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.

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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

 

Parent Education Power Point- Literacy

Literacy is a huge component of any early year’s classroom. Basing an entire unit off of a single children’s book is a common practice, and one that I feel supports not only the child, but the family as well. When parents are taught how to encourage a love of reading the entire family will benefit. Although the following list is not comprehensive it gives a start for new teachers just beginning to build their library, as well as an age appropriate list for parents as a jumping off point for quality children’s literature.

Children’s Literature List

In my own program I do not purchase media related books (ex: Dora, PJ Masks, etc), but rather try to include books and stories that are supportive of classroom environments (Everybody Needs a Rock, What To Do With An Idea, etc). Our center created a Free Little Library as a sharing space specifically for our parents; I have included a link to the Free Little Library site for more inspiration.

I have also developed a few different parent education meetings over the years. Each of them has been designed for a  parent participation program and offers valuable research-based ideas for development. This power point contains at-home activities that parents can easily do to encourage literacy.

I am including my Literacy power point for classroom use. Subscribers will have access to additional presentations.

Literacy Power Point

Always,

Ms. Tina

 

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