Activity Ideas

Experiencing the curriculum, not just learning a lesson

One of the things I think a good preschool does best, is creating experiences for the children, not just regurgitating information about a topic. We are exploring the United States this year in PreK and while exploring California and learning about Napa Valley and grape growing, we went to a messy, fun place….see video below to experience how we teach the kids about California.

https://my.kaymbu.com/moments#details/5363c116085968020000004f

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Set in Playdough, not Stone

 

At Acorn each classroom has a schedule that we generally follow because, as we all know, consistency is great for young children. However, we are all very cognizant of time being something the kids should control sometimes. When you’ve made the NYC skyline with blocks, you should be able to keep working on it, or at least save it, right? When you’re working on books about the Iditarod you should be able to take as long as you need to complete them, even if it’s a month. We are very attuned to the rhythm of the children and the rhythm of the room as a whole and schedules are not set in stone here.

0331141451Using a “Please Save” sign, even if it is upside-down, allows things to be on their time line:)

Let’s be at the Forefront of this Issue

I am fully aware that I come across a lot of my material and inspiration from my hometown paper, the New York Times, but well, it’s the New York Times. This post is no exception, and in this case, I’m also going to plug the reason behind my pursuing a master’s degree in Physical Education, as well as incorporate my long-term goals for preschool and elementary curriculum changes. This NYT article I read in January is the basis for this post and is alarming to say the least.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/science/obesity-takes-hold-early-in-life-study-finds.html?_r=0

“A major new study of more than 7,000 children has found that a third of children who were overweight in kindergarten were obese by eighth grade. And almost every child who was very obese remained that way.”

That sentence alone was enough to depress me, and maybe because we live in one of the healthiest cities in one of the healthiest states, it’s even more jarring to read that fact. But our label of being fit here in Colorado is deceiving. We actually have one of the fastest growing trends of childhood obesity in the nation. Not at the top as far as an existing problem, just to clarify, but a rapidly trending one. Which means to me that we could jump in now and try to reverse the growth.

My master’s degree in Physical Education was inspired by the dramatic reduction my own children saw in physical activity when they entered elementary school. Here at Acorn, our kids are playing and active outside up to 3 hours a day, and in great weather, up to 5 hours. That is reduced to 20 minutes a day at some elementary schools, 40 minutes if your child attends a progressive school. And when I say “progressive”, I mean that the administration understands the multiple studies proving that increased physical activity actually benefits academic grades, behavior in class, and overall attitudes about school. I would be happy to share my thesis with anyone since this was exactly my chosen topic:)

I would love to help reverse this trend of obesity starting in preschool. We can consciously instill a love for daily physical activity and discuss nutritional eating habits right from the infant room, so when they head off to kindergarten they’re already knowledgeable about how to stay healthy. According to Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, the vice president of the Emory Global Health Institute in Atlanta, “It is almost as if, if you can make it to kindergarten without the weight, your chances are immensely better.”

How can we do this here at Acorn? Several ways actually. We can weave physical activity into almost every lesson, even if it’s quick silly games of Simon Says or a “Let’s have a 10 minute dance party before we read this book!”; we can discuss the benefits of all the wonderful vegetables we have at lunch – my class already firmly believes carrots make your eyes sparkle more:), we can create annual events like Thanksgiving Turkey Trots and Mini Boulder Bolder Races, and we can incorporate regular exercise programs like Cross Fit Kids into our curriculum.

We could and should make this one of our biggest priorities at Acorn, in preschools in general, and especially here in Boulder. What good it is for all the adults in town to be triathletes if our kids are knocking on the door of a major health epidemic?

Start to Finish

This post combines at least 4 other previous posts related to everything from persistence and attention span to imagination, literacy, and fine motor skills….

Yesterday on the playground as we’re sliding around on the ice, one of our kiddos declared “Tomorrow we should speed skate like they do in the Olympics!” Well of course I’m going to take that and run with it – today we are conducting an entire Winter Olympics with luge events, ice dancing, snowboarding, and curling.

But that isn’t what I really want to write about. What I want to write about is the boy who takes this idea from start to finish and spends his entire day tracing out gold medals, writing HERO on them, hole punching them, stringing ribbon through and basically prepping the whole class for our day.

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This speaks to not only cognitive ability but also physical and social too – I know adults who can’t see a project through from start to finish like this. THIS is what preschool is about.

Girls Build, Boys Draw

Here at Acorn, we pride ourselves on our encouragement of gender neutral skill building. Because we create environments that inspire independent, curiosity-building play, our girls create tall towers and play with airplanes and our boys draw pictures and love to paint.

As the parent of two girls myself, I’m not sure which makes me happier….

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When I see a girl making a model of the planet Saturn or

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one of my most rambunctious boys contentedly drawing for almost an hour. But I actually know the answer to that already – it’s the fact that all the kids, no matter what their gender, are engaged, content, challenged, inspired, and learning.

photo 1Girls in Rapunzel hats building cool towers =DisneyIrony:)

Changing Gears

One of the hallmarks, if not THE hallmark, of play-based education and child-driven curriculum is being flexible with daily plans. On Tuesdays we have created a schedule of science activities that we’ve dubbed Science Tuesday (a shout out to my hometown paper, the NYTimes). But Pete Seeger passed away last night and we are HUGE fans of his stories, particularly Abiyoyo, the story of a little boy and his father using magic to make a giant monster disappear. So instead of creating a sound wave activity today, we created our own Abiyoyo by tracing one of the teachers. I think Pete would have been proud.

1-28-abiyoyo-day---pete-seeger-tributWe colored in all his scraggly claws, his matted hair, his ratty clothes, and his gnarly teeth.

1-28-feather-mania-and since we have a TON of feathers that we need to use up, we threw some glue down and had a feather bonanza! Video attached of our giggling:)

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So if you thought your child was going to do a certain project today, but this is what happened instead, be grateful. These are the moments that make the dinner table conversation and that’s when you know they’ll remember it for a long time. Chances are they learned a thing or two also:) And if you haven’t read this beautiful South African folk tale, please do yourself a favor and get a copy or check out this video on YouTube.

Go Big or Go Home

We believe at the Acorn School that in terms of curriculum and exploring topics, it’s Go Big or Go Home. We are studying the United States this year in the PreK class and currently our area of interest is the South East. Rather than just pointing to a map or memorizing state names, we are transforming our room and transporting these little minds to the region.

13f65075221287374cabb3521cdafd0526a2436aWe have the Mississippi river (construction paper version) running all the way through the room

061c3e2e8a6d932715de2cacf7e728c8ff30ead4We made a willow tree (it’s pretty amazing what construction paper can create)

03c5d825221d11ce302c723fec3f285b9e7e0b38We cut out all the states that touch the Mississippi river and attached the regional wildlife to our river

498f55552dc4a64962b9382157974a9084faea75We started making a paddle boat to go down our river

We have been playing blues and country music and are having the local cajun restaurant come by with beignets and fried chicken. Virgin mint juleps and Kentucky Derby hats for a day are planned as well a detailed investigation of the Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk. Football is pretty big down South so that works out well for us Bronco fans and guest speakers are lined up from Georgia with some peach pie hopefully:)

So basically what we’re saying is we don’t do anything halfway around here when we teach – we explore, we discover, we investigate, we transform, we Go Big or Go Home on curriculum!

Room on the Broom

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“Sustains attention and persists with an activity over an extended period of time; days or even weeks”. This is one of the checkpoints in our assessments of the children and it’s an advanced one for sure. They usually don’t start demonstrating this ability until about 4, but when they do, it’s in our best interests to provide them the opportunity. To watch them engage themselves in something for long periods of time, over the course of days or in this case, a couple weeks, is absolutely mesmerizing, and makes me so insanely proud.

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So just as with every other preschool in the land right now, we are immersed fully in the spirit of Halloween. After almost 9 years as a teacher, I have decided that trying to suppress the delirious excitement of Halloween’s approach is just plain dumb. They are obsessed, discuss their costume choices at every opportunity, and ask at least 12 times a day how many more wake-ups until the big day. So rather than try to dial it down, we amped it up this year – big time. We let them go crazy with the decorations, are having a day-long party on the 31st, and came up with this super fun Room on the Broom project. If you’re not familiar with the story Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson, do yourself a favor and run out to get a copy. It’s an adorable Halloween story of a witch, her pets, and their adventures trying to create the perfect, custom-made broom with plenty of room for all; full of great repetition, rhyme, vocabulary, and fun illustrations.

roomonthebroom

Our kids are fascinated with this book and have it practically memorized. We decided to give them the opportunity to create their own “room on the broom” with shoe boxes, a plethora of crafts, dowels and raffia for little brooms, and most importantly, TIME. On the 7th of October, we literally cleared out the classroom, set up a craft station, asked parents for donations of everything from stickers, yarn, and tin foil, to pumpkins and glue, and we’ve been watching them create their own unique creations ever since. We give all 16 kids the chance to work on their shoe boxes all week at different times of the day, either in pairs or solo, and we sometimes have to pull them away after almost an hour of completely absorbed work to eat a meal or go outside. And they get to work on them until Halloween – almost 4 weeks on 1 activity. They have the chance to perfect, revisit, re-do, or just admire their own handiwork, for a month.

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It’s been an amazing experience for the whole class – kids, teachers, and parents. People come in to volunteer and just sit with the kids to help make brooms or glue on google eyes, kids are visibly proud of what they’ve made, and at times, you can hear a pin drop in a room with 16 4 year olds, everyone engaged in their room or thinking about their next turn at the table.

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So regarding this objective? “Sustains attention and persists with an activity over an extended period of time; days or even weeks”. CHECK:)

PolaroidShoe boxes waiting for their owners to work on them again..

Colorado History: Repeating Itself

In the Pre-K class this year, we are exploring the United States, all its different geography, cultures, foods, and history, and what better place to begin our studies than here in beautiful Colorado! We decided that we would try and re-create some of the history of our state the other day by “panning” for gold in the creek behind the school. So armed with foil pie plates, we traipsed down to the banks, and lo and behold, there were nuggets of gold just waiting to be sifted. (Yes, I looked ridiculous to all the biking commuters at 8am when I was in the water surreptitiously placing all our spray-painted rocks)

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Our hope is that “real-world” activities like this tie in to what we are hearing in the classroom, help make a permanent connection in their little minds, and a lasting memory of preschool for both kids and parents. The “gold” they got to take home probably didn’t hurt either:)

THIS is what play-based education is all about!!