I'm moving on a few things to new homes. This is a long process, to look at each item and evaluate it. So many things have value in an early childhood classroom, but a balance must be struck between storage for lots of good resources, and lots of good space for the children to explore those resources.
Something I am noticing in this process is that a lot of excellent, barely used or never used supplies were in the cupboards. Some were still in the shrink wrap. But, a lot of the things out for the children were well past their life span, like puzzles so frayed on the edges that they really couldn't be put together anymore.
I understand this impulse. It's easy to keep a new set of paints perfect on the shelf, and hard to put them out, to their inevitable fate in small hands. But, of course, who are the paints for? What is their purpose?
What is the lesson I'm taking from this? It's to bust out the good crayons. If you, too, have a lovely set of high quality oil pastels hidden away, let's do it together. Let's both offer the good stuff to these children, this year. Maybe even tomorrow.
I am now one week into my new job as a VPI (Virginia Preschool Initiative) teacher, teacher pre-Kindergarten to 4 year-olds from low income families at a public elementary school in Arlington, VA. Even if you have never met me in person, you would recognize me: I'm the one with glitter all over my sweater, paint on my skirt, and a big grin on my face. I am a very lucky person to get to do this work. Yeah, I'm overwhelmed, too, with everything I need to learn and figure out and simple FIND in my new classroom, but I'll get there, with 16 children and a truly wonderful instructional assistant to accompany me on my journey. Life is good.