Thursday, January 23, 2014

"We Need to Go Deeper"

Hello fellow teachers!

Let's stop for a second and admit that we live in a fast-paced world. (If this isn't true for you, bear with me for a minute. Also, please share your secret in the comments) If you're a parent, you rush to get the kids up in time for school. You rush to work in the morning.  You rush to meet deadlines at work, however big or small. You rush home and maybe rush your children off to karate or dance or sports.
Is it any wonder that our classroom feels rushed sometimes?  You may be rushed right now.
Take a minute. Fold your arms up like a pretzel and literally unwind as you breathe out. Close your eyes and think of something that makes you happy while you breathe in and out, slowly. Here, have a kitten.

There. Better?  Good.

There are lots of great activities out there for whatever your theme may be.  The problem with many of them, and I've been guilty of this too, is that they only last a week.  Even theme books that have each month organized by topic are broken down into weekly themes.  You spend a week on caring for babies and the next week, you've moved on to something else. Are some of the children still interested? Too bad. Now you're doing dinosaurs because some of the girls said they like dinosaurs.

Rush rush rush. Rush to centers, rush to lunch, rush to get home. Rush through themes.

Sound familiar?  So what can we do about it?

The answer is simple: slow down.
 I recently got some materials about connecting Preschool to Kindergarten. One of the big ideas from it is that children are required to do a lot in Kindergarten but what teachers really want to see is children who know how to think and be independent.

Believe me, I was skeptical. Aren't we supposed to give these kids a good foundation? Don't we have to focus on helping them learn their letters and being able to count to 20? Don't we have to build on the children's interests constantly? The state Foundations say...

Trust me, I know.  Look, forget about Foundations and Common Core and Teacher Standards for a minute. You're in this job for the kids.

What the kids need to learn most is how to learn. Think about your favorite teachers. Did they give you facts or did they give you tools?  Did they cram information down your throat as they tried to make things fun by saying, "But the rest of the class is interested?" Or did they say, "I see you have some questions. How are you going to answer them?"

Two weeks ago, my class started a unit on animals.  We made a list of animals we wanted to learn about. I modeled questions and as children naturally asked questions through the day, I wrote them down.
Sorry, I wrote on the other side before I took a picture of it. You can see the animal I drew along with types of animals and some rough sketches inside. The questions I modeled are on the bottom; theirs are on the sides.

I asked, "What animals have we learned about so far?"
"What can you tell me about them?" This led into
the discussion about gills and breathing underwater.

Last week and this week, we're finding out the answers to those questions. If you look at the chart, you'll notice that lots of the animals live in the ocean so this week we extended that and started focusing on animals that live in the ocean.  Now, I still don't have everything perfect. But the discussion has been carried over.  This week I felt that some real learning has taken place.

Day 1 of a 2-day project: painting a watercolor ocean while
listening to Handel's "Water Music"
I've had kids start writing about ocean animals. I made a book that I wouldn't have had time to make otherwise. We had children use big words like "camouflage" and "mammal." We looked at gills and had a discussion about animals that breathe underwater for ten minutes. The best part of that is that it was led by the kids. It helped that I had the laptop for instant research and gratification.

Part 2: creating and cutting animals for their ocean. You can see
a purple smiling fish on the left.

Last week, I realized something: I've had time to breathe.  My center toys are staying out longer. I'm slowly adding more pictures because now we have time.  My biggest worry was that the kids would no longer be interested, but they've been diving into it right there with me, getting more excited about it.
One of the kids decided to teach the class about the whale poster on the wall. He was asking questions to them.

Not every child is interested in the theme, and that's ok.  Because these past few weeks, my focus has been on skills that I wanted the children to learn.  Of course they've always been there, but they've been closely tied to the theme; this week, my objectives are more general. Observe and record. Question.
Making animals from shapes. I wish I could show you his face; he was so proud when he made one!

I went to school to be an elementary teacher, where the focus was on what students needed to learn. Themes were secondary and only there to help the children learn the material in an interesting way.
I used to think that preschool was completely different but as I've had time to prepare more materials this week and focus less on "activities," I realize they're not so different after all.
I provided paper, watercolors, and glitter. They made a beach.

As for the NC Foundations, we've covered them. Explore. Question. Write for various purposes. Research. Observe. Learn letters and phonics skills. Use technology.

Of course you know all this, but it can get easy to get bogged down in the rush.

So, again, I remind you.  Breathe.  Relax.  Play. Explore. And the learning will come.


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