I have moved this blog to a new location. Come for a visit.
I believe that one of the important tasks in our early childhood programs should be providing parents with a foundation for understanding the why behind what we do. Parents want their children to be successful. But for many, they might have a picture of what school should look like and our developmentally appropriate programs might not match up. I take this part of my job very seriously. I ask teachers to communicate on a regular basis. I ask them to write about the reason they have chosen an activity. If the schedule says that children are spending part of their day doing table activities, I want teachers to name those activities (puzzles, writing centers, manipulatives) and to explain the learning behind the play. I know this takes time. I know that it might not come easily to some. I try to provide support systems that make this part of the work less of a chore. In the end, the feedback is so overwhelmingly positive that it is worth working out a plan to make it happen.
Today I got this article in my email and it made to reflect on my habit of dropping into our preschool rooms. I try to visit every classroom a few times per week. And I start from the first day of school, just stopping in to see what the children are doing, to play with some play dough, read a book, or build with the blocks. My goal is not to check up on the teacher. I am there to be helpful, to provide support, give encouragement, build relationships. It is one of the tricky parts of my job but I keep at it. And these visits give me an opportunity to provide feedback and affirmation to my teachers on a regular basis.
Waiting is a tricky thing for preschoolers. When I work with new teachers, I encourage them to look for the places in their daily planning where children will have to wait and to see if they can eliminate as much waiting time as possible. Preparation is critical if you are trying to cut down on wait time. If you don’t have all of your circle time materials in one place, you have created the need for waiting while you retrieve something. If there are 12 children and only two places to paint, there will be waiting. If you line up too early, you will need to wait for parents to arrive or for your turn to get into the music room.
I am not saying that children should never wait. Waiting also offers the opportunity to learn. If it isn’t you turn, what could you do instead? If you got to the music room too early, how about teaching the children a quiet poem or finger play? If you left your circle time book on the counter, you could practice counting how many steps from the circle to the counter and back again? Waiting will happen. And children will get tired of waiting. Even waiting can become an opportunity for learning.
As teachers finish their unpacking and put the final touches on their room set up, I will be asking them this question -“What’s the big idea?”
Sometimes as the administrator, I feel like a bee, buzzing around the classrooms, watching and asking annoying questions, creating a bit of a disturbance and sometimes even fear. But my motives are good. I want teachers and parents to be intentional, to pay attention to what the children have to teach us. To think and reflect about how we are supporting these children as they play, discover, wonder, and learn.
So my question – What’s the big idea? What are they doing? What are they saying? What understanding and learning do you want them to develop this year? And how will you know what they are learning?
My hope for this year is that we will ask this question along with watching and listening and responding. That we will talk with one another about what we see and hear, that we will share our own questions with others, that we will allow that space for learning to happen in our classrooms and in lives as educators.
If you are inclined, I would love to hear how directors and administrators might help you do this important work.
The boxes have been unloaded, the furniture is all there, now the teachers will be sorting and unpacking and putting their rooms together. I am not teaching this year, just doing my director duties. But I have been in the rooms, trying to move things around and looking for places that might work for some storage. This is a big job. We had been in our previous location for 24 years and we have a lot of stuff. Now we are in the same building as the K-6 program so there will be lots of opportunities to collaborate with others. But for now, we are just focusing on turning this picture into a place where kids and teachers can live, learn, and play. Stay tuned.
Our school year has ended and we are packing up for a big move. We have been in this space for 24 years so we have a lot of stuff and it is overwhelming to figure out how we will get it all out of here. Next year I will be back in my admin chair full-time so my focus will likely change. But I still hope to be nurturing curiosity.
I have seen this before. The last time it was raisins and fish crackers. This time it was apple slices and cheese sticks. Unfortunately I was too slow with the camera to get the pattern but the conversations went something like this:
“Look, my name is apple, cheese stick, apple, cheese stick.”
“Mine is cheese stick, cheese sticks, cheese stick, apple and then another cheese stick.”
“I can write my Y with the cheese stick.”
“I can make my the L and the I with a cheese stick and I have two of them.”
I love this stuff!
We have had a fire station set up in our classroom for the last few weeks. We had a desk, some fire fighter hats, a big map of our local area on the wall, and lots of pencils and papers. I added our name and phone number cards to the office and watched as the children demonstrated their understanding of numerals. They read the phone numbers, wrote the phone numbers, and punched the numbers on the phone pad. I remember talking with a teacher a few years ago about a pull out assessment she was doing with her preschool students. She had a bunch of random numbers and way trying to get the children to name the numerals. It wasn’t a very engaging activity. I asked her if she had a phone in the play area in her classroom and she said yes. I suggested she sit by that phone and rattle off the numbers and ask the children to punch the numbers on the phone pad. She was amazed at how many children could identify all of their numerals this way. As I watched the firefighters take phone calls and record the information about the emergencies, I was able to get another chunk of assessment completed without leaving the room or pulling out a check list. I love authentic assessment.
I have time to sit and watch, listen, and learn. Today was that kind of day. It seemed that everyone was engaged in a way that we haven’t seen yet. So I sat at the creation table and before long, this little girl came to sit with me. She picked up a paper roll and held it, looking up to me with a question in her eyes. She comes to this table often but rarely knows how to get started. She usually watches the other children and when asked, is unable to form a plan for what she wants to make. Here was the conversation today.
Do you have an idea today?
Yes. I want to make something for my mom.
Do yousee what you need to make something?
I need something for the bottom so my mom can put her jewelry in this and it won’t fall out.
Wow! This was great! I watched as she found the right lid to fit on the bottom. Then she went to the shelf to get some stickers and began decorating. She took her time. She had a plan. When she was done, she found another lid to put on the top, looked up me and smiled. I took a picture of her working because I know her mom will be excited about this. She will appreciate that her daughter had thought it through, that she had a plan, and that she was able to execute that plan. She will appreciate this learning.