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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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Space for Wonder and Risk and Relationship

I've been filled with many emotions (awe, anxiety, excitement, guilt, disbelief, un-certantity, and drive to name a few!) since accepting and starting my new job.  I'm going to put those emotions on the back burner and reflect on them in a later post.  (Especially the guilt and the disbelief; I've never had access to so many resources in a school I've worked at before.)

The studio space on my first day.

But those reflections are for another day.  Today I have been thinking about a lot about the studio space that I am responsible for maintaing in our Reggio-Inspired nursery school.   I've set up many early childhood classrooms; this space is different.  The studio is not a classroom and is not owned by one teacher/teaching team and class of students.

Shelves above the sinks. I place items that I hope the children and teachers  will view as beautiful and inspiring.
The studio is a collaborative space for the school community.  This idea that the studio is a community place was one of the driving forces behind the decisions I made in preparing the space for the beginning of the school year.  I want this space to be a place where all of our little students and their teachers can feel wonder and joy and curiosity.  I want them to feel compelled to touch the materials, to look up and marvel at the items above, beside, and below them, and to feel safe in taking risks and trying new things.

The studio is not a traditional classroom.  It will not be used in traditional ways.  In the studio I will work with small groups of little learners between the ages of 2 and 5 for varying amounts of time.  Some work will be projects that last for extended periods of time and involve many people contributing to their evolution.  Some projects may last only a moment and be captured only by photo.  Some work will be experimenting and tinkering and playing with space and objects in unexpected ways.  Some work will be left and returned to when the child is ready.  Some work will be left and never returned to, but perhaps adopted for play by another child.

Though I will be working with 2 year olds in the space two days a week for an extended time period, I am trying to challenge them and myself to play in new ways.  And so, even though it was offered, I turned down typical dramatic play furniture and instead am starting the year with large boxes with stools and baskets of fabric inside.
I don't yet know all of the possibilities that the studio will provide.  I do know that I will try to be observant and reflective and intentional in the ways in which I maintain the space.  I will use the space and my relationships with the children and other teachers to challenge and question and inspire new ways of looking at the world.

I made a decision not to put chairs in the studio.  Instead I set the tables low and am stacking carpet squares along the wall in a hope that the children won't feel chained to a particular spot, but will feel free to move around as the work beckons.  Should our work lend itself to it, I will raise the table legs and create an elevated space that we can stand around.  

And so the studio may be set up to welcome children, families and teachers to the beginning of the year, but it is not done.  It will never be done.  It will be always evolving and adapting as we use it for our own risk taking and learning.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Exploring Names

This is kind of a departure from my usual posts. As in it's not really reflective, it's more my suggestions of the way things could be.  Though, when I think about how this came up, I suppose even this is reflective.  During my graduate school internship, I was working with a group of instructional coaches who work with PreK-3rd grade teachers.  One of the coaches and I were talking about ways to help her PreK teachers understand that there is so much more that needs to be done in PreK than having children sit down and do drills on writing their names.  So this is what I came up with (based on knowledge of child development principles).  And because I do believe so strongly in play and exploration I thought that I would share it with you.  (I also believe that these are solid ideas for kindergarten as well as Prek.) 

Exploring Names in Prekindergarten: It’s Not about Name Writing

Value of Name Play in PreK
  • Recognizing one’s name helps children feel important
  • Recognizing others’ names builds community
  • Introduces concepts of print
  • Begins the process of site reading
  • Supports beginning math concepts
Fine motor skills must be developed before writing begins.
  • Focus on drawing with details (self-portraits, observation drawings in nature, sketches of creations in block area)
  • Playing with play dough (rolling with palm on table/between palms, squishing with fist, using finger and thumb to roll balls)
  • Drawing/tracing name in salt/sand trays 
  • Using tweezers to transfer object and eye droppers to transfer water
Names in daily routines:
  • Write each child’s name next to their photo and place in cubbies
  • Write each child’s name next to photo and use in home or school chart
    • Children move their name from home to school upon arrival and from school to home upon dismissal
    • Can integrate math into routine by exploring which column of chart has more names, how many children are in school, how many are at home
  • Write every child’s name on a sentence strip (or several) and laminate. Place in a basket where children can use the names to label block creations, art in process, etc.
  • If you have a word wall, the children’s names should be the first words that occupy the wall.
Name Activities:
  • Name puzzles; write child’s name on an index card, using magnetic letters/letters on bottle caps/cut up index card write name again so it can be moved around.
    • Talk about how many letters are in child’s name, what is the first letter in their name, what other letters do they see in their name
  • Tactile letters; use tactile letters that spell the child’s name for the child to finger trace.
  • Build the letters in their name with pipe cleaners.
  • Place child’s name card next to sensory bin with letters buried in sand and have child find the letters that match their name.
  • Name Sorts
    • Sort the children’s names by placing name cards under the correct letter that each name begins with.
    • Sort the children’s names by length.
    • Sort the children’s name by matching individual names to that child’s photo.
  • Create a class book with each child’s name and photo for children to read during choice time.
Writing their Names:
  • Children are ready to learn how to write their names when they 
    • are showing an interest in writing their names 
    • are holding pencils with the correct grip
    • are creating recognizable drawings
    • are able to tell you the letters in their names
  • At this time, it is important to guide children in the correct formation of the letters that make up their name.  Working individually with the children who are ready, model for them how to form each letter in their name and help them practice how to do so.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Fear: #kinderblog13 Challenge Five

Sometimes we need to push past the fear of the unknown so that we can forge our path.
This week's #kinderchat blog challenge is to write about fear.  I'm afraid of many things, some irrational and some not.  

I'm afraid to walk too close to the edge of the eL platform even after living in Chicago for 8 years because I'm convinced I'll fall onto the tracks (and that it won't be all awesome and romantic like it is in "While You Were Sleeping").  Small talk makes me frantic; I can speak eloquently about my work and child development, but talking about the weather and what teams are doing well is so awkward. Doing art in front of people makes me clammy and crazy embarrassed.  

Yet, I take the eL several times a day.  I must if I want to experience life in this crazy city I live in.  And I network and attend conferences and talk about the weather and people's children and what movie I'm planning to see over the weekend.  How else will I build relationships and make connections?  And I paint and sculpt and draw and make paper in front of both friends and strangers every day.  If I can't let go of my embarrassment over my lack of artistic talent how can I expect my students and families to take risks and try new things?

Fears are not inherently bad.  In fact, a little fear is a good thing, it provides perspective and keeps us from doing some stupid and dangerous things.  It's when the fears keep you from forging your path and living your dreams that they become a problem.  

I've been feeling a little overwhelmed (dare I say fearful) by the expectations of me and opportunities I have been given.  Parents and other professionals ask me questions about child development, I am given chances to present at conferences, and my mentors tell me they will go to bat for me in the job search and offer me opportunities to work with them.  I'm blessed.  But I'm also terrified that I will not know the answers and that I will be exposed as a fraud.  And I have to get over it.  I'll keep the fear because it keeps me modest and reflective, but I can't let it keep me from following the professional path I want to walk.

I want to grow and lead and try new professional challenges.  Fears and all.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Dream: #Kinderblog13 Challenge Four

This is a short little post for the #Kinderchat blog challenge.  A little post on dreams.  Not the post I was going to write. But the post that I was inspired to write.  

Dreams are where ideas begin and passion grows.  Dreamers are hopeful.  Dreamers are the innovators, the artists, the advocates.  Dreamers believe that just because something is a certain way right now that doesn't mean it will always be that way.  Dreamers see the future not as something inevitable that will happen to them, but as a possibility that they can influence.  

Children are dreamers.  We can see their dreams as they pretend.  We can see their dreams as they build with blocks.  We can see their dreams as they paint and sculpt and color.  We can see their dreams as they run and dance.  We can see their dreams as they play.

And it is OUR responsibility to protect their dreams.  

It is our responsibility to protect their play.

We must. For what would the world be like without dreamers?