It Not "Just Recess" Anymore!

Teachers often heave a sigh of relief when they take their students out to recess. Finally! The children can burn off the pent up energy they had been accruing for the past few hours indoors. But what if we change our outlook on outdoor play time? What if we create an outdoor environment that offered all of the learning opportunities that one would typically find indoors? What if children could run out to a well-planned play yard to find experiences in math, science, nature, dramatic play, water, building and construction, sensory activities, physical development, art and music? What if they play yard developed critical thinking, discovery, problem solving, and cooperative skills? The result would be that we wouldn't have "just recess" anymore. We would have The Outdoor Classroom!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Melting Snowmen

I LOVE winter. A native of Canada, I grew up skiing, sledding and building snowmen. When it snowed, we donned our snowsuits, grabbed our 'crazy carpets' and ran to school so we could sled down the itty bitty little hill with our friends during recess. However, I now live in Southern California and the dream of a "White Christmas" (or any other snowy day, for that matter!) has long since left my mind. For the past few days, we have been waking up to crisp "winter" weather, but by mid-afternoon, we are shedding every piece of excess clothing just to stay cool in our 85 degree heat spell (rough, I know! lol). 

However, despite our lack of winter, we still like to discuss and dream about snowy days filled with snowmen and winter fun at preschool. While this isn't really an "outdoor" activity, I just had to share it because it was so darn cute! The creative teachers in my young three's class introduced these "torn paper" snowmen and we've since displayed them in our front lobby. Not only are they SO CUTE, but it is a great fine motor activity, too!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Strengthening Academics Through Play

Strengthening Academics Through Play

As parents search for the ‘perfect’ preschool for their young child, they are often faced with a conundrum: should they choose a developmental play-based preschool or should they choose one of the popular “academic” preschool options? As kindergarten becomes increasingly academic, many preschools have transitioned from a traditional play-based environment to institutions that function more like college preparatory schools. Parents are enticed by the fact that their young children might be able to fill in a worksheet or spout rote facts such as the ABCs and 123s by the time they are three. But are academic pencil-and-paper preschools truly beneficial or do they stifle creativity, physical development and the ability to learn critical social skills? Conversely, do quality developmental preschools actually sacrifice academics by foregoing worksheets and encouraging play?

This past year, our transitional kindergarten attempted to watch the historic Endeavour fly-over. Although they didn’t get to see it fly over our school, a spark of excitement was ignited. From this experience, our energetic 5-year-olds embarked on an in-depth study about outer space. While maintaining the play-based philosophy, this class gleaned academics that were akin to that of third and fourth graders! From the beginning, the children were actively involved in the development of this project. They made a three-tiered chart on what they already knew about space and what they wanted to learn; the chart concluded with a summary of what they had learned by the end. They created “thinking webs” to organize their ideas on how to integrate space into their daily curriculum and learning experiences. As a group, they made charts about what types of materials, books, games, fieldtrips, and experiences would increase their learning opportunities. With the help of their teacher, they designed their own dramatic play area, complete with a HUGE child-created spacecraft, space suits, and a mission control station. They created their “own” planets, wrote about space in their journals using ‘proper’ pencil grip and letter formation, authored a short report on their chosen planet, independently sculpted space ships from recyclables, and made realistic moonscapes out of clay. They designed paper airplanes and then measured and graphed the distances they flew. They played games about space that integrated phonics, math, reading and writing skills. A not-quite-to-scale model of all the planets was created by the students using paper-mache and then hung from their classroom ceiling (the planets were hung in the correct order from the sun, of course!). To culminate their studies, they invited Will Allen, one of the key scientists who worked on the Mars Curiosity Rover, to speak to their class. They also went to see the original influence of this project - the Endeavour itself - at the California Science Center. As they progressed through this journey, the teachers carefully documented and observed the learning and interactions that took place. They watched as the children grew in their knowledge and in their ability to work as a productive citizen in the class.

To say this experience was limited to our transitional kindergarten would not just. Our three-year-olds had an equally engaging study on trains where they built their very own steam engine from a refrigerator box, complete with cattle-catchers and pistons! Our pre-kindergarten class explored the wonderful world of animals and discovered many new and exciting facts about our world.

Research indicates that young children learn through direct experiences. They learn through touching, tasting, seeing, hearing, conversing, singing, writing, reading, playing, observing, testing, predicting, trial and error. Much like us, they learn through guidance, discovery, exploration, and adventure.

At our school, we embrace that children can, and will, thrive academically and socially in a well-planned, balanced, developmentally appropriate, play-based environment. We have seen first-hand that when children learn through play, they are exposed to higher levels of socialization, language development, creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking. Finally, the DO develop the much-needed focus, determination, independence, physical and cognitive skills needed to not only thrive in kindergarten, but as scientists, CEO’s, professors, or wherever else God takes them!
Funny enough, if you ask the children in our transitional kindergarten class what they did in preschool, their answer would inevitably be, “I played”.

Our "playing" in action!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Water Features and Dry River Beds

Our preschool is currently trying to put together an interactive water feature for our playground. We want something that will recirculate water through the day, is 'child powered' (hand pumped), and can be dumped out at the end of the day (to comply with local laws). We want the water to be zero depth, but also forceful enough so the children can maneuver the water with sticks, rocks, pebbles, etc. A "dry river bed" idea, but with some water flow. We've had two landscaping companies come out to bid, but I am short on ideas as to how to make this work. Here are a few photos we showed them. Does anyone have ANY photos or ideas on how to make this work? We would LOVE your input!

Something like this could work...if we could just get the water to recirculate during play & then dump out at the end of the day.

This would be perfect, except California has a "no standing water" rule.


Too deep for our purposes, but I love the way it looks like a real creek. I also love the little hand pump!

This feature is at a local park in Pasadena. With the laws on "fall zones," I like that this feature wouldn't require the kids to climb on it. But then again, climbing through a river bed is half the fun!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bike "Parking" Solution!

I was visiting a preschool the other day and I absolutely LOVED their creative idea for 'parking' their 2-wheel bikes. Currently, we battle the parking solution every day. Our creative Outdoor Curriculum Specialist marked off 'parking spaces' in red duct tape for the 3-wheelers. But the 2-wheelers tend to get dropped, flopped, and abandoned without much thought from our pint-sized riders.

I must say, we will be creating this parking solution at our next site work day. The racks are simply a large round of PVC, painted red, and held down with curved PVC joints that were cemented to the concrete. Large slits were cut into the PVC to accomodate several front tires from the bikes.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Our Very Own Easter Bunny

Okay, so there isn't much 'depth' to this post, but isn't it cute??? Our Outdoor Curriculum Specialist snapped this photo of "Mopsy" 'reading' (well, nibbling) a book about the Easter Bunny!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sensory IS Science

Sensory IS Science is a recipe book of sensory and science activities designed for preschool and early elementary students. Most of the photos are taken directly at our center, but some are borrowed from the blogosphere. If any of these are your photos, please let me know so I can give credit! This book was part of a seminar I offered with a coworker at the ACSI convention in Anaheim entitled "En-Gross-ing Sensory and Science." I hope you enjoy it! PS - it is still a work in progress, so any comments or suggestions are welcome!
If you would like to print it, or if you can't see the book, please click on the link and it will redirect you to scribd where you will be able to download it. Recipes for Learning - Sensory Book

Long Time No See!

It is hard to believe that I haven't posted since summer! My excuse? Hmmmm. Well, life I guess! During the summer, my family and I went on vacation for a few weeks and moved into a house. If that wasn't busy enough, I accepted the position as director of the preschool where I work. This was a VERY exciting time, but of course, very hectic. And so, my blog fell behind. It is my hope to get it back up and running. But, now that I am the director, I don't have quite the hands on development of the outdoor curriculum that I did last year. Thankfully, one of our fabulous teachers filled that role and she has taken our Outdoor Classroom to an entirely new level. That said, I now feel compelled to treat everyone as equals, so I will be posting ideas from across the center and from everyone's classrooms. I may even take a few INDOOR photos, LOL.

So, I hope you will come to see me here and there! I am speaking at the ACSI convention in Anaheim, CA next week, so my next post will be resources that I created form my seminar: "En-GROSS-in Sensory and Science Activities for Young Children."