Thursday, September 20, 2012

Documentation vs Display

So many teachers struggle with documentation. Some create displays of art, others of pictures but there is a fine line between documentation and display. Documentation is a display that allows parents, other teachers and even the children see what has been learned or development and growth. Display is a showcase of art.

Some of the problems teachers face in creating documentation is that they have very little time, even less resources and some may not see what children are learning from their activities.

It is very important for teachers to educate themselves about what children are learning. It is obvious when the student is doing math or reading, but some may question what children are learning from art, dance or free dramatic play. Elementary school teachers that I have met rarely think about these things, it isn't really taught at all in the curriculum of the elementary school teachers education. They have a lot to learn from the preschool teachers, who are always justifying the "play" that their students learn from.

For example children are learning when they are painting because they are mixing colors, holding the brush, and making decisions about what they will paint. They might also learn how to share the space, the time and the paints. They are also physically developing their core muscles by standing at the easel, their hand eye coordination as well as their hand grip muscles, and small motor skills. They might further learn how to paint without getting it all over their clothes, hands and face, or they might learn that they love the feel or smell of the paint. This is just one example of the life skills that are being learned.

A display for the picture created by the child above might be just to hang it on the wall. The child is certainly happy about this, the parents also will admire the art of their future Monet, however this is a miss opportunity for them to learn what is being learned by painting. When the teacher takes a moment to create an observation of the painting, how the child was standing, holding the paint brush, how long it took, or any growth that is noticed in the act of or actual painting the parents and other teachers have learned the importance of a child "just painting" and it only takes a moment.

Displays can be beautiful and enjoyable, adding a few observations or mentioning what the children learned from the activity makes is Documentation and give teaching a profession.

A quilt created by 8th graders made after a slavery unit. The process was documented through pictures and a description of what was learned through the process was hung next to the quilt. Quilting was used as quilts were used as a way to communicate through the underground railroad.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Nature Play Spaces Guide review

Nature Play at Home Guide

Nature Play Spaces 

A downloadable guide for creating natural play spaces for children. This is a wonderful guide to help teachers and parents both understand the importance of natural materials and the natural world in the lives of children as well as how to bring nature to children in both big and small spaces. 

In looking through it you learn why it is so important to give children nature play. With diagnoses being given for Nature Deprivation and children surrounded by urban sprawl it is a breath of fresh air that the National Wildlife federation has created this guide. In partnership with the Natural Learning Initiative, a research extension program of the College of Design at NC State University, this guide shows how to create affordable and accessible outdoor play spaces, whether it be a whole back yard, or just an apartment balcony, even small fairy gardens for people with no outdoor space. 

A paragraph from the guide states:
"Every home can become a Nature Play Space for children, whether it is a wooded rural lot, a suburban lawn, or an urban patio or balcony. It doesn’t have to be done all at once, begin with one or two elements and build on it over time. If one idea doesn’t work
in your space, try another. The beauty of Nature Play Spaces is they are flexible enough to meet everyone’s needs."

This guides shows how doable this is. I think every teacher and especially evrey parent should take a look at this guide. Very good information is inside to help.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Real life measuring

I enjoy taking the time to observe different classes, I glean ideas of what I want to do and sometimes see things that spark an idea of my own. One thing that I have seen repeatedly in elementary schools is measuring activities that have no practical application. Usually the child is given a handout with different things to measure with a paper ruler that they cut out. I see this in all measuring areas. Circling measuring cups or coloring them in to the correct amount; cutting out a measuring instrument and measuring things on a paper with it; and I rarely if never see the use of tablespoons, teaspoons, tape measures, scales, or the metric system. This really bothers me because what are children learning from this cutting and coloring of these very useful tools? Where is the interests or excitement? Where is the real life application of these tools?

It would be great if every classroom had several different types of these tools. Rulers, tape measurers, and yard sticks to use for real life measuring activities. Measuring cups, both for dry and wet ingredients, as well as measuring spoons. Scales, to weigh people or large things, to weigh smaller materials and objects, and balance scales to estimate the differences in two materials. Possibly even adding strength-training weights, in two, five, ten, and maybe twenty, pound weights, so children can really feel what these weights feel like and compare them to other things in the room. Wouldn’t that make for an exciting math activity?

I do a lot of “cooking” in the classroom. This is a wonderful way to have real life measuring that kids are very interested in and will be useful for all of their lives.  Often my classrooms only had a microwave, but I still did cooking. We would read the recipe, and using measuring spoons and dry and wet measuring cups, take turns counting and putting in the ingredients, then mix it up and cook it. I found a lot of no cook recipes for snacks, but mostly we made play dough every week.

My favorite recipe to use is cooked play dough, we make it weekly, and I always used the cooked play dough method so that I could leave it out on the shelf. For elementary students you may only need to make it monthly. Many teachers just estimate the amounts and allow the children to mix it up, I think that it is better to use the measuring tools because then children get real life experience using them. Here is my Favorite cooked play dough recipe; I got this a couple years ago from The OOEY GOOEY Lady, but have made adjustments and this is a double recipe for a classroom.
In a large microwavable bowl combine 6 cups flour, 3 cups salt, 12 tsp cream of tarter, 12 TBLS oil, 6 cups water (if you want color use 5.75 cups water and .25 cup liquid water color).  Mix very well, try to blend until completely mixed and smooth, the more you mix it the better it will feel. Microwave on high 2 minutes at a time, stirring and then cooking more until it forms a ball with no wet parts. This usually takes 8 to 10 minutes. Let it set for a moment out of the bowl, removing any hard parts that got cooked too much, and as soon as it is slightly cool enough hand it out to the children to knead, the more this play dough is kneaded the better and softer it will be. Do not use toys until this play dough is all the way cool, I usually wait until the next day.

The children love touching the hot play dough. I show them how to touch this steaming hot play dough by hitting it softly and quickly with their hands. This way they don’t get burned but they get to feel something that is hot, a rare occurrence in our fearful world. They will spend a lot of time here, with no toys just kneading the warm dough. Remember this strengthens their hand muscles for writing. Doing this on a regular basis is an activity where children will have learned so much about measuring, it provides repetition, and developmentally appropriate skill practice, and children are excited about it.

Providing real activities that link measuring and how it is used in the world is important. The more real life any activity is the more likely children will learn and remember it. Humans are developed for survival; our brain remembers best things that are important, novel, and interesting. It is not useful to our survival to color between the lines, it is important to eat, to have shelter, and to know distances and weights (especially if we have to carry it). When teachers start believing in themselves, take a look at what is in the curriculum and create a real life activity to teach; our students will learn more, and our teachers will have more satisfying jobs.

Many Blessings