Sunday, December 28, 2014

Water. Ice. Snow

Take children into the woods and they will learn. Guaranteed.

I am always reminded how much learning Nature has to offer, when children are given time to explore without the distraction of toys and equipment. 

Check out more outdoor fun at the

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Projections of Ourselves: A Preschool Out-of-Body Experience

The other day I took out a projector for the first time with the children. I was using it to show them photos of Iceland. 

They were more interested in making their shadows on the wall. Obviously.

I decided to turn my laptop's camera on and point it towards them. It was very exciting for the children to see themselves on the wall.  

A couple days later it was too cold and windy to go outside so we decided to do some dancing instead. This group has not been especially interested in dancing and I decided to connect the projector again to see if watching themselves would make it more interesting. This was a different group and they were very excited to see the "TV," since we don't have one at preschool.

I am not sure that it actually increased their interest in dancing, but it was certainly an interesting learning experience for them and myself. 

It was fascinating to see who watched themselves, who watched others, and who still looked over towards the radio where the music was coming from. 

During the beginning of our dance party, I decided to hit record on the laptop camera to show it to them later. I have watched it so many times. I watched it once for each child to watch what they were doing. I love some wanted to see their whole bodies move and others just wanted to peak or twirl their hair. They were all trying out different ways to observe themselves.

Without really knowing why, in the middle of the song I decided to stop it and hit play. 

I wish I had a video of their faces when suddenly the same song was playing and they were still on the screen, but the images were not following their movements.  They all looked liked they were having an out-of-body experience. 

Some of them just stood there and stared and others tried to imitate what their "other self" was doing on the screen. They kept looking at the screen and then down at their own bodies with amazement and confusion.

Finally a four year old said:

"But who is controlling us?"  

I didn't answer...

"Wait it's doing what we WANT to do..."

"It's doing what we WERE doing..." 

When it stopped they asked me to show it to them again...and again.  They loved narrating what they were doing. They remembered the actions from the first time they had done them. It really encouraged a lot of language and conversation between them.

Then they moved on to costumes.

I can't wait to see what happens the next time we use the projector. There are so many learning experiences that can come from it: science, movement, technology, sensory, creative arts, social-emotional and so much more.

  The most obvious thing I have noticed so far is a huge increase in language and conversation between them. What 2-5 year old doesn't love talking about themselves? :) 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Play Iceland 2014: Simplicity

This is my second post following my adventure to Play Iceland 2014. My first post can be found here.

Two of the days in Iceland were spent visiting "playschools." The schools were much different than most that we have in the US. The buildings I visited looked similar to a miniature elementary school. They had about eight classrooms with children ages two to six years old. Both schools that I visited were incorporating inspiration from Reggio Emilia schools of Italy.

The major thing that I noticed right away was the simplicity of  the materials in the classroom. Actually what I noticed was the lack of things. The classrooms seemed bare.

Later when I had a chance to reflect on my photos, I realized that the "things" that really caught my eye were mostly re-purposed and simple. 

Almost every room had some sort of beautiful chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Some were made from natural materials and others were created from "Beautiful Stuff."

Leikskólinn Aðalþing 

This playschool had a lot of building materials that were made from recycled stuff. The room that stands out in my mind the most had lots of boxes and tubes for the children to build with. The young group that was playing in this room was enjoying building towers (taller than themselves) and knocking them down. There were photos on the shelves to help the children organize the materials back into their places.

Leikskólinn Stekkjarás 

This playschool had a room that was based on the idea of Reggio Emilia's Remida. A whole room full of organized collections of things to create from and learn with. This was a room that teachers could use for gathering resources, but also children could visit to collect things they need for artwork and projects. There were bicycle wheels, fabric, jars, cardboard, wood, broken electronics, and so much more. I would like to have been left alone in that room for hours.

Remida Inspired Room

Lesley from Takoma Park was part of Play Iceland 2013 and wrote about her experience with materials. Materials #playiceland

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Play Iceland 2014

I have just returned from Play Iceland 2014. This is the second year this event has taken place, planned and started by Hulda and Tom of Fafu

The group consisted of 29 people from different parts of the world. Many were from the United Kingdom, two from Northern Ireland, one from Sweden, myself and one Icelander. I learned so much about the educational systems of not only Iceland, but also those of the my travelling companions. Some of the settings that were represented were Child First Nurseries, Naturally Learning, Filosofiska, The Factory Where We Build Anything, Serendipity Preschool and also some private early years consultants and practitioners.

The first day of the trip was about getting to know each other. We spent the morning at The Blue Lagoon soaking in the geothermal heated pools and sharing our first of many meals.

The second and third day was our chance to break into our groups and visit playschools.

Leikskólinn Aðalþing 


On the evening of the third day we hosted a two hour conference for our own group, but also invited early years teachers from near Reykjavik.  

There were six presenters, including myself. Despite difficulties with technology a lot of information and inspiration was shared. This evening really tied together a lot of the conversations that we had been engaged in over the course of the trip so far. It also gave a chance to connect further and begin more dialogue for the remainder of the trip.

The last day in Iceland was a touring day. We all travelled together outside of the city. We visited two nurseries in seaside villages. We were also able to stop by a few landmarks. The long bus rides gave us more opportunity to connect and chat about all the things we had seen and learned.

There will be more specific blog posts to follow over the next week or so. I have learned so much and made so many wonderful connections. I have already received invitations to visit some of my new colleagues at their settings in other parts of the world. I love reflecting at all the photos, but it is the many conversations that took place that I wish I had record of. 

Many of us plan on keeping the dialogue going and staying in touch.

Here are a couple other posts I have written about my experience in Iceland:

Dining Inspiration

Play Iceland 2014: Simplicity

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gearing up for Winter : Practice through Play

This morning I went into the basement to gather the extra winter clothes to sort through. I decided that during free play I would dump them out in the dress up area while I sorted and see if it caught any interest. 

This is one of my favorite early winter activities. Usually it is more of a planned activity, but I think they were more interested today because I didn't present it as one of the choices. 

I just plopped myself down and tried to look busy. Kids are always interested when grown ups look busy. 

Children were instantly asking... Can we try these on? 

There were lots of colors, types and sizes to choose from. 
It was interesting to see some of the bigger kids trying to squeeze into smaller snow pants, just because they liked the color. 

 Very few of them asked for help, because after all this was dress up. 

Those that did ask for help quickly realized that I wasn't going to help them.

Only one child got confused and actually thought we were getting ready to go outside.  They weren't too disappointed when I explained that we were just pretending for now.  A couple children decided they were getting ready for a winter party and asked to wear their gear into the block area for more space. 

This is such an easy way to get kids to practice gearing up for the winter weather. 

I also realized that I might have a bit of a hoarding problem when it comes to winter gear donations. :)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Little Voices: Familiar Words

I brought back a few new ideas to the classroom after attending a literacy workshop at NAEYC in Dallas titled:

Wow your crowd with a read-aloud: 10 Strategies to increase engagement and interaction 
By Deb Stewart of Teach Preschool and Vanessa Levin of Pre-K Pages

I learned a lot of great ideas, but a couple pointers that I found helpful were:

Do not put books on the book shelf until they have been read aloud to the children.

If they don't "know" and love the books, than they are less likely to care for them and actually examine them on their own. We have a much younger and newer crew this year and there have been many injuries to our books. The children often pull them off the shelf, but rather than look at them they just stand or sit on them. I realized that I many of the books on the bookshelf had no context to them. They didn't know the story. I have a lot of books that are special to me. Those are my favorites to read. Unfortunately I have them all on a special shelf so they don't get ruined. I read them and then put them away. These are the stories the children would love to hold, because I love to read them. I have decided to start investing in second copies of all those books for them to have on their shelf. 

They also reminded me of the importance to read the children books over and over again. 
I know the importance of repetition for their language skills. I know the importance of them learning a story so thoroughly that they are able to retell it. However, it is easy to get into a routine of reading new books, because as adults we get bored with reading the same books over and over again. Children want to hear the same stories over and over again!

When I got back to the classroom I took all the books off our forward facing book shelf. I decided to start simple. I started reading them all our board books. I put the board books on the shelf. I knew these would be the easiest books for them to handle, but also the easiest books to memorize.  I am not talking about texture and lift-a-flap board books. Many great classic stories can be found in the form of board books. Three all time favorites from our board book collection are Jamberry, Brown Bear Brown Bear, and The Three Bears

Part of our daily routine is to clear from lunch, use the bathroom and then choose a book. They bring the book and their nap bag over to their mat and get everything settled. They read their books alone. Once children have settled into the school year a little bit, we occasionally have "book sharing."

I will invite children to another child's mat to share their books with each other. I felt the difference this week. Everybody is finally settling into the routine. I knew they were ready to give sharing a try.

I remind them to sit next to each other. I encourage them to hold one book on two laps, because that is the true meaning of sharing. The child who chose the book off the shelf is the "reader." Then they switch books and readers.  I was not only amazed with their interest and new ability to sit next to each other and share their books, but I heard something new.

As I walked around peaking at them, I heard them repeating the words to the books that I had recently read. Success. :)

Just a few of the things they are learning:

Language Skills

Sharing space with others

Building friendships

Similarities: Noticing they both have books about bears.

Explaining proper book handling
to our younger friends. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Leader of the Pack: Giving them time to be the role-models.

I think one of the best parts of our preschool program is having the one multi-age classroom. I love having the 2-5 year olds all mixed into "one big family." It has such a home-like feel to it and everybody is learning something from everybody else, just like siblings do. They are learning patience. compassion, nurturing, leadership, empathy and the list goes on.

Recently during a Montessori session at the NAEYC Conference the presenters talked about the benefits of the three-year groups that Montessori children are in. They remain in the same classroom for three years. As they spoke I realized that I follow a very similar philosophy when it comes to the benefits of a multi-age classroom for preschoolers. 

When they enter preschool they are able to observe and learn from the older children who have attended the program longer. As they move up the "totem" and become the bigger kids of the group, it is easy to see the changes taking place. Suddenly they are the big kids. They get to be the leaders. It is time for them to pull together everything they have observed and learned and use it with confidence. 

They get to lead the play. They are the teachers. 

For some children this opportunity is key to allowing them to build confidence and to feel comfortable in their own skin.  It is important that I recommend to each family whether they should move on to Public PreK (4 year old program in public school) or whether they would benefit from having the extra year. The extra year allows many to become the leaders in an environment where they are already comfortable. It is necessary to look at every child as an individual. Some children really benefit from moving on to the public 4 year old program, after just a year or two of being in a multi-age program. Others really need that final year to be the role models and learn valuable leadership skills that will follow them through their school years. 

Are they still learning after being there that long? Of course. They are solidifying all the concepts they have learned as they model them to younger friends. Kids like to feel smart! They get excited when they are finally the ones who are always the "experts" before the littler kids get a chance to answer. They are also gaining critical social skills. 

This is an important conversation for the parent-teacher team to have when advocating for what is in the best interest of the child.

Public Prek is often a bigger group and usually a bigger school. Many parents feel the need to introduce their children to this experience before kindergarten so they are not overwhelmed. I think what is often not considered is, if they wait their child may be entering Kindergarten much more confident. They may be really READY if they are given another year to develop their self-esteem further.

"Character formation cannot be taught. It comes from experience and not from explanation.” -Maria Montessori