Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Moving Centers Outdoors

The kids have had a super fun time getting used to our outdoor learning space. Every morning they start asking, “Is it time to go outside yet?!?” as soon as all the parents head out for the day. If we had a bathroom and some cots out there I’m pretty sure they would never come in. 

Setting up centers outside is a SO much easier than I thought it would be. It’s pretty great that the kids have much more space to work on large scale projects together or take a break and burn off some steam by running around the yard or pounding on stuff. That is a God send now that most of daycare land is comprised of boys with lots of energy! Some of the fun things we had planned this week were:

Dart Guns:
Dart guns and other target games have been popular with this super energetic group of kids. They especially love shooting dart guns at the acrylic easel because the darts stick really well. Unfortunately the guns I bought are VERY hard to use so I will be looking for something a little easier to manipulate on my next toy run. In the meantime these kids are likely to end up with Herculean hand strength and lots of patience from dealing with the current set!

Exploring Percussion instruments:
The kids set up a little “band” with some of our percussion instruments. One of the kiddies figured out how to rub two bumpy trays together to make his own instrument while some other kids experimented with sound by hitting different objects with mallets. We pounded cymbals and hit stuff with sticks. As they worked we discussed the difference in volume and sound as they hit solid, hollow or metal objects.

Board Games:
The kids are really into board games lately and Zingo was a huge hit. If you haven’t checked this game out, it’s a lot of fun preschoolers. The picture matching, letter recognition and finagling of small pieces in the bingo slider made it so that everyone found Zingo to be a fun challenge. Since Sam brought the game to share with his friends, he took on the responsibility of teaching everyone how to play. The kids took turns rotating in and out of the game for over an hour. 

Fence Weaving:
I’ve seen tons of great weaving projects on Pinterest so I thought we would put our own spin on weaving by adding it to our fence as an ongoing collaborative project. It turns out that weaving is kind of tricky. Moving the ribbon in and out of the fence was a challenge; often the children would work on a ribbon for ten minutes or so only to have completely unwoven their piece by the time they were finished. Even though some of their attempts of weaving did not yield the intended result, the kids were delighted to watch the wind send ripples through the ribbons.

The Gigantic Magnetic board:
We’ve used the garage door for letter play, magnets and a gigantic easel. The kids loved seeing how high they could push magnets by using their hands or climbing on the picnic table to get a little more height. We also used some heavy duty magnetic clips to hold paper in place for drawing. As they worked, some of the kids discovered that covering the paper in marker revealed a cool design from the imprint on the garage door. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Outdoor Classroom

Our house has what my Aunt Sue calls a “tiny little postage stamp of a back yard”. It’s so small that when we moved here from our double lot in Royal Oak I hardly thought this teeny speck of earth was worth putting any effort into. I tried a couple of times over the eight years we’ve owned the house to get into the yard but it was no use. There’s no fire pit or swimming pool to lure me back there and every side of our lifeless little rectangle is closed off preventing neighbors from wandering over for a chat. To top it all off it’s hotter than hell out there!

Last year as I was surfing some of my favorite blogs I noticed all sorts of fantastic ideas for outdoor classrooms. Some of my favorite spaces started out so tiny and barren that they made my little yard look quite glamorous. It got me to thinking that MAYBE I should quit whining about all the things I don’t have and work with the things I do have.

So I quit whining and started pinning everything that looked like it might work for us. Josh and I got to work making the best of our space. We did a little reconfiguring by boldly pulling out some perfectly beautiful bushes to put in vegetable garden for the kids to tend. I'm not that great at keeping plants alive so I was super proud of all the veggies we harvested. I also created a mud kitchen out of an old cupboard  - that turned out to be a total flop but the kids had fun with it for a season before it collapsed in on itself. 

We rigged up a water wall, turned a wheelbarrow into a sensory bin and we had lots of fun with large scale building projects. My favorite backyard addition of the summer were the acrylic easels my awesome husband made out of junk laying around in the garage. The kids LOVED them!

This year we are kicking off the season with a much more positive attitude toward our tiny space and I’m hoping we will spend most of our daycare days outside in our improved outdoor classroom. It’s so much easier to work with the kids outside and they have much more autonomy since they don’t have to wait on me to clean up before they can move on to other activities.

Some of our learning centers include:

The gardening area:

The kids have been hard at work weeding and turning the garden with garden tools, diggers and dump trucks. We are also putting together an herb garden for future cooking projects and sensory projects....

Reading / Quiet Area
We’ve created a little reading nook in a tent that only cost 15 bucks at the end of the season last year AND it folds up neatly behind the kitchen area when we want to store it. It's currently Carmen's favorite place to hang out reading to her babies....

Dramatic Play

Our new and improved mud kitchen was found on the side of the road - the kids were thrilled to have “saved it from the landfill” We will be sticking with playdough in the mud kitchen until I can imagine some place to put the mud kitchen so that it doesn't ruin the grass. I do like to entertain adults here sometimes too :) For now we brought out some of the indoor play food, dolls and baby care items that can be stored outside .....

We have a little music area with a triangle and wind chimes. We have lots of other instruments to add to this area later this summer....

Of course there’s are acrylic easels from last year, hopefully next week we will have pumpkins growing behind them instead of weeds soon!

The garage door also makes a great magnetic board for working with letters...

Clean up
There’s even a little makeshift hand washing area complete with soap and a towel to clean up after painting or digging. Addie was having lots of fun taking her baby to dig then giving her a bath. Carmen thought it would be fun to dump the soft bodied babies in the water too - guess we’ll be needing some more babies that can be bathed outside!