Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Teacher of Teachers

The Daycare Diva's crash course in photography at MDAEYC spring 2014.

      Being a teacher of teachers has been dream that I’ve been chipping away at for roughly the last five years. There’s something wonderful about giving back to a community of people who have given so much to me. Thinking back to where I was when I first started out on this journey, I am astonished by how far I’ve come and how many people have been there to help me find my way. I am profoundly grateful to each and every one of them.

Not so long ago, I couldn't have imagined how I would have found the time or money to attend university, write a blog or get up in front of a room full of my colleagues to share ideas on how they could enhance their programs. Without the support of my husband, family, the really great daycare families in my program and my sisters in the early childhood community- I don’t know how I could have done it. 

The girls at Joyful Jungle - I've known Racheal for the last six years, she and her girls are pretty fantastic. It's been great to see her blossom into the director of her own center. Through all the ups and downs she and her merry little troupe of girls carry on. After conferences Racheal and I always end up chatting for hours exchanging ideas for projects we're working on, sharing stories about our little people and supporting each other in achieving our goals.

So to all of you THANKS A MILLION, you are pretty awesome. Lots of little people will benefit from your kind deeds and words of encouragement.

That being said I’m pretty excited about becoming one more voice amplifying the wisdom of the many brilliant minds that have come before me. As I step into the role of becoming a teacher of teachers, I humbly hope to inspire the same level of enthusiasm as the women I admire. 

It's a beautiful thing being surrounded by so many people dedicated to the purpose of elevating the heart of humanity. While most presenters receive little more than the promise of good karma, they selflessly commit themselves to sharing what they know so that we can be better at what we do. How could you not want to bask in the awesomeness of that?

One of those shiny, kind hearted people is Professor Jean Allison from Baker College. This lovely lady gave up time seeing the keynote speaker at conferences to help me trouble shoot some technical problems with my computer and projector. When all of our efforts failed, she located a different computer for me to borrow then she set up the projector and made sure it was working for me. 
Later in the afternoon I attended her workshop on executive function and metacognition. Her presentation got me thinking about how our curriculum supports executive functioning skills / metacognition and how we can improve.

For those of you who are not familiar with fancy smancy teacher words, some executive functioning skills are:

Self regulation - the ability to deal with frustrations when faced with a problem.
Memory - storing and retrieving information.
Focus - the ability to sustain attention on a task for an extended amount of time.
Ability to plan - time management - understanding sequence of events.  
Integrating knowledge - taking information from several different sources and using it in a new and different way.
Engaging in group dynamics - Collaboration - respecting peers - being a team player

Metacognition is thinking about thinking - in other words helping children realize when they are thinking, helping them to think about what and how they are thinking, then endowing them with strategies for thinking more effectively

It's pretty heavy duty stuff.

Teachers can influence a child's metacognitive process in the following ways:

  •  Helping them to identify when they are thinking, 
  • Offering them perspective on the issue / problem  
  • Teaching them coping skills for dealing with the stress that naturally arises as they figure things out for themselves. 

Metacognition is important because kids who can manage stress better are more capable of being persistent, thinking creatively and generating innovative ideas. 

Learning to use a saw can be very challenging, it's much harder than it looks! Working on projects that are both engaging and challenging helps children work through the frustration of not being able to be immediately successful at something.

Professor Allison shared some of these handy dandy questions and phrases that encourage metacognition:

“Let’s check your work.” When children say they are done with their work, we can use the phrase “Let’s check your work” as we take them back to the job and have them look around to see if the work is actually completed. The activity encourages children to self correct and be accountable for their work instead of having the adult do all the thinking.

“What problems did you identify?” Instead of pointing out the obvious problems the child faces while working on a project, let him struggle a little and encourage him to notice problems on his own. If he looks for some time but has difficulty identifying the problem model “noticing” as a means to identify problems then allow him to solve them. 

For instance, if the child is having trouble with a block structure use a phrase such as “I notice you have small blocks on the bottom and the big blocks on top keep tipping over. I wonder what would happen if you started out with bigger blocks on the bottom?”

“I’m skeptical, why do you believe this?”  Playing the part of the skeptic encourages children to examine their beliefs so they can gererate innovative ideas. It also demonstrates the idea that skepticism is an important tool for analyzing the validity of the information they are presented with.

“Tell me why you think that?” Whether a child is correct or incorrect in her beliefs encouraging her to express her ideas gives us insight as to where she is coming from so we can help her integrate new information into what she already knows.

“I need the details.” Identifying and expressing the details of a situation helps children think critically about the beliefs they hold to be true. It also illustrates the concept that in order to be persuasive a person needs to be able to support her argument with evidence.

The following phrases are some of Professor Allison's metacognitive prompts that parents and teachers can use to encourage children to think more purposefully:

What would happen if?
I wonder why?
Why do you suppose?
Did you notice?
What makes you say that?
I don’t believe it.
Lets investigate.
Prove it.

I was madly in love with her job chart, instead of listing the run of the mill fish feeder / plant waterer she devised these meaningful metacognitive jobs: 

Humanitarian: Notices when things in the environment need to be done and does them. For example the humanitarian is responsible for noticing trash on the playground and cleaning it up.

Negotiator: Helps children solve disputes. Professor Allison encourages children to use the phrase “I need to confer with the teacher” as a pause in the problem solving process when the negotiator is unsure of how to help peers resolve conflicts. Adults are on standby to consult in generating a solution but the children are still responsible for resolving the dispute.

Safe keeper: The person who keeps people safe by noticing unsafe things in the environment.

Friend: Is a friend when other children need a friend. Great for kids who are socially awkward or don’t come easily to making friends.

Greeter: Greets friends in the morning and asks children how they would like to be greeted so that they learn to communicate, respect and respond in a way that their peers are receptive to. 

Problem solver: Helps children solve problems in the physical world such as figuring out why the block tower won’t stand.

I loved the idea of linking the word "Humanitarian" to the random acts of kindness the kids already engage in. While we were out walking, the boys noticed some large sticks scattered about in an elderly neighbor's yard and they wanted to clean them up. I took the opportunity to introduce the concept of being a humanitarian and related it to their fascination with superheroes. We talked about how people with strong capable bodies make the world a better place when they help people who are not as healthy and strong accomplish things. Humanitarians take care of the community so they are real life superheroes. (The bottom pic on the collage is their humanitarian - superhero pose.)
Our group is small so we will be using a much less formal way of incorporating the jobs into our daily activities but so far it’s been a smashing success! 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Kickin' it old school

Over the weekend I had the good fortune of coming across this magnificent thing in my grandmother's basement, it's a tiny slide viewer with about 50 slides. My grandmother must have picked it up on one of her many adventures. It has a collection of slides with castles labeled "1st visit" and "3rd visit". I imagine theres a second visit floating around somewhere in the boxes and boxes of photos - I was pretty thrilled to get it. The castle slides are obviously taken by a professional, probably sold in mass quantity at some little souvenir shop. I thought the kids might enjoy looking at the images of real castles inside the viewfinder.

C - "Where are all the princesses? Maybe they're all sleeping." 

The kids asked where I got the slide viewer from so I told them it was my grandmother's and that she probably went to see some of the castles in the slides because that's just the sort of thing she enjoyed doing. They thought it was pretty cool that I have a grandma who goes to visit castles.

While waiting for a turn with the slide viewer the other children took turns looking at slides on the light table with magnifying glasses.

As we were going through the slides I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the boxes of slides contained vacation slides from a canoe trip to the mountains. There in the collection, was a picture of my grandmother just hanging out right smack dab in the center of the frame. The kids all hurried over to see what the woman who traveled to all these castles and mountains looks like.

J- "It's kinda like a movie camera!" A - "Wow! I can see the mountains in there."

I was hoping we would use the slides to spin tales of castles and mountain adventures but the kids were so enamered with the process of loading and unloading the slides then marveling at the brilliant colors on the tiny images that we spent all of our time making sure each child had as long of a turn as s/he wanted. After all it isn't every day that we come across something this cool!

"Look  inside of here Ms. Geraldine! It SO beautiful! If I lived inside of this castle I would have a lotta gold."

As they worked I noticed some of the children looking in the crack where the slides go in as if they were trying to figure out how it all worked. We took the lid off of the projector and took a peek inside. The innards were very simple - the standard battery mechanical pieces, a tiny flashlight and a magnifying glass attached to the inside of the housing. I showed them how the slides pushed a tiny lever that turned the flashlight on so we could see the image through the magnifying glass. 

After looking at some of the slides A and J decided to draw some pictures of mountains while they waited for a second turn with the machine.

Simple machines are so much fun to explore!
C- "Look Ms. Geraldine! This is COOL! I can see a castle."


Friday, March 28, 2014

Easter Bunny Land

Lately the preschoolers have been into drawing, storytelling and small world play. These kinds of activities are a great way to build literacy skills, creative thinking AND develop all the fine motor skills needed for writing - plus it's just plain fun!

This project was actually a spin off of one of the other projects I had in mind for the kids.

I thought it would be fun to make bottle cap flowers and incorporate drawing / painting on foam to create a spring picture.

The kids had a couple different ideas such as angry monster faces (part of our Jack and The Beanstalk project) and ideas for mixed media collages so we decided that maybe we would use the materials in a couple of different ways.

As they worked these lovely little garden patches just sort of evolved. They were so much fun to create that everyone decided they wanted to make the same thing.

Materials: iridescent paint, foam blocks, pipe cleaners, tiny sparkly Easter eggs and flowers from a floral necklace that had fallen apart long ago. 

The process was simple. Each child chose the colors s/he liked to cover the surface of the foam then they made pipe cleaner flower stems and egg holders then pushed them into the foam.

When they were finished I placed them up on a display shelf to dry.

As I was fishing around for projects this morning I thought it might be fun to incorporate the garden patches into an Easter storytelling scene….

I added lots of little extras - some glass gemstones, battery operated twinkle lights and our fall trees brought to life by adding some spring flowers. When the children came in this morning they all admired the set up and looked to see if they could identify each child's flower patch around the bunny house. 

We discussed the importance of being careful with the art pieces as we worked so that nobody's artwork would be destroyed.

The children hid "magic gems" in the garden patches, made blankets for the bunnies from scraps of fabric and wove fanciful stories about the bunnies of bunny land.

Even though some of the stories were very animated, the children were thoughtful and respectful of the delicate foam pieces. As they worked they decided certain patches needed extra flowers or eggs to  fit the storyline they had conjured up so they took their own piece to the creative table where they made the necessary adjustments before continuing on in their storytelling.

What a perfectly lovely way to welcome spring!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Scrap Paper Sculptures and Ribbon Weaving



We created these beautiful pieces of art using scrap book paper. First the children practiced holding one end of the paper in their thumb and forefinger as they wound it around a large marker. The process was very tricky and required them to do some serious problem solving as they had to start over several times before they were successful. Once they figured out how to complete the rolling process on a large marker, we tried it on narrow pencils. 

The next day I showed the children how to fold paper back and forth so that the strips of paper resembled a spring. Some of the children were able to alternate folding motions easily, while others found it to be too challenging. Jackson and Carmen excelled at this particular project, they took on the role of demonstrator in the process of folding and rolling paper. They created many springs and rolls as they showed the other children how to do it for themselves. Throughout the process the children discovered other ways to fold their paper so that they could create their own version of 3D art.

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This little guy found the rolling process difficult so he watched the older children and worked at folding the paper his own way.


This project was inspired by our paper sculpting work. We’ve recently received collections of patterned ribbons, fabric, and paper that the children have enjoyed working with. During our investigation of these new materials we’ve been looking at the many different ways patterns are represented. The children are learning that the key element to all patterns is that they repeat. 

I wanted to introduce the children to the idea that repetitive patterns can also be represented through movement as they are in the act of weaving. To set this project up, I stapled three ribbons across the width of a piece of card stock then the children took lengths of ribbon and wove them between the stationary pieces. For many, the motion of alternating back and forth between the stationary ribbons was very challenging just as it was in the paper folding project. When the children were finished they had the added challenge of learning how to use a stapler to fasten the pieces in place. We will be revisiting these concepts in the upcoming weeks during our afternoon writing center. 


Our classroom lovely display

Friday, January 10, 2014

Hammer Time!

Today's project evolved after our morning discussion about all the great Christmas gifts we received over break. Josh mentioned that one of his favorite gifts was this tool kit that Logan and Cooper got for him. He set the package on the table and together the boys huddled around the kit discussing how the tools could be used. Logan told us how his dad built a chicken coop and then Will mentioned that his dad uses hammers in the garage at his house.

Josh invited all the kids to take a closer look at the tools; some of the items like the box cutter and screw driver heads were left in the packaging so the kids could safely get a closer look while Josh explained how each one worked.

All of the children were pretty excited when Josh offered to share his cool new tools. During our investigation of tools he reminded the children that real tools are to be handled only when an adult is nearby and helping them. Of course the children already knew this and they ran through many imaginary scenarios of what might happen if a child were to handle tools alone - like cutting a finger off or hitting yourself in the eye with a hammer. 

Our discussion got me to thinking about a bucket of old nails, screws and bolts I’ve been saving for just such an occasion so after breakfast we got to work on our latest piece of art. Once we were very clear on how to handle tools and nails we decided to work creating a project with scrap wood.

The next step of our project was sorting, classifying and organizing all the many bits of metal in the bucket o’ nails. I dumped the metal out on a tray and explained again how to handle the items safely. 

The children were very careful and thoughtful in their work as they collected nails.

They payed close attention to the length of each nail and the size of it's head. They compared the width of the shaft on the finishing nails, to that of the regular nails. We talked about lag bolts, S hooks and screws of various sizes, the kids classified them by holding them up next to each other and looking closely to determine which pile they belonged in.

As they sorted the nuts, bolts, screws and washers they asked Josh what each items is used for so he demonstrated on pieces of wood.Then he showed them how his tools are specially designed to fit the heads of the screws, bolts or nails and that some tools are used for twisting while others are good for pounding.

The children quickly became proficient at noticing the differences between the screws and nails. Soon the entire pile of metal was sorted.

Next I set up a space for the children to use hammers, mallets and nails in pairs. I showed them the difference between mallets and hammers then demonstrated how to use one side to pound the nail in and the other to pry it out.
                                                    They kids were thrilled and ready to get to work!

This little one was nervous after our discussion about tool safety so she did lots of observing before she was ready to participate. She also wanted to do her hammering with both her hands on the hammer so she could be sure not to smash her fingers. She directed Josh as he got her nails started then she used both hands to hammer. It was hard work for such a tiny body!

Some fingers did get smashed but the kids decided the awesomeness of using hammers outweighed the pain of smashed fingers. After some ice and a hug or a few shakes of their hand they were ready to go at it again.

This little guy pounded several nails in the wood only to turn right around and pull them out. He spent most of his time in the hammering station and was most capable of using the tools independently. Again this was all about the process of learning how to use tools - how to pound and pry so it was up to him to decide how many nails should remain in his piece when it was finished. 

After each nail was carefully removed he pounded one nail in each corner, turned his board upside down and announced that it was a table. Later he changed his mind and said it was a picture of Tuxy his cat, then he drew several circles and triangles to represent her face and ears. Afterward he covered the whole picture up so that most of the wood was covered in sharpie

Allowing children the time and space to experiment in self expression without adult interference is key in their ability to learn to think creatively. It also teaches them to take risks in the process of developing their own ideas so that they feel confident in sharing what they learn through their experiences with their peers. 

Working with hammers helps children develop school readiness skills in the following ways:

  • Strengthens muscles from the fingertips to the shoulders in preperation for writing as children swing heavy hammers and manipulate tiny nails.
  • Helps children develop visual perception skills and the ability to focus their attention for long periods of time on an activity they enjoy.
  • Fosters self confidence, risk taking skills and self regualtion as they take responsibility for their own safety in working with heavy / sharp items. 
  •  Introduces art appreciation through the use novel media for self expression.