Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dot Painters

Dot Painting

Dot painters come by various names: bingo markers, do-a-dots, and dotters, among others. They are simple but can help kids explore a new tool for painting.

Adults usually restrict themselves to dotting with dot painters. But young children don’t have this preconception about what they’re for. They typically drag them like brushes across the page until they see someone else banging them. The child in this picture figured out how to squeeze the bottle so hard the paint dribbled out and then waved the bottle around to make splashes. Luckily Mom knew to dress her child in an old shirt for school, even if it WAS white!

Child often pound so hard that the dots look more like splashes. If you haven’t tried it, do! It’s fun and for adults it’s a little like therapy. Children also like to try to peel the pads off the top. Peeling is one of those things I redirect from since once that top is off you can’t put it back on effectively.

I use dot painters at the easel and on a table for different perspectives. Changing the angle of something makes it a slightly different experience. Dot painters are great to take outside because it’s really easy to clean mulch and dirt off them, which you can’t say for many kinds of brushes.

We have two kinds of dot painters at school. Some are refillable and some are not. The refillable ones take awhile to get the paint from the bottle into the pad, but it’s nice to be able to select your own colors or let the children pick. The non-refillable ones seem to work a little better, but your color choices are limited and sometimes the bottles can’t be reused for anything, which is wasteful. Refill dot painters with liquid watercolor or food coloring mixed with water.

A note of caution: some bingo markers are NOT nontoxic and washable. Buy dotters labeled for use with children.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Record Player Art (and Associated Experiments)

Record Player Art

Do you have an old, sturdy record player hanging around?  Use it to make some fun art!

We have two, large, heavy, institutional-type record players that we use for art.  One still has a needle, so we tape down the arms securely.  Since these things are heavy-duty we let the kids control the turntable.  One of them even lets you change the speed.

In general we use paper plates because the turntables are grooved and regular paper won’t sit well on them.  I’m lazy, so I just push the plate on the knob that sticks up from the turntable.  Other teachers punch holes in advance, which does make it a bit easier for the kids.  You can use anything that draws, but markers seem to work better than crayons because you don’t need to press as hard.

Of course, eventually someone will put something on the turntable while it’s spinning.  Usually we spend some time experimenting with different objects and speeds to see what it takes to make something fly off.  Much giggling follows each successful trial, as you can imagine.  Luckily these things don’t get far or fly fast. 

You can also use record players as spin art machines, but you have to be careful not to get any paint on the machine while not blocking the air holes.  Use thinned paint to get it to spread the farthest, and test it before the kids arrive.

What about actual records?  We don’t have any at school anymore, unfortunately.  My own son, when he was in preschool, was asked by a classmate if he knew what a record was (the teachers were overheard talking about them).  In typical kid fashion, he replied:

“I think records are really big CDs for old people.”

Monday, May 25, 2009

Why Yes, We Have Indoor Running Water

Gutter to the Sensory Table

We often think of the sensory table as holding objects that the children manipulate but are unchanging without the children present.  If you’ve got a 2-year-old in your life you know they are fascinated by running water.  One option is to let them play in the sink.  But sometimes that’s not desirable or you’re looking for something a little different.  So why not add a little running water to your sensory table?

Here I’ve moved our sensory table to be nearer to the sink than it normally is.  We have guttering outside in the sand areas so kids can build water paths, so we cleaned some off and used duct tape to attach it to our classroom faucet.  We tried propping it up, but the kids kept knocking it over when they tried to put things in it.  Our classroom is lucky enough to have a second sink nearby, so we were still able to easily keep hands clean while we had our gutter.

Along with typical water stuff we also supplied different kinds of floating and sinking balls that they could roll down the gutter.  They tried putting just about everything small that was in the room (not just balls) down the gutter and got a good sense of what would work and what wouldn’t.  We talked about floating, sinking, rolling, sliding, friction, size, and weight, among other things.

The tricky thing with this setup is the drain.  We had to keep an eye on the water level to make sure that it got drained frequently.  If you’re doing this outside with a hose, just set your drain to let water out as the water comes in.  Otherwise, an adult with a bucket has to be on standby most of the time.  The kids enjoyed helping to drain the table, so we never reached overflow.  I also recommend keeping the water flow small.  If you’re outside, go for a higher flow or let the kids control the flow.

If you’re at home, rig up something that goes from your sink to somewhere else, maybe the floor with some towels.  You can use a small hose, some gutter, or plastic tubing.  Outside is probably the best place for home water play, but the tub is a viable option as well though not as novel.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What One Teacher Wants at the End of the Year

To my way of thinking, the best teacher gifts fall into a few simple categories.  I’ll go on at length (maybe too much length) about each one below.

  1. Child-made items not meant to be kept forever.
  2. Consumables (to be spent or physically consumed).
  3. Things for the classroom.

Child-Made Items Not Meant to be Kept Forever
I confess to being one of those saps who is perfectly happy with a child-created piece of art as an end-of-the-year thank you.  As long as no one expects that I will keep it forever, they CAN expect that I’m likely to keep it displayed all summer so I can smile even though I’m not with my students.  After that, well, it probably won’t stick around too long. 

I also like homemade food, just like I like homemade art.  Just keep the quantities small.  Even if you’re the only person to give me food, I honestly don’t want to share it with my family.  They don’t know who gave it to me or why that child is special to me.  It’s my private reward.  Yes, I DO love my family, but there are some things that are best appreciated alone.  Besides, if everyone decides to make me food I’ll probably have to throw some away and that’s just wrong.  I like cookies that kids decorated, foods native to someone’s home country, or foods that have special family meaning if you’re willing to share the story and the recipe with me.

Consumables fall into two major categories of their own: gift cards/certificates and food/drink with some small exceptions.

In the gift card department, try to pick something you know the teacher will like.  Bookstores are usually a hit.  I got a $5 gift card this year that will be just perfect for some book I see in a sale bin for a spur-of-the-moment purchase I normally would skip.  I don’t need huge gift cards that make me feel guilty, though I’m sure some teachers would disagree with that.  Educational stores are great to get cards from since teachers spend so much of their own money educating your children.  But don’t neglect home improvement and garden places if your teacher owns a home.  Go in with a few parents to make it impressive.  For a really practical gift, go with a discounter that your teacher is likely to shop in.  Also consider if the store charges a fee on the card or if the card will expire.  As organized as many teachers are, gift cards might not get spent right away and you don’t want your money wasted if your card just happens to get lost in the back of a desk drawer for a few months.

Far and away, my favorite consumable is chocolate.  For chocolate, go small and good.  This year someone gave me some local handcrafted chocolate.  Just 5 pieces, but it’s something I never would have purchased for myself.  I have eaten 2 pieces so far and they were extraordinary.  I also had one international family bring me some chocolate from their home country.  What a thoughtful way to share with me.  As each bite melts in my mouth I think about how lucky I was to share the year with them.

Some teachers like to go out.  I think it’s hard to know where they like to go unless you’ve actually discussed it.  If they have kids, they might not be able to use the gift card until they can afford a sitter for the evening.  You might consider a gift card to a local restaurant that’s unique if your teacher is adventurous in that way.

Another gift I loved was a packet of flower seeds that came from a family’s favorite small seed producer.  I didn’t have to take care of it right away, it didn’t clutter my classroom, and I enjoyed the flowers that grew in my garden all summer.  Just pick an easy-care variety, please.  There’s a reason people don’t give me live plants anymore!

Things for the Classroom
If you want to buy something for the classroom, take a look around it.  Is there a LEGO bin but only one set of wheels out of a zillion pieces?  Go in with a few other families for a pack of some toy that’s missing pieces or something new the teacher mentioned.  Did someone lose two books out of an eight book set this year?  Replace those books and make sure you put something on the inside cover about how it’s a gift for the teacher and who gave it.  Ask your kids.  If they ever voiced frustration over there not being enough of something, that might be the thing to get.

The school office might also be taking up a collection for a larger item that everyone can use.  Over the winter holidays this year our parents collected money and got each set of classrooms a digital camera.  Nothing fancy, but now I can share with families what’s going on AND I don’t have any clutter to store.  Our director takes care of the technology over the summer by storing it in a secure location.

What NOT to Get
What teachers hate: clutter.  No cutesy stuff, please.  You may be crafty, but so are half the other parents.  If it’s something that has to be held onto forever it’s eventually going to be something that I dread moving or storing.  Or I might spend needless time worrying about it getting broken or soiled.  You don’t want me to think of your child that way, really.  Photos are fine because I keep a little file of them, but a big scrapbook is just unnecessary unless it’s the whole class in one smallish book and no one else is going to give me one.  One year the families in my son’s pre-K class made a book where the kids dictated or drew their favorite things about pre-K.  The book was made to be sturdy so it could be kept in the classroom on the bookshelf.  Every time I help out in that room I see some child looking at the book and it’s been two years since my son was in the class.  It has relevance and meaning to everyone in the room and will for years to come.

Imagine if you had 20+ children and each child wanted to give you something.  Now imagine that you’ve been having that many kids give you things for a decade or more.  A new teacher might like the “stuff” but the rest of us typically don’t.  Not that we’re ungrateful, we’re just overwhelmed.

So, teachers and parents, what do you think?  Got a good idea, funny story, or a favorite gift?  Share!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Taking Things Outside

Crayons Outside

As I’ve said, we like to go outside whenever possible.  We sometimes leave our classroom door open so kids can wander in and out to the play yard at will.  When we do that we move some of our usual indoor things outside.

Here is a crayon setup from earlier in the year.  With the twos I often secure paper down so they don’t have to worry about it moving while they work with things that have some resistance, like crayons.  As they get better at it I remove the tape or whatever I’m using to secure the paper down.  This is a picture of a little table that can be flipped over to make a seesaw.  I’ve taped the paper down.  There are actually several layers of paper so I can pull them off as needed without taping down more paper while children are waiting.  At the beginning of the year the children aren’t as attached to the product as they become over the course of the year, so multiple children worked on this piece before someone was ready for a fresh piece of paper.

Outdoor Xylophone

The picture on the right is a nice musical instrument the music teacher brought outside.  It’s closely related to the xylophone, but darn it all if I can’t remember what its true name is.  Anyway, this is not an outdoor instrument.  It has to be pulled back inside at the end of the day.  The children are used to seeing it in our gross motor room, so having it outside is a real treat.  I took this picture before school started.  I don’t think it sat idle for more than a few minutes all morning. 

In addition to moving things like this outside, we also try to have regular classroom things outside.  In the toddler yard we added a small play kitchen.  For the older children there are various large building toys.  We bring books outside and leave them on blankets or benches.  Obviously, our music teacher comes outside and brings all her cart full of instruments with her.  All of this is in addition to our permanent outdoor offerings, like sand and water (and associated toys), and play structures.  We try very hard to make the outdoors a true extension of our indoor classrooms.

What I want you to notice is that we aren’t afraid to take our indoors out whenever possible.  There are some things that don’t go outside, like our classroom shopping cart, because we’ve learned from painful experience that some of those things just can’t endure the use they’ll get outside.  But we push the limits wherever possible and accept that some things may get used up.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Outdoor Painting on Plexiglass

Plexiglass Wall

The weather is getting very nice here and that makes me move everyone outside.  We like to take many of our indoor activities to the play yard when it's nice, but sometimes it's nice to have a little specialized equipment.

This first picture is a plexiglass wall that divides a small deck that stretches between the toddler yard and the 3s/4s yard (we often leave the gate open between them, so this distinction is really in the minds of the teachers only).  It can be painted on from either side.  It's starting to get a little weathered and cloudy, but you can still see through it.  The nice thing is that it's two activities in one.  The kids can paint first, and then clean it off.  We've used brushed with water, sponges, the hose, and wet towels to wash it off, but I'm sure you could think of some other ideas.

Another nice thing to have is a plexiglass easel.  The nice thing about it is thatPlexiglass Easel you can move it around, unlike the wall.  We also bring our regular easels out, but we have just one of these see-through ones and it's always a hit.  Maybe the fun is in painting directly on the easel with no paper or that you can see what the other person is doing on the side at the same time.  I don't know, but it's cool.  Sometimes I think the adults are more taken with it than the kids are!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Food Allergy Party

If you've got a Twitter account and you're around today between 12pm and 1pm or 10:30pm and 11:30pm Eastern Time, tweet with #foodallergy in your post to be included in the food allergy party. It's going on right now and there are lots of interesting conversations.

Many food allergies are found during the preschool years and often discovered in a day care setting. Don't be out of the loop with food allergies!

Sensory Goo

Cornstarch Goo in the Sensory Table

And now for the second dose of cornstarch goo…

This time I made the goo at school.  It took forever to cool, so partway into class I separated it into three bowls and tossed them in the fridge.  This turned out to be a good thing! 

For the first hour of class kids kept asking me why the table was empty.  I told them there would be something fun to put in it later, which turned into a debate topic among the kids.  Very interesting conversations indeed.

Once the goo was cold I added blue and red to two parts and left one part white.  Then I just dumped it into the sensory table.  It really did feel like hair gel.  Since one boy managed to get splatted on the head with a glob I can tell you it works like hair gel too when it's dry.  Several children spread the goo on their arms.  The fact that it was cold was something everyone remarked on, and I will probably refrigerate the next batch on purpose.

The best part?  Clean-up is a breeze.  It just rinses off.  Even if it dries before you get a chance to clean it, it still rinses right away.  While you could make prints with this you'd have to add a lot more color to it than I did.  When it dried on things the color was very pale.

Allergy note:  Again, because of the cornstarch this is not a good choice for corn allergic students.  If you really like how this feels you could investigate cheap hair gel as an alternative.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Emergent Curriculum Success in a Traditional School

This presentation was by several people from the Stanley Clark School, including their atelierista, which was nice. I took pages and pages of notes and had to leave to meet the person I drove to the conference with when the questions continued past the end of the session.

I was mostly interested in how students who start with a Reggio-inspired preschool experience do when they get to grade school. In this instance, Kindergarten is done at the preschool and the children move to first grade in the more traditional part of the program. The teachers told us that the kids from the preschool did fine academically but as they got older their current teachers report that the children from the preschool are very curious and ask a lot of questions. That's not always what elementary teachers want, but it is what the preschool teachers hoped would happen.

The school environment uses natural materials and the children can get to almost everything themselves. They use see-through containers, including glass, so that children who can't yet read can see what's in each container. The decorations of the room are child-created and the teachers strive to create a beautiful environment that reflects the people inhabiting it.

The curriculum is built around what the children are interested in. It's emergent and project-based.

Each class is documented daily, which lots of images. The children's work is displayed in a way that demonstrates value for the work. In the 3/4s class they make progress portfolios. The 4/5s class makes DVDs and interviews students on topics studies. There are also keepsake portfolios for parents.

They went on to discuss several of the projects the children have worked on this year. Hearing from the atelierista on how she integrates the project work into the art studio was very interesting.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Table-Sized Squishy Bag

Big Squishy Bag Before Kids Now that I've got the goo, I've got to do something with it.  Since my original idea was to make something large, I got lucky to find a large roll of cellophane slowly getting old in our supply room.  With one piece underneath and another for the top, I sealed it with clear packing tape.  I made three different colors of goo and sandwiched it between the cellophane.  It ended up the size of our small square table.  Now that I write this I wish I'd measured it!

The large squishy bag was passed along to several other teachers before the goo inside got too watery to be fun.  Even once the colors were all mixed together into a weird purple after two days, kids still enjoyed it.

While we value letting kids Big Squishy Bag With Kidsget messy, there are some children who simply don't like the feel of ooey things on their fingers.  Activities like squishy bags let them get some of the sensations without the part they dislike.  This activity can be done on an easel for a "no mess" day.  One class used it on the light table to much delight.

Allergy note: Because the goo is made from cornstarch, this activity is inappropriate for children with a corn allergy.  Parents might be willing to risk it if the goo is contained like it is here, but there is always the chance it might leak.

Big Squishy Bag After Kids

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cornstarch Goo (or Gel, if you don't like to say Goo in polite company)

Hot Goo Here is something that stewed in my brain for awhile before it became a reality.  At the NAEYC 2007 conference I heard someone talk about putting paint in between two layers of contact paper to provide a squishy surface for kids who don't want to touch gooey things.  But try as I might, I couldn't get it to be at all fun or interesting.  I wanted something larger than a zip bag that I could put on the easel or over our small square table.  I tried adding things to the paint to make it thicker.  I tried putting it on paper and then using one layer of contact paper on top of it.  But it was boring.  Nobody liked it.  Even I thought it was lame.  (If you've done something like this, please share the secret!)

Our music teacher suggested I try some sort of gel.  We use hair gel in small squishy bags, but you're somewhat at the mercy of hair gel manufacturers when it comes to color and you can't always get hair gel in large quantities at dollar stores when you want it.  The music teacher suggested corn starch but didn't know what proportion of water to corn starch would be best.

Then I came across a similar idea in The Toddlers Busy Book.  The recipe is very simple:

3 cups cold water
1/4 cup corn starch

Combine the water and corn starch in a cold pot or pan.  Stir constantly while heating and remove it from heat just as it beings to boil.  Allow to cool before storing.

Cool Goo Wow.  Super simple.  It looked smooth and creamy, like pudding, while it was still warm and then got more like gelatin as it cooled.  Once it was completely cooled it was as though I had made some soft gelatin and then mixed it.  It wasn't pretty, but it definitely looked like it had potential.

Now, what to do with it?  I used it two different ways, which I'll talk about on Wednesday and Friday.  Why the secrecy?  I want YOU to tell me your ideas.  If someone handed you cornstarch goo, what would you doo?

Allergy note: This recipe contains corn, which makes it inappropriate for students with a corn allergy.  If you put it in squishy bags it might be acceptable, but check with parents first.  There's always the risk that the bag might leak.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words: Using Documentation to Increase Family Involvement

This presentation was from the Burris Lab School at Ball State, the only lab school left in the state. Specifically, they talked about how using the Gallery of Teaching and Learning at the Carnegie Foundation allowed them to give parents an inside view into their children's daily activities. The documentation was done by students in the teacher education program for lessons that they planned and executed.

Renee Huffman and Eva Zygmunt-Fillwalk, the presenters, talked about how the #1 predictor of academic success is family involvement. When families can see what happened at school they are more sensitive, accepting, and affectionate with their children. Students perform and behave better. Teachers report a higher self-esteem, feel more respected, have higher job satisfaction and increased community support when families are involved. Schools which communicate better have a better reputation, more community support, and ultimately better performance.

Renee and Eva suggested using any media you have available to you to document what goes on in your classroom, including notes, tape recorders, video recorders, and cameras. They share things online and provide computers in the library for families that don't have a computer at home, but you can also document things on the walls at school or in newsletters.

I confess to being weak in sharing documentation. I talk with my parents frequently and we schedule conferences for more formal discussion but I don't always get around to sharing all the pictures I take. Perhaps it's related to my storytelling weakness!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mother's Day Pots

Pot and PaintsGiving Moms flowers or plants is very traditional for Mother's Day, at least in the U.S. Last year we bagged up dirt with the children and sent them home with some seeds and a pot that they painted. This year, given that we've had our garbage garden going for awhile, we decided to help them plant zinnia seeds in their painted pots to give to their Moms.

As usual we had a few who weren't interested in it and some for whom we needed to get extra pots that could be painted or filled with dirt. Even though terracotta pots don't hold the paint on as long as plastic ones do we always pick terracotta for our class because we want the pots to be reused either as drainage shards or smashed and composted. Once a plastic pot breaks it can only go into the landfill.

To round out this edition of Gardening With Small Children In An Enclosed Space, here are some shots of our grass plants and garbage garden progressing. See if you can spot the potatoes, which are actually growing!

Watering the Garden
Garbage Garden with Sprouting Potatoes

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sending Sick Kids Home

I really thought this time of year was over. You know, the time of year when germy kids come to school and you just have to grin and bear it because you know they aren't really sick enough to send home but you're tired of wiping their noses and being sneezed on. Now it's just spring allergy time, which I totally don't mind.

But today I had to kick a kid out of class today for illness. I've never done that before against a child's will. Usually they're miserable and they want to go home. *sigh* Here's the scoop.

A child who had been out two days ago (the last day we had class together) with a fever came late today. When she arrived the parent helper was setting up snack inside while the class played outside. First her adult took her to the office and then she went to the classroom. When I realized she had entered the building but hadn't come out to play after a long time, I went to the classroom to make sure the parent helper was getting along OK with the student in the room.

When I got to the room the student was helping to set up snack (thank goodness today we had a packaged snack, and you won't hear me say that often!). Her adult informed me that the student couldn't go outside today because she didn't feel well enough to. I must've felt snappish, because I immediately told the adult that if she didn't feel well enough to go outside, then she shouldn't be at school. Her adult said to me, "That's what I said to her but she wanted to come." Ummm, who's the grown-up here, anyway? Apparently, the student now has a sore throat. This family is a bit germophobic because she can't get a flu shot, and now they're bringing their germy daughter to school to SHARE her germs???

Luckily, my director was in the hall and between the two of us we eased said child and her adult out of the building. But it was a struggle. After they left my director said they had come to the office with the same story and she told them to go home but they didn't. I'm glad she and I were on the same page because that could have been a nasty scene.

So, what would you do? Do you think we did the right thing? We have a family at school who will be returning from a trip to Mexico in a few days and the director's asked them to stay at home for 7 days after they return. Is that reasonable to you? We generally leave it up to parents to decide if their kids are feeling well enough for school, but I also can't babysit one child inside and still take the rest of the class outside.

Your True Colors

This Knowlunch session was just plain fun. I talked one of my coworkers into coming with me so I wouldn't feel like such a dork. She had already done a color personality-type workshop so she knew what to expect.

The presenter, who runs a child care center, talked about the history of personality profiling and how coming up with a "sticky" method of coding it so people could remember was important. I didn't write any of it down, but the guy who created Your True Colors is one such person.

We went through some exercises to determine our dominant traits, which were assigned colors. We then met in groups with other people of the same dominant colors to talk about the things we liked and didn't like.

The presenter talked about how this information can be used to adjust how you deal with people so that you are working in a way that's good for you. For example, an analytical person doesn't need to have the same level of touchy-feely conversation before getting down to business as a romantic personality.

While I can see how this information is somewhat practical, I found it to be mostly fun. Since my brain was starting to fry from the rest of the conference it was a good break.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Make a Large Indoor Structure With No Ends


Twos and threes are NOT master builders.  There may be a few who can build in each class, but most of them just mess around with the materials.  That's a good thing, at it helps them to learn, but occasionally it's nice for them to see progress.

These large No Ends are just the ticket.  This was the first time we've used them with the young threes class.  I set up the base as a small cube so they could see what the potential was and the kids added the rest.  For many of them it was about getting a little proprioceptive input as they pushed the rods into the connectors, with no notice of the result.

I provided different swaths of fabric to cover the structure with, but nobody wanted to cover it, even with see-through tulle.

Since these building toys are plastic (recyclable, apparently) they can be used outside and hosed off.  We usually use them in our large motor room, but on this day I brought them into our classroom because it was stormy outside.

The link above is where you can buy them.  For more information on No Ends, visit the No Ends website.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Contact Paper Frames

Contact Paper FramesHere's an easy art activity that parents seem to enjoy as much as children. Plus, it's instant window art if you're not feeling very inspired.

First, cut a frame out of paper. I usually pick rectangles because I'm just not that great with scissors. With rectangles you can get several different sizes of frames out of one piece of paper. Then, cut some contact paper slightly smaller than your rectangle. Next, stick the contact paper to the frame. Last, put the contact paper backing back on the frame to keep it from sticking to things before you're ready to use it.

We set out all kinds of things for kids to stick to the contact paper. Tissue paper and glitter are no-fail options. Since you can immediately stick these up in your windows, you can let the kids experiment with how much stuff they can stick before their art won't stick to the window anymore.

As you let the kids work, save the backing paper. If you don't plan on using the frames to decorate at school, when the kids are done use the saved backing paper to protect their art for the trip home. Once home, parents can take off the backing to stick it to their own windows or to back the frame with coordinating paper for display elsewhere.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bye Bye, Blog List

My wonderful husband (he really is wonderful, despite what I'm about to post) just upgraded our computer. He backed up everything except my list of blogs that I follow in my dinky little reader. So, if you think I may follow you, please comment here! I try to keep up with everyone who's posted a comment as well as lots of other people.

So my apologies to all those people I love to read. I don't usually post tons of comments so you don't even know I'm there. My sweetheart has promised to get me set up so no matter how many times he rebuilds the machine I'll have all my stuff going forward.

Keynote Address: Rob Cleveland

Rob Cleveland is a storyteller and actor who is a storyteller-in-residence at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. WOW. I was blown away by how motivating he is. He told some great stories and talked about how important storytelling is from a cultural perspective but also from a learning perspective. I ended up attending his session immediately following the keynote (the session I originally wanted was full) and I'm so glad I did.

Stories are the way cultures learn. Religious books are full of stories. If you forget your stories you forget where you came from, which can have disastrous consequences. Rob told us a story that comes from the sea gypsies near where the tsunami took so many lives a few years ago. But because these people, who lived on an island and had no other resources, had a story that related to the behavior of the ocean right before a tsunami, not a single one died. This is the power of storytelling.

When children listen to a story they are practicing their listening skills. Stories are the precursors to books for very young children. They provide lessons and morals that are harder to learn from adult lecturing but make complete sense when told through a story.

Rob is part of Story Cove, which provides free stories and videos. Registration is free to watch the stories and the books are available for sale. He is also part of Operation Storybook, which gets books into the hands of children.

I must say that I am so motivated to learn to tell stories that I've already checked several books out of the library, including the classic Storyteller's Start-Up Book by Margaret MacDonald, which Rob recommended. I feel storytelling is a weakness of mine. Since I work with very small children they aren't always ready to sit and look at a book as a group. But I've noticed they are very interested in flannelboard stories and stories they hear while they play.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Keynote Musical Guest: Don Monopoli of The Learning Station

I confess to having issues with adults who dress up in costumes to entertain children, but I suppose I can live with a vaguely train engineer-ish outfit. Don Monopoli did an admirable job keeping the adults at the conference entertained for a full 30 minutes despite only having a CD player on stage with him. Maybe the other two members of his group needed the day off. He was appropriately humorous and never once asked us to buy his stuff, either that or I didn't notice.

I also want to point out that he did at least two songs that Dr. Jean did the day before: The Tooty Ta and Going On a Bear Hunt. His renditions were not in the least offensive and I really COULD see myself presenting those songs his way. For example, instead of using candy-related locations for Bear Hunt, he used nature items as obstacles. So, I guess I learned that just because I don't like the way someone performed something doesn't mean I can't make it my own later.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Frosting Play Dough (No-Cook and Gluten-Free!)

Making Frosting Play DoughWe usually use play dough that teachers make at home because of the heat required (older classes will use an electric skillet in the classroom, but remember that I'm working with 2s and 3s here). But sometimes it's nice to make some no-cook play dough with the kids. It doesn't last as long or feel as smooth as the kind you cook, but we recently made some that felt just like frosting. And who wouldn't want to play with frosting? Oddly enough, not one child tried to taste it, which is more than I can say for our usual play dough antics.


- rice flour (roughly 3 parts)
- salt (roughly 1 part)
- vegetable oil, a glub or two
- water, until it feels good
- liquid watercolor, until you think it's nice to look at

We started with the ingredients in a bowl with some spoons for mixing, but after awhile we just dumped the dough onto the table. The kids could ask for more flour or water and we'd give them some in a small container to add as they saw fit. This particular class is known for dumping, so large quantities of ingredients would have been gone within seconds.
Starting Dough in a Bowl
This small project kept most of the class busy for about 20 minutes and around half of them busy for 45 minutes. After awhile even the calls for more water or rice flour died down. We eventually brought out some objects to use with the dough, but most of the time was spent simply manipulating it.

Many parents and teachers are surprised to learn that traditional and most commercial play doughs have wheat flour as the base. You can buy gluten-free dough, but it's expensive. Rice flour is more expensive than wheat flour, but it's cheaper than buying commercial gluten-free dough. Since the rice flour is very fine you get a different texture than with traditional dough. One teacher's husband at my school is a food distributor, so this year we have been able to get our rice flour at cost.

I highly recommend finding a source of alternative flours, particularly soy and rice, even if you don't have gluten-free students. We have a cooked dough recipe that uses rice flour and is just divine (a post for another day). I've never felt anything like it made with wheat. Different flours make different textures. Even whole wheat flour is a nice addition if allergies aren't a concern.