Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hidden Pictures

Finding the pictureHere’s one of those great ideas that came from someone else.  Simply put, these are pictures hidden by sand.  A teacher I shared a classroom with on alternate days came up with this idea that 1) used up some of the mixed craft sand that was sitting around in the supply room, 2) let the kids play with hiding and finding, and 3) let the kids practice fine motor skills with a variety of tools.

We have several biomedical firms in town and they leave these huge stacks of plastic trays at the recycling center.  They are incredibly useful, and since they’re free we don’t have to worry too much about keeping them nice.  The trays are over an inch deep and are clear, so there are all kinds of possibilities with them.  In this case, my co-worker cut some magazine pictures out and taped them to the bottom of the trays.  Then she put just enough colored sand in the trays to cover the art and place a variety of instruments (paint brushes, feathers, sponges, etc.) around to use for moving the sand.  I’m sure you can guess that other instruments were brought from all over the room to try, but that’s part of the fun (yes, that’s a toilet paper roll in the bottom picture).  We put the trays in the sensory table to minimize escaped sand, but you can just as easily keep these on a table if you think your kids will keep them upright and not get too crazy with the paint brushes.

If I were making this myself I might take some pictures of the kids in the room or their parents to use as the picture to find.  You could also use other things to hide the pictures, such as plain sand or rice.  What I like about this little project is that it can be done entirely with recycled materials (with the exception of the tape or glue you use) and costs pretty much nothing.  Free is good, people!

While the picture is hidden

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Soap Drawing

Soap Drawing
Here’s one of those ideas that happened because I was denied the ability to execute the plan.  The story:

We often plan around a vague theme just so we have a hook to hold on to and have an easier time trying to figure out which bits to extend based on what interests the kids.  We aren’t explicit with the parents about these themes because they’re just a launching pad.  We had been playing with vibrant colors and dark backgrounds as well as black/white/gray.  One day we had planned to use our fancy Bev Bos chalk at one of the tables.  It’s called Bev Bos chalk because we but it from her (she doesn’t seem to sell it on her website or I would have linked it; I think we got it at a conference).  They are large, rectangular bits of chalk that you’re supposed to use wet.  They are very vibrant, particularly on dark paper.  They also have an interesting feel to them when you’re using them, neither draggy like regular chalk nor smooth like slick sticks.All kinds of soap

When one of us went to the supply room to pull out the chalk, it wasn’t there.  We couldn’t find who was using it, either.  That probably meant that it was in a room somewhere, drying out from the last class who used it (this stuff takes forever to dry).  We were bummed.  The kids were going through a drawing phase and we really felt they need something to draw with.  About to punt with the crayons AGAIN (white and gray crayons on dark paper, natch), we found a bin with hotel soaps in it.  Jackpot!

The beauty of the soap is that it leaves a nice mark on dark paper.  The mark feels like a crayon mark, which makes you wonder what’s in that soap.  It also smells very nice, adding a sensory dimension that we wouldn’t have gotten with our fancy chalk.  Hotel soaps come in all kinds of fancy shapes, sizes, and scents, so you can get some interesting conversations going about that (you’re doing math when you categorize things, remember?).  You can draw with the skinny edges or the big flat side of the bars.  When the soap gets crumbled and crushed, you know that it’s an easy clean-up as well as a new tactile experience.  Don’t stop the crushing, but do talk about it.  Whether you observe that when a bar of soap gets crushed there are fewer bars left to draw with for others I leave up to you.  If you can't bring yourself to "waste" anything, make some clean mud with the crushed bits and you'll feel better.

If you’ve got mouthers in your class this is only a recommended activity if you can have an adult be right at the table while your mouthers are drawing.  Also, there’s always the risk that there’s an allergen (like milk) in those soap bars.  Luckily the paper wrappers often say what’s in them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Egg Carton Art

Egg Cartons Waiting for Paint

Do you remember waaay back when I wrote about making a garbage garden?  That was lots of fun, but we had egg cartons left over.  What to do?  Clearly, the answer was, paint on them!  This is just plain old tempera paint.  We set out the separated cups as well as the solid lids.

So, why would we do such a silly thing?  Mostly, to let the kids use a three-dimensional surface while applying paint.  Later on we also brought out the crayons and markers, which tested their wrist control and hand-eye coordination. 

What I want you to resist is the temptation to MAKE something out of these.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  CATERPILLAR comes to mind, as does ANT if you’ve put out black paint.  Don’t do it!  Unless you’re working with older preschoolers, who sometimes want to make a product, anything you create with these or help them create isn’t really theirs, it’s yours.  The kids know it’s not theirs and they won’t care about it or play with it later.  Parents will just toss the thing in the trash since they aren’t sure you can recycle things with googly eyes, glue, and pipe cleaners.

If you can’t resist doing things with these, have the kids help you make a mobile for the whole class to enjoy.  Or use them to decorate a patch of dirt, explaining to the kids that over time these little cups of cardboard will help make better dirt for plants to grow in (just be sure you’re using planet-safe paint).  You could even use these as little cups for seeds that you plan on planting later.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

We Did It!

Holy cow, we got accredited!  And not just barely, either. You only have to pass around 80% of the requirements and we had everything in the 90s% or 100%. Our classroom got a measly 94%! Woo hoo!

The visitation day was less stressful than I thought it would be. The visitor came to rooms based on a pre-printed schedule. She took notes and looked in cabinets and on shelves, but what was really nice is that she sat on the floor and talked with any child who wandered over. I wouldn't say she was overly friendly because she had a lot of paperwork to do, but she paused whenever a kiddo came over. She was really, really nice.

Since our program is part time she spent the mornings in the classrooms and the afternoons going through portfolios. I'm so glad I'm not her! The portfolio business didn't look like much fun, and since I know what was in mine I feel very sorry for her.

The areas where NAEYC felt we had room for improvement were science and technology. The technology part I totally get. Because many of our families are middle class or in grad school the program has made a decision not to have computers and televisions in the classrooms. The kids are only with us for a few mornings a week, so we feel it's more important to give them experiences and interactions than technology, which they will likely get at home. As for the science, all I can say is that many of us may have unconsciously chosen less-messy activities on the visitation days in case we needed to answer the visitor's questions, therefore making it more difficult for us to demonstrate our commitment to science education.

Many of us felt that as long as we did well on health and safety that our program would pretty much speak for itself. I think I agree in that the classroom visits probably would have gone well even without all our stressing. We do a pretty good job in keeping up with the current requirements on an ongoing basis. I know in our classroom we only made minor changes and I don't think they were all that critical.

So, for those of you going through this now, good luck! You can do it!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chenille Stems and Styrofoam

Chenille Stems in Styrofoam

I am beginning to feel like the styrofoam crusader.  I love the stuff.  I don’t love what it does to our planet though, so when someone drops me a load of styrofoam and asks if I can do anything with it, I tell them yes.  Better to use it until it’s unusable then to throw it out, right?  You’ve seen us use our brute strength to hammer in golf tees.  Here’s an activity with a little more finesse.

This lovely square of styrofoam was decorated mainly by one child with a little help from a few others occasionally.  She spent a solid 20 minutes carefully inserting chenille stems (pipe cleaners to you old fogies) into the styrofoam.  That’s not an easy task since the stems bend if you hold them too far away from the tip.  So it’s an exercise in fine motor control as well as pressure sensitivity, both important things to develop for writing later in life.

The trick with styrofoam is to find the stuff that doesn’t shred into a million little balls as soon as you start poking it.  That stuff isn’t fit to be used by twos and threes.  You end up chunks of torn styrofoam all over the place and then the custodian comes to talk to you for damaging the vacuum cleaner (again).

After you’re done you can keep the piece in your room as sculpture or have everyone help you pull the stems out again so you can start fresh another time.  Just don’t put it in the landfill!

Before it Became Art

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Don't Let the Paint Boogies Get You Down

After a nice spring break this photo is what greeted me in the supply room when I went to fill the day's paint cups.  Cool!  No more paint boogies!

For the uninitiated, when you use pumps with tempera paint they have a tendency to get clogged with dried paint, AKA "boogies," or "boogers," depending on your personal preference.  Even if you use the pumps everyday, the paint still dries.  When you use a pump that has boogers in it, you start the day covered in paint yourself since the paint goes flying everywhere but down depending on how hard you pushed on that sucker.  It's a real pain to clean pumps out, too.  You have to soak them and force water through them, so they generally don't get cleaned out more than is absolutely necessary ("necessary" defined as, "most of the staff is cursing the pumps this morning").

This is an idea that our music teacher/co-director thought up.  She made little chenille stem (pipe cleaner, for us old folks) plugs for the pumps to keep the paint from drying inside.  Brilliant!

I was the first person to use the pumps after spring break and THEY ALL WORKED!  Not a single one was clogged and I went nuts with the colors.

We used to have a sign in the supply room that read: "Watch Out for Paint Boogers" to remind us to block the potential spray with whatever container we would be using for paint.  Well, no more!  At least, I hope not!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Almost As Good As A Cardboard Box

Box With Holes

Everyone who spends any time with children knows that the box something comes in is usually more fun than the thing that was in the box, right?  The only thing better than those boxes are the REALLY big appliance boxes.  But, heaven forbid, your box gets boring, what should you do?

Cut holes in it!  A couple of teachers I work with came up with this creation for twos based on an activity they saw in a book (sorry, but I don’t know the title).  The holes are big enough to let extra large pom poms and paper towel/toilet paper tubes go through.  A few of the children figured out how to balance a tube in a hole and then roll pom poms into the box that way.

To spice it up we let them decorate the box, both inside and out, with crayon and marker drawings.  When the box was sitting on the floor some of the children got in the box to push the tubes and poms back out.  When no one felt like doing that, dumping was all the rage as it often is in our class.

So go raid your recycle bin and get some boxes!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Food Allergies at School: Keeping Kids Safe Without Making Ourselves Nuts (a working title)

colorstatelogo_wordless What do you think of that title above?  That’s the name of my presentation at the next conference of the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children.  My proposal was accepted!  It’s April 9-10 in Indianapolis.  Now, I need some of your thoughts.

As I’m working on my presentation my list is getting huge for what I want teachers to know.  I only have a little over an hour to talk.  So I want to know what YOU think are the most important things.  This conference is for educators who work with children from birth through age 8 (second or third grade).

Parents:  If you could only tell a teacher 3 things about your child’s allergies, what would they be?  Alternatively, what things have you seen or had happen to you that could have been prevented if the teacher knew whatever-it-was?

Teachers:  What do you want to know?

If you leave me a comment please let me know if I can quote you during my presentation.  I’ll credit you with the name you leave with the comment but not pass out any other information about you.

If you’re in the midwest and you have a teacher in your life who’s attending, please ask them to leave me a note here on the blog so maybe we can chat for a few minutes at the conference.  I don’t expect attendance at my presentation to be huge considering it’s a niche topic on a Saturday afternoon.  I will not have a booth or anything because I want to attend sessions myself. 

I’m excited and a little worried that I’ll miss something important.  This is a great chance to get teachers on board with food allergies.  Help me out!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Patti Whines; NAEYC Responds

A looooong time ago I posted about my frustration with the whole NAEYC accreditation process.  A NAEYC person kindly responded to my post in a comment, but at the time I was only checking mail for emergency stuff because I was spending all my waking time on my classroom portfolio.  (Did I mention that one of our spouses calculated that we were all making about $.19/hr. during that time?  I kid you not.)  Then I decided to take the month of February off from the blog after the portfolio was done to recover, freshen up my classroom, and to start going through the observation requirements, so I am feeling very bad about not thanking the nice NAEYC person (I think her name is Gina).

In fact, a nice NAEYC person CALLED MY WORK to find out if I needed more support!  Honestly, I did not expect that.  It just goes to show you how un-anonymous this whole internet thing is.  So, I have now finally moderated the comment that was left and here I’m going to put my comments on the comment.  Does that make sense?

First, again, THANK YOU NAEYC for being helpful and responsive.  I could not have hoped for more and I admit to being shocked in a good way.  It’s nice to know you’re there for the lowly teacher.

Second, my only complaint at this point is that I just don’t have the time to access the wonderful resources she listed.  I do have a TORCH account, but as I don’t have a computer at work (the office has one computer, our director has a laptop, but those are for sharing and it’s not very convenient) and even when I bring in my own laptop I can only get internet access from parts of the building, it’s inconvenient.  If those materials were sent with our application information, I apologize because I didn’t know they were there.  Again, I work in a part time program.  I am using my own personal time in many cases to do classroom planning.  If I want to do anything other than set up or clean my room it’s pretty much going to be on my own time.  All the accreditation stuff is extra (though our director found a little money to give us as a reward, which was nice but, as she calls it, just a gesture).  Anytime I have to do more digging on my own it’s taking time away from my kids, my studies, and my other obligations.  I know the other teachers were feeling somewhat resentful by the end of the classroom portfolio period, so it’s not just me.

Now the portfolio is done and we’re waiting to find out when our visitation window is.  I’m feeling pretty good about my classroom, but I certainly don’t want to be the reason we fail to achieve reaccreditation.  So I’m dreaming about it at night and occasionally going over the lists again during the day.  I’m feeling calmer and more rested now so I can put it all in perspective. 

So I feel sheepish for not being a good thanker but I still believe some tweaking needs to be done to the process.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Dance of Accreditation


This year we are going through NAEYC re-accreditation.  At the beginning of this process I looked on it as a way to reflect on my teaching and my classroom.  I had hoped that I would be able to find things that I should improve upon or at least think about.  Now, however, I’m just tired.

The accreditation process is geared toward full-time programs.  I work in a part-time program.  I have some children who I only see for four and a half hours each week.  Other teachers I know who are also being re-accredited work in places where planning time is built into their days, often for as many as two hours each day (I know, some of you barely have time to pee all day while others get nap time to themselves).  These people are in programs where the kids are with them for 40 hours or more each week.  While it’s a bit of a time pinch, they are able to spend a little time each day working on their classroom portfolios.  The teachers in my school only get paid time for set-up and clean-up each day.  We typically do planning on our own time and are often there long beyond what we are paid for.  To add accreditation on top of that is challenging, to say the least.  I chose my work because I’m available to volunteer at my own children’s school most afternoons, which means I’m not always available to spend all afternoon working on my classroom portfolio.  While we are getting paid a little extra because of the time burden, the fact of the matter is that I only have so much time to give.  You can pay me a million bucks, but I’m not going to stop seeing my family for this.

With the process being geared toward full-time programs, some of the criteria will be ones we can’t or won’t meet.  For example, we don’t use TVs or computers in our classrooms.  We don’t feel it’s developmentally appropriate, and we know that most of the kids get too much screen time at home anyway.  The criterion in question involves the appropriate use of “technology,” which could mean just about anything.  I’m going to write a paragraph on why we use physical objects rather than screens, but it seems like I shouldn’t have to prove something that should, in our minds, be standard practice.  We also don’t brush teeth.  The kids come to us after breakfast and the parents pick them up shortly after snack.  If I had to brush the teeth of each child even once a day, I’d have trouble doing all the other things I should be doing.  Heck, diaper changes sometimes eat up 20 minutes of my morning.  That’s a lot of time when the kids aren’t there that long.

Another small problem is that the classroom portfolio thing is new to the process.  We have an official IAEYC person who comes to advise us, but she doesn’t have all the answers and sometimes contradicts herself.  I went to a session at the national conference where I got to see an accepted portfolio and talk to teachers and an NAEYC person about the whole thing.  Some of the stuff we’re being told at the local level isn’t consistent with the national level perspective.  So which do we follow? 

The criteria themselves are a little strange.  Some of them are almost word-for-word copies of others, while some of them contain multiple requirements in one criterion.  So, I have to write up a separate thing for all of them, even if they’re almost the same.  I tried referencing similar ones to each other, but it got hard for my co-teachers and I to figure out which ones had been done already.  Organizationally confusing, you might say.

We are spending a ton of money on printing pictures (we’re printing wallet-size ones on regular paper, by the way, and using black-and-white rather than color when the picture is clear enough), copy paper, plastic sleeves, binders, and a host of other things.  I only use a picture when it seems to demonstrate the criterion in question.  It still seems wasteful.  I wanted to do mine all electronically, but I was told that I’d have to be able to provide a private place for the accreditors to view my portfolio.  We only have two computers for the whole school and they’re in the office, so that was a no-go.  Putting it on a CD wasn’t good enough since they assessors may or may not have a computer that could read it.

What’s also stressing is that all this time I’m spending is time that isn’t spent on the children.  I don’t have time to do extra things to make my planning or my classroom top-notch.  So, I’m documenting something that I’m not proud of.  It’s also changed how I view the children.  While I still plan for their interests, I’m also planning to get a good photo that demonstrates some criterion.  It’s pathetic.  Now I think, “Oh, if I do this activity so-and-so will totally get into it, which means I’ll have proof of such-and-such criteria.”  It’s aiming for the product rather than the process, which is against everything I believe in for early childhood education.  Of course, it’s me I’m talking about rather than the kids, so maybe I’m just feeling put out.  Sorry for the sniping.

Now, you may think that I think accreditation is a waste of time.  But the ideal is still good.  It’s good to know that an accredited program is at a certain level.  It’s important to know that the program to which you’re sending your child isn’t going to hurt them and that they are getting benefits from being there.  What I object to is the massive amount of wasted human resources.  Perhaps it’s just because of our status as a part-time program housed in a church where we don’t have control over the physical facilities (though they are great facilities, I must admit).  Maybe there needs to be a separate procedures for programs like ours.  I know that several programs similar to ours have decided not to get re-accredited this time.  When I see how great they are compared to some full-time programs that ARE accredited, I’m sad.  Some of those full-time programs aren’t that great, but they had the resources to get through the process.

NAEYC, are you listening?