Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Not Just Playing

In the realm of early childhood education, we are very aware of the fact that in quality preschool programs, children are "not just playing".  We bring so much intentionality into everything we do and every activity we offer, taking into account children's interests, levels of development, and developmental goals for each child.  

Free play is offered to children in abundance at Beansprouts Preschool. However, free play is observed and guided appropriately when children are unfocused or seem to need more grounding.  A high level of awareness is necessary to assess where the children are on any particular day, and what they need from us.  It is only on my very worse days as a teacher that I am just "getting through the day", meaning the activities aren't happening but they just aren't presented with the usual level of intentionality behind them. Most of the time, we plan specific activities, areas of the classroom, new works, and new games for the children with specific developmental goals in mind.  Sometimes, this is intuitive. Sometimes we plan it out weeks ahead of time.  Some days, the best thing for the children is to allow them to fully direct their own play. On other days, more teacher facilitation is needed. To the untrained eye, all of these approaches could look exactly the same. However, we work hard to implement a program that is "right" for each child.  So while it looks like the children are "just playing", they are playing in an environment that we have set up with utmost care.


In this photo, K and C are using boats in a muddy river made by Sh.  Just playing? No way! This is a two-year-old and a four-year-old completely engaged in give-and-take of truly cooperative play.  The dialogue was rich with inquiry, as they checked in with one another to ensure they were both aligned with their self-created rules. Not to mention that they are playing in a river that Sh spent an hour digging and directing.

In the next photo, K is putting on dress-up clothes.  In the safety of a costume, children get to take on other roles (which has much significance in their cognitive development), explore different parts of themselves, and interact in new and highly flexible ways with others. In pretend play, anything is possible!

If the significance of this activity seems obvious, well it is. Puzzles offer multi-level brain development. But the most important part of this activity was the teamwork involved in putting the puzzle together!  

We make our own board games with our own goals in mind. For instance, in this board game, the sea creatures are trying to make it to the birthday party at the end of the game.  But it takes more than one to have a party, so they wait for their friends to arrive at the birthday party before ending the game! This encourages team-playership and a sense of camaraderie.  

Loose parts like these pool noodles are important in allowing us to tap into the world of the child. When they have loose parts to play with (blocks, sticks, rocks) that are completely open-ended, we get to see where their minds and hearts take them. We really get to know the children by observing their open-ended play.

Structured activities like this tracing and numeral matching work are offered as children begin to show interest and readiness in fine motor and academic learning. Because we work with a mixed age group, we don't impose a "way" to do this, but offer an option and allow them to use it in whatever way they are ready.

 Sensory tables tap into parts of the brain that other activities simply cannot. The way children gravitate toward sand, water, and mud ensures us that these sensory materials fulfill something vital for them.

They aren't just playing, and we aren't just watching.  There is a whole symbiotic, synergistic flow at work that allows the children to teach us exactly what we need to teach them.  As one of my mentors used to say, everything we need to know is right in front of us. We just need to look to the child and listen for the answers.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Back To Basics

Sometimes, between Pinterest and my obsession with preschool blogs, I lose track of the simpler things that children can enjoy each day.  Over the past couple of weeks, and in the wake of our holiday curricula for Valentine's Day, Chinese New Year, and Purim, we're getting back to basics.

Good Old Fashioned Painting

Sensory and Science Play
(this is the remnants of one afternoon of dropping liquid colors into slime--exactly the type of mess that reflects the development of scientific inquiry!)

Sand Play 
(we finally re-created the sandbox and the children spend lots of time there, as this picture depicts well)

While we haven't been keeping current on our blog, we're still here doing fun things with the children each day (and of course, pinning a bazillion things on Pinterest!).

Until Next Time,

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Our Surprise Pumpkin

Last year, as part of our science curriculum, we left a pumpkin to rot in our whiskey barrel garden.  We watched for weeks as it got softer, moldier, and darker. Eventually, it went away completely except for a moldy little stem, not unlike the witch's hat left behind in The Wizard of Oz.  However, unlike the wicked witch, our rotting pumpkin left behind something magical. Can you guess what that was?

A fertile seed, which sprouted this year.  Nobody knew what was growing there, but over time we were certain it was a squash of some sort.  It took a while before we even saw the fruit, as most of the flowers were snipped off at the stem by our local animal population.  Birds and squirrels make our garden part of their regular morning route.

But one day, we saw something green and round...and now we have a big orange pumpkin! It wasn't until Guada pointed out that the seed came from our rotten pumpkin last year that we even made the connection.  We got to watch the full cycle of reproduction in the most natural, seasonal form, right in our garden.  Just one of many lessons inherent in our finely tuned relationship with mother nature.


~Picking Apples~

~Drying Apples~

~Juicing Apples~ 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Apples and Honey for a Sweet New Year!

Nothing beats the sweetness of Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish New Year.   Apples and honey offer hopes of a sweet new year, and also give us great focal points for the week's curriculum.


A couple of simple activity trays get us in the mood for our apple picking adventures at Gidzich Ranch!

Sorting "apples" (wax paper balls covered in masking tape) by color  into bushels (dixie cups covered in masking tape with masking tape handles)
Stick the apples to the tree, then pick them off with the tweezers

This is why we have been continuously introducing new works...the children eat it up!

It wouldn't be Rosh Hashanah if we weren't satisfying the sweet tooth with some honey cake.  With a few adaptations, we used this recipe and it turned out delish.

L'Shanah Tova!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thrifty Thursday: Duct Tape

I told the children that I would take off the broken basket on our very old, second hand scooter. It was already past its prime when it landed in our play yard. Yet we find it a beloved vehicle and can't seem to throw it away.

The children suggested we tape the basket instead of throwing it away. I guess I'm rubbing off on them.

The application of duct tape is equivalent to buying a new one, as far as we're concerned.

The thing is, during the "fixing" process, all they cared about was holding the tape for me.  Preschoolers are so unpredictably predictable in this way. It's not about the fixing, it's about the process. And in this case, there was one micro-component of the situation that received the ubiquitous attention of every child involved--"when is it my turn to hold the tape".

It's moment like these that we get to introduce (and practice) basic, yet very meaningful, social skills.  How to ask for a turn, how to get a turn, how to share, how to not share, when to wait, when to speak up.  

We also just spent a few minutes together, with a common purpose, a common interest.  A community of friends and learners.  Lovers of duct tape.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Works Wednesday: New Works in the Classroom

We call activity trays "works" at Beansprouts Preschool.  But just because they are work, doesn't mean they aren't a whole lot of fun!  Fun...and developmentally meaningful.

We set up a table of activity trays in the middle of the classroom to appeal to the visual impulsiveness of some of our newer, younger children. It totally worked! This table has seen continuous use as children walk by, take a seat, and get to work. It calls upon something within each child that I cannot articulate, something that craves order and completion and a feeling of competency.

Each day we update the works a little bit by changing the materials or tools on the tray, and they become new and fresh and interesting all over again.  Strategies like this make a classroom manageable in these early months of the school year. If you have four little stations in the room that engage two to three children at any given time, this makes for a very focused (and calmer) classroom.  We are very much Reggio Emilia inspired in this way. The classroom is most definitely a "teacher" here at Beansprouts Preschool.