Thursday, December 30, 2010

We're All Learning Through Play

As a first year teacher who has had a limited experience working in a Reggio Emilia setting, in a school that has just begun the Reggio program in early childhood, I have struggled to find a way to make project based exploration the main focus of the classroom (as opposed to the more traditional, teacher directed way of teaching). 
In this program, the children are supposed to be able to learn through play, discovery, exploration, and conversation. I love that - idea. It’s making it happen that has been tough. They also must be prepared for kindergarten by the time they leave my class - which means that they also need to learn their letters, letter sounds, numbers, shapes, all of those fundamental concepts that parents send their children to school to learn.
But, as I reflect on the past couple of months and prepare for the return to school, I’m realizing that the children are going to do most of their learning through play. It’s not just about fulfilling intellectual needs (although we will do that too) - my job is to develop the WHOLE child - emotional, social, physical... I need to meet all of their needs, and learning through play is going to help me with that. 
Some things that have helped me understand the importance of play are: 

Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of Reggio Emilia, said “nothing without joy” -
Such a sweet moment, I think. I love that these boys find such joy in the classroom, working with each other. 

I hope that with the New Year, I will teach my students how to love learning and discovering through playing, and that we will continue to feel joy in our classroom as we grow together. And while the children learn through play, I will learn how to provide these children with experiences and discoveries, while making sure that they are advancing completely and fully.

Now that I know what I have to do - I better get back to planning! Hoping to start the New Year with some really great play!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Adventures in Bookmaking

Right before leaving for Christmas break, we engaged in a pretty small project (it only took a couple of small group sessions) but it was a great achievement in our class, and it turned out beautifully. We were making gifts for the teachers in our school who are special to us, and one of the gift receivers was to be Farmer John. We had so many pictures of him working with the children, so the children made him a book. 
First, we talked about HOW we could make a book. 
“You supposed to write in it, then fold it up”           “You fold it up and write it”
We also decided what should go into our book: 
“Put pictures on it”           “Grass”            “Cooking”             “Letters”            “Make he farm” 
                                                            “Can we draw worms?” 
The students cut out the pictures for our book. They did a WONDERFUL job cutting, and really worked on those fine motor skills! 

When the photos were cut, students chose about three for a page that they wanted to make, and then they glued them onto the paper. 

Looking over the photos and choosing where they would appear in our book was a beautiful way of revisiting our past experiences with Farmer John (and we have had a lot of them!) 
This is one of my favorite pictures!! 
In addition to the students choosing photographs to go into our book, they also made their own illustrations and wrote their own notes for Farmer John. 

There was also collaboration among the students, as they shared what they were making and showed real interest in what their friends were doing. 

After the pages were made, I typed up all of the lovely things that the children said and onto the pages they went. 
The last step was for the students to sign the book! 

Here is our book as the final project. We get to keep a copy in our library center too... I can’t wait to add to our collection! 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Discoveries at the Train Station

Before our winter break, we (finally) went on our first field trip - we walked to the train station! What class gets to walk to the train station? And what PRE-K class has the opportunity to do something like that? 

Our experience was actually even more exciting than we thought it was going to be. It snowed the whole way there and the whole way back! You know I love my students when I go on a field trip like that - I am not a fan of snow. But really, it was one of the best times. We sang songs on the way and noticed all of the things that were turning white around us. It was really a lovely walk. 
When we arrived, we hurried into the warm train station and got to take in the train display set up at the entrance. It was so much fun to watch the students find all of the little details that had put there for our viewing pleasure. We also came upon the big, beautiful tree :-) 

Probably the coolest part, though, was getting to go into the super secret elevator and then into the super secret K-9 police unit. The children met the police officers and got to see the police dogs at work. There had just been a memorial service for one of the dogs that had served, but recently passed away, so every student got a baseball card of the officer and dog together. 
Of course we stopped by the ticket counter to see what that was all about. We were met by an awesome employee who related the train experience to the movie Madagascar, which many of the students had seen. It ended with a discussion about going to New York, and singing right in the middle of the station. It was fun! 

We finished up our trip by eating our bagged lunches in the food court and trekking back home in more snow. We learned a lot and look forward to more adventures!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Our Helping Hands

When I was younger, I always wanted to have a job in the classroom - to be able to help in some way. But I don’t think I ever realized how important it was to every child - I just chalked it up to the fact that I wanted to be a teacher and as a child, being the teacher’s helper was as close as I could get. Now I don’t know if it is the case in every early childhood classroom, but every single one of my students needs a job every single day. When I started out the school year, I thought that I had cleverly come up with a great system - we had 8 jobs, which meant that every student would get a job every other day  - they only had to wait ONE day as opposed to waiting a week or two like I remembered having to wait. 
Yes, I thought I was doing a great thing. So I didn’t understand when I was met with whines and complaints that it wasn’t fair that someone didn’t have a job on a given day. “But you had one yesterday and you will have one tomorrow” was not a good enough answer”. 
It took me some time to think of the last extra jobs - coming up with 17 is kind of tough. But it was SO worth it. Every day, the children check in to class, and then the very next thing that they do is check the job board to see what their job is - and what everyone else’s is. They want to know who is doing what during the day. And they are proud to do their job. It doesn’t even matter that to adults, some jobs are much more appealing than others (I would way rather be the story helper than the table cleaner or sweeper). To the kids, every single job is important and needs to get done. 
The kids take ownership of their classroom - it’s theirs - and they need to keep it running smoothly. Sometimes I forget; I don’t always remember that I made a job for chairs to be pushed in or for the lights to be turned off at rest time, but they remind me of their jobs and then go off to do them. If only the whole world could work like my students - each one checking in with their responsibilities, being excited to do it, holding others accountable for their jobs, looking forward to their job the next day. What a beautiful society we have going on in pre-k. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Birthday Celebrations

Growing up, I feel that I had a wonderful education - great teachers, great classmates, great lessons in a great area. Wasn’t perfect of course, and one thing that I couldn’t understand was that, even in elementary school, birthdays were so unimportant, we weren’t able to celebrate - even a little bit. Sure, we got our birthday announced during morning announcements, but that was the extent of it. Not really a celebration, and if there was there were ALL sorts of restrictions on the time of day that there could be any kind of acknowledgement of a birthday, and definitely restrictions on what could be brought into the classroom to eat and/or drink. 

What I love about our early childhood program is that each birthday is valued and celebrated - every child gets a day that is just for them; finally some birthday recognition. I play it up to make it everything that it can be - personally, I’m a big holiday and birthday kind of person.

Every time there is a birthday, three or four students get together to form a birthday committee. They hold a conversation about the birthday boy/girl - his/her likes and dislikes, interests, skills, etc. Together, they decide what they are going to make their friend. In our class - every present is made using paper. The committee works together to make the gift, and on the day of the birthday celebration, they present the gift to their friend. It’s really beautiful. 

Of course, it’s important that parents/families are there for our very special days too - we couldn’t do anything without them!

We have celebrated four birthdays so far (including mine!), and have a lot to look forward to in January - we have FIVE birthdays coming up in the next month. 
So bring on the cake, the gift making, the celebration of our friends on their special days, the togetherness and excitement we get to experience every time we have a birthday in our classroom.