Thursday, October 31, 2013

In the minds of 3-year-olds

If you've been following my blog this year, you know that my classroom has some special cases.  According to my director, a lot of them "need to be here." Ok, fine. I love them all but sometimes I don't know whether to laugh or go crazy. Here's a funny story of one of the 3-year-olds:
A few kids in the class like to play checkers so I brought out the board this morning.  Keep in mind that this child is typical, as opposed to having a disability. The 3-year-old wanted to play so I said, "Sure! That kid over there can teach you how and I'll be right there."  Keep in mind that this child is typical, as opposed to having a disability. I was helping another child with a puzzle and the kid was playing with a toy from another center. I finished the puzzle and went over to help.
Me: "Ok, put the pieces on the board."
3YO: "I wanna play!"
Me: "Ok, I'll help you. Put the pieces right here."
3YO: "I wanna play!" (Still playing with the toy from the other center)
Meanwhile, other kids are coming over. Now it's a show.
"I wanna play!"
"If you won't let me help you, I'm going to give someone else a turn.  Let's put the pieces here and we'll play together."
Nothing. He just sat there, playing with the other toy. Finally I said, "Ok, I'm going to give this child a turn."
Complete meltdown.  "I WANNA PLAY! I WANNA PLAY!" Now I know why some sets say "6 and up."

Dinosaur week next week! Hopefully I'll be able to get the lesson up in my shop soon.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Happy Un-Halloween!

I might not let my kids know it, but I'm a big believer in the idea that rules are made to be bent. In NC, teachers are encouraged to build on children's interests. Naturally, the children's thoughts are turning towards Halloween. There's just one problem: my center doesn't like Halloween.  Or any holidays, for that matter. I've had to get a little...creative this week, putting in Halloween-type activities and pouting a little. But then I saw this: (profanity warning) Here's a summary in case you don't like profanity: we watched scary stuff when we were little and instead of scarring us for life, it actually helped prepare us for the evil that's present in the real world.  And that got me thinking about the actual spirit of Halloween. It's easy to pull out pumpkins and ghosts and tell the preschoolers, "This is Halloween. It's cookie cutter art, projects from last year, and sterile." Boring.
Where did Halloween come from? Imagination. Storytelling. Empathizing with heroes defeating the bad guys as we listen to our favorite stories again and again.  Realizing that yes, evil does exist and yes, we are powerful to defeat it.
So I have a challenge for you: Even if you work in a center where you can celebrate Halloween, go beyond the normal.  Challenge yourself and your children to use imagination. Don't just read books, tell stories. I think you'll be surprised at what you find.

By the way, here's our pumpkin this year. I let the kids vote on which shapes they wanted for the face. Then I told this story: with the lights off and putting in an electric tealight at the appropriate time.

What's your favorite scary story from when you were little? Do you tell stories to your class?

Monday, October 21, 2013

This post is not Pin-worthy

 I'm sure there are other posts on this topic somewhere; at least I hope there are. I can't be the only one tired of all the cutesy stuff on Pinterest when it comes to children's art. Don't get me wrong; I can easily spend an hour Pinning, commenting, and following rabbit (Pin?) trails. There are a lot of great ideas out there. But when I see post after post about giving worksheets to preschoolers, letting them color something and then cutting it up, or devoting an entire week to crafts, I cringe every time.
See, I don't know much about art but I do know it's about expression. Think about it for a second: "art." What comes to mind? Art galleries? Freedom? Putting a bunch of pegs into holes? Hopefully you didn't think of that last one but if you did, it might be time to take a trip to the art gallery.
Imagine if you worked hard on a lesson plan and your boss came by and said, "Good job! Now let's make it into a bunny." "But I don't want it to be a bunny'" you say. "It's supposed to be a lesson plan and I don't even like bunnies." "Too bad," your boss says. "We're doing bunnies this week and I'm turning all the lesson plans into bunnies." Would you want to try again? I'm guessing you wouldn't. But that's what happens every time you change a child's art, even a little. You're telling them that all their hard work wasn't good enough. Making crafts tells the children that when it comes to art, there's a right way and a wrong way and they all need to conform like good little automotons so they can grow up and be uncreative.
Of course I use crafts a few times a week with a purpose. I want the children to focus on specific skills. "Here are some materials. Here's what an owl looks like. If we put our hand inside like this, it looks like a puppet. If we put the eyes here, doesn't this look like a mouth? How else can we make it look like an owl? You don't like owls? Then what do you want to make? " Or I'll focus on sequencing to make a book in a small group. Or we'll talk about making shapes as they match them on a paper and discover they make an animal. I used to use coloring sheets rarely until a little girl came in and did nothing but make little scribble marks all over her paper. If you picture the hand movements of someone coloring inside the lines, you know what I mean. By the time she left my room, she was making purposeful and elaborate pictures. We do messy splatterboxes.  We make experiments that don't work. And we love every minute of it.
I promised a few posts back that I would share the kids' apple trees. I never did it because they weren't "cute." They don't all look the same and some of them were cut all the way through. But you know what? Here they are. Beautiful for what they are: a representation of exploration and expression and learning.

And when I'm done with this post, I'm Pinning them.

We were learning about apple trees. I took a bag and demonstrated that if they used scissors to cut the top and opened it up, the children could make trees.  I gave them scissors, apple shapes, leaf shapes, and crayons. One of the comments was, "I'm putting my apples down here because they fell off the tree."

On the left is a child's spiderweb. They were interested in spiders, so I gave them string and glue and told them they could make spiderwebs. On the right is the same child's free art on the easel.  I asked him what it was and he said, "I don't know." Which is just fine with me. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I was reviewing shapes this morning using some of the great ideas found here when some of the kids guessed correctly and I smiled. That's great for them, of course, but the strange part is how alien it felt. Do I really smile that little? I thought. I thought about it and even asked my assistant who assured me that I do smile. But it made me realize the power of something as simple as smiling. There's a Becky Bailey technique for calming down we use with the kids called S.T.A.R.: Smile, Think happy thoughts, And Relax.  To be honest, I doubted its validity but that one little moment suddenly made my morning brighter and gave me clarity to think of what I needed to do that day.  There is a scientific explanation. Just that simple act of smiling fires those mirror neurons in your brain (they're responsible for empathy) and makes you feel better. So as you go about your day today or tomorrow, just smile. Hopefully this blog helps you but you don't need an excuse. Just smile.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Representational Drawing

With the apples last week and insects this week, I realized something: this class is amazing at representational drawing!  When we talked about sunflowers one day, the children looked at photos and recreated them fairly accurately.  This week we talked about spiders; some of the children needed help with shapes, so I gave them a few shapes to glue together. We counted out 8 rectangles for legs and put two circles together for the body.  While they were working, I mentioned that "By the way, spiders also have 8 eyes." None of them said anything, but when they were done, several spiders had 8 eyes drawn on their heads.  We may still need a bit of help with social skills (getting better all the time) but we have art down at least!