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.