Looking to run some STEAM+ projects in your Early Childhood or School Age classroom? We have had many requests for ideas and suggestions, subsequent to PD Sessions on STEAM+. Here are a few...
Pre-K and K STEAM+
The Pizza Parlor
The Halloween Shop
The Grocery Store
The Flower Shop
The Veterinary Hospital
Race Car Derby (Balloon, Rubberband, etc.)
The Museum (ever so many choices here!)
Tsunami, Earthquake, Tornado, or other Weather System Projects
The Science Lab
Replicate a Location on the Globe (Yellowstone National Park)
A Wampanoag* Village, A Mayan Village (or that of any Native Culture)
*Note: The Wampanoag Tribe is the tribe of Native Americans that our English Ancestors, the Pilgrims, encountered when the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock in "Plimoth" Massachusetts in 1620. Here is a great resource for learning about that: http://www.plimoth.org/
Questions about Implementing? Positive Outcomes to Share? Concerns that You are Reflecting On?
It was great fun having so many wonderful ECE professionals stop by our exhibit table to make tissue paper cupcakes and muffin tin prints with us! The excitement really heated up when we had over 120 people join our Professional Development Session, "Bringing STEAM+ Into the Early Childhood Classroom Successfully"! After a brief presentation and a little internet research, which included dancing in the coolest bakery ever, our ECE friends broke out into groups and began working on our Bakery STEAM+ project. The fun and excitement included making tissue paper cupcakes and donuts, building a commercial oven, desiging a cupcake display stand, and creating cupcake tin prints to be used for counting, sorting, color recognition and more. Oh, and I will never forget the screams and laughter when our science experiment finally took off at the end of the session...the yeast, sugar, and warm water mixture caused the balloon to inflate behind me, after we had long given up on the experiment being a success!
Some great suggestions made by attendees that I am excited to share:
Conduct the Bakery STEAM+ Project with real home-baked goods and have a bake sale in the student-created bakery. Funds raised through the bake sale can go to a charity selected by the students
Bake real snacks as a treat once the project is completed
Bake real treats during the project! :)
Punch Holes in Leaves to use as Wands for Bubble Blowing
Thank you so much for all of the wonderful ideas and great fun experiencing the STEAM+ project from the position of the children...Learning Through Play!
Week of the Young Child 2015 is Coming Up! Mark Your Calendars for April 12-18, 2015
Click Photo to go to NAEYC for Details and Ideas!
April 13, 2015 Music Monday
Thingamajig is just hysterical, so I suggest going with this one, and checking out the NAEYC site for their recommendation on it! I can't wait to see the videos that are posted to the NAEYC Face Book page of children putting their own slant to this one! I anticipate ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing)!
April 14, 2015 Taco Tuesday
Click Photo for Kid-Friendly Fish Taco Recipe
Fish Tacos are a huge favorite!
April 15, 2015 Work Together Wednesday
Click Photo to go to article from Parenting Science
Thank goodness there is a renewed awareness of the benefits of building blocks for young children! Hooray!
April 16, 2015 Artsy Thursday
Click Photo to go to Art Experiences for Tots
This project posted on Art Experiences for Tots is a great one, because it can be done with any age group and the creativity can just flow! Many more great ideas, too!
April 17, 2015 Family Friday
Click Photo to go to The Family Dinner Project!
Family Dinners offer so many opportunities to be close, spend time together, and make great memories!
"Imagine that one morning .... In your own job as a teacher, instead of teaching students, you stand in front of an empty classroom talking to a video camera. The meaning of your work is gone, and increasingly, you feel bored, restless, apathetic, and even lazy. " (Allen and Allen, 2010)
There is so much discussion and concern around the education system "pushing down" on early childhood students. Recently I read an article from Science Daily, "Kindergarten is the New First Grade, Researchers Find." The article clearly defines the concerns that have long been highlighted issues in early childhood education, with research that supports these concerns. They discuss solutions that we are all striving to establish, which is a breath of fresh air.
To quote the article, "Young children are curious, enthusiastic learners, with immense potential. There are ways to teach early literacy and math content to young learners so that it's engaging, fun and really helps them get a head start." The key take-away here, and throughout the article, is that our efforts toward child-centered learning, developmentally appropriate practices, learning through play, differentiated instructional strategies including individualization, motivational methods, and the big movement toward S.T.E.A.M. project work is, in fact,what we should be doing. We are on the right track! Children soar and potential is unleashed when children are motivated and engaged in learning activities. It's like the veggies that went through the food processor and were thrown into the pizza sauce, before the preschooler helped make their own pizza for lunch! If the learning is embedded in a project that suits the child's age, developmental level, and interests, they will strive and they will succeed...we have a win-win situation....Every Time! I can say this because I see children learn in this fashion daily in my own classroom, the evidence is luminous, and the assessment opportunities are immense, because skill levels are evident throughout the process.
Okay, so let's connect this to the grading issue that I last posted about. Well, I have also worked with high school students, and I conducted my master's thesis research on the topic of Motivation, because of my observations of motivation issues and negative attitudes about school work in that population. I had seen some of this in the elementary grades, as well, but it appeared to be much more intense at the secondary level. The upper grades need a push back from Early Childhood Education! While our education system is so busy Pushing Down the Academic Skill-Building, we need to be Pushing Up the Concept of Developmentally Appropriate Practice. Elementary and Secondary Students are experiencing the same pressure and discomfort of the Push Down that Early Childhood Students are feeling. Advanced Placement lecture classes are not developmentally appropriate for high school students. They can handle the content, it's the inappropriate strategy of imparting the information that creates the issue. Accounting classes that involve book work only and no authentic experience is not appropriate for secondary students. Studying History with the most frequent assignment being developing outlines of text book chapters, and Advanced Literature courses requiring pages upon pages of highlighting literary elements that equate to two hours of highlights at home after school and sports practice is virtually absurd! Not to mention math that is not applied in a real-world context. "Why do I need to learn this, Mom? I'll never use it again!"
The solutions come from Early Childhood Education! All students need authentic experiences, connections, opportunities to bring value from their own inner selves...opportunities to "own" the learning. This appears to be an emerging concept in higher education, brought about by the STEM movement; it is an established understanding and practice that all are striving to master in early childhood and even in some elementary and middle school classrooms. However, in so many classrooms, regardless of grade-level, these appropriate opportunities are not there, and it is virtually impossible to buy into the idea that we are assessing true knowledge or talent if we have disengaged learners. Do you put your best foot forward when you don't believe in or connect to what you are "stuck doing"?
Early Childhood Education is Pushing It UP! We can absorb the pressure of pushing down academics, because our expectations will remain in a place that is developmentally appropriate for each individual child, and we will monitor progress as we put best practices into place to encourage the learning. No student of any age should have to adhere to a teacher's style, a district's demands born out of test-score funding issues, a publishing company's learning design, nor a "college-like experience" in high school of lectures and notes aimed at a test. A great article that hits this issue hard is The Big Wait by Allen and Allen.
Allen, J. P., & Allen, C. W. (2010). The big wait. Education Leadership, 68(01), 22-26.
Mirroring our early childhood students who want to pretend to play adult roles, explore the world around them, engage in experimentation and feel a sense of importance, are our older students, living in a "twilight zone", as Allen and Allen describe it so well for us:
Imagine that one morning you wake up to find yourself in a twilight-zone world. Walking outside, you see your neighbor across the street, a surgeon, who remarks that, instead of operating on live patients, he spends his days just cutting up cadavers to practice his craft. As you move through your day, you realize that lawyers argue only mock cases, plumbers practice repairing fake leaks, and airline pilots fly only on flight simulators. In your own job as a teacher, instead of teaching students you stand in front of an empty classroom talking to a video camera. The meaning of your work is gone, and increasingly, you feel bored, restless, apathetic, and even lazy. Then it dawns on you -- you're now experiencing the life of a typical high school student!
Minimum Grading Policies... Process and Product Grades... Homework as Practice... Discipline and Responsibility are Behavior Issues NOT Gradebook Entries Reflective of Content Mastery!
I have been an avid subscriber to all of the above since the first time I sat in a PD Session on Grading Policies, presented by none other than the infamous Rick Wormeli. In the following 8 minutes, you will experience some groundbreaking strategies to enable success for all learners in your classroom!
It is time to Revise our Methods and Open Our Eyes to What IS Real and True in American Education.
It has been my practice ever since that day (where I found myself in awe of Rick Wormeli...an inspiration to my pursuits in professional development), to ensure that my students are being evaluated on the learning, and that mastery grades reflect mastery only, with many, many opportunities for learning and growth leading to that mastery... consistently involving differentiation and individualization. I have gone against the grain, been ostracized by grade-level partners, questioned on a lack of failing grades for the year, etc. All of that in spite of "seeing the learning happening" and with motivation that oozed from the classroom door.
Now I see that there is a grand spin-off of this motivational and truth-bearing concept in teaching and learning, a grass-roots movement known as "Teachers Throwing Out Grades". This is such an exciting step in education! It is an incredibly important step toward Truth in Learning in American Education.
Note: If you are a self-serving educator who resists change and evidence-based, emerging best practices, STOP here. It's time to Retire!!! :)
More Resources on Teachers Throwing Out Grades...
Click Photo for Link to Forbes Article by Nick Morrison
Click Photo for Link to Education Week Teacher Article by Starr Sackstein
Molding my philosophies and methods to reflect evidence-based, best practices that allow students to utilize their talents and interests to learn - and be motivated to learn, provided me with a book of classroom success stories in a very short time. And that book ceaselessly requires more pages! I'll be thrilled to share some of those stories, but first... what is your take on the grading issue?
Visit MyPlate Kids' Place for tons of great information and fun, including games, recipes, videos, songs and more! Don't forget all of the free materials you can order and/or download like this vegetable race car poster!
Become a MyPlate Champion for National Nutrition Month
Press the MyPlate Ribbon and have your students make a pledge to become a MyPlate Champion for National Nutrition Month! You can download personalized certificates for the children to take home!
Join the Two-Bite Club for National Nutrition Month!
Click The Two-Bite Club image, and go directly to the USDA's web page to download the materials. We hang a grid in the hallway with a marker attached to a string. The dates are across the top and the children's names are listed down the left side. On any day that a child tries two bites of a new food or a food they usually don't like (and we limit this to healthy foods, of course), they have the freedom to stop at the chart the next morning and put a check mark in their box for that day. At the end of the month (you can shorten this to a week or two), we tally up how brave each child was with trying new foods, and everyone goes home with some fun nutrition information and a certificate for being a member of the Two-Bite Club. The kids really enjoy the challenge, there are some great conversations that arise from it, and we have found that several children changed some of their snacking habits. There is certainly a heightened awareness of "which food is healthier" and "which food gives me energy and which makes me tired" at the lunch table. Be sure to introduce MyPlate before doing this, and don't forget to set up your lesson so that the kids notice on their own that there is no place on My Plate for junk food! What an eye opener it is!!
Choose MyPlate: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/
MyPlate for Kids: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/kids/
MyPlate Daily Food Plans for Preschoolers: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/health-nutrition-information-preschoolers/daily-food-plan-preschoolers.html
USDA's Cookbook for Child Care Centers: http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/recipes-healthy-kids-cookbook-child-care-centers-0
Federal Nutrition Education Resources: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/USDA-DHHS-ComprehensiveListing-FederalNutritionEducationResources2005-to-Feb2010.pdf
The Family Dinner Project: http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/
Food Network's Recipes Kids Can Make: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/packages/recipes-for-kids/cooking-with-kids/recipes-kids-can-make.html
Have Other Nutrition Resources to Share? Post a Comment!
Sign Language Serves Several Purposes in the Classroom...
Sign Language increases vocabulary and communication, and it relieves frustration due to communication issues.
Sign Language activates additional parts of the brain during learning, and the rule of thumb is that the more parts of the brain we engage during learning, the deeper the learning goes!
Sign Language provides similar benefits to a child's developing brain as when learning other foreign languages.
Sign Language exposes children to the world of the deaf and hard of hearing, contributing to their cultural competence and understanding of disabilities.
Give American Sign Language a Try in Your Classroom
You can simply begin with Obie Leff's video of The Sounds of the Alphabet, which we use daily in our classroom! If you would like more information on Sign Language in the Classroom or Classroom Tools for incorporating signing into your lessons, contact us! We will be happy to assist you and your staff! Colleen@BeyondTheStandards.com
Colleen Mantell is a Certified Sign2Me Instructor Visit the Sign2Me site for Sign Language Research Articles and Contact Colleen at www.BeyondTheStandards.com for Sign2Me Workshops and Materials! We will have Sign2Me Products Available at our Exhibit Space during the DVAEYC Conference in March!
While enjoying a little free time this morning, I pulled out an issue of NAEYC's Teaching Young Children/Preschool that I had set aside to reference later for some great activities. There are always many wonderful articles in this publication, but I'd like to quote the authors of this particular article, because I'm sure that many others will find it to be incredibly significant. The article is about science exploration with children, but the concept crosses all curriculum and teaching in general. These two paragraphs speak loudly...
Engaging questions stimulate children's inquiry and investigation rather than suggest "correct" answers. These include questions that help children to describe observations, explain procedures, and make predictions. Following their investigations, teachers can ask children questions that encourage them to reflect on what they learned.
Asking "Why do you think so?" also supports planning. Sometimes it leads to surprises. When one teacher asked a child why he thought a golf ball would sink, he said "Because it's round." She had assumed that he was basing his prediction on the ball's weight. She decided to facilitate a follow-up investigation of round things rather than heavy things.
What do you think?
Hoisington, C., Chalufour, I., Winokur, J., & Clark-Chiarelli, N. (2014). Science learning through water. Teaching Young Children/Preschool, 8(1), 30-31.
In response to a blog post by seasoned educator and well-known blogger, Jill Jenkins, let's talk about creating a bully-proof environment in your classroom. To read Jill's post, "Reduce Bullying by Creating a Community", click on the image below.
Jill talks about reducing bullying by creating a community within the classroom, and this, no doubt, is the best path to take. With a sense of community, students can feel comfortable, secure, and most of all...valued. With this, they learn to value each other, and they value their own role within the group. There are many strategies and programs available to educators to work toward developing a community within the classroom, and Jill offers great ideas and examples, but the concern that I feel compelled to add to the discussion is the issue of educators latching on to programs and tools offered to improve classroom community, without any focus or possibly even awareness of the underlying psychological piece that they are responsible to personally manage.
For example, kindergarten teachers love the morning meeting concept. It is truly a great way to start the day, and it's all about community building. Students greet each other as they begin, touch base on what is going on in their classroom for the day, share personal experiences with each other, celebrate birthdays, and much more. This is a wonderful community-building framework. In order for these ideas and programs that we adopt to truly be effective, though, the adults involved must consistently promote the psychological components of that desired community.
Do you see this happening in your classroom?
"Psychological Membership" is the Key to Community-Building
The feeling of belonging fosters respect and collaboration across the classroom and the school.
Psychological Membershipis the feeling of belonging, a term coined by Carol Goodenow of Tufts University in 1993. When one feels that they belong, he knows that he can take risks. This means asking questions because the question will never be laughed at or deemed a "stupid question" by anyone in the room. This means that he knows that every other person in the room is a friend during the time that is spent together. This means that he knows that his time, ideas, work and talents are valued by everyone around him. He knows that no one is going to tease or make fun of him. He feels safe to ask questions, make suggestions, share ideas, and to make a mistake in front of any one or all of the group.
What Does the Research Tell Us About Belonging?
Walker and Green (2009) tell us that with regard to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the basic human needs of food and shelter are the only precursors to the need for love and belonging within the context of personal growth and development.
Johnson's findings (2009) indicate that both teacher support and classroom belongingness have a significant impact on student achievement, particularly in the areas of student autonomy, investment in learning, and school safety.
Sutton and Wheatley (2003) studied secondary students and shared that they place great value on teachers who care about them. They also presented a connection between a teacher's sense of humor and high content mastery in the classroom.
Those who Shaw (2010) labeled as "slow learners" are demonstrated to require close relationships with their teachers in order to develop academic skills and successes.
Fostering the Caring Among Kids
The classroom environment created by the morning meeting routine is ideal. We love to see this routine at work. It is a thing of beauty. However, does it carry through the day? Only if identical expectations and modeling carry through the day. When a student gives a wrong answer, do you say "No, that's not it."? I hope you don't say, "Wrong!" We can learn to say, "I like the way you are thinking, and I can see where your answer came from, but I'm looking for an answer that ....(add a clue here)." The "No" knocked that student down, and when a teacher knocks down students, then students feel comfortable knocking down students. The "I like the way" answer demonstrated an understanding of the student and his way of thinking. He can easily recover from having the wrong answer and can even respond to the clue to come up with the correct answer. No respect lost here...from others or with self.
Do you use sarcasm in your classroom? Do you call kids out? Do you respond to an inappropriate or sarcastic answer from a student with the same type of behavior? Reflect. It matters. Did you know that psychologically, saracasm is one of the most damaging forms of communication? In order to model good citizenship and treating others kindly, we must make it a moment-to-moment effort to demonstrate what kindness, friendship, and understanding look like. Children will emulate what they see you do.
Lead by Example
"It is the idea that what a leader does and how a leader behaves has a direct influence on how everyone else in the organization acts." Interestingly, this statement from The Press Enterprise's article, From Top-Down to Trickle-Down Management fits every classroom, every school, and every workplace. A happy, caring, considerate leader imposes those virtues upon those who follow her, by interacting with the group according to those virtues. On the contrary, a leader who is unhappy, insensitive or sarcastic sets the tone for a negative environment. What tone are you setting in your classroom on a daily, or even an hourly basis? What tone is your director (principal) or team imposing on you?
A 6-year old made a silly suggestion to me today. I thanked him and described a way in which I might be able to use the idea he recommended. His reaction was this: "Oh good! That means that my idea was valuable!" I experienced a feeling of shock and concern when I realized his assessment of our conversation. I wonder how often children judge themselves by our responses but don't express it and walk away feeling less than valued.
Provide Self-Regulation Techniques
The "class clown" or "funny guy" isn't working toward a spot at the Improv!
They are overcoming insecurity, anxiety, or discomfort by creating laughter and peer attention that mask the issue. Note that the class clown act is a clear indicator that you don't yet have a fully embraced sense of community...someone in your class feels anxious about how he is being viewed or judged by his peers. Do you laugh or do you demonstrate disapproval? A great choice is to demonstrate understanding and then offer an alternative behavior that enables the funny guy to stay focused or to ask a question when feeling uncertain. I had a self-proclaimed class clown in my 5th grade class. I soon realized that he was insecure about his academic abilities. I had him work on projects with a group of high-academic students. It was a scary transition for him at first, which I monitored and stayed involved with, but coupling that experience with the repeated offer of a "quiet place at the table over there" to work so that he was not distracted or getting into trouble for disrupting, worked beautifully. He soon expressed his amazement that he could work with and socialize with his new group, and he took many opportunities to move himself to the "quiet table over there" in order to stay focused during large group discussions, when he would have historically been disruptive. It wasn't long before his class clown days were history!
In the early childhood classroom, we use the strategy, Give A Bug and A Wish. We explain it at the start of the school year, we model, practice, and encourage it.
Jane pushed me when I got the ball. I gave Jane A Bug and A Wish: "It Bugs Me when you push me, I Wish You wouldn't push me when you want the ball."
This strategy teaches children from a young age to express what they are feeling, to stand up for themselves, and to stop someone from crossing boundaries with them. Using the strategy builds confidence and teaches that expressing their feelings and discomfort with situations gets results. And there is no need for anyone to get upset.
The other piece of this strategy that makes it effective is the adult role, of course. The rule is that a bug and a wish is a serious tool, and it can only be used when the child is seriously bothered by the behavior of another child. We role play scenarios to determine when it is appropriate to use this tool. Also, it is made clear to all that once you have received A Bug and A Wish, you must comply forever. If you do not, the teacher is notified and consequences for poor choices are followed. (This may be thinking time during recess or some other supportive measure to teach the offender some self-regulation.)
Children take this strategy very seriously because they feel empowered! It also diminishes tattling dramatically!
The Classroom Community Works because Bullying Doesn't Exist When Everyone Feels Valued.
Psychological Membership is the Key.
Build a Classroom Full of Friends...A School Full of Friends. (for Staff and Students)
Thanks again, Jill, for bringing up this ever-important topic!
Children Researched and Created: Hard and Soft Coral, including Brain Coral, Staghorn Coral, Finger Coral, Tube Coral, Fan Coral and Flower Coral, as well as Sea Animals including the Octopus, Parrot Fish, Clown Fish, Crab, Eel, Sting Ray, Whale Shark, Dolphin, and more. Why is the sand white?
Why is the sand white? Is the coral a rock? Does coral eat? How did the coral move and get the sand off of the top of itself in that video? What color should my turtle be if it lives in Australia? What is the weather in Australia? Where is the book I put that book mark in to go back to the puffer fish page? How big can a coral reef grow?
These and so many other inquiries from our students drove the research and learning involved in our Great Barrier Reef project. Preparing for a new project, wondering if we could find anything more fun and exciting than our recent North Pole and Santa's Workshop, we laughed about needing a little beach time with all of these "too cold to play" days. That thought, coupled with a recent obsession with magnets, led our group to a debate over whether we should create a beach or a science laboratory. Let the voting begin!
The beach was the winner, and all of the students whole-heartedly embraced our virtual trip to the Coral Sea. The students' brainstorming eventually led us to exploring the land down under, a beach on Australia's East Coast called Lizard Island, and finally, The Great Barrier Reef. Students were attracted like their magnets (opposite poles, they will tell you) to the incredible world that exists under the sea.
The learning involved the globe and discovery of the land down under being south of the equator, the location of the Reef along the northeastern coast of the country, the name of the country and its not-as-well-known name as a continent, and then it was on to the science with trying to figure out just what a reef actually is and how it forms and grows. We studied a variety of types of coral, and then the sea animals that make their home in and around the coral reef. We hit the books, a few YouTube vids and some great Kindle Books on the iPad.
Researching and Creating Sea Animals of the Coral Sea
As we began working with our art teacher, using techniques with water color, resistance, pastels, etc., math skills became evident in our art work and soon we were pulling out yard sticks and rulers to measure 8-foot streamers for the windows, counting out 8 tentacles for our Octopi...yes, we went from Octopuses to Octopies to Octopi! And, with ensuring that I am spelling this correctly here, I just learned and must share with my class that it is truly supposed to be Octopodes! Octopi developed as the plural out of a mistaken assumption that the word is of Latin origin which would require the "i" plural, whereas it truly is of Greek origin and should be Octopodes! They now say that for American English, Octopuses should be acceptable, as it is the easiest. Everything I need to know a learned from a kindergartener...didn't we just come full circle with that plural? Can you see how the learning just never ends...for all of us? Back to the project...The engineering came in with the planning, designing and building of the reef base, and the reading and writing are ever-present; however, we also created "Sticker Stories" with this project. Children selected ocean-themed stickers and set them in a scene to tell a story. They then used their best Kid Writing to write the story of their illustration. These were edited and the final copies were read to our parents at The Great Barrier Reef!
In response to this post on the PennAEYC Face Book page... "Study: High-quality early education could reduce costs"
Click Photo to go to PennAEYC on Face Book
Click Photo to go to Washington Post Directly to Read Article
My initial reaction was of high interest in knowing more about what funding issue is being discussed, and even more so, learning which learning disabilities are being reduced and how.
The article was interesting and informative, and I have decided to follow the author; however, what intrigued me more was a lengthy comment left by a gentleman who does not identify his role in education. He is so exact on with this issue, that he put me right up on one of my largest soap boxes!
Educators have a responsibility to have an insightful understanding of how learning happens.
This means that we must understand a little bit of neurology, like it or not. I share this type of information in my professional development sessions, and I am thanked time and time again for the deeper understanding of learning and development in children.
It ALL happens in the brain.
So why aren't we all striving for proficiency in understanding the most modern information on child development? It seems that the classic theories remain at the forefront with those who work face-to-face and hand-in-hand with children on a daily basis. Step into the 21st Century with new scientific understandings of child development. It's absolutely fascinating! And you will find your practice and results with children of all ages will change dramatically.
Here is a link to a great article explaining the basics that any one of us should know: (Click on Photo to read article)
"Neural Pathway Development" by Dr. Gene Van Tassell
The Duke University Study is no doubt correct. There are so many developmental issues that we identify in early childhood settings and work on diligently, effecting change. Are you seeing it? Share your comments with us.
Mrs. Mantell's 2013-14 Kindergarten Enrichment Class Created an Alaska Ice Fishing Village in the Classroom as published in the Bucks County Herald
Evidence-based best practices in early childhood education consistently point to learning through play, and our S.T.E.A.M.+ concept brings about learning far beyond our plans, and usually beyond our wildest dreams! When a group of young children learn not only to cooperate, but also to collaborate, to make choices and decisions, and to move a project in a direction that makes sense and is intriguing, based on their own design and plan, there is magic and fireworks everywhere!
Over the past two years, our Kindergarten Enrichment classroom has accomplished projects including: The Pizza Parlor, The Airport, The Bakery, The North Pole with Santa's Workshop, and many more. We are currently building The Great Barrier Reef! Within each project, we have defined the work with Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math once the children agreed upon the topic. However, based on choices the students make, we often find the learning leads to subject areas including Commerce, Geography, History, and always Reading and Writing.
In response to a recent increase in requests for professional development on this topic, at the upcoming DVAEYC Conference, I will be presenting a professional development session entitled, Bringing S.T.E.A.M.+ into the Early Childhood Classroom Successfully, where a simple frame work will be provided for creating and conducting the lesson plan to meet goals and standards, along with ideas and suggestions for topics, and the "how-to" on empowering children to take the lead toward the outcome of the project.
S.T.E.A.M.+ Projects are appropriate for preschoolers at both the 3s and 4s levels, as well as kindergarten and elementary school. Additionally, there are very small projects that can be incorporated into a single area of learning on one particular day, such as snack/cooking or during your language arts block.
Wouldn't it be great to watch the classroom come alive with inquiry and theory, talent and motivation, as you facilitate the learning that the children choose to pursue? What is holding them back? Go for it! (We'll be happy to help should you need training or assistance!)
Have you ever been told to feel free to teach required curriculum in your own style? Uh-oh!
The big mistake here is that we all need to teach in the style of our students. We have an obligation as educators to reach every student in our classes, regardless of anything unique or individual about them. Actually, unique and individual is EXACTLY what we are responding to! :)
In early childhood education, we encounter the term, "Developmentally Appropriate Practices" and in more advanced grades, we encounter the term, "Differentiated Instructional Strategies". They both point us to the same concept... IT IS OUR JOB TO MEET ALL STUDENTS WHERE THEY ARE AS UNIQUE INDIVIDUALS.
Therefore, the only appropriate style to teach in is the style that best suits the needs of our students. If you prefer not to conduct learning centers with young children because you don't like the initial chaos of students learning how to behave and interact with each other in order to work somewhat independently, you must question who is benefiting from your strategy. If you teach upper grades and prefer to assign group work whenever you see fit to do so, think again. You may have students who don't function best in a group setting or in a group for a particular type of assignment. Who gains?
I once had a classroom of kindergarten students with approximately 1/3 of them demonstrating difficulties with impulse control during whole group and teacher-centered lessons. It quickly became apparent that this was a developmentally younger group. When I switched to very short intervals of teacher-centered and whole-group time (just snippets of giving directions, brief demonstrations, etc.), with many intervals of small group, hands-on activities -- involving manipulatives whenever possible, the entire learning experience and classroom tone changed dramatically. We found...Success!!! How are YOU meeting the needs of each of YOUR students?
It happens at home, it happens in the child care setting, so what do we do about toddlers biting and hitting?
According to the research, 1/3 to 1/2 of all toddlers experience being bitten in child care. According to psychologists, aggressive behavior in children from infancy to 3 1/2 years old is "normal".
When I arrived yesterday morning at Mother Goose LLC, a child care facility in Lansdale, PA, I was greeted with a hug from owner and impressive business woman/child development authority, Lisa Kurek, and was immediately assisted with my bags by one of the many sweet and caring teachers, Linda. The group grew larger quite quickly, with offers of donuts, conversations of concerns regarding children's needs, and laughter and smiles over the joy of working with the families who attend their program. The warm professionalism and loving dedication of the staff started my 6-hour session on Toddler Insights and Best Practices on the path to a great day! There is nothing in the world that tops heading out to provide a professional development session on a topic that you are passionate about, than to step into a warm, loving, professional environment with staff who are just as excited to continuously enhance their skills in the best interest of their clients. And these professionals wanted to know more about this aggressive behavior... Did I say "NORMAL"?
So what do we know about aggressive behavior in young children?
Yes, it is a normal behavior. How can this be? It is aggressive; it hurts children and adults, too, sometimes. It is a normal behavior, because it is a reaction that fits within the developmental abilities of the age range. This does NOT mean that it is acceptable behavior. It is a behavior that adults must help the children to extinguish. Children who bite or hit feel threatened, scared, frustrated, and/or anxious. Keep in mind that the biter is as scared as the child who is bitten. Key strategies to remember when dealing with biting and hitting are to: stay calm, use short concise sentences to explain that the behavior is Not Okay, reinforce what Okay looks like, acknowledge and label the emotion you see the biter experiencing, reassure the biter/hitter that you are there for him/her when s/he feels this emotion, provide an alternative option to biting, and encourage empathy toward the victim. The key to extinguishing the behavior is identifying the triggers and then calmly and unobtrusively redirecting the anticipated behavior and the attention to an appropriate and socially acceptable activity, while working toward alleviating the fears and anxieties of the biter.
Activities to Keep Toddlers Engaged
Here are some great ideas that we played with during our session. Keep in Mind, with Toddlers, It's All About Learning Through the Senses...
Toddler-Safe Cloud Dough 4 Cups of Flour 1/2 Cup of Vegetable Oil Optional: 1 Pkg. Kool-Aid (sugar-free is a great choice), Food Coloring to Match Flavor Variety of Kitchen Items and Toys that can be used for Scooping and Pressing Cloud dough is safe for toddlers becuase it's harmless if eaten, and when making it, you can alter the texture to have choices between a smooth (more oil) dough or a gritty texture (less oil), which is a great substitute for sand!
Sensory Walking Mat Contact Paper Duct Tape or Masking Tape Optional: Sand, Pom-Poms, Yarn, Bubble Wrap, Light Sand Paper, Crinkled Tissue Paper, Patches of Textured Fabric Tape the contact paper, sticky side up, to the floor or carpet. A long strip will allow for a great sensory experience. Leave some space for the toddler to walk along feeling the stickiness of the contact paper. Place optional items along the path for the toddler's feet to experience a variety of textures. Assist toddlers with walking along the sticky mat, reacting to and talking about the textures and reactions.
Toddler-Safe Sensory Bottles Clean, Dry, Empty Water Bottles and Caps (Note: I prefer 16.9 oz. recyclable bottles for size and "squeezability") Glue Gun Variety of Fill Items Considering the Senses of Sight and Sound: Various Beans, Yarn, Pipe Cleaners, Colorful Straws, Buttons, Garland, Candies, Colorful Paper Clips, Beads, Colored Pasta, etc. Peel the labels off of the bottles. Fill bottles with items. (Note: I prefer one type of item per bottle to keep the toddlers interested. This enables the teacher to swap out a variety of bottles and utilize the activity frequently. ) With the glue gun, secure the caps on the bottles such that they cannot be opened. Check bottle caps with each use for safety. Toddlers can squeeze, roll and push the bottle for a tactile sensory experience, shake the bottle for an auditory sensory experience, and they can observe the brightly-colored objects in the bottle for a visual sensory experience.
Resources for Additional Questions Asked in Response to the Session
How do we deal with children who refuse to nap?
Here are helpful online articles you can access and read at Parents.com (Parents Magazine) that will provide an understanding of children who refuse to nap and strategies to improve nap time. The articles are written for parents, but the information can be applied to the child care setting, and the last page offers links to purchase books to read to "anti-nappers". Nice touch!
Where can we continue to find ideas for activities for toddlers?
Here are a few great web sites, in addition to searching on Pinterest. Please always keep in mind "mouthy" children, safety, and adjusting activities intended for moms at home to fit the child care setting. Enjoy!
My adult right-handed scissors. Notice which blade sits on top while lying in this position. Comfortable hand grip is on the bottom, and the blade extending from that grip is on top. This enables me to clearly see the page I am cutting with the scissors on my right and paper on my left.
Children's left-handed scissors. Notice which blade sits on top while lying in the same position as my right-handed scissors. It is the opposite blade, the one extending from the thumb grip, which allows the left-handed cutter to view the paper with the same field of vision that I have with my right-handed scissors. Scissors on left, paper on right...clear sight.
Joy of joys...we have found true Left-Handed Scissors! Every classroom should have at least two pairs!
Note that scissors claiming to be designed for left- or right-handed cutting and scissors that advertise simply a grip for left-handed cutters Are Not Appropriate For Left-Handed Students. Neither is a right-handed pair of scissors turned upside-down.
The difference is in the overall design of the scissors. In addition to the comfort of the appropriately constructed grips for a left hand, the blade on left-handed scissors is set in a position opposite of the blade on right-handed scissors. Without this design shift, left-handed students must see over the blade while they cut. This is Difficult and Counterproductive. Happy Cutting to All of Your ECE Students! :)
Wonderful two-year old "scribble writing"! It's a Great Story!
Recently there have been many, many questions posed to me about young children and writing.
Can they do it?
Should we encourage them to do it?
So we just lower our expectations, right?
Why in the world would we concern ourselves with 2s and 3s writing??!!
Isn't this more of the "pushing down" pressure that children are experiencing academically?
Remember, reading and writing go hand-in-hand. This means that we learn to read by writing, and we learn to write by reading!
Reading with young children promotes vocabulary, speaking and listening skills, communication in general, and pre-reading skills including the basic understanding that the words we say and the ideas we express can be written down and later read aloud and shared.
Just as we expose young children to reading by reading stories to them, which eventually results in them imitating this behavior, we also must expose young children to writing by modeling and sharing our writing. They will, inevitably, mimic this behavior as well. If I write a grocery list and read the first three items to my two-year-old, asking if he wants me to add anything to the list of items we will pick up at the grocery store today, he might very well say, "nana" (bananas). I will write the word bananas and read it back to him. Making this a fun game between us, he may eventually choose to sit next to me and make his own grocery list while I make mine each week, and we might read them to each other before we leave and as we shop.
Early on, before children can regulate gross and fine motor skills to the extent that they can practice writing letters, writing is all about the scribble! Scribble can represent a picture and a picture tells a story just as words do. The scribble can represent the words that describe a picture, and the scribble-words can be read aloud to tell the story, with reference to the picture for visual details.
A very important facet of this early scribble is that writing is an individual's opportunity to tell his or her story. Therefore, the scribble, whether a drawing or an attempt to imitate writing, is documenting the toddler's story! Hence, the key component needed in order to reach the outcome is to have the child "read" aloud his or her story from the illustration and/or scribble-words he or she created. This is ever so exciting! This is the beginning of a person's ability to share or express his or her thoughts by authoring those thoughts. WOW! Powerful play!!! We can ask a child to draw and write about her favorite place, favorite toy, trip to the zoo, etc., and she can read us her story! We can even work on advanced reading skills such as reading with expression, because when telling her own story, this lesson is a natural one and can be an opportunity for learning through play. "Show us your sad face so we know what you looked like when you fell off the swing in your story. Can you read it with your sad voice?"
Once children reach three years old, assuming developmentally appropriate fine and gross motor play has been happening up until this point, they can begin to make attempts at controlling a marker, crayon or even a pencil, in order to work toward writing letters. This is the stage where we may have some actual letters or scribbles similar to letters that are "read" to us when the child tells the story of his illustration.
Assessing pre-writing skills is important. The purpose of assessment is to inform instruction. This means that we monitor the development of the skills in order to determine what it is that each individual child needs from us at this point. Assessment does not have to be and should not be - particularly in early childhood - formalized testing. During the early years, children learn through play, and they demonstrate their skills in the same manner. Therefore, the same fun that we have with them when we are exposing them to writing and encouraging them to be the young authors that they are, is the same fun we must plan and engage, in order to assess skills.
I have found that Scholastic's Easy Assessments for Pre-Kindergarten, by Laurie B. Fyke, is a wonderful resource for developmentally-appropriate assessment activities. Fyke includes a Language Arts Reading Assessment that makes a must-have tool for checking in with early readers and writers. She lists objectives for the assessment, the materials needed, the directions, and she provides a student form as well as a teacher form. How does it work? The child receives a page that has a large box on it with a title, "I can draw a picture and tell about my story." Sound familiar? The teacher form is a check-off grid with space for notes and four assessment times, each corresponding with a list of skills to assess. The skills range from retelling their own story orally to reading with expression. This covers skills that range from toddlers to first grade!
Another assessment of Fyke's asks the student to draw a picture of him- or herself. This writing assessment pertains to organizing information and the skills assessed range from age-appropriate development of the figure in the drawing to demonstrating a correct pencil grip. Once again, she offers a wide range of skills to assess. The checklists, forms, and details make these assessments a breeze for teachers and easy to complete one-on-one with students, without stress or tears. It's easy to keep it fun and see what's going on!
Such assessments allow teachers to easily observe and record where a student is with (pre-)reading and writing skills at a particular point in time. This enables the educator to build upon the current skills, and just as important, to celebrate achievement with students, no matter how minor, because the milestones will be observed. Progress is the goal, at the rate at which it fits each individual student's development.
Below is Fyke's book and also some resource articles pertaining to the information discussed in this post. Happy Writing...and Reading, naturally!
Fyke, L. B. (2007). Easy assessments for pre-kindergarten. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Toddlers and reading: Describe but don't drill. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2014, from http://families.naeyc.org/learning-and-development/reading-writing/toddler-reading
Early writing: Why squiggles are important. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2014, from Learning Disabilities Association of America website: http://ldaamerica.org/ early-writing-why-squiggles-are-important/
Today I had the joy of spending my morning with the staff at the Upper Dublin Christian Nursery School. I have never seen such an energetic group so early in the morning! The energy of the staff spoke volumes to me about the enthusiasm, care, and professional commitment that the families served here must experience. Needless to say, our professional development session was of high quality, as the interest level and desire to gain insight was outstanding...not to mention the range of talent in the room!
My purpose here is to follow up and share one issue from our discussion during the PD session, Writing: A Developmental Skills Approach, that I felt was left dangling. With the use of some wonderful resources, which I will list below, we visited the topic of pencil grip/grasp: the good and the bad. Actually the bad were labeled by our OT experts as "poor" and "awkward" pencil grips. We also looked at the developmental spectrum of pencil grasp. This is important for teachers of writing, particularly in early childhood education, to be aware of. I will also throw out the thought to those who teach reading to consider the grip as a clue when issues with reading comprehension are a concern; however, I stop there, because the relationship between pencil grip and reading is a topic for a PD session, too deep for a blog post. :)
Attendees learned today that along with the traditional "tripod" pencil grip, the "D'Nealian" pencil grip is completely acceptable/functional (see photo above). In our area, schools generally teach Zaner-Bloser style print, and this grip is named for another style of print, D'Nealian, which I have seen taught in other areas. This left me with concerns about crossing grasps with writing styles and wondering if there is a specific reason for this pencil grip to be used with D'Nealian style writing.
I consulted one of my OT resources, and there was a blog post with advice regarding the use of this D'Nealian grasp versus the conventional grasp, which gives some clarity.
Thank You to all of the wonderful new Early Childhood Education friends we made at the conference this weekend! It was such a pleasure meeting you and learning about your education passion. This was our first exhibit with BCAEYC, and we met the most wonderful early childhood professionals. What an exciting day! We are looking forward to hearing from those who would like to benefit from our services, and we would love to have your thoughts, ideas, and needs shared here on our Beyond The Standards Blog, Cafe Edu. Grab a cup of tea, we'll be here waiting for you!
Colleen T. Mantell, M.S., Ed. Founder, President Beyond The Standards Inc. Prof Dev Instructor -PQAS Certified PA & MD Certified Teacher -Early Childhood Edu -Elementary Edu -Family & Consumer Sci -Psychology Published Author -Peer-Reviewed Journal Kindergarten Enrichment Teacher Wife and Mother of Three