Tuesday, October 9, 2012

All in a day’s work; How preschool curriculum is a natural part of our everyday learning...

I am often asked how kids learn through play and open-ended materials in our daycare environment; after all when people come to visit everyone is having so much rambunctious fun it’s hard to believe they are learning. One reason people may miss the learning experiences as they are unfolding is because young children need to move and make noise in order to learn. “Sit and get” activities are not effective or appropriate with this age group. Also tracking learning up to the age of 5 is challenging, one day your child may know all of her letters but the next time you ask she can only name five. This is a normal part of development. Children are constantly exposed to new information and they need repeated exposure to the same concepts before they stick long term. 

Practice through play makes perfect!

I followed the kids around with my trusty camera and captured some random moments to illustrate the process without all the noise and chaos. Some of these activities lasted 3 minutes others half an hour, as with many things the quality of the play is more important than the quantity of minutes spent doing it. Even though our kids are young we really pack a lot of learning in our day. Some of our projects are planned while others arise spontaneously during free play, my goal as their teacher is to always follow their lead and prepare the environment accordingly. It is my intention to be certain that the lessons I am teaching are relevant and meaningful so that I can influence not only what they learn but how they learn. 

Each morning we have a group discussion around the breakfast table. Sometimes we talk about our families, upcoming projects or emotional events like last night’s boo boo or daddy’s new car. We also make up letter games, look at flash cards, sing silly songs or talk about the weather. Our discussions are loosely planned around observations I make while working with the kids. Everyone is encouraged to participate in these conversations therefore this time together has a tremendous impact on children’s speaking abilities. Listening to each other’s ideas also helps children develop flexible thinking skills and the ability to think / recall / relate to events so that they can expand the way they see the world. 

This morning’s conversation centered around the letter L because one of the children pointed out that LEAF starts with the letter L and today’s project was leaf painting. We thought of other words with the L sound in them, wrote them down and the kids later looked for L’s in the words I wrote as I cleaned up from breakfast. 

 Later we moved on to identifying the colors red, green and yellow. We also strengthened  our hands for writing by pinching eye droppers and carefully working with watercolors. It was tricky for some of the children not to tip the water colors as they worked. We also made a letter L of our very own with bingo dabbers.

      While we were waiting to go outside Logan and Sam organized a table top game where they used paddles to swat balls to each other. Before too long ALL of the other children wanted to play too but we didn’t have enough paddles so we got out plates. We had to do a lot of negotiation. We had to decide how the game should be played, who should go first and what to do if someone was taking too long with the ball. The younger children had the added challenge of getting in and out of their chairs quickly without tipping them; the older children had to be patient while waiting for the younger children to process all that body movement while remembering the rules of the game. 

Once our game was over, we went outside to play with 2x4 s when Sam came up with the idea of positioning them in the shape of a letter T. Some of the kids were not familiar with the letter T so Sam had to figure out how to explain his plan to the other children. He had to use a lot of directional words and the younger children had to watch and listen in order to understand his idea. It took them about 15 minutes and lots of maneuvering to orchestrate his plan but eventually they did it and everyone had a turn walking back and forth across the giant letter T. Talk about full body learning! 
Many of our projects take place in class or do not survive the children’s hands on exploration but rest assured we are learning a lot!

After nap time we had more fine motor fun sorting colors with tiny scoopers. This was a game I saw online and set up for the kids. Will and Sam decided to change the game and make it their own. They added a second cup to each cone and created game where they would fill the clear cup, then scoop the pompoms into the cone and catch it with the colored cup. Imagining two games in one day - pretty creative!

Our second center for the afternoon was one where the children lined up colored tiles on the light table. I set out tiles with a letter L for the children to practice making the letter L, or imagining whatever they wanted to imagine. They took the idea to another level and expanded it by making other letters, rectangles, random designs and dumping / sorting games. 

Our curriculum is very fluid and can change on a dime but if you ask me it’s the only way to teach. Everyone gets to be heard, everyone gets to participate in shaping our days and everyone feels validated for their efforts no matter where they are in their developmental journey. 

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