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.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Kindergarten Begins with Building Community and Relationships First

What do we focus on when we first start Kindergarten? Probably not what you would expect! Our first priority is not to start academics! It is for our class and families to build relationships and a community who can work together and get along. A responsible, loving community of learners, problem solvers, collaborators, and friends. Taking 25 five year olds, most whom have never met or been in a classroom with this many kids before, and building relationships and a community does not happen over night! 

We started building relationships and community as we met families at Kindergarten Screening. While I was screening their children they wrote their hopes and dreams on a rock.  When I brought their children out, they were to read their hopes and dreams to their child and place the rock in our bowl. This will be a wonderful reminder to the kids of their parents love while they are away from them all day.

Creating something together gives them a sense of pride and community. The kids created these peace beads with their parents at our open house. They had so much fun creating something beautiful together. 

The next day, the kids got a fine motor workout as they attached their wired beads to a grapevine wreath. We talked about how we want to work together to create a peaceful place for us to get to know each other. 

Some friends helped each other create a sign to let everyone know what we made. It was proudly displayed! 

We read some books to show us how to treat each other. My favorite is "Have You Filled A Bucket Today?" We learned that our actions can fill others buckets or dip into their buckets. When our buckets are full, we feel happy. When our buckets are empty, we feel sad or mad. We want to have a class of bucket fillers. We discussed ways we can fill each other's buckets and also realized that we fill,our own buckets when we make others feel good!

Our next step was to start building community as we got to know each other. The best way to do this is through play. I took the kids through each area of the room and described how to take care of the materials. In order to be allowed to play in each area, they had to be kind, be safe, and be responsible.  Then they picked an area and played.

At first we had some trouble with the materials.  As frustrating as this was, I was so glad it happened! We gathered around the mess and talked about it. The kids were the ones who decided it would be better not to dump out whole containers of materials. They did not like how long it took to clean up and decided they did not want that to happen again! The key is, THEY could see the problem and once they realized that they were capable of coming up with a solution, they rose up to the challenge. Their maturity and seriousness during this discussion amazed me. I pointed out that were problem solvers and what they had just done was not easy! Now they see themselves as problem solvers. Solving problems together is a great way to build community!

Problem solved!

At first many started out playing by themselves. 

But they soon started joining each other in their play. 

The longer they played, the more I started seeing their play evolve and change. I started to see more collaboration and teamwork happening. 

Their play was becoming more purposeful. 

More social. 

They were wanting to share their discoveries with each other.

They were helping each other. 

Quietly exploring together. 

It took a couple weeks, but I believe we are definitely building a wonderful community of learners who are starting to develop the skills they need to be successful in learning and in life. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Creating an Environment that Teaches: New Beginnings

I get very excited in August to create a beautiful, homey and inspiring new environment for me and my new kindergartners. Each year I look at my room as a blank slate and wonder, "How can I create an environment that inspire kids to explore, look closer, wonder and learn because they want to. How can I create an environment where they will want to take risks and try something new?" Then I get to work! The creative side of me loves this process! 

Literacy, Math, Science and Social Studies will naturally happen in every area of the room, but this year I have divided the room into specific areas. 

Here is the Art Studio area of our room. Creative Thinking is one of the 21st Century Skills that people need to be successful. This is one of many areas that fosters this along with Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Collaboration skills! We have easels for painting and other art media such as oil/chalk pastels, charcoal, markers, liquid water color, etc. 

These shelves store materials often used in our art studio. They are easily accessible to both students and me!  As of now they are off limits. I will slowly introduce them to each material and set them out for art provocations at one of our tables or the easel. If kids want to use materials like glitter, feathers, pom poms, and pipe cleaners they can bring me a plan to show me what they need the materials for to get permission to use them. 

Our rolling cart has tempura paint in ketchup/mustard bottles I found at Sam's club on the top. These squeeze the paint out more slowly than the bottles the paint comes in so they can squeeze out only what they need. This will foster independence in the art area. As of now they are off limits until I model and we practice how to squeeze out an appropriate amount. The second shelf has been changed to only have everything they need for watercolor painting including black Sharpie markers, water color pallets brushes and jars for water. 

An area for sculptres is also part of our art studio. Right now we have clay available. Other materials that may be used for sculptures may be wire, playdough, pipe cleaners, or recyclables. The shelves are for displaying their sculptures. Creating sculptures is also a great way to work those finger muscles to develop the fine motor skills needed for writing.

A loom is also available to create art. We will be working those fingers muscles as we weave items from nature and materials we find in our room to create something beautiful!

Extra easels that can be moved to a table top if needed for a provocation or observational drawings/paintings. 

Here is the science area of our room. Right now I have loose parts on one side but as kids bring things to our room from outside or home for us to explore and look closer at. This table will be dedicated to those interests. 

On the other side I have an invitation for kids to look closer and explore. Since I do not know their interests yet, I set out rocks and crystals since they usually love all things colorful and sparkly! If they show major interest and start wondering about this, then we will dig deeper and start an inquiry. If not, I will set out something else to see if it will grab their interest. 

Here is our Literacy Area. We have materials for reading, writing and exploring literacy concepts. 

In the library they will be able to explore stories and non fiction. Writing materials, paper and clip boards are available if they want to write about their favorite parts of stories, their own stories, or something they thought was interesting from an informational book! Later writing paper and blank booklets will be added. 

This table is for exploring literacy concepts. Right now it is set up to explore alphabet books, letters and the lines that create letters. After letters this could change to exploring names, or sight words, word families, etc.  This is taking the place of my old literacy trays.

Here is our building/engineering area. On this side of the shelves we have building blocks and loose parts.  Clipboards with paper for plans are available to incorporate writing or stories about their creations. Many, many math and science concepts are explored in this area!

Books about building and Archetecture are also here for inspiration.

Here are skills they use in our building area that I posted on he wall.

On the other side of our shelves is where our engineers like to hang out. Right now it only has Legos. As they get better at working together, getting along, problem solving, and handling disappointment as a friend has something they want or need, other materials will be added such as K'Nex, Magnetix, and marble runs. 

Books about engineering and creating are also here for inspiration. 

Here are some skills they learn in the Engineering Area that I posted on the wall.

Here is our Math Area.

These shelves hold our math manipulatives and some loose parts such as shells, buttons and glass beads. This was purposely put by our meeting area so kids could have plenty of floor space when exploring these materials. 

This table will have math provocations for kids to explore different math concepts. Right now it has materials to explore measurement.  

We also have a Dramatic Play Area. Right now it is a kitchen, but this is an area that encourages some pretty great projects! 21st Century Skills, along with writing, reading,many math skills are often used as we change this space into something else. It has been a bakery, space station, beauty shop, Docters office, animal hospital and a haunted house! I can't wait to see what hey turn this area into! 

Here are skills they learn and use in this area that I posted. 

Our last area of our room is our Craft/Engineering Area. This used to be a writing area but all they have ever wanted to do here were crafts and engineering style creations. If you can't beat them, join them, right? Here they will use writing to create plans to get approval to use certain materials like paper tubes, feathers, pipe cleaners, tooth picks, cotton, cotton swabs, boxes, construction paper and any other recyclables that come our way! The materials are all visable and easily accessible. 

Here is the room as a whole!

Tools are at each of the tables also. At some point, the different areas of our room will grow to include these tables for invitations to learn and explore!

Now that the room is finished, we will see how the students respond to it! That will be in the next post about how we begin our year. Stay tuned!