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Certified PreK-6. Masters in Child Development. Advocate for play, teacher & children choice, & the family's voice. Believe in volunteering as social justice.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Culture of a Classroom

As I was reflecting on the changes that the little people and I recently made to the classroom environment, I began to think of the cultural climate in the classroom.  What do the environment, my actions, and the actions of my little people say about the culture of our room?  Upon further reflection, this is what I came up with to define the cultural values within our classroom community.

Problem Solving
Problem solving is a skill that is valued and nurtured within the classroom.  Children are encouraged to think of different ways to solve problems and to discuss with each other and the teachers solutions to problems that arise.  As a result, creative solutions to every day problems often occur, such as this child using a book to assist her in carrying a stack of blocks to her construction site.

Collaboration among peers and with teachers is encouraged.   I believe that learning occurs within the context of relationships and the act of working together is valued within our classroom.  Because of this, the little people are learning (more and more everyday!) to have the confidence to go up to a peer to ask for help or offer help and to accept the offer of help or a new idea from a peer.

Looking Closer

The idea of making observations extends past the role of the teacher and into the eyes of the little people.  The curiosity to look at objects in a deeper way is a daily way of life within the classroom.

Trying it Out
I think (hope) that the culture in my classroom encourages children to go ahead and "try it out".  The little people have the confidence to walk up a slide, step up on a chair or table, use an object in an unusual way without the fear of being told no.  This is one thing that I really recognize comes from my personality and comfort level as a teacher.  I have a trust in the little people to make wise decisions because they have been taught how to do so and so when they step up on a table, I observe and know that they are doing it for a reason and step back and allow them to "try it out".

You, and Your Work, are Important
Whether it be photo books, smaller bulletin boards, large panels, picture frames, or randomly made and placed signs, the children's work permeates the entire classroom and areas surrounding the classroom.  To me this signifies one of the strongest cultural elements within the classroom.  The idea that the work the little people do is important and should be respectfully displayed for future revisiting. 

I'm sure there are other elements within our classroom that define our culture, but these pop out as the most influential within our daily lives.  As I continue to reflect on the values and rituals that define our classroom culture, I am curious to see if the parents and other members of the school community would find the above values to be true within the classroom.  If what I see to be the defining elements of our culture are what they too see to be defining cultural characteristics.

I hope the answer is yes, because actions do indeed speak louder than words.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Happens After 3 Months of Visiting a Tree

For the past three months, the little people and I have been building a relationship with the big tree down the block.  We spent a lot of time sketching, sculpting, and enjoying the tree.  As I am working on a documentation panel of the experience, I was struck by the beauty of the little people's representations and the thoughtful expressions shown in the photos of them at work.  I think that the children's work samples and photos tell the story much better than I ever could...so enjoy!

Clay Representations

Bark Rubbings with Graphite Sticks

Individual Sketches from Months of September, October, and November


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Are They Even Learning?

A non-educator friend of mine recently asked me what children at this age are even learning.  She was confused by the way in which I organize my classroom around the little people's ideas and interests.  She thought that if I allowed the little people to take the lead then they wouldn't learn anything and would "just want to play all day".  After I explained to her that play equals learning and that there can be no learning without joy, I attempted to share with her all that the little people were in fact learning.

Here are a few very recent examples of using the little people's questions and ideas to create learning opportunities.  What do you think?  Are they learning?

At the start of November, a little person asked me when it was going to snow.  Rather than say "I don't know" or worse, ignore the question, I saw this as the perfect learning opportunity.  My response to her was that perhaps we should keep a count of the days that we are waiting for it to snow.  Each day she came to school and added a link to the chain and counted the links.  She went from not being able to count past 10 to counting past 20 with only a few mistakes in the teens.

On the same day that it started to snow and we moved the other child's snow count, another little person told me that it was Christmas.  I responded that yes, I changed the calendar to a new picture, but that it wasn't yet Christmas, but perhaps we could countdown to the holiday.  After I counted out 24 links, she helped me make a pattern and hang it on the wall.  As she arrives each morning, I told her that she may remove a link and watch the chain grow smaller.

While reading a story about a boy who puts a snowball in his pocket only to find that it had disappeared once in the house, a few of the little people told me it melted.  When I asked them what they meant by that they said that the snow turned into water.  One little person said, "yeah, then it's gonna freeze some more into water".  I saw that there was some confusion as to what melting and freezing was so we decided to fill up a bucket with water and place it outside.  All throughout outside play we checked and it was still water!  After nap the bucket was brought inside and instead of water there was a block of ice.  We now know what frozen means and as we watch the bucket in the classroom turn back into water, we will understand what melting means.

So?  Following the little people's ideas and interests...a pretty joyful way to learn no?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Effective Literacy is Fun

One of the challenges of early childhood education is that in an effort to meet state standards, many teachers take the play out of preschool.  As an invested early childhood professional, I believe that play and exploration is the heart of learning and can't imagine my little people learning any other way.  From what I have observed, the content area that is most taught ineffectively in preschool is that of literacy development.  Unfortunately, a large amount of early childhood teachers are uniformed and use direct instruction and *shudder* ditto sheets to teach early childhood literacy.  I have seen far too many of my colleagues sit a group of 3 and 4 year old children in a large circle as they try to get the class to name letters or provide them with the letter sound.  Or gather up a group of little people and force them to write meaningless letter strings.  They then complain when the children are restless.  Of course they are restless!  They are not engaged and often being forced to sit for something that is not a developmentally appropriate expectation.  When my little people leave my room and transition to Kindergarten they are prepared and excited...and they were not subjected to endless direct instruction in preschool.  Rather, they have learned to love letters and books and sounds as we explore within the classroom. 


 The concept of syllables is explore through games and, in this example, dots.  This little person shows a large knowledge of how words and syllables work and was never once made to sit down in a large group to spit out answers involving the break down of words.

 Each little person's writing level is respected.  This name sample made with class is very similar to how this little person writes her name with pencil.

 The little people are also encouraged to play with letters as this child did by making a mirror image of the K with paint and canvas.

 When giving a slab of clay and the invitation to create a letter, this little person decided to make an L for his name.

 This older child responded to the invitation of paint and canvas to paint her entire name.  Twice.

 Whereas this little person responded to the invitation by painting many Ds.

 And also using clay to represent the same idea.

 This little person went beyond her name and created an O.

Now, doesn't this seem more enjoyable than ditto sheets and a teacher forcing information at you?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Step Back and Let the Children Lead

During one of our neighborhood adventure walks, we came upon a pile of leaves near the sidewalk.  The little people were instantly captivated by the inviting scene.  The combination of the scent, the sounds, and the vision of that many crunchy leaves gathered together was exhilarating for the little people.  With a quick glance at my face and a reassuring nod of my head, the little people let go of each other's hands and dove in to the pile.   Through this experience the little people were able to experience the joy of nature, explore textures and sounds and colors, feel the physics of throwing and falling leaves, and more than I will ever be able to articulate or understand.

The important thing is that the children used a natural interest to increase their learning experience.  What would have happened if, as their teacher, I had dragged the class quickly away with a stern "we need to go!" rather than embracing the opportunity for exploration?  Too often, teachers get wrapped up in their own agenda and forget that the reason we are there is to support the children's learning.  What better way to learn than to dive into something that interests you?  I have seen, and I honestly believe, that little people learn the most when they are engaged in activities that are meaningful to them.

As teachers, we need to take a step back and allow the children to take the lead in the learning process.  When we give them the opportunity to engage in learning experiences that they have initiated, we are teaching them that their opinions are valuable and that they are competent and capable of designing their own destiny.

It takes courage and confidence to step back and let the little people lead themselves.  It's difficult for many teachers to let go of that power and control.  But isn't a loss of power that in return empowers an entire group of little people so worth it?

Be courageous, let the little people guide you.