Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sticks as a Tool, not a weapon!

My final project was allowing students to explore different tools we use in our classroom. One day we went outside and looked for things in nature that could be used as writing tools instead of pens and pencils. My students got very excited and started picking up sticks and rocks that could be used. We discussed which sticks would be most useful depending on their shape, size, and point. Then the following week, we put several tubs in writing center that contained soil (a vocabulary word of the week), sticks and rocks, and letter tiles in them. This student got really excited about using his new tools to write the sight words that were posted on the wall!

Sensory Box Update

I redid my sensory box for our new unit: Things That Grow. I put a lot of animal food in it (seeds, corn, hay) and put sight word butterflies and matching sight word "caterpillars" (made from clothespins) in it as well. I tried to use a play, debrief, play model when I introduced this center. I first just let them have at it by exploring the different elements and observing the different foods and textures. Then in centers meeting and during later center times, I asked some questions to get students thinking more critically about what they were playing with. They explored how animal food was different from and similar to people food, and observed that corn and seeds had similar characteristics. The conversation among students in this center was much richer following the debrief, and I found that they were much more engaged with the actual materials even though they weren't necessarily doing the sight word matching.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Writing with Ice!

During a unit on the United States, students played around with ice in the writing center (e.g. Alaska). Instead of just plain old paper and pencil to practice writing their sight words, students enjoyed exploring a new element and seeing what happened when their warm hands were writing for a long time.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Letting Kids Explore!

During our unit on measurement, I have tried to let go of only using certain tools during direct instruction and instead allowing students to explore them on their own. Here there are two students weighing things in a scale. They were trying out different materials and objects from the sensory tub and trying to balance them out. They were SO excited when they got the scale to balance! I also have tried letting go of my need to control mess. I personally cannot stand having scissors in centers because my students end up cutting the paper into a million pieces and making a complete disaster area. I gave in today though and allowed them to use scissors (upon their request) to collage the potato print pictures they were making. They were really excited about it and they made some pretty cool collages and discovered that the paint acted like glue.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Retelling Stories with Shadows

My students loved our unit on Shadows, so I decided to continue using it as we switched to our unit on Fairy Tales. I put a projector in the library to promote retelling stories using shadow puppets. Students were given puppets of characters from the stories and were also encouraged to play with their own hands to create characters. In this photo, two students are reenacting the story Hansel and Gretel. We had already read the story once or twice as a class, and they had a great time pretending to be the mean old lady in the candy house as they retold the story on their own! They students were using a lot of oral language to discuss roles and talk about the sequence of events, and they had fun encouraging each other to use silly voices in their different roles.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Shared Reading with Mr. Squishy

We have been working on reading patterned texts in my classroom. I was having a lot of trouble finding texts that were both exciting for my kids and appropriate for the skills they needed to learn. So, I created this poem that is based on my kids' favorite classroom object: Mr. Squishy. I included some positional words as suggested in class (to touch on math standards). I broke the pattern at the end, as some of my students have can read patterned texts but then would have trouble recognizing when the pattern stopped. The next day, I turned the poem into a book so students could practice one-to-one correspondence by using fingerpaint and putting a print on each word as they read. The students really enjoyed it and thought the pictures were so silly!

Sunday, March 18, 2012


When reading the Before Play section of Serious Players in a Primary Classroom, I was in awe of how two teachers managed to create a productive and fun learning environment for 45 students. Not only did they have to make the space manageable, they had to take into consideration the different needs of children that ranged in age from five to eight. Although my "Breathing Out" part of the day sounds similar to this classroom's, I have half of the amount of students. Thus, simple logistical questions came to mind like: how do 45 students even fit together on the carpet? How do you allow every student to choose their center and length of time they stay in that center and keep all of the students satisfied? One important note addressed in the book was the teacher's response to student disagreements during play. Although I strive to do as they said and allow the students to solve the problem themselves with little interjection, I often find myself jumping in too soon due to time constraints or frustrations when certain students will result to the back and forth barking of "It's your fault! No it's your fault!". We have modeled problem solving skills and have a designated talk-it-out table to foster independent problem solving (which has definitely helped!), but unfortunately I still feel as though I do not always approach the situation without frustration or bias. I have two students who constantly create conflict during our center time and it is always due to the same reason (they knock someone's blocks down or intentionally take a toy away from someone). It is very difficult to remain non-judgemental or refrain from invoking guilt on these students, for it seems as though every time I turn around, I am having another student complaining of their actions. I would love to watch a video of the classroom of 45 students and see how two teachers successfully interact and question students at play while also maintaining a peaceful center time.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Playing with Shadows!

Thanks to Katie Keier's great suggestion, we introduced our unit on Shadows and Reflections with the wonderful Shel Silverstein poem: Shadow Race. We then went outside and got to experiment with making shadows just like the poem said. We pointed to the sun and raced our shadows to see who would win. The kids absolutely loved it, and it really helped them conceptualize where shadows come from. Thanks for the great poem and activity idea, Katie!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Power Rangers in the Pre-K classroom

Recently three of the boys in my classroom have been consumed by Power Rangers. Almost every time they interact, conversation turns to a debate over who gets to be the Green Ranger (there can only be one, of course!). In their minds, it is impossible for there to be two green rangers because the show depicts only one of each color and that's how they must play it out. One student especially struggles to accept a new identity text for the rangers when the other student proposes they can both be green rangers. After many days of trying to help them negotiate an alternate direction of play, I find myself constantly getting frustrated as the discussion often comes to an inconclusive ending and then the saga starts all over again the next day. In reading Playing Their Way into Literacies, I admired the way that the children Wohlwend descripes as princess players were initiatially able to negotiate new roles for their dolls (88). Although they rejected Peter joining the play, they eventually found a way to trade dolls with him and give him a pre approved roll. This vignette has inspired me to spend more time with my Power Ranger students in helping them come up with new roles and standards of power ranger play so that they all can assert authority and power while still feeling accepted. Although allowing the children to write their own version of the Power Ranger Play could help, how can I best help my most "set in his green ranger ways" student branch out in order that he is comfortable allowing others to play green ranger with him?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Extending Literacy Beyond the Book

I love connecting my centers to the books we are currently using in our classroom as read alouds to facilitate play. This center, construction zone, was turned into a grocery store where students could stock the shelves with items needed by the Little Red Hen in the story the Little Red Hen makes a Pizza. They could connect what they read in the book to what they know in their own world like trips to the local grocery store with their parents.

Becoming the Expert

 In Playing Their Way into Literacies, Karen Wohlwend outlines the significance of mediation in the classroom. She speaks of kindergarten as a community of practice, and how learners are marked by those who participate in core practices and allow them to take a new identity as an expert as opposed to a newcomer (p. 13). It is through play, she argues, that children can mediate print texts for themselves by taking on the role as a more experienced reader. In my classroom, we have allowed for children to have multiple opportunities to be the expert. In this photo, a student has the book Ten Apples Up on Top opened beneath him and is retelling it in sequence using felt characters. This particular students has trouble articulating his thoughts about books and would not necessarily be able to retell the story with words, so this felt board activity provided him with his own means to becoming the expert, and what an expert he is putting all of the apples up on top!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Playing to get Smart!

Here my students set up a car and head off to the zoo! One of the boys drives the car using a pizza pan as the wheel while the boy standing turned himself into the stoplight. According to Elizabeth Jones in Playing to Get Smart, "it is through play with materials and relationships...and solving problems in dialogue with others that young children develop the basic skills they will need to become effective contributors to the health of a changing world." I see my students like those to the right using their imagination to play together and recreate real life events every day. I know that the conversations they have and the interactions they encounter with one another ultimately are giving them important skills they will need in their future. Thus, even though the dramatic play center was presented to them as a museum that week, I know that the experience of working together and finding tools to create a car driving down the street to the zoo ultimately was more beneficial to their skill set then forcing them to take notes on the pictures they were looking at in the "museum".

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pete the Cat invades Construction Zone!

This week we read Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. Students were given a cut out of Pete the Cat to encourage pretend play as suggested in the article Children's Context for Development by Klein, Wirth, and Linas. This girl was putting fences around the colors on the carpet to keep Pete from getting his shoes all dirty like he does in the book when he steps in the strawberries and other colorful items.