Saturday, October 29, 2011

Treasure Hunt

In my last post I spoke about the Postcard Exchange I'm involved in. Well this led to an interest in maps which in itself led to us having a treasure hunt.

I began by hiding some 'treasures' around the yard then drawing up a map. Before heading out we discussed how to read the map - by following the arrows until we came to a place where there was an 'X'.

We then headed outside & worked out which way we needed to go.

It wasn't long before we came across the first place indicated by an 'X' & then the search really began.

After discovering a few treasures we checked the map again to see where to go to next.

 This time the treasure wasn't just hidden, it was buried which led to some exuberant digging.

Then it was back to referring to the map to determine our next move.

Two more happy adventurers showing of their discoveries.

There was time for one final check of the map to work out where our final destination was.

Then we were off to make our latest & perhaps greatest discoveries.

And the best thing was we all enjoyed the thrill of adventure & discovery.

Amidst all this the children were engaged in literacy & numeracy as well as discovering the world around them in new & intersting ways.

Who would have thought such a wonderful & exciting experience would have started with receiving a postcard? It's amazing how when one thing leads to another it can take us to unexpected places.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Postcard Exchange First Report

As some of you may know I am participating in the Teach Preschool Postcard Exchange. Well I have just mailed the second lot of postcards away. The first bunch were sent in the last week of September to the following locations: Naples, Florida; Monroe, New York; Becker, Minnesota; Columbia, Maryland; Freemont, New Hampshire. This week the cards went to these cities: Cheshire, England; Las Vegas, Nevada; Vanndale, Arkansas; Pasadena, Maryland; Cambridge, Minnesota.

I wanted the children to be actively involved in this process so I created a postcard template which I printed out & pasted to thick cardboard cut to roughly the same size. While I write a message about ourselves on one side the children create collaborative drawings on the other. They may look cheap & nasty, but I believe they are far more authentic than any store bought or commercially made postcard.

While I was excited about the possibilities of this exercise & remain positive as it has led to a great deal of interest in maps & letters as well as other things, I can't help but feel a little disappointed. Each month each group is meant to send a postcard to each member of another group with the recipient groups changing each month. In this way each service will have sent to & received from everyone except the services within their group. Yet to date I have only received 2 postcards & one of them from one of the recipients listed above. Sticking to the roster (believe me there needed to be a roster with over 300 participating services) they should not have sent a postcard to us until April.

It's disappointing that so early on there appears to be a lack of commitment. However, I won't let that take away the opportunities this experience is bringing & will continue to bring to my children. I just hope the others get as much out of it as we are.

Thank you Deborah J Stewart at Teach Preschool for this wonderful opportunity.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Interview with R Scott Wiley

Scott is the Author of the Brick By Brick blog & has kindly agreed to share some information about himself by answering a few questions.

1. Can you provide a little background information about yourself such as where you are from, where you work & the type of service, how long you have been working with young children & what ages you work with?

 I grew up in Texas but I now live in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve been working with kids in some capacity for over 25 years. Currently I teach a group of 5-year-olds in my church once a week. I have 10-12 kids each week. My “day job” is working as an editor for a curriculum publisher, leading a team of people to create resources for religious educators (of babies through 12-year-olds). I also lead workshops and conferences for preschool teachers, helping them know more about teaching children.

2. Was there a defining moment when you decided to enter the early childhood profession?

 I wanted to be a teacher for as long as I remember. However, in high school I began working with young kids and knew that I wanted to teach in early childhood.

3. How many other men have you worked with & are they still in the field?

 Many times I’ve been the only guy in a group of teachers. Now, at my church, we have a man in almost every classroom - about 10 or so men.

4. What benefits do you get from working with young children?

 I love watching the way they think and their creativity. They always help me think about things in a new way. And they make me laugh.

5. Try to avoid modesty here. What advantaged do you bring to your service, the community & your profession, both as an individual & as a male in general?

 I like to listen to kids, to let them talk. So often in their world they must operate on someone else’s agenda or time frame. I want to let them follow their own ideas, their own course. And I want to pay attention to them. My wife says I am patient but I think that giving time to kids is so important - time to think, to talk, to try again.

I also try to encourage the kids to experiment and push the envelope a little bit, to take a risk. I encourage some of their crazy ideas. I think that sometimes that’s more of a male trait. But we need my wife in the classroom, too, making sure we don’t go too far or helping us curb things so we are safe and not too destructive.

6. Can you share some highlights of your career with us?

 I have been a center director of a preschool with about 100 kids, infants through 5-year-olds. I have taught kids of all ages. I’ve written curriculum resources (before I became an editor). And I’ve taught workshops and conferences throughout the United States.

7. Is there anything else you would like to add?

 I think teaching young kids is a most important job. By teaching young kids, we are impacting the future for years to come.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My New Best Friend

One of my work colleagues rescued an adolescent blue tongue lizard & brought it into work today. She asked if the toddlers wanted to meet it & we most definitely did.

I got him out of his box & placed him on my arm. he sat there quietly for a little while. As the children were looking at him he began to crawl up my arm. he went up & over my shoulder, around my neck & came to rest on the collar of my shirt. He must have been quite comfortable there, or perhaps it was just more peaaceful. Either way he stayed there until I managed to get him down several minuted later & may have remained there indefinately.

I then slowly took him around to let the little ones have a closer look. Some of them were quite content to chech the lizard out from a distance, shuffling away if I cam a bit too close, but as can be seen in these photos others were more than eager to get as close a lookas they could. Many wanted to touch him too to see how he felt.

It was a nice surprise for the children, but I wonder if the litlle blue tongue found somewhere as cosy as my noeckline.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Structure v Spontaneity

With a room full of toddlers it can get quite hectic from time to time. While it is important to provide time for them to spontaneously explore & play I believe it is just as important to provide structure throughout their day. Many of these children come to me via the nursery, an environment in which they have little experience with structured group experiences. As these children often have difficulty remaining focused for even a few moments I have started beginning each group time going over the expectations during group = using their eyes looking at who is talking & their ears to listen. How they position themselves is not so important unless they obstruct the view of others.

I see these times as opportunities to begin their preparation for school. Yes, that's right. If I help them build foundations now by encouraging the development of their attention span, then as they move into older group they should be better equipped to meet the challenges that face them.

I'm sure there are people who will read this & be outraged that I introduce structure to children so young & that's ok. Everyone has their own philosophy. However, we are aware that the early years are crucial for brain development so why not include these social & receptive language skills in their repertoire. Afterall, the more children learn during this stage of their development, the better prepared they will be to learn & build on other skills in the future.

Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Puffy Painting - The Next Generation

For our second venture into the land of 'Puffy Painting' I purchased some sturdy A4 cardboard so that it would retain its shape in the microwave & we changed the way we applied the paint. Instead of brushes we placed the paint in squeezable sauce bottles.

We had preceded this experience the week before by filling the sauce bottle up with straight paint. While the children enjoyed this new way to create, as they usually do when I introduce something out of the ordinary, It was quite difficult for these young hands to control the strength of their squeezing. Some managed to finesse the bottles just right to ensure a gentle distribution of paint. However, the majority simply squeezed as hard as they could, resulting in large dollops of paint spewing out onto the paper & overflowing onto the table & ground. While the mess was not an issue as we love messy play, the unneccessary wasting of a resource was a concern. Hence the idea came to me to try puffy painting this way.

The children still needed to manage the strength of their squeezes, but there was far less waste when things got a little out of control. It didn't take long either for them to disscover that they could create interesting patterns & 'pictures' by moving the bottles around as they squeezed.

Why not check out the previous post on Puffy Painting here & see how the change in how we applied the paint drastically altered the look of the final artwork.

One unforseen benefit I thought about when reflecting upon this experience is that by squeezing the bottles these toddlers are building up the fine motor muscles they will need to use as they embark on their journey towards writing. So, in a way these sauce bottle puffy paintings are examples of a pre-writing exercise.
As a side note I just want to add that I used gluten free flour. Even though there are no children in my care with intolerance to gluten it's always best to cater for the needs of all. My wife is a Silly Yak, I mean coeliac & has hightened my awareness of the many ingrediants such people are unable to consume or even come into contact with in extreme cases. One of my colleagues at work has also recently discovered she has an intolerence to wheat. So it will be safe for her to undertake this experience with her children.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Let's Get Woodworking!

A couple of months ago my toddlers started working on creating something for their playground, beginning with some timber & real tools. They began by using an adjustable wrench to tighten nuts onto bolts to hold the pieces of timber together & using a measuring tape to determine the length between two points.

This provides many opportunities for these children from recognising numbers & that they occur in a set sequence to complex motor movement as they manoeuvre their wrists to enable them to best access the nut with the wrench.

This venture was brought about by an interest in toy tools which the children were using to 'fix' areas around the room & outside. While they engaged with these items thoughtfully & took their play into all sorts of direction, the real-life tools add a totally new aspect to their play.

When we embarked on this project there was no clear idea of where we were heading with it. However, including the children by asking for their ideas as they worked. There were many intriguing suggestions, but one stood out for me. One child spun the smaller length of wood as I carried the set & exclaimed, "We make a windmill!" So there was our project target.

Once the nuts were secured on the bolts the children used a hammer & screwdriver to attach foam letters & pieces of carpet to the timber. We also used screws to attach some ribbon to the ends so that they might create a wonderful visual experience as they spun around.

As you can see the colour of our timber changed. That is because one of my bright sparks asked if they could paint the wood. It was then that I realised that no matter how much thought I might put into planning something like this the children can take it in wonderful new directions in the blink of an eye.

I picked up some carpet samples from a local carpet dealer & cut them into little squares to provide an alternative sensory opportunity. The children were enhancing their hand/eye coordination as they hammered nails into the wood & used a combination of upper arm & wrist/finger strength to apply downward force as  they turned the screwdriver. These are indeed advanced motor & coordination skills.

The 'windmills were really taking shape now & talk had begun concerning where we were going to put them. They had to be accessable while remaining safe when not in use. We decided to add them to our wall which is situated under our fence.

Our maintanance man offered to attach them to the wall, but suggested he could add a buffer between the pieces of wood so that little fingers wouldn't get jammed as the pieces spun. I told you I didn't think of everything. Anyway, several weeks later he finally arrived with the equipment he needed & the children finally had their windmills.

These windmills may  only be around for a few months as we are getting a complete makeover of our playground in December. It is my hope however, that they are included as part of that new environment or added to the older children's playground seeing as many of these children will be using it next year. It is theirs & they deserve to keep enjoying the result of their hard work for as long as they can.

Real Tools = Real Life = Real Fun