Change…

I have been away from my blog for a while, mainly because there have been some major changes in my professional life, and it has been difficult to put into words what needed to be said. I have spent the last few weeks saying goodbye to a program, that over the last 12 years, I helped design, restructure, and move into the 21st century, while including the original theories of the child development masters.

While goodbyes are hard on every one involved, and especially so when the staff and families within a program have become extended family, change is necessary in order to grow; both professionally and personally.

So I am on to a new challenge, a new journey, and most importantly on my way to gaining a fresh perspective on Transitional Kindergarten and its appropriateness in Early Childhood Education. I am excited to design this new program, using my own understanding of natural environments, loose parts, and child driven inquiry based lessons, while meeting the goals and objectives within a standards driven program.

I hope that I continue to inspire those around me, specifically when it comes to young children’s education, and that every one will be able to take some small piece with them into their own programs, advocating for young children and how they learn best.

As I embark on this journey I will be sure to include many before and after photos of my new space (because as an educator I always want to see inside someone else’s classroom to keep my creativity alive), as well as my take on how to incorporate provocations and inquiries within a standards based curriculum.

Always,

Ms. Tina

Networking

Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to host a Nature Explore workshop at my site, and invite attendees from all over our state. We had 60 men and women show up for a day of sharing ideas, promoting children’s growth through natural classrooms, and advocating for young children to connect with the natural world. I was impressed with the level of commitment all of the participants have toward children’s early education. We had attendees from over 6 hours away, in some cases, show up at 9am on a Saturday to gain additional knowledge about how young children learn, and how we as educators can promote hands on exploration of natural items.

I want to thank each of them for attending and helping me to grow my own network of professionals, because I am a firm believer in #teachershelpingteachers! The following photos are of the natural space I have created in my own classroom, both inside and out. Our outdoor classroom space was designed by myself and my talented staff, and has been a work in progress over the last 5 years. We are lucky enough to ALL believe in the power of a well organized environment; to combat behavioral issues, to promote learning in a hands-on atmosphere, and helping children connect to nature, so that they may continue to be stewards of our amazing planet.

Water in the sandbox is a daily occurrence; helping the children overcome sensory issues, develop mathematical concepts like volume (filling containers), pouring skills, spatial awareness, and engineering goals; such as diverting water so it travels toward their creation, creating a bridge to travers the space.

Succulents in the space help beautify our area, and add necessary living components. The children care for the plants by watering, weeding and replanting when necessary.

Indoors we have aesthetically pleasing shelves and containers to hold items. Combatting visual distractions helps the children focus on a single activity. Turning off the overhead fluorescent lighting and opting for soft twinkle lights and natural lighting helps the children feel more connected to the space as well.

Our sensory garden inside the outdoor classroom provides hours of skill building; from cutting herbs to add to our playdoh, to planting and harvesting the crop: children are able to see the life cycle of a plant from start to finish and create an all important connection between farm to table foods.

Creating a visible connection between play-based, natural environments and what the children are learning, is a key component to the success of the program. Parents are the greatest advocate for natural spaces, and when we educate them on best practices, how we are preparing their children for later academics and show case the life skills we are teaching, they are more likely to share that information with others, creating a sought after program in the community.

Encouraging children to interact with nature is something we feel passionate about, and the addition of our espalier apple trees has provided countless curriculum discussions surrounding what is happening to our bushes. When they were first put in, the trees were barren, and over the course of our year the children have been able to watch the transformation and addition of the buds, flowers, and pollinators who have been attracted to the trees. We have learned so much about bees, self-pollinating plants, grafting, and pruning just by watching a single tree bloom.

The following video shows that when we allow children to explore their space, take risks, and encourage their inquisitive nature that we can develop deep thinkers who are reaching their cognitive milestones much faster. This engineering game was developed by a 4 year old who, given time and space, had an entire group of children following his lead, standing in a self-imposed line, and taking turns. Our total involvement, as teachers, was to video the results.

IMG_5093

I encourage each of you that have access to an outdoor space to begin to incorporate more curriculum activities in the area; stop thinking of it as a place for recess and begin to see the outdoor classroom for what it truly is: a remarkable teaching tool.

Always,

Ms. Tina

 

CAEYC Conference

I spent the last few days at an amazing opportunity for networking with other early educators. I am part of the CAEYC and spent three days networking, learning, laughing, and getting inspired to continue offering natural, Reggio inspired content in my classroom.

My colleagues and I got to meet Greg and Steve, attend a workshop presented by them, sing old songs and learn some cool new ones for music time. I also attended a math workshop where we were encouraged to think of math as an integrated piece of the day, not a separate activity. Her mantra was: it’s never math time, its always math time! I was introduced to more great music selections that promote counting and math across the curriculum.

My most favorite and most inspired day of the weekend was when I learned about long-term projects in the preschool classroom. Taking a long term study and covering multiple domains is a key concept for my plans next year. I want the children to drive the curriculum, plan the day’s interests, and enjoy the learning process, long before they move into Kindergarten. There is plenty of time for academics, but play is only considered cool for a short time, and I want to foster the #playmatters ideal with every student in my life.

Until next time: I am off to attend a Mentor meeting, inspire others, and most importantly have fun with my littles.

Always,

Ms. Tina

 

All I ever needed to know I learned while TEACHING PreK…

Being part of the mentor program where I have student teachers in my classroom setting daily and participating in the graduate program has me reflecting on all the positive networking that happens in college and with other like minded individuals. I am proud to say I have stepped up my social media presence both in offering my blog musings but also in sharing my daily activities in Instagram and Facebook. However, I have also been reflecting on the missing pieces of college instruction in relation to actually working with young children. 

I have decided to offer the top 5 reflections I have had over the years – those that college doesn’t teach you. I am a life long student- I have been teaching PreK for over 20 years and have been taking classes and workshops for just as long. Never have I attended a seminar that lays it all out there- I am here to tell you your first year will be rough (you’ll want to quit) and rewarding (you won’t be able to sleep from all of the amazing ideas running through your head) and no amount of textbook reading will prepare you for the actual experience. So buckle up- be prepared to laugh and cry at a moments notice and continue to be professional while doing it! 

Caffeine keeps me going! That and a decent breakfast. PreK is a busy age group, be ready; mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

1. How to keep order when the lesson is interrupted.

This could be for any number of reasons but the one they fail to mention in structured courses is when a child vomits/gets a bloody nose that won’t stop/has a bathroom accident/etc. My advice is put one of your children in charge for the moment. You know the one- they are constantly organizing the games on the playground- natural born leaders-outspoken- always keeping you on track during the day- use them. Have them begin a game of duck duck goose or start the hokey pokey. It will give you a few needed minutes to make a phone call to the office/mom-dad/or whoever is your back up adult. It may not be ideal but it will save your sanity! 

2. When wildlife happens into the educational day you need to be prepared- with knowledge and quick reflexes. 

We have had baby skunks- baby bunnies- birds- bees-creepy looking spiders- and mice venture into my classroom (we live in a rural area with agricultural fields near us and major home developments going in all around). Having wildlife services on speed dial has proven a positive experience for me. I also arm myself with knowledge before school starts. Top 5 poisonous spiders in my area- I know them by sight. Top 3 reasons skunks will be out in daylight- I know them. Rules for What to do if you find baby animals without a parent- I know them. Knowledge is power and having peace of mind that the skunks out in daylight are probably not rabid and merely in breeding season (February) will give you a discussion topic for the next inquiry based project while you wait for wildlife rehab to show up. 

Writing the paint colors on the tops of the jars saves time- no more rummaging through the cabinet in the morning!

3. How to handle not so pleasant facility issues. 

Bathroom toilets get clogged- sinks begin to run slow- garbage cans can have gunk in/on/around them- water faucets leak. I work in a program where parents and myself are the janitorial staff and if the toilet gets clogged during class you can bet it’s me fixing that issue. Again knowledge is power. I took a handyman class at my local Home Depot (seriously) when I first started living on my own and it has paid for itself a million times over. I know where the water shut off is to my sinks and toilets. I practice turning them on and off before school starts and keep the necessary tools on hand to help me just in case. I know how to remove the sink trap to save paint brushes – and I have been known to replace vacuum parts while organizing small group tables. I also have a basic understanding of electrical breakers and know when one is tripped and how to fix it without electrocuting myself. Each of these is preventative in the short term- but it allows time so that I can make that phone call to the professionals and I can get back to educating little people. 

4. Know the ingredients in your paint/playdoh/and sensory materials. 

This helps you to know if a child has developed a nasty rash on their hands or if the purple paint sometimes just stains fingers a blotchy pink. Have a basic understanding of how many marbles you let the children use so that they can all be returned and not go home hidden away in body parts- and what to do and where to look if the beads are disappearing. I know that we all think that non-toxic and washable items should be safe, and in a perfect world we would never have a single item in the room that is smaller than a child’s fist- but this step just cements peace of mind when you have 18 children doing their own thing and the eyes in the back of your head have not yet fully developed. Don’t worry you will earn those extra eyes – as well as ears that tell you which child is sneaking/stomping/running/walking down the hall. It just takes time and getting to know your littles. 

5. The real results developed in a classroom setting each year are those that impress upon your heart, not necessarily documented on paper. 

No matter how many classes I teach the one constant that cannot be taught in college or developed on a formal assessment is the satisfaction I have when a child masters a skill or asks a question that shows me they are getting it. Offering inquiry based activities that allows a child to express his/her innermost thoughts is a window to their souls. When I can reach them because I have thrown out the lesson plan for the day and really listened to their hearts I am reaching milestones. I then find creative ways to document how we have reached the developmental stages, objectives and goals of an activity. 

Take the time to get to know the space: take everything out, go through all of your materials, and organize according to your understanding.  You will be living in this room for a majority of the day; so make it yours, make it beautiful, know what’s in it, and have regularly used items at your fingertips. 

I hold my love for this age group on my sleeve (and DEEP in my heart) -my wanting to work with littles is a calling- and although it isn’t for everyone it is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. 

I hope a few of these tidbits of information help you in your daily interactions. Sound off in the comments about anything I forgot!

Until next time- I am off to shape little minds and make sure no one uses the dirty Q-Tips. 

Always-

Ms. Tina 

Classroom Management Plan

As we get ready to enroll for the 2017/2018 school year I am reminded each year about parents #1 question for educators in a new program.

****What is your discipline plan?

I always answer with the same thoughts, we do not use discipline in our school, but rather REDIRECT the children and use the ENVIRONMENT as a teaching tool. When the children are engaged, and the staff is following the children’s inquisitive nature the plan comes together in a cohesive unit, where everyone is learning, and the need for discipline is lowered by the moment.

Throughout my graduate courses I have been asked to provide multiple research based plans regarding this topic. I am including the culmination of these findings in a power point presentation located at the bottom of the post.

My hope for each of you is that you will find the spark that motivates you to educate young children, and expand on their innate curiosity. This style of teaching leaves no room for discipline because the children are not causing issues based in boredom or disengagement. Rather children’s minds are engaged on the topics at hand and the learning environment is constantly changing, evolving with the children’s interests and abilities.

Find the teachable moments, use redirection and present a program that challenges every learner at their level for success in the early years!

Always,

Ms. Tina

Classroom Management Plan, Gabel, ECED340

Character Education- More than just being kind…

Young children need multiple opportunities for growth; growth in all areas, not just academic and physical domains, but also in emotional and social domains. Developing moral character is a component that needs to be taught in a visible, concrete manner with the under 5 crowd. Children need to be reminded to be kind, and shown how to accomplish that abstract task. When we offer opportunities for growth, model what we expect, and include all three aspects of a child’s character we are setting the foundation for successful, contributing, performing adults. Using literature and art as a backdrop for our character development curriculum, the following activities can be recreated in a traditional classroom setting or in a one-on-one relationship, such as homeschool, or Sunday school programs.

Moral Character: integrity, courage, honesty, and compassion, kindness

Performance Character: perseverance, diligence, self-discipline, cooperation

Civic Character Traits: tolerance, respect, community (family/classroom)

Using the following visual parents and educators can be reminded of important character traits for children to develop. When we think if the visual as a timeline for development, children can be expected to develop performance character, moral character and civic character as they grow in their relationships within the classroom community.

LITERACY DOMAIN:  We have begun to use a new story and set of dolls that encourages a child’s understanding of random acts of kindness. Using the Kindness Elves as a backdrop for our moral character education, we have increased the children’s willingness to help each other out (because Pop and Sparkle are watching), ultimately creating a classroom of helpers.

Teaching compassion and respect can be done in a few ways. In the Early years’ classroom books and literature are a sure fire way to help children understand key ideas. We have spent a week discussing how to be kind, how to be helpful, how to keep trying even when it is hard, and how to help others when it looks like they are struggling. We have introduced an additional book called Bucket Filling as a follow up activity that covers the moral development aspect of our curriculum.

ART DOMAIN: Concluding the unit by making actual buckets with the children, and encouraging them to fill up each others buckets with cards and words of affirmation uses the art domain to lend a concrete understanding to an otherwise abstract concept.

LITERACY DOMAIN: We read a story called Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon, all about being different. The story helped the children understand the idea that when we are kind to ourselves that others will in turn learn to be kind as well. The story is a good one to teach integrity, self-discipline and kindness. Following up with a unit about self, where children begin to see the differences and similarities in classmates and CELEBRATE those differences, will eventually lead to a deeper understanding of all of the cultures and demographics in our schools.

ART DOMAIN: The curriculum plan culminated with a post office of sorts; where every child used the written word and art supplies to create ‘love’ notes for their friends. Each day the children found creative ways to show their kindness; whether through notes, art projects, or including someone in their play. They created mailboxes for one another and have taken to filling them up daily; including the mailbox on the side of the Kindness Elves’ house.

Next week as a follow up we will use an idea from The Imagination Tree, where we make our own Kindness Potion Bottles in order to add a scientific component to our character curriculum. Covering each of the developmental domains helps the children assimilate additional information. Scaffolding what they already know about character development, with new information on how to be kind to one another in every aspect of their lives.

I love tying curriculum to literature and art for the under five crowd, covering the necessity to READ with your children, understanding concepts of print, and developing important character traits along the way.

Always,

Ms. Tina