28 October, 2010

Reverse Trick or Treat

The idea of Reverse Trick or Treating is pretty simple, but this simple idea has turned into a much beloved family tradition!   Here's how it all started!  

About 10 years ago, my husband and I were preparing our very young children for their first trick or treating experience.  Our daughter was terrified at the idea of going to houses and knocking on doors, so I decided to reverse the whole idea of trick or treating.  I filled the children’s plastic pumpkins with candy and we walked over to the university where my husband worked.  The children then passed out candy to college students and faculty, who kindly ooh-ed and aah-ed over the cute children in their costumes and said thank you for the candy.  The children loved loved LOVED this!  Over the next few years, more university faculty and their children have joined us and now my children (and others) love this tradition more than actual trick or treating!

Maybe your children would like to reverse trick or treat too!  Happy Halloween!

26 October, 2010

How to draw a frog!

Ribbit!  Ribbit!

Our class has really been enjoying sneaking around our morning circle, to Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King.  (Here is the post all about that.)  They especially enjoy the ending bits of the song, when they pretend to turn each other into frogs and toads!  Poof!

So this week I pulled out cards for How to Draw a Frog.  (I based this activity on a post from My Montessori Journey, How to Draw a Penguin.)  The children have been flocking to this activity, or maybe I should say "hopping" right over!  Here is a frog, drawn today!

Cute, right?

You can have your children draw frogs too.  Here are my How to Draw a Frog directions cards.  (You'll have to add the mouth line after you print them as I don't know how to do that on the computer.  But aside from that, they are ready to go!)  Enjoy!

23 October, 2010

Genius idea, a giant find it sensory table!

A few years ago, my husband's and my friend Mark wanted to create a sensory table for his two boys.  He modeled the basic structure after a water table of mine, that I picked up at a rummage sale.  (I know, how excellent a find was that?!?! ) Well, he chose a relatively large plastic storage container as the "holder" and then made a base for it out of wood.  It looked amazing!  For awhile it held rice, then sand, then water, as many sensory tables do.  But here's where it gets really interesting.  He's such a creative person, he thought of making it a sort of "catch-all" table.  It soon held beads, marbles, and whatever else turned up around their house.  Now, a few years on, it has legos, little broken bits of toys, a few pieces of hardware, rubber bands, paper clips, little plastic animals etc.  You name it and it's probably in there!  His two boys (now 6 and 10) still play in it.  I think it must be fairly exciting because they never know what they might find!  After I told my friend Honey about this project, she had a GENIUS idea.  Genius I say!  And so naturally I thought I'd share it with you lovely readers.  Her idea is a sort of giant "find it" sensory table.

You know those "find it" tubes?  They are a pretty great idea.  A seeker must find all the "hidden" objects which are listed on the top of the tube.  Honey suggested we could make a sensory table find it kind of game, with matching photograph cards (that is instead of just a list) for younger children.  Sign me up!  This weekend I will be starting on this project!  First I am going to take my old water table (not the rummage sale one, as that it is use as a dish washing station) and get a new container to fit it.  (The old container failed rather famously, in the form of a giant crack, last year just as a young boy was sailing a toy Mayflower across the "ocean."  Oops.)  Then I will head down to the Teacher's Recycling Center, where I hear a local plastics company donates some little cast off pieces.  My son brought one home after a field trip and they look like they would be perfect for this project!  I will also include

  • pony beads
  • fuse beads
  • marbles
  • buttons
  • TP tubes
  • tape dispenser inserts
  • marker tops
  • and surely many other wonderful items!
Update:  Yesterday, I went to the Teacher's Recycling Center and it was fantastic and so sad at the same time.  The woman who has been running the center told us they hadn't had their grant renewed, so they will be closing the center!  Oh dear!  The good news was that there were still some wonderful resources, and she was happy to let us go through them.  For under $10 I got all this!  

Heavy duty cardboard pieces, craft sticks, no-sew glue, cornstarch, and packaging tie

 Close up of cardboard pieces - bears?  flowers? shields?
 ends of carpet tubes (bigger than my palm)

who knows what these actually are, but whatever they are, they are super cool!

And 5, count them 5!  BIG bags (a bit bigger than paper grocery sacks) of these little beads - for mosaics, the giant "find it" table, and ?

Icy colors

 dark grey with green, white, and pink flecks

light grey, dark grey, pink, and mauve

light grey and teal green

And I also have a bag of shiny black beads (the picture of those is a little too fuzzy to post.)  

Can you stand the fabulousness?  It was so fabulous, I am still giddy the next day!  I will lost more about the "genius giant find it" table in the days to come!

Noah's Ark: The Musical

Our Preschool class has taken a short break from attending our weekly school Mass.  We happen to have a particularly young class this year, and the children seem to need a bit longer to settle into the school routine.

To supplement the children religious education one of the parish priests, Father Chris, has very kindly agreed to come to our classroom and meet with the children each week.  He is going to read Bible stories, take the children on a sort of walking "tour" of the Mass, and just take some time to get to know them and answer some of their questions.  We are so excited about this!

Father Chris came to our class for the first time this week.  He read our class the story of Noah's Ark.  The children really seemed to enjoy his visit. 

The next day, our class reviewed the story of Noah’s Ark.  I retold the story at our Circle time.  I told the story from memory, trying to act out some parts of it as I went.  (This was one of my "to do" items since visiting The Waldorf School.  It is so wonderful to be able to look right into the children's eyes as I tell a story.  They really are engaged in a different way.)  After the retelling of the story, we all listened to a truly wonderful piece of music which tells the story of the animals parading “two by two by two” into Noah’s ark.  “The Return of the Animals” is from the musical Children of Eden, by Stephen Schwartz  You can listen to it at this link: http://il.youtube.com/watch?v=Aau-zgIbWio The children LOVED this song!  They seemed to be able to clearly imagine each of the animals, based on the music.  During our group circle, they took turns “walking into the ark” as whatever animal they thought the music was representing.  Our class had monkeys, birds, frogs, rabbits, elephants, horses, and even a vulture!
If you don't know this song, I cannot recommend it highly enough!  The entirety of Children of Eden is lovely, but this song is extra fantastic, especially for children.  It allows them to imagine and really almost "see" the animals parading into the ark, just from listening to the music!  Be sure to have your child listen for the little surprise at the very end of the song.  It is my children's favorite part!  

17 October, 2010

Fall and Halloween music, and Halloween books

As a part of our Fall study, we learn all about trees:  the parts of a tree, the job of each of these parts, types of trees, and of course we focus quite a bit of our time on leaves.  I tell the children that much of this learning involves them acting as "scientists" and also "visual artists."  Our classroom scientists and artists have done some excellent investigative work and have made lovely Fall projects!  (Here is a post about a few of those projects.)  In working on developing the children's multiple intelligences, we also have done some work on investigating Fall through music.

This past week, we started our musical Fall journey with the music of George Winston.  I especially love Cast Your Fate to the Wind.  I just think of fluttering fall leaves when I hear it.  I also like Treat Street which sounds like leaves blowing around merrily, on a blustery day.  (You can listen to these songs online at iLike.com or on George Winston's site, here.)  Here is our Fall fairy, kindly holding our dancing scarves.

On Monday I played Cast Your Fate to the Wind, during our half hour arrival time.  (This is when the children have free time with toys.)   Later I played it again at Circle, and I told the children to "listen to the fluttering leaves."  I demonstrated how to walk along our balance beam with one of the scarves, making it flutter.  They were anxious to try it out too!  Here are their little feet, fluttering along the line.

Our other music activities this week included a couple of Halloween songs, Skin and Bones and Stirring My Brew.    The children love singing these and of course, especially love the "BOOs" at the end!

And of course, we listened to the creme de la creme of Halloween songs, In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg.  The first time I played this, it was at Circle time.  I told the children to sit in a tight circle and I turned off the lights.  Then, as the song played, I sneaked around the outside of the circle.  I took detours to hide and peek out from behind bookshelves etc.  I made it as dramatic and funny as I could, and the children seemed to love it!  At the end of the song, there are some very emphatic notes (I'm sure they have a musical term, but embarrassingly I don't know what it is) and I pretended to turn the children into frogs.  Hilarity and much hopping ensued!  Then we listened to the song again, and as we did so,  I tapped each child on the head to follow me and form a line of scary witches creeping around the classroom.  Next week I will let individual children lead "the line of witches." I like this activity as a sort of introduction to classical music because it is so obviously a "scary" song.  I think it makes hearing other classical music and imagining what scenarios are taking place in it, easier.

And last but not in any way least, here are some of the marvelous Halloween books we have been reading!  I remember my mother reading The Humbug Witch to me when I was a child.  I loved it, and I have yet to meet a young child who doesn't.  The "surprise" at the end is so marvelous!

Our class also seemed to really enjoy Pumpkin Moonshine by Tasha Tudor.  I am pondering a project for later this week with pumpkin spice playdough.  I think I will have the children roll it into pumpkin shapes and then have it "roll away" (like the pumpkin does in the story.)  I am thinking about  little experiments:  how to make it roll fastest, furthest, or not roll at all.  Hmmmm.  I'll post more on this project once it is completed.

Good luck with all of your Halloween preparations!  Until next time, boo!

Adjust the environment, not the child

I am always trying to fix up my classroom environment.  If I am having behavioral problems among the students, I try to adjust the environment, so that whatever the behavior at issue is, it will be less likely to occur.

Case in point:

I have been having a wee bit of trouble with my class.  Some of them flit from activity to activity more than I would like them to, and they sometimes seem to have trouble finding and focussing on something that really interests them.  I do feel this problem can frequently present itself when dealing with young children at the beginning of their school careers, especially when they are given all the options of a new classroom.  That's why I usually begin each school year with my classroom looking a bit sparse.  I add activities and works as the children settle into the school routine.  It seems however, I may have added in too much too soon, so this weekend I am cleaning out and reorganizing.  I am putting away some of the more specific work items, and instead leaving out more open ended items such as blocks.  I hope that in limiting some of the options, I will encourage the children to use some of what is out, more imaginatively.

I am also replacing the small tables that are in various locations around the room, with one large table set up.  I hope that in doing this, our snack can become more of a family meal atmosphere.  Previously the children sat on the floor.  That worked out fairly well, except at least one child knocked over his or her glass of water, every day.  Then in order to clean it up, that child had to step over everyone else - trying not to spill others' waters - to get a towel.  I do teach the children how to mop up spilled water, so when they do spill, I ask them to take care of it (well, most of it anyway) by themselves.  But if they are spilling more water along the way, that doesn't work out so well.

Please look at these pictures of my current classroom set up, and tell me what you think.  Have you had this "flitting about" problem with your children or students?  What did you do?  I am very open to any and all ideas!  Thank you!

dish washing
open plan house area
small writing nook
large sitting area

new "dining table"
block area

So what do you think?  Thank you!

13 October, 2010

My visit to the Waldorf School of Louisville

A few weeks ago, my friend Honey and I went to visit the Waldorf School of Louisville.

From the moment I drove into the parking lot, I felt right at home.

Parents were dropping off their children on the school playground, and what a playground it is!  It is quite a large space, adjacent to the parking lot, and it is fenced with natural colored wood.  Large trees dot the landscape, which is covered with a mixture of sand, mulch, and hickory nut shells.  A large pile of sand stands at one end of the play space, just begging to be used for all sorts of games.  There are also two or three natural wood forts and a tree stump circle, perfect for all sorts of performances.

There is also a separate playground area for the younger children.  A section of fence divides the two playgrounds, so this second playground feels very cozy.  You enter this space through a large gate, and follow a path through to the entrance to the school building.  On the way you pass small garden spaces, a wooden fort, a short zip line partially hidden among the trees, another big pile of sand, and plenty of wheelbarrows!

Have I mentioned this is pretty close my dream playground?!  Even in its extremely dry condition (we haven't had any rain in about 2 and a half months) it was such an inspiring space, and I could just imagine all the games and adventures children must play out and imagine there.  The directress of the school told us children spend a minimum of 25% of their day, every day, outside.  They work, gardening or cleaning.  (A teacher we met was having her students wash out all their play silks.  They use hoses, soap, and big buckets.)  They play, they imagine, and they just get to be children.  This is as close as I can imagine to a safe and supervised play space, where children can really experience nature play.  (I am reading Last Child in the Woods.  If you haven't read it, please consider doing so immediately!)
And that was just the outside of the school! 

Next we were led into the classroom of the Red Rose Kindergarten.  The class had a teacher and an assistant and about 12 students.  Here are some photos of the classroom.

House area
The dining space
Nature table area
Look at these dolls!

The colors really are lovely.  From my reading, I honestly had my doubts about the pink color I read was on the walls of all the early childhood classrooms, but it is so warm and inviting.  The room really was very homey (which I guess is partially because the school building is an old home.)  It included a small bathroom (with a child sized toilet and sink), a small kitchen, a dining space with a table and about 14 chairs, a large mud room with cubbies and coat hooks for everyone, and the living room space which is the main classroom area.

The children had already had their outside time when Honey and I arrived.  They were all sitting down and having some water in the dining area.  We introduced ourselves and were invited to join them.  The children were chatty and seemed interested to meet us.

Next we joined the class for their Circle Time.  This time was mostly singing and movement.  The teacher sang a version of Sleeping Beauty (without a book as she told the sory by heart) with a lot of movement, almost choreography.  The children mimicked her movements and so did Honey and I.  The story went on for quite a while, maybe 15 minutes or so, and then it was time for the children to enjoy a snack.  (The book at the right is obviously a written version of Sleeping Beauty, but it is recommended by Blueberry Forest Toys, where the sell a variety of Waldorf toys.  (I should probably pick one up, and and work on my telling of Sleeping Beauty.)
The snack time was very home-like as well.  The children all sat around the table, each with a cloth napkins and a glass mug.  The teachers then passed out small plates to each child with little individual loaves of wheat bread which the children had baked earlier in the morning.  The children were invited to have butter spread on their bread if they wished.  The assistant teacher also offered each child a choice of iced tea or water, and later during the meal (because it really felt like a whole meal) children were also invited to have a few pistachios.  Yum!  The children seemed to really enjoy this whole experience.  They didn't seem rushed, and they took time to visit with each other, us, and the teachers.

The next phase of the day would be what I call work time, but I'm not sure what they call it.  The children were invited to choose activities in the living room area, the main classroom area.  There was a sewing activity a few children were finishing up.  Other choices included a "woodworking shop," a turtle to examine (brought to school just for a day visit), the housekeeping area, and some wooden toys and puppets.  Immediately upon being dismissed some children moved to the play stands and began arranging them for a "concert."  (And can I just add here that I coveted the play stands?  I need some for my classroom, pronto!)  Capes and other dress up clothes were soon added to the concert preparation, puppets came out, and the children generally just played happily.

The last part of the Red Rose Kindergarten day was a closing story.  The children acted out the story the teacher had told earlier in the morning, this day it was again Sleeping Beauty.  The children each took parts, were given costumes, and while the teacher told the story (this time in words and not in song) they acted it out.  My favorite part of the whole story was the princess "climbing the stairway" to the top of the tower.  This entailed the young girl playing the princess climbing up some large stumps the children had rolled into place.

The whole experience of visiting the school was inspiring and so interesting!  The teachers, children, and staff members were so welcoming.  They answered all our questions, and treated us like we were part of the school.

So you ask, what did you learn or observe that you can incorporate into your own classroom?  Well, at the risk of making this post even longer . . .

  • I remembered all the benefits of oral story telling.  That is something I do from time to time in my classroom and with my own children, but after observing the Waldorf classroom, I want to memorize more stories and tell stories much more often!  The children can use their imaginations to form pictures, and they are especially engaged when I can look them in the eyes as I speak.
  • Having more home-like snacks would be lovely.  My assistant and I keep adjusting our classroom space in an attempt to have room for all the children to sit at tables.  This is all a work in process, but seeing the benefits in action was quite inspiring.  It would also be excellent for the children to do more cooking.  As our classroom does not have a sink, much less a kitchen, this will be tricky.  However, last year we made do well with an electric tea kettle, hot plate, and a crock pot.  Tomorrow we are going to attempt to make bread in the Parish Center kitchen.  It is a bit of a hike from the classroom, so wish me luck!
  • Natural toys really are best.  The children truly do interact in a very different way with wooden toys, for example, rather than plastic.  I do not have too many artificial materials in the classroom, but sometimes I can get bogged down considering the cost of all natural toys.  I have to remember not all toys have to be expensive.  The WSL wooden "stairs" for example, were surely free!  (And we already have some tree stumps that we could use in the room!  Excellent!)
All in all, it was such an interesting trip and as I've said, inspiring!  I am so grateful to the teachers, schools, and students who welcome teachers into their buildings!  We are all working on raising healthy, kind, and intelligent children, and when we work together we all do that work even better!
And thank you especially, to everyone at the Waldorf School of Louisville! 

10 October, 2010

Fall fun!

Last week, my class started our unit on trees, leaves, and Fall in general.

We experienced a very serendipitous event last Monday when, during our outside time, a local tree service company cut down a very large tree, right across the street!  The workers, as you can imagine, had a lot of equipment and the children were quite interested.  Many children were especially interested to see the man in the hard hat swinging from the crane.  He was up ridiculously high, and frankly, it made me pretty queasy just to watch him up there.  The whole thing was quite an interesting process for the children to watch, and they had lots of questions.  

The best part about the whole event was that the tree service workers very kindly donated some stumps to our playground!  It was wonderful to see the children’s faces as they rounded the corner of the playground on Tuesday, looking for them!  They could not have been more excited!  The Kindergarten children have also been enjoying playing on the stumps, and First graders have been counting the rings!  It has been wonderful to watch the children using these natural items with such gusto and joy!

We have also been enjoying creating some Fall crafts!  Here is one that I learned from Maria at Casa Maria's Creative Learning Zone.  I went to an EC conference last Spring, and she gave the most inspiring workshop on art projects for young children.  Check out her Facebook page here for unbelievably awesome ideas!

These are sun catchers, made from natural materials and glue.  They are so easy to make and the product is pretty spiffy!  Here are instructions on how to make these:

1.  Go outside and find interesting items!  My students used seeds, nut shells, leaves, yarn scraps, and tiny dandelions.  

2.  Fill an old lid (we collect these for all sorts of projects) with regular school glue.  Clear glue works the best, but we have tons of white glue so that's what we use.  I think these were lids from peanut butter and baby food jars.

3.  Place the found objects in the glue as you see fit.  

4.  Leave it to dry.  (The real trick here is you have to leave for a looooong time.  These took more than a week.)

5.  Peel them up and hang them in the window!  After peeling them up, I piece them with the end of a small paper clip.  Then I hang the paper clip from yarn.

6.  Enjoy!  

I don't know if you can tell from this picture, but this branch is holding some of our natural sun catchers. They are so cool!
We also made a few yarn acorns.  I found these (picture on the left) ridiculously huge acorns on the campus of the university a few blocks from our house.  I gathered them up and brought them to school.  You can tell how big they are in comparison to these others.  The one on the far right is from the oak tree in my yard.  As a side note, my assistant and I think the tree from which these giant fell, might be a bur oak.  
Anyway, I cut some lengths of yarn ahead of time, and left out some of the empty acorn tops.  The children then wrapped the length of yarn around and around their fingers, and then stuffed the ball of yarn into the tops, thus creating "yarn acorns."  The products are kind of cute, and the process of wrapping "around and around" was very good fine motor control practice.

We also experimented with some"wet on wet" watercoloring, as I saw at The Waldorf School of Louisville.  Here are those results.  The one on the left got a little crispy, but I think it looks even more authentic that way.  Aren't they beautiful?!

Well, that's all for now, but I'll post more soon because we have lots more Fall work to do.  More projects, book recommendations, and lessons will soon appear here.  : )

An Old Fashioned Birthday

My own children love love love to hear stories about my childhood: how my friends and I shinnied up and down the laundry chute, how my brother and I rode an inner tube down and around a creek in a Cape Cod cranberry bog, and how my friend Jessie and I hid out in a secret room that was hidden behind a bookcase, at her house.

Young children especially seem to love hearing their parents wax nostalgic.  They seem interested to think of their parents as children, and hear all about their adventures!  I think some of this has to do with the simple idea that parents must have lived in olden times, when fun was simple and just . . . well, fun!  No gadgets were required and imaginations could simply run wild!

I was about 5 when Arthur pulled the sword from the stone.
I don't mean to suggest that my children (or others) don't have wonderful imaginations, enjoy fantastic adventures, or have simple fun.  They certainly do.  I just think children like imagining life in the "olden days," when their parents were young.  (Yes, for all of you doing the math, for me that would be the mid 1970's, which according to my 10 year old son, must surely have been around the time of King Arthur's reign.)  : )

Our youngest daughter, C,  seems especially interested in what life was like "long ago."  She and I have been reading (and loving!) the Milly Molly Mandy series of books by Joyce Lankester Brisley.  C has questions about every chapter.  She wants to know everything about life in Milly Molly Mandy's little village.  So when my husband were thinking about C's birthday this year, we really wanted to find something special, but simple and something seemingly from "long ago."  "Special but simple" is actually our usual criteria for gifts anyway, but for this birthday it seemed even more important that it be so.

I found the perfect items completely by accident, one day when I was poking around in a consignment shop, looking for little pitchers for my classroom.  The first item is a lovely blue flowered bowl with a matching pitcher.  The bowl and the pitcher together were $6.00

The other gift was a very sweet wooden doll cradle.  It had a sort of crazy stencil design on it, but it seemed to be in very good shape.  It has a cut out heart design at the top, and it rocks so nicely.  I hand sanded the sides of the cradle so the stencil design really didn't show much, and then my husband sanded it further with his power sander.  The wood had been a bit rough to begin with, but when he finished sanding it, it was as smooth as glass.  He coated it with tung oil, and it looks and feels marvelous!  Oh, and I forgot to mention the cradle was $12.00.

C loves her birthday gifts!  She must have washed her hands in the bowl 30 times since Thursday!  She is so proud that she can fill the pitcher, carry the water, and pour it into the bowl - all by herself!  She dutifully counts to 20 (per her big sister's instructions) as she lathers up her hands, rinses, and then carries the bowl of soapy water to the sink to pour it out.  She dries out the bowl, places it carefully back on her dresser and then uses some scented hand lotion.  What a lovely process.

Our birthday girl

She is also pretty enamored of her doll cradle.  Upon receiving it, she immediately ran and put her doll Emma into it and covered her with a little blanket that our eldest daughter knit.  Mostly she has been rocking Emma back and forth, back and forth.  She also "decorated" the cradle with a picture she made from sand, so "Emma could look at something pretty."

My husband laughed when I commented on C's love of these "old fashioned" items.  He said, "Well, she is your daughter."  He knows me too well!  I guess I love simple items and so it makes sense that she would too.  I think however, she loves them not only for what she can imagine them to be, but also for what she imagines they might have been, in the "olden times" when her mother was a little girl.