Rainy Day Fun

Tracing Fun

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Super fun activity – tracing the kiddos and then we all get to draw in the details. Every couple of days we trace another one and hang it on the wall. They feel famous and the conversations and observations about how they view each other are priceless……

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“Kai has a ton of freckles but I don’t”, “I want to draw Kai’s smile, because he’s always smiling”, “Where should we put Kai’s belly button?”

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Great lessons in how different we are, how we all have belly buttons, how we see each other, and just a simple, fun group activity.

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Ratios

The ratio between engaged children and good behavior = positive! Last week Kodo Chris brought in an awesome tube for us to experiment with….

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A kids dream….blowing fan at one end, clear tube that could be angled in all different directions, and a pile of styrofoam peanuts.

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We had a ball making a giant mess. Peanuts, scarves, leaves, you name it. It went in there.

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But while Chris was snapping away with the camera and experimenting with the kiddos, I was reveling in the fact that we had eleven 3 and 4 year olds in a 4′ x 5′ foot square area and not one incident of screaming, pushing, hitting, or claims of turn-taking unfairness.

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Do you notice how the more engaged they are, the less behavior issues you have? I try to remember that as I am thinking of activities or projects. If I spend my energy trying my best to keep their attention, and I mean REALLY keep their attention with something fun, I will spend proportionally less energy dealing with behavior issues.

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So we discovered that the fan needed a screen of some sort to keep whatever you’re blowing out of the motor, that you really can’t have too much material to stick in there, and that you can involve a multitude of children in this activity with no fear of anything but happiness and complete engagement. A perfect ratio.

If you build it, they will come….

I have recently become even more enamored with the beauty of blocks. Big ones, small ones, inside the classroom, and outside on the playground.

We put these great blocks on the playground a week ago…

They have been turned into everything from a train with conductors,

to igloos,

to space stations.

So build up your block areas at school. Inside and Out. Just when you think you have enough, add even more. The kids and their imaginations will come.

You know what they say about Assumptions

That they make an…..we all know the rest of the cliche. And even the most seasoned, open-minded teacher still does it occasionally. So last week we had our usual yoga session scheduled and I proceeded to set up an alternate activity for those children that might choose not to participate. (This is not based on cynicism about enthusiasm for yoga, but it’s always good to provide an option for the kids, rather than force mass participation). So I was ready with an outside sensory table activity just in case, and my assumption? That all the boys would trickle outdoors to our little patio, leaving all the girls to peacefully practice their tree poses and listen to the instructor tell a story.

Not so. Assumption completely wrong.

All the girls drifted off leaving 5 very high energy boys to focus completely on Miss Jesse’s yoga story and practice their namaste. Fascinating, right? Fascinating to me anyway. Always is when there is such a dramatic split in gender during an activity, and especially when I was so off in my prediction. Lesson learned: continue to set up an alternate choice, but don’t assume you know who will show up. Plan for ALL the kids, instead of some of the kids. Let go of the assumptions and enjoy the results.

What We’re Scared of….

This post will attempt to address a couple things ; 1) the hilariousness that is my class of 2 and 3 year olds and what they claim to be afraid of and 2) how easy it is for teachers to provide great, meaningful documentation.

We had just finished a journey through the book “Quick As a Cricket” by Audrey Wood. I highly recommend this book for not only it’s beautiful illustrations of all kinds of animals and habitats, but also it’s wonderfully simple way of teaching opposites, feelings and diversity. So along comes Halloween and as these kiddos are about to turn 3, they’re officially getting into this holiday – the decorations, costumes, and the concept of “scary”. I decide to ask them all what they’re afraid of which I have done with several classes of mine in the past, but never at such a young age. The answers were so genuine, so random, and so priceless and I decided I must send out an email to the parents…….The email consisted of the following message and then the list with each child’s name and their scare of choice.

The good news: we are developing some great vocabulary and beginning to recognize our feelings.

The bad news: there’s some scary stuff out there!

*Bunnies

*Spiders

*Ghosts

*the Music Teacher

*Sharks

*Snakes

*When my food mixes on the plate

*Being prey

*the Dark

*Bubble gum

*Bulls

*Tigers and Lions

As it has been in the past when I’ve sent out this email, I got immediate responses from the parents, most in hysterics and saying I had just made their dreary Wednesday. A lot of them said they forwarded it to grandparents or copied it into their Facebook pages or shared it around their office.

Attention Teachers: this is as difficult as documentation needs to be! Not hard, right? This exercise took about 5 minutes to put together and provided the kids and parents with a memorable, hilarious glimpse into all their differences, feelings and fears. When I’ve done this activity with older kids, we have then found pictures in magazines that represented our fears, cut them out, pasted them next to pictures of the kids, and made some great storyboards for the classrooms. Not only did this extension of the activity provide fine motor development with cutting out collage material, but also provided some great conversation opportunities for the children about their differences,”Matthew’s afraid of spiders but I’m not, I’m afraid of skeletons”.  And by the time Halloween’s over, wouldn’t you know it, some of our fears were gone. So again, all you teachers out there feeling overwhelmed by the desire to create meaningful documentation, but thinking you’re too busy – don’t think too hard. Just ask the right questions and type away:)

Scary Face:)

The Fine Art of Dumping

Would it help all the adults out there relax a bit if they knew that dumping toys was actually a way for children to polish a very important fine-motor skill? I sincerely hope so, and I will attempt to justify this developmental stage (actually one of my favorite stages – scout’s honor) in this post. My toddlers this year may very well be the best dumpers on the planet Earth. Seriously, they have worked so hard at it, gotten so good at it, and most importantly, LOVE DUMPING TOYS. My staff and I compliment them on their skills at every available moment – how thoroughly they dump, how quickly, whether they “scatter” their dumps or just go for the “straight” kind.

Yes, perhaps since I am coming from the perspective of a teacher, where my classroom is set up solely for the enjoyment of the children, I can be a lot more relaxed about the dumping phase. Your collection of antique plates in the dining room? Not a suitable dumping opportunity. However, when I went online to do a little dumping research, all I came across were parent blogs with harried moms complaining about dumping, and begging people for advice on how to end the phase.  Tragic! and Impossible! It’s like trying to end the phases of the moon. I will reluctantly admit that a child developing the capability to “empty out” months before the capability (and possibly years before the desire) to “put back in” is ironic, and challenging to your patience level. BUT IT GIVES THEM SO MUCH PLEASURE! Dumping can be one of the safest, most empowering, most educational and entertaining games they’ll ever play! EMBRACE IT.

“I know I saw those red sunglasses in here somewhere”

“What are you lookin at? I thought ALL the stuffed animals should be on this pillow”

So here are some ways for adults to more fully channel our inner dumping patience: 1) Prevent dangerous emptying – childproof your house and make sure harmful products and breakables are inaccessible. 2) Provide opportunities for safe and fun dumping – yes, you heard me – provide opportunities! Create boxes of non-essential items that your child can dump to their heart’s content – fabric, tupperware, toys, wooden spoons, plastic cups, etc., 3) Play the “Put it Back” game sometimes – have races to see who can fill it back up the fastest (there’s that timing phenomenon again) or “you put in one toy and then I’ll put one in” is a Turn-Taking stroke of genius:)

I once heard from a parent, “But it’s seems so unstructured!” In this instance I always refer to one of the teachers I admire the most, Bev Bos, who believes there is an important distinction between structure and control. We should “structure” the environment and let the children “control” how/when/where they play. www.bevbos.com

So next time your little ones go to dump something, consider not only the fine-motor skills they are honing (hand and finger strength), but also, the enormous sense of accomplishment and empowerment this epic dump will bring them. Consider the “Cause and Effect” concept it teaches them, the “Sorting” opportunity you now have, or maybe just that it keeps them occupied for a while so you can unload the dishwasher:) Go forth and Dump!! (p.s. The best, most thorough dumper  in my class is also, by far, my best picker-upper)

The Emergence of Dramatic Play – Right on Time in the Toddler Room

After 3 years in the Pre-k classroom, I’ve had the best time in the Toddler room this year! It has completely revived my enthusiasm for teaching and I’ve had so much fun watching these little ones discover the art of dramatic play. It’s uncanny how their imaginations dream up “trips to Rockies games”, “car rides to the grocery store” and as seen here, “submarine voyages” all right on cue at about 2 1/2 years of age. My staff and I have spent the past year watching them engage first in parallel play, then slowly begin to interact and actually play with each other, all leading up to the recent explosion in group dynamics with very complex plots of trips to the beach:)

We were having yet another rainy afternoon and the wooden tubes were calling us. Interestingly enough the kids were immediately drawn to the tube that I turned upside down far more than the tubes that were upright and “rockable”. As I observe them more closely these days, climbing on top of something outweighs any other activity offered. Someone should do a study on that!

However, we did have the occasional choice to rock in the tube and pretend to be a stuntman………….but as I mentioned, the clear preference of the group was to climb aboard the big tube with shouts of “Everyone get on the boat!” and one take-charge toddler declaring “I’m driving”.

As we always do in times of free play (which is most of our day), my assistants and I do a lot of watching, listening, and making sure all kids are alive and present in the room. So when I say they broke out into choruses of “Row, Row Your Boat” all on their own, I’m being completely truthful! There was definitely a little confusion at the beginning as to which mode of transportation they were on but ultimately, the oldest and most vocal put her foot down and a submarine trip it was.

“We’re on a train! We’re on an airplane! We’re going to take off! We’re on a flamingo boat and submarine! Probly goin’ to the beach and Suzy, you’re comin’ with us”

(all of that came out just as fast as it reads and I think in one breath – how do small people talk without breathing?)

Even though I’ve read a million articles about how dramatic play begins at this age, it’s still fascinating to watch it  spontaneously emerge. An object starts to be used for other purposes like bananas as phones, and wooden tubes as flamingo submarines and the kids start to imitate or imagine events as if they’ve been doing that all their little lives. There were so many other social-emotional developments going on this afternoon- taking turns, teaching younger friends how to accomplish the elusive balancing skill, counting to 3 in unison as they jumped off……………

My favorite quote of the day: “Balancing is just putting your arms out ’til you fall” (which is pretty much exactly true, right?!)

So after our trip to the beach, yet another use for the tube was discovered and if you’ve ever read “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss, you’re familiar with the incredibly cool “Whispermaphone” concept. It just never gets old to yell your friends’ name into the end of a tube, be upside down and get your name yelled back to you:)

Of course there’s ALWAYS the kid that’s primarily concerned with safety………

Honestly though, if you’re not the one driving, who knows what could happen to the submarine or what dangers could be waiting for you at Flamingo Beach?

The Chalk Spinner was our rainy day friend……

Ten rainy days in a row makes for some cranky two year olds……………until you pull out the chalk spinner! We had thoroughly exhausted every indoor gross motor, art, building and dramatic play activity we could think of, read about, or look up online.

The kids had never seen the spinner before and while I did leave a pile of chalk on the table, I resisted the urge to show them how to use it. toddlersI’ve really been trying to remember the article I read about “overteaching”. http://www.slate.com/id/2288402/ So within seconds they picked up the chalk and started drawing, which was really fun to watch but honestly, I was more interested in the potential personal space issues and turn-taking opportunities. Anyone who teaches toddlers know that sometimes they don’t like to be touching:)

As it turns out, they were so absorbed in drawing and making it spin that they didn’t seem to notice the close proximity of their friends and with plenty of chalk on hand, no one was complaining.

I also found it really interesting that they didn’t spin it back and forth but rather got it going in one direction and then kept it spinning the same way the entire time. And why wasn’t anyone poking their friends with chalk? Or drawing on their faces? I swear I didn’t say anything about not doing that. Over and over again I’m reminded that when actively engaged in something, kids and even big people, will probably behave. It’s when we get bored that bad choices are made:) So of course, some of the kids started to peel off after ten minutes or so but there were some die-hards that wanted to make sure it was thoroughly covered with their chalk color of choice.

I particularly enjoyed watching when they just hold the chalk on top and let the spinning motion do all the work – experimenting with and trusting that the motion will continue to deliver some effect. I think the concept of “Cause and Effect” might be the single most prevalent cognitive development in a Toddler classroom. But wait! A new use for the spinner comes after naptime! We had cleaned it off when they slept and left it on the table for them to use again. I will admit I had put the chalk away while they ate lunch so it wasn’t an option at the moment. But who knew the chalk spinner was also a transportation mode for dolls and cars?  Now we were experimenting with different directions of spinning, how fast we could make it go and keep the figures from falling off, how many could fit on at a time, which animals were more fun to spin. I thought it was fascinating that they tried the figures by themselves AND in a car – I bet they were wondering in those little minds if there was going to be a difference. Did they think the car would move on there?

And it’s 4:00 pm and it’s still raining!!! We’ve now had a couple dance parties – thank goodness for the local 80’s music station – no child or adult can resist getting their shake on to Dexys Midnight Runners “C’mon Eileen”. The spinner had been moved to the floor when we got the furniture out of the way (these kids need lots of space to boogy).  That’s when I see one of my small people park himself on it and basically tell me I need to get the “Sit and Spins” out of storage. Well, duh, I  would try to spin on this too if I saw it just sitting there. Everything you can climb on should spin, right? So in one day, one toy gets used in at least 3 very different ways – none of which I demonstrated ahead of time and frankly, I wouldn’t of thought of the chalk spinner as a transportation mode or a self-propelling instrument. Maybe it’s a drum next? Lesson of the day for me in my toddler class? LET THEM FIGURE OUT WHAT TO DO WITH IT – just sit back, watch and enjoy:)