When other providers ask for counseling on how to improve the quality of their program, or when I try to explain to new teachers and students that I mentor just how and why we do the things we do, I find myself challenged with what to say. Do I explain the philosophical points? Do I jump into examples? Or would they benefit by curriculum ideas? How to talk to children? Training the early childhood professional can be daunting. If you know me you also know that I can be a bit long-winded so it's doubly challenging to share quick tips and ideas.
In this post, I will jump right into some examples of Beansprouts "works" (a "work" is like a Montessori "job"....it has a beginning, middle, and end, but we are not hard and fast about the "correct" use of the work and trust that kids use things in a way that meets their developmental needs). Our works rotate every week or so to keep things fresh and stimulating. There are lots of other interest areas in the room (dramatic play, blocks and building, puzzles, books, sensory, etc etc), but here is how our "works" shelves are currently stocked.
Here is our planet matching work. The kids took an interest in space ships last week so we jumped in and made a theme out of it. This work was laminated at Lakeshore for, like, a dollar, and each planet fastens to the others with a velcro square. I used various kitchen items to trace those near-perfect circles. This would also work with felt. They love matching the words now that they are into letters, spelling, matching the first letters of their friends' names with the first letters of the planets names. They will probably lose interest in about a week but I'm okay with that. We'll be ready for the next thing by then : )
Another laminated work, this time using our at-home laminator. We hand drew the chart and put little clear collage pieces into the container so that they could practice fine motor, one-to-one correspondence, counting, and patterning with this work. We, like any preschool classroom, have those children who want to take the collage pieces and use them as food in the dramatic play area, or dog treats to feed their friends (aka pet dogs). So we put cut up pieces of mardi gras necklaces in the dramatic play area and don't let the kids use these pieces for dramatic play. That way the work is ready to use and equipped with the necessary pieces. We can rotate the pieces to keep it interesting, or add larger numbers.
Here is what one of our shelves looks like. It's not the most beautifully aesthetic shelf you've ever seen, but its neutral colors and uncluttered nature invite children to grab things off the shelf. Someone's slippers snuck in there, too.
This is a wooden bus, people, and blocks that one child can use at a time (or invite a friend or two if they choose). We bought this on Etsy.
This work was a Target dollar bin score. Leslie found the tray at Salvation army and the tongs at Sur la Table (cheap, though, of course) and the black container of game pieces is a scooper from protein powder. The kids use the tongs to put the x's and o's into the game board. This has been in the room for over a month and is still a high interest work. And the entire work costs less than five dollars (and all of the items can be re-purposed for other works).
Here is another less-than-five-dollar work. This idea came from the amazing Frugal Family Fun blog, which I recommend to anyone looking for simple ideas that can be applied to a variety of preschool ages. Definitely click this link to find out how to implement this work way more beautifully than we did. We used a cylinder block for the rolling pin. When children use rolling pins (and bikes, or crawl, or do finger plays like row, row, row your boat) they have to coordinate both sides of the brain, crossing hemispheres and improving brain development. Plus this work engages the cognitive faculty to work with and interpret negative space. (Just click the link, it will all make sense when you see the original post).
Here I offer you just another way to present a standard peg work. Looks a lot better than in a plastic bin, although I can tell you that we are not above plastic bins (as you can see by the recycled yogurt container in the background), but we try to bring in natural materials as much as possible. Looking for cheap baskets? Go to Goodwill! My friend took me to Salvation Army the other night and we scored beautiful baskets for less than a dollar! Not to mention some other awesome stuff for the sandbox!
Even an old (broken) cardboard box can stand in as a work container. This work is from Lakeshore and is a great patterning work. Kids learn geometry in a hands-on way and also science (magnets) and fine motor. Magna-tiles are a must-have in our classroom. As geometric concepts sink in, the children build ever more elaborate structures. It's amazing.
Scratch and sniff valentines cards, courtesy of Leslie. Why not? I have fond memories of my own childhood scratch and sniff sticker collection. I wish I still had it to show the kids. This brings in another sensory aspect into the classroom, engaging yet another level of the child's experience of the environment. Other ways to incorporate the sense of smell: scented playdough, smell matching games, herbs in the science corner, essential oils, freshly laundered linens, all-natural cleaning products and hand soaps, and scented sensory table contents like coconut mulch, coffee beans, or moon sand scented with essential oils.
Magnet wands and juice can lids (with a couple of random things in the bottom there). Maria has a knack for finding things in our storage and assembling baskets of cool things. This work incorporates science and sound as it makes really cool sounds when the juice can lids clang together! How many juice can lids do you think one of those magnet wands can hold? All of them? I bet you can figure out a way to get them all on there!
Be's mom made us a Goldilocks and the Three Bears felt board story (and a Three Little Pigs one, too!). We put it in a ziplock with a large piece of felt on a try and let the children narrate it. It's great for language development, cognitive skill development (repeating a story from memory, in sequence), fine motor, and social development as they act it out with friends. Not to mention, they get the "work cycle" down, whereby they take something off the shelf, use it, and put it away. This work has a built in clean up process to it.
Another matching work! This is laminated from an printable owl calendar that we printed twice, laminated, and made matching works out of. The colors are all subtle and muted so it's very tricky to match the right owl pictures (this is a good thing...gives them that just-right challenge). Ak created her own just right challenge by putting them face down and making it into a memory game!
These are magnetic letters that when used on the tray (which is metal), stick, but can also be used on the tabletop. We threw some extra letters in there to throw them off, hehe. Again, we know their abilities and are trying to challenge them appropriately. Success doesn't feel good when it comes too easily, nor if it's too frustrating to accomplish the task.
Another matching work. The fruit was hand drawn with Sharpies and the kids use the tongs to place the fruit in the appropriate compartment.
Here's a visual of one of our work shelves.
There are a ton of ideas out there on how to create developmentally appropriate works that interest children. Our sanity as teachers depends on keeping the environment fresh, stimulating, engaging, and attractive, so we are constantly racking our brains (and scouring the internet) to find new works for the classroom. If you have any cool ideas or links, please leave it in the comments and share with all of us!
I applaud you for making it through this entire post : )