Sunday, December 4, 2016

the continued saga: some days are just meh

And so...did we let the light and sculpture project fizzle or push on a bit? We did push a bit and I'm here to share the story.

Before laying out the details of the continuation of the mini-project. I'd like to share why we pushed on a bit.

First, is the idea of persisting and seeing something through to an end. This idea was resonating with me as it felt timely - our children seemed ready - for the challenge of sticking with an idea. This also felt like prudent timing as we will begin an extended unit of inquiry in January under the umbrella of 'tinkering.' Each year the trajectory of this tinkering inquiry looks and feels quite different depending on the interests and actions of the group but it is a three-month inquiry and it seemed wise to introduce the group to this way of engaging through inquiry. This also lends itself to modeling the way we think during an inquiry - there was a great deal of teacher-led wondering and we viewed and discussed our own photo and video documentation daily (visible thinking). The emphasis on building foundational habits of mind necessary for inquiry (even if teacher-led) felt necessary. These are really the biggest reasons I persisted in asking the children to persist.

Ultimately, I am happy we did and I do think children were really proud of their individual and collective work in the end. It was difficult for me to feel like I was the engine encouraging us to chug ahead. There is a palpable discomfort I feel with that. Yet, I think this discomfort in itself was also helpful as it begged of me to reflect and assess along the way.

So! some of the the exciting habits and outcomes from the process:

  • rich discussion-based morning meetings on the topic
  • viewing video of children telling their stories and talking about these stories
  • reinforcing the thinking routine 'see, think, wonder' with frequent discussions framed this way
  • pride in work! working with wood and creating sculptures made children feel like sculptors
  • growth as storytellers through multiple invitations to use sculptures and light for the purpose
  • encouraged collaboration among the children
And now for the project. Below is really just a brief explanation of the process (this was a 4-week project). When I first started teaching in a project-based way - examples really gave me guidance. So for anyone beginning their journey, perhaps this will be helpful.

To begin where we left off in the previous post...we looked at the sculptures and stories of friends who had already made their creations (before our long weekend). And one by one over the next 8 days children made their own sculpture - first building an impermanent work of art and later using glue to permanent-ify their sculpture.

Then children shared stories inspired by their sculpture. We printed a photo of their sculpture and invited our little ones to write their story in the white space below the photo. When they read their story aloud, we transcribed their words onto a separate paper as well.

And...when all was said and done. We carefully presented all of the sculptures on a platform along with lights and two flashlights. This prompt greeted the children one morning and inspired several pairs of children to tell stories together.

We finished the project with a special morning meeting, with the lights dimmed low in the classroom and told a shared story. Nearly every child took a turn adding a sentence or two to the story and when it was their turn they used the flashlight to show where their story was taking place in the large sculpture setting.

The sculptures now live in the block area and are part of our daily block play. A very important handmade element of our classroom play environment. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

some days are just 'meh'

Sometimes provocations are met with "meh..." in preschool.

A prompt left near the projector of black paper and scissors captured the interest of one.

We just returned from a lovely four-day weekend and we (teachers) wondered if the group would return to school with continued interest in light. Well...the jury's still out on that one but there was a general meh-ness regarding light, shadow, and light storytelling today.

wooden sculptures created by children last week were presented upon play silks, with
loose parts and

It's a fine dance with inquiry/project-based learning. Persisting is an important habit of the push to extend, continue, deepen, and persist is one of the teacher roles. There is also a place for boredom (meh-ness) in our life. Life and creativity are often born from those moments. So perhaps to feel safe enough to exist for a few days without, necessarily a spark, is healthy for our collective creative spirit.

...And then there is the wisdom of recognizing a different spark in our midst. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

a bit of a scary story

Light has emerged where we least expected it...under the table. Even as a rapidly aging "grown up" there was truly some magical element in playing under the table this morning. We covered the largest table we have...which really is not that large...with a blanket and left a prompt in the covered den. Two flashlights, a basket of wood cutoffs, wooden spools, and glass stones.

I shimmied under the table at first to get the first few started and then I sat outside the covered fort and listened...sometimes popping my camera under the blanket for a shot or video.

Build it and knock it down. One of the first to visit the space found it a safe space
 for constructing and deconstructing. 

And on the other end of the spectrum, a "house" built carefully over the course of 30 minutes that no one could take apart.
Later, a Stop sign was created that said "don't take it down" and taped nearby.

The photo above inspired a story that is too beautiful an example of play-based early literacy not to share. The story lasted three minutes and this video captures a portion from the middle. After she told her story I asked if we could show the video of her story to friends during circle time and she agreed. We all watched the video and then had a conversation about what we saw (using an organic, see, think, wonder framework for the discussion). The group remembered the elements of their friend's story...spoiler alert: the characters get eaten by a lion! And it inspired us to wonder about our own storytelling. It looks like we have a plan now to create our own sculptures using wood and use flashlights.  

Here is the story in its entirety...
Once upon a time there was 4 kids that were going to school. Then a wolf came and eat them. He came to ate the baby. And he bring him to the cave then and said, "where's my baby?" and walk to the cave and take him away so the wolf doesn't eat him. Then the biggest wolf in the world came and ate all those guys and bring him to his little lion. The lion did want to eat them. And then they tried to run away with the baby. The baby run away to his house. Then two crocodiles came and snap him. And they went back to their house. The End!
I will share more in the next post about the trajectory of this emerging project - where we started and where we are going!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

light within

Oh the coziness of late fall. As a Floridian it has taken me many years in colder climates to find joy in cooler temperatures and darker skies. Actually, I think it has taken 13 years to be exact. But I do see the warmth in winter now...and a lot of it is found in how we prepare our indoor environment.

An old light projector can add such an inviting glow to the room. Not to mention that block building (in this instance) takes on a whole new dimension!

We notice more children engage at the light table now that morning light no longer fills the classroom.

Sometimes we close the window shade in this area and the glow of the twinkle lights is even more pronounced. We created a covered, cozy fort for children to tuck away into and they bring flashlights in with them!

Our pretend play area has started to change into a welcoming forest, inspired by our weekly forest outings. We started with bare branches, collected during outdoor play, and discussed ways to turn the area into a forest.

Our brainstorming discussion began during circle time...

I first introduced a new Idea Book (we've been having beginning conversations about our brains and thinking of ideas - so this seemed like a natural progression). I showed them my sketch of branches on the pretend play wall and then as children shared their ideas I drew them into the Idea Book. And they did have wonderful ideas, like: painting leaves yellow and adding them to the branches, picking up the real red leaves we saw that morning on the ground to add to the branches, painting a forest, and making a dragon for the forest.

It's always a balance...moving forward is a give and take between the children's ideas and teacher ideas. Sometimes, we lead a bit more and other times the children do. It's a dance. At this point in the school year, modeling the excitement of thinking of ideas as well as the initiative and motivation to carry out ideas is foundational and vital. As the year moves on - the children gain confidence in this space (and the people around them) and their sense of agency becomes inspiring.

How do you fill your world with light during the winter months?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

f is for forest

A few years ago I was lucky enough to attend forest school training and become certified as a forest school leader. Each year since then has been a bit different in terms of how we access outdoor learning. Some years, weekly trips to the forest seem to take hold for me, our teaching team, and the students. Other years it seems like the routine just doesn't stick. Beyond our personal commitment - I'm sure the weather, level of interest, classroom dynamic, and likely much more...all play a role in our commitment to outdoor learning.

And maybe that's okay...

Just like with any project that takes hold of the group - there are conditions that nurture the interest.

Adding lots of "extra sugar" to the forest cupcakes

This year there is such interest and commitment toward our weekly outings. We have three teachers, which allows each of us to go out with a small group of three to four children one day a week. These small groupings have been so conducive to developing relationships (among the children and also children and teachers) as we intentionally plan who will go to the forest each day. An additional benefit is that a smaller group remains in the classroom.

With fewer children in the classroom we also notice the room exudes a calmness and play is often more focused and intentional.

observational painting in the classroom

How we begin each outing:

Before our outings to the forest it's always nice to come together as a small group to set our intention for our time together. One new tool I am trying this year (thanks to a colleague's suggestion) is the 'Zoom In' Thinking Routine. You can read more about the routine here . Essentially, you choose an image and cover it in sections. You slowly reveal portions of the image, discussing along the way. You can see below from our documentation panel the first image we used, here. Our teaching team is really enjoying this tool as a conversation starter. Whether we use this Thinking Routine or another - or simply sit for a brief chat - we find it important to find common ground before heading to the forest.

Forest Ideas

Here are a few ideas that we have enjoyed this year in the forest. As a note...We always try to follow up on the interests that emerge from the group - or connections happening in the classroom. 

1) Write a simple story about your walk! We created simple 4-page books and drew pictures along the way. Each group shared their forest journey (book) during morning meeting and children chose a title for each book. This simple idea reinforces the idea of: 
  • using images to tell a story 
  • telling (and retelling) an experience/story 
  • authentic use of language 
  • beginning print concepts

They came up with a pretty spot on title!

2) Find a climbing tree and climb! We always take time to practice the important skill of climbing. We use photo and video documentation to revisit and discuss how to safely climb. This year as we viewed a video of one student climbing, children noticed how important their hands and feet were to help climb, they noticed how we look with our eyes to know where to climb, and they noticed people stop climbing when they can't find a next spot to climb to. That's pretty accurate! We also have one teacher rule: You can only go where you can climb...this way you know how to get down (teachers will not pick you up and place you in a tree). Taking the time to insure children learn how to climb safely and feel confident in their skills allows for safe risk-taking in the forest.

3) Bring out some bowls, cups, muffin tins, and more to encourage some forest cooking! We add other pretend play items as well at times, like: silk scarves, animal masks, anything you don't mind getting a bit dirty.

4) Bring some snacks to the forest! We read the book A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton and took inspiration from the story's ending. Spoiler alert: they drink tea and eat biscuits! After reading the story in the forest we had a picnic of our own, enjoying biscuits and tea that we brought with us in a thermos. How fun to have a snack outside!

5) Bring flashlights outside with you to peek in the nooks and crannies of trees, stumps, and bushes. What do you find?

Do you find time for outdoor learning and exploration? What do you and your children enjoy doing in the forest?

Monday, February 22, 2016

start with your values

This time of the year is always my favorite. It is the moment in time when we are so deeply engaged in our first inquiry-based project. Every year is the same. We begin with tinkering in January and with the 'Big Ideas' of engaging our curiosity and wonder, asking questions, and building theories. This, however, is the extent of the sameness from year to year. The beauty is in how the children - each year - engage differently with the idea of tinkering, and because of this, the project trajectory takes very different paths.

Before I talk about where we are now I really want to start at the beginning. What I have found when working with three and four year old children; with many children learning English as an additional language, or beginning their first school experience, is that ample time is necessary for building a foundation that will lead to successful inquiry-based learning. It takes significant effort and deliberate steps to make the leap into project/inquiry-based learning.

So where does one begin?

Start with your values. 

I remember being blown away eight years ago when I first started to study the Reggio Emilia philosophy. This message kept popping up - What do you value? And how are those values represented in the classroom? Questioning yourself seemed to be the starting point. And that is what I did.

I questioned everything.

What were my most joyful memories as a child? Where was I in these memories?
What does the bathroom in your classroom say about your values?
What does meal time reflect in your values?
What are your rules? Why do you have them? What do they reflect?
Why do you say no?
Why say sit 'criss cross applesauce?'
What do you want children to gain from being in your class?

The list goes on and on - because the mental habit was created and I still question things I do/say/want continuously.

There were many changes made over the years to mealtimes, bathrooming, scheduling, transitions, the environment, and even how we walk in line but for now I want to focus on one BIG value.

I realized that I valued democracy. So much so that I wanted that to be a cornerstone of my teaching and classroom ethos. I felt so strongly that this world needs - more than anything else - people who will engage with one another, help one another, question one another respectfully, and use critical thinking skills to make their world a better place. That is the Big Understanding in our preschool classroom. And what better place to learn, practice, and hone the skills that we each need to function productively and successfully in a democracy than in the classroom. There is no better place.

What does that value look like in the classroom?

The value of democratic learning and life impacts everything from the big picture of the curriculum to how we interact as teachers with our students...but for now let's start with Morning Meeting. 

Morning Meeting (or Circle Time) has the potential to be one of the most relevant and important moments of the day. Democracy can not exist without engagement, sharing (and listening to) of ideas, and active participation.

What steps do you need to take to make it happen?

I said goodbye to the traditional calendar and weather routine, mainstays in preschool classrooms, and built a Meeting time based solely on conversation. I worked to reduce my talking time and become more of a facilitator and the children the protagonists. I will write in more detail about the steps we take each year and how the steps build on one another. Until's a little graphic organizer that may help you begin to think and build your own values-inspired classroom.

What values influence the way you have designed your classroom environment, curriculum, and interactions?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

and we're back...with a new addition

It's a few weeks into the new school year and I am not at school. Such a strange feeling. And pretty wonderful, since I'm home with the most adorable three month old.

That face!

I'm loving mamahood...but have to admit it felt strange to not be researching, reading, and generally re-inspiring myself once August rolled around. But now - with 9 weeks of maternity leave left before heading back into the classroom I find myself, once again, reading and researching while the little one naps. It's amazing how much I need this. I imagine every teacher does. Each year brings a new beginning and with that such excitement for what can be

This blog began as a space (years ago) for me to share my reflections and has played such a vital role in my growth as an educator. I must say that over the last three years it has been difficult to come back to writing here...and to stick with it. Not that my reflections ended or my growth stopped. Maybe, with several years under my belt I felt less need to write and reflect on my practice. I'm not sure...I know it just felt difficult. 

Now feels like another new beginning. A time of being a mother and educator. Uncharted territory. Another natural moment where deeper reflection feels necessary.

So for now - while not in the classroom - I hope to share my thoughts, readings, and inspirations.

This site taps into a great interest of mine. Outdoor play spaces and adventure playgrounds have been on my mind for quite some time. I ordered one of the books mentioned on this website and it is proving to be an inspiring read. 

Something that really struck me is Bengstsston's belief that adventure playgrounds would really take off and become mainstream - with these dedicated spaces being embraced in many cities and towns. This has not happened but it points to the power of passion. Outdoor play spaces were Begsston's passion - how could you go on without the hope and belief that an idea is best practice and will take root in society? This book was published in 1972 so what he likely could not imagine is how the idea of risk, play, and independence and the litigation-loving society (in the U.S. at least) would essentially give rise to risk-free outdoor play spaces. 

We currently live in Europe and outdoor play spaces do have more risk - at least compared to the playgrounds of the U.S. But as someone who would love to visit an adventure playground - there is still not one nearby. The nearest is a two hour drive away. When our little one is walking, talking, and able to pick up a hammer we will certainly be making the drive there. 

Fire, hammers, and a build-it-yourself adventure playgrounds will not be part of our preschoolers daily experience any time soon - nor would I necessarily want that - but there are ideas and inspiration that can be taken from such a book - such a concept. That is where I am now...what can make it into our preschool outdoor experiences? 

With that's hoping one day we can make it to Wales to this special place. 

The Importance of Playing With Fire (Literally) from Play Free Movie on Vimeo.

Do you have any experience with such outdoor play areas?


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