Tag Archives: preschool

Learning through play… outdoors!

It’s summertime! The weather is warm and the sun is shining from early in the morning to late in the evening. Children in your program are going to be spending a lot of time outdoors. What a great opportunity to enhance their learning!

Extend chldren's learning with outdoor activities... and don't be afraid to take your indoor activities outside!

In the article “Making the Most of Outdoor Time with Preschool Children,” it is stated that “the outdoor space is an extension of the classroom and should be considered another space for learning.” There are tons of activities the children can do outside that promote learning. They can start a garden with flowers, herbs or vegetables. They can identify the different colors they see in plants or animals and the teacher can keep a list of all the things that are each color. They can investigate their shadows: tracing, measuring at different times of the day or playing shadow tag. They can even adopt a tree!

Adopting a tree will be different depending on the age of the children. With infants and toddlers, the teacher can choose a tree to adopt and take the children out to visit it, touch it and talk with the children about the features, such as what the leaves look like, whether the bark is rough or smooth, if there are animals in the tree and if anything changed from the last time it was visited. With preschoolers, the children can choose a tree to adopt and visit it, but may still need guidance to make the experience meaningful. The teacher can ask the children to describe the tree, identify things around the tree, create rubbings of the leaves, experience how the tree changes with the seasons and look through magnifying glasses at bugs on the tree. With school-agers, the children can each choose a tree to adopt, visit it on their own and be given activity ideas to do independently, as well. School-agers can research what type of tree they adopted, draw a map to their tree from the classroom, identify ways they know whether their tree is alive or not, look for evidence of animals (in the past or present) and take photographs of their tree at different times. The teacher can extend the activities by asking open-ended questions about their findings. One activity can span all the various ages!

In addition to doing outdoor activities, you can do indoor activities outdoors, too. Your sand and water table can be moved outside. The children can do art projects, musical experiences and dramatic play outside. Even better, story time can be taken outside, whether it’s reading a book to the children on the grass or allowing them to nestle under a tree with their own book for independent reading!

This is all in conjunction with the physical activities children naturally do outside. It is essential for their healthy growth and development. Why not make that a learning experience, too? Teachers (and children) can time how long it takes the children to run around the play area three times, measure how high they can jump next to the wall and count how many times in a row they hop on one foot, jump rope or hula hoop. It doesn’t have to be a competition between the children, but they can be challenged to beat their own scores.

What kinds of activities do you like doing with the children outdoors? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Overcoming the ‘I don’t get it’ blues

Most of us can recall a time in school when we just didn’t “get” something. In the third grade, I witnessed a classmate hiding the fact that he couldn’t tell time. The teacher had expected him to do an errand for her and told him to leave his desk at “exactly 1:45.”  He had to confess that he hadn’t a clue what that meant. And his past November, I attended an open house event for my niece, Lauren.  She stood in the hallway very upset because her construction paper turkey didn’t look at all like her first grade peers or the teacher’s model. I recall her saying, “mine looks like a duck with funny feathers.”

Small matters, right? But not to a child. I am guessing that if I would have asked my third grade classmate how he was feeling when he didn’t know how to tell time or if I would have asked my niece why she was so upset about her turkey the answer would have been the same:  “Less than brilliant” or “I am ashamed.”

Play builds confidence and so much more!

“Not getting it” happens to every child. What we want is for them to bounce back, to not lose confidence in themselves as capable learners. Our faith in them helps, of course. So does having their teacher’s support. But there’s something else that can restore a child’s sense of competence, and this old-fashioned remedy is always effective, even when a child does not let you in on a discouraging experience.

Simply give the children in your care the chance to play every day. It has to be real play, though, where a child decides what to do and how to do it! In play, children set their own challenges and find out they can succeed. Children usually choose tasks that challenge them, but aren’t overwhelming.

When children are playing, they don’t worry about failing. Play, after all, is supposed to be fun. And you don’t get evaluated on fun. What’s more, because play is a no-risk situation, children often find themselves attempting more and more. In play, children try out new skills and discover they can perform at a higher level.

When they’re playing, children can pretend that they’re the ones in charge. Instead of being told when to get on the school bus, a child can be the driver. Instead of having to finish their vegetables at a meal time, a child can become the cook. Instead of taking a test, an older child may play school and be the teacher. Play builds self confidence. In play, children put aside feelings of being powerless and experience being capable.

Give a child in your care the time to play and you will be giving them time to re-charge. A child at play is someone who solves problems, generates new ideas, is curious and creative. A child at play is someone who sets and meets challenges, risks trying out new skills and experiences what it’s like to feel capable and in charge. And sometimes, a child who plays is someone who’s bouncing back from a temporary bout of “not getting it.”

Random Acts of Experimentation

Recently when we were sitting at the table finishing lunch, my wife and I were relishing an extended conversation while our son, Eli, switched between spreading peanut butter on crackers and licking his fingers.

With lunch I had a glass of water and Eli had an apple juice box. As my wife and I continued talking, I saw something out of the corner of my eye: Eli’s hand reaching for my glass of water. I looked over and he smiled and said, “Can I have this?” “Sure,” I replied. Boy, was he excited. But why? Did he finish his juice box? Was he still thirsty?

Turns out he needed to experiment. He spread out a cloth napkin on the table, dunked his juice box upside down into my half-full glass of water, gave it a squeeze, set the box on the table and squeezed again. Much to his delight, watery apple juice squirted out! Over and over he did this until he was out of water.

Not wanting to miss this awesome moment I said, “Wow! How did you do that?”

He replied, “Like this,” dunking his juice box in the water glass again and squeezing it.

“Oh, you squeeze it and air bubbles come out. Where does the water go?” I asked.

“Yah, it goes here,” he said, giving the box a good squeeze, making the water spray onto the napkin.

“I like how you spread the napkin out. It seems to catch the water,” I said.

“We don’t want too messy. It would be a big mess!” he said. “This is just a little bit.”

Why didn’t my wife and I stop this? Water could go everywhere; he’s playing with a glass and making a mess! But we didn’t stop him. We never stepped in and re-directed him. Why not? What were we thinking?

We were thinking , “Why NOT let him experiment?” He was gaining so much from this harmless activity that to stop him would keep him from learning and making connections with other activities. It only lasted about eight minutes and he was thoroughly satisfied when finished.

Allowing young children the freedom to experiment with materials in their own way encourages them to be scientists, hypothesize about problems and discover for themselves how and why things work. They also are developing fine motor and persistence skills needed to navigate a complex world. When we take this window of opportunity to ask probing questions, add new vocabulary and allow for time to process we turn this impromptu moment into an intentional one.

After Eli had exhausted his supply of water he let out a very satisfying sigh looking at the now empty glass, the juice box and the soaked napkin. Then he looked at us, smiling, and said, “Want to go play trucks? You can have the concrete mixer, daddy, and mommy can use the water.”

Stickers for good behavior?

We should encourage good behavior for good behavior's sake, allowing children the opportunity to enjoy a job well done.

In a recent meeting, the topic of rewarding children for good behavior came up. This can be a touchy subject. Although I have my own opinions on the subject I chose to sit back and listen as the discussion unfolded.  The conversation became quite spirited: raised voices, red faces. As my colleagues argued, I reflected upon my own knowledge and experience with reward systems and young children.

Rewarding children for good behavior is giving a child something tangible (for example, stickers or small toys) for successfully completing a required task or successfully exhibiting the expected behavior in a situation. Teachers often implement a reward system in their classroom to ensure children follow the classroom rules. The reward system is often in the form of a chart. Children can collect stickers or tokens for the chart each time they behave the way the teacher wants. Children can later swap the stickers for a reward.

A classroom reward system can help a new or struggling teacher focus on children’s positive behavior instead of the negative. Working for prizes can be motivating and that motivation can help a teacher and her students feel less stressed throughout the day. In fact, as a young and inexperienced teacher I often used a reward system to make it through the day. I simply didn’t have any other tools to get the desired behavior from my 4-year-old students. The reward system worked. I began to feel as if I had some control in my classroom, the system was easy and the children seemed happy.

However, I soon found out that a reward system is only good as a short-term fix. My students became wise to my ways and they upped the ante. I soon noticed I needed to provide more and larger items to reach my desired results. Also, some children simply no longer cared about the reward. I needed to do something different and I needed to do it quickly. I needed to allow the children to feel the pleasure of a job well done.  They needed an opportunity to experience choices. They needed permission to grow based upon the choices they made, not on the reward I had to offer that day.

I began by weaning them off a reward system that was based upon tangible prizes and I began to really communicate with my children. I became more intentional and consistent with my expectations. We reviewed the rules and expectations daily. We discussed what may happen if we leave puzzles on the floor. We talked about how it feels to be hit. We talked about what will happen if someone chooses to hurt a friend. We became problem-solving partners in the classroom. Instead of adding stickers to a chart I added specific praise and encouragement. I often told my children how proud their faces look when they remembered to put their work away.  I told them they were being good friends by offering to work together with someone instead of keeping the blocks to themselves and I coached them through arguments. We made classroom books that included pictures of them following the rules. We showed respect for others by saying “please” and “thank you.” The children began to own their behavior and they began to experience how good it feels to do a good job, to be a good friend and make a good choice for the sake of doing it, not for the prize at the end of the day.

Listen With Your Eyes

Everyone knows that listening is a big part of communicating with children. But have you ever thought about listening with your eyes as well as your ears? Observing a child’s non-verbal communication is one way to find out what’s really on their mind.

Even as adults we sometimes have a hard time putting our true feelings into words. Children find it even harder. By reading a child’s expressions and subtle ways of moving you can get a fuller picture. And once you see what’s on your child’s mind, tuning in and responding becomes much easier.

Reading a child's body language is just as important as listening to what they are saying.

Photo courtesy of Lee LeFever.

Listening with your eyes isn’t difficult. In fact, most teachers learn it from the experts: babies. A baby who silently turns down the corners of his mouth has effectively delivered their message.  A baby who turns his head away while playing an exciting game of peek-a-boo may be saying, “Whew, this sure is fun, but I need a minute to calm down.”  In the same way, a wide-eyed look of wonder or a wrinkled brow tells a teacher whether to keep on playing or call a momentary halt. By listening with your eyes, you can figure out when a baby has had enough, when she wants more, what she’s afraid of, and what she’s fascinated by.  All without her saying a word.

It works with older children, too. A child in your class tells you he has had a great day at school, but bites his lip and looks out the window as he says it. His expression makes you decide to sit down and talk for awhile. You notice that one of the girls in your class will raise her eyebrows when you tell her it is time to clean up the dramatic play area. Seeing her expression makes you think that maybe she really was not ready to clean up and you have interrupted her work.  You give her the benefit of the doubt. You witness two children playing a new board game in your classroom. You notice one child lift his hand to their mouth in hesitation when it’s his turn. You help out with a subtle hint instead of telling him that everyone’s waiting on him and we need to move the game along.

Listening with your eyes as well as with your ears can help you figure out and respond to what your children are feeling as well as to what they’re saying.  It may mean glancing away from a clean-up routine, picking up the block area, cleaning out the paint jars, supervising the bathroom line or any one of a thousand things a busy teacher has to get done.  But what you “hear” with that glance may well be worth a thousand words.

Shouldn’t every month be National Reading Month?

There is so much energy and time invested in promoting reading as the single most important activity one can do (and it is!), and yet so little time is actually spent reading! Many states and organizations promote a single month or day for reading, but these months and days are random and do not correlate to anything specific.

Reading shouldn’t happen in planned out Hallmark-holiday style. Reading is something that happens all day every day. Reading month, like many other randomized celebrations (Black History Month, Valentine’s day, Father’s Day or Movember, for example) is not something that you should be made aware of for just one day or one month. Reading, like heritage and disease, is something that should be done, discussed and acted upon every day of every month!

Shouldn't every month be National Reading Month?

There is a ton of research into how and why. Not only is reading good fun, the language and literacy skills needed to do it well are important skills to acquire for future success in school and life. Reading also helps soothe the mind, takes you to faraway places or back in time to witness great moments, and ordinary ones, too.

I wonder why we think that giving reading such short thrift will provide us with the results we desire. If we want to see a higher percentage of early language comprehension and a higher percentage of reading at level in third grade, we should read every day (these and more outcomes are in the Strive Report Card). Reading also contributes to higher scores on the SAT, ACT and the NAEP, and with children in the United States trailing our global neighbors, it’s never been more important.

With the onslaught of technology and how rapidly our youth have taken to it we might be at a crossroads. But somewhere between winning texting awards and writing fluent essays we must hold on to what we know leads one to a life of success. So read to your children and provide them opportunities to talk about their world.

– Josh

“Tune In” to Language Development

When I’m observing teachers in the classroom, sometimes I want to remind them to bathe children in language, not drown them! Children learn so many things from a simple conversation: basic concepts like taking turns, listening when someone else is speaking (and expecting to be listened to when it’s their turn), when it’s appropriate to shout or whisper. We don’t have to over think it, but there are some important things to keep in mind.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Harjadi.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Harjadi.

Building a child’s vocabulary doesn’t happen when you’re quizzing them (with the best of intentions, of course) about items, shapes or colors. Incorporating these concepts into natural conversations is best practice. For example, when talking with children about a block structure, words like structure, taller, architecture and height may be introduced. There are opportunities all throughout your day for conversations like this one. “You made a circle with your paint!” “You threw the yellow ball into the basket.” It’s important to extend children’s language without being overwhelming

It’s also okay to not talk at times. Adults participate in communication all the time without vocalizing. Eye contact, body language and body placement are all forms of communication. The child who gazes at you from across the room may not need to be spoken to, but may want you to sit close to him or just make eye contact.

We need to value the child’s communication while they’re developing language skills. Some words may be hard to understand but we still need to value the attempt the child is making to communicate. Repeating what the child said can assist in clarification if needed. Repeating can also show the child you value what she said and that you are trying to understand.

Remember that children may be communicated with differently at home. When we not only have a relationship with the children in our care but with the families we serve, too, we can learn how families communicate and their expectations for their children.

I’m sure every adult has had the experience of talking to a child who appears to be ignoring you. Before getting upset, we have to look at the environment and think about the child.  Is the child actively engaged in an activity and may not have heard you? Is the music too loud?  Is the television on? What’s the volume like of the other children?  How many children are in the room?  Is the space too small for the amount of children?  Are there a lot of materials that make noise? With so much stimulation, children often can’t figure out what’s important for them to listen to. Adults can “tune out” when we want to, but children are still developing that skill. We need to consider the whole environment before jumping to conclusions.

– Christine