Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mixing Art and Science As We Learn About Fall

Children love art!  They love to take paint, pastels, watercolors, crayons, colored pencils, markers and clay and create things of beauty.  The things they love to create when they have a choice are more about the process than the end product. They want to create lines and colors and see what happens!  We spent the first month learning how to take care and use the tools that artists use. I didn't have to teach them how to be creative!  They come to me creative!  They look at things with artist's eyes and create like artists, taking their artistic liberties by making rainbow apples and pink houses, purple horses and green people. It is my job to make sure I do not stifle that creativity with my view of what is art! They love being creative and creative thinking is one of the 21st Century Skills we want to foster.

We will always continue and have opportunities to look at things with artist's eyes, but we also need to learn how to look at things with scientist's eyes and record what we see with some accuracy.  We used the Fall season and our art materials to practice this. I set up the environment with experiences to get them thinking and wondering as scientists about things we are seeing this Fall, and then offered art materials for them to show what they notice with some accuracy.

Here they looked close at leaves.  They used fine-lined permanent marker to try to draw the shape and the veins of the leaf.  Some of these leaf shapes were very difficult and took a lot of persistence!  They tried to match the colors of the leaf with watercolor paints.

At this area they looked closer at pumpkins and gourds.  They used twistable crayons and colored pencils at this area to draw and write what they noticed.

Here they looked at pictures of trees and tried to create Autumn trees with clay.  They have learned how to create multicolored sculptures without pressing the colors too hard and mixing them together.

Here they were supposed to try to match the colors of the leaves, but instead they were experimenting as scientists and wondering about and creating different shades of each secondary color. 

Here are some examples of what we call "Observational Drawings" which is what we create when we look closer and document what we notice. As you can see, they are becoming very good at drawing what they see accurately!

The Reggio Philosophy says that children have 100 languages with which to express themselves and their learning.  Using art gives them some different ways to express what they notice and learn! It allows them to use both critical and creative thinking skills at the same time! For some reason, us adults tend to squash some of these languages by telling kids they have to do things the same way as everyone else. Year by year, they loose many of the 100 languages until they hardly have any creative thinking skills left at all and no longer know how to think outside of the box.  It saddens me, but here in our room, we will continue to foster the 100 languages and let them take pride in their way of thinking, doing, and coming up with solutions.

Here are some other things that have also been going on in our room!

Using clay and letter stamps to try to spell words phonetically.
Big Books we have read multiple times together are available for them to read.
We are learning how to partner read and to be a good, helpful partner!
Engineers are creating and sharing how their machines work.
Measurement and weight are being explored.

Matching our friends names to their pictures to help us learn to read their names.
Stringing hard words together as we try to spell phonetically.

We are also creating trees to represent the seasons as we experience them.

Tree Blocks made by my husband are being used very creatively in our building area.
Our room is definitely a very busy place!  I think we are ready to start an inquiry based on the students interests! This group has so many it will be hard to choose! Stay tuned to see what we do next! 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Co-Creating Our Alphabet

I used to have my classes co-create an alphabet, but I truly did not understand the philosophy behind it when I first started.  I thought it was more about having things in the room that were created by children. More for aesthetics than anything else. Because of this, I have had the same co-created alphabet up for the last four years.  It was beautiful and the kids did such a great job.  I thought of it as preserving history to keep their hard work up there.

Now, after reading more about the reasoning behind it, I realize there are more important reasons for co-creating an alphabet with each class. When the kids work together to make it, they take pride in the product that they collaboratively made.  They were part of the whole process!  They decided together what they wanted it to look like, what art mediums they wanted to use and what should be on it to represent each letter. When they see the finished product, they feel as though they did something important! They feel a sense of pride.  They are more personally invested in the product.  Because of this and the memories of working on it together, they tend to use it more. Here is the process of co-creating our Alphabet this year.

First we started learning the letters.  We focus on a letter and a friend in our class ever day for the first month of school. This gets us familiar with the letters and sounds and to make connections with our names and our friends names.  Then the kids came up with a list of things in our room that they have used or noticed to go on the word wall. Pardon the messy handwriting!  I was writing things down quickly!

They wanted to make the backgrounds colorful and chose water colors to paint them.  They also were adamant that they have glitter on them so we decided to make the letters out of glitter.  

Our next step was to add things that began with each letter to help us find and learn the letter sounds. We checked our list and started taking pictures of our friends and objects to add to our chart.  Here is an example.

We taped them onto our backgrounds and voila! We have our letter wall!

We left room on each one so that we can add each sight word as we learn them. That way they can use this wall as a tool to help them spell sight words and their friends names correctly.  They can also find the pictures with the sound they hear when they are trying to spell a word but don't know what letter makes that sound.  They will use this wall to aide them in learning independently. 

It was after creating this word wall with the kids that I noticed how important it is for each class to create their own.  They were so proud and I see them using it all the time.  It truly is personal and has meaning for them.  

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Learning Through Play: It's More Than You Think

We play a lot in our classroom, for many reasons. First of all, it is through play that kids learn their social skills and 21st Century Learning Skills. Are these as important as academics? Absolutely, if not more. You can be the smartest person in the world, but if you can't work with others, collaborate on a project, problem solve, get along, are a responsible person, use critical and creative thinking skills, or focus on a task, you will never be successful. Ultimately, these 21st Century Skills are what employers want and are needed to be successful in all areas of life. Every single one of these skills are used when kids play together. No play, no development of these skills. Period. I strongly feel the lack of open ended play in children's lives is the reason so many children are having trouble succeeding in the older grades. They can't problem solve, handle disappointment, focus on a task to completion, work with others, etc. So, in our room we play and put much focus on developing these skills. 

To make sure they are also getting the academics they need, I have whole group and small group reading, writing, and math lessons. I make sure the needed skills are introduced so that they can use and apply them to their play.  I also set up the environment with much thought as to how they can authentically and meaningfully use these skills. 

In our "Look Closer" area, the kids are slowing down, looking closely, noticing new things, and looking at books about what is set out for them to explore.  They are learning how to use and take care of tools such as microscopes and magnifying glasses. They are also learning how to wait their turn patiently! 

They knew I went to beach recently so I put things from the ocean in this area. I am hoping they will merge science and math here as they notice patterns in the shells, coral, and sea life!

One friend was so proud that she made an AB patten with starfish and sand dollars!

Writing materials are set out so that they can do observational drawings which are more scientific, and as they learn how to use their "kid writing," document what they notice. Below a couple friends labels their drawings "yellow rocks" and "snail' by writing sounds they hear or seeing the needed words in books.

In the math area I start out setting out manipulatives and have let them freely explore them. Without direction, they started exploring, patterns which is the base of all math...

Sorting and categorizing which is both a math and science skill...

The concept of length and measurement...

And counting and one to one correspondence...

Writing materials are also set out in the math area for them to make their thinking visible. I often let them share their documentation writing and photos of what they did/noticed from any area of our room with the class. When they do this they are taking on the role of teacher as they show and discuss what they noticed, discovered or created. When they take on this role, they inspire the others!

This friend below was the inspiration for our classes obsession with all things patterns! She was the first to make one so I let her share. Because of her inspiration, most others have learned how to create and extend simple patterns.

Our building/architecture area has been a wonderful area to learn how to collaborate and work on a project with others. They love to tell me they used "team work" to create something! This is also an area that teaches how to be responsible and do our job, as it is not fun to clean up, put away and organize! It takes teamwork to get it done! Lots of math and science will show up as they play in this area as the year goes on. Right now, they are loving to build tall towers. 

Imagine the creative thinking and problem solving that happen here! Also dealing with disappointment when their structure falls down! They used to get mad! Now they have learned to be persistent, (another 21st Century Learning Skill), try again and problem solve! 


Writing materials are available here also to draw and write about what they created!

We have another area dedicated to literacy. Here there are books in our library and a table set up with materials that encourage the learning of a specific skill. Right now it is set up with materials to explore letters/sounds through names. It will also help them learn to read their friends names!

Here is some of what they did here earlier in the year.

We also have a table with writing materials. A couple friends brought in books they made at home and have inspired others to make books. They are mostly pictures right now, but writing will start showing up as it becomes easier for them. They were inspired by "Super Hero ABC" to invent their own super hero books. 

Of coarse we also have our art studio. Here is where they get to develope and use Creative Thinking Skills. This area also works our fine motor muscles and spacial awareness.

Sometimes we use everyday happenings to learn. We found this caterpillar on the playground. They took it to our room and immediately a group started looking closer and documenting what they noticed. They realized the caterpillar had a pattern! They got to share their discovery with the class and show the pattern.

Kids naturally love to learn when it's done in authentic, meaningful situation. They don't just practice what they learn, they apply what they learn...which is the point of learning.