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!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Paleontology...Preschool Style!

Homemade "Moon Sand!" I accidentally poured too much water into the mix, but that made it all the more fun for the kids! It was an ooey, gooey mess!

We stuck to the KISS rule (Keep it Simple, Silly) for the first week of school. However, week 2 meant it was time to get serious with some seriously fun and engaging activities for the children. We decided on a "Science and Paleontology" focus, because heck...what kid doesn't love dinosaurs and fossils?!?!

We love a "print-rich" and "photo-rich" environment because it sparks emergent literacy, imagination, and critical thought. So, we started by hanging photos and dialogue all around the playground. There were photos of scientists working in labs (yes...even the one of Einstein sticking his tongue out!), beakers filled with colored water, microscopes, and even a "Caution: Safety Goggles Must Be Worn" sign for the dramatic play area.
Here are a few of the other ideas we implemented during this focus on dinosaurs and science! Enjoy!

Dramatic Play: We filled a diorama table with play sand, toy dinosaur skeletons, and paint brushes. On another table in the DP area, we added goggles, beakers, magnifying glasses, and white lab coats. We also put out clipboards with beaker shaped paper for the kids to write lab notes. The kids were crazy for it! They did take MUCH of the sand and dinosaurs from the diorama table over to "lab" (okay...rather unexpected!), but I suppose we should have had the foresight to add something of investigative interest to the "lab" table. The following week we added fossils to the diorama table that we made from natural items (rocks, shells, etc) pressed in Plaster of Paris. We also changed out the science equipment and put out non-drying brown plasticine and some natural items such as pinecones, shells, & rocks, as well as some small dinosaurs. The children were encouraged to press the items into the plasticine to make their own fossils.

Sensory: We are HUGE into sensory items. This week, we made our own homemade "moon sand" using play sand, cornstarch and water. We added small dinosaurs, plastic Easter egg shells, and small trees. It started to smell by the end of the week, but the enjoyment at the beginning was unparalleled...the children couldn't get enough of the drippy, oozy, hand-covering mess. I accidentally added too much water, but they LOVED it! Originally, I purchased new play sand, but to do it again, I would just nab some from the sandbox since by the end of the week it all ended up in there anyway!

Another sensory activity we did this week was creating a "Color Lab." I filled each bin in the water table with a different color. I used Colorations Liquid Watercolor (you could also use food coloring), but tempera worked just as well. The noticeable difference in the methods was simply clarity of the water.The children used beakers, ice cube trays, eye droppers, turkey basters and measuring cups to mix the water and explore color.

Art: We decided to paint boxes this week. Large, small, and medium. It was a great muscle-building activity since the kids were able to paint horizontally, vertically, on a flat surface, and on an upright surface. We mix-and-matched the colors and sizes of boxes on most days. Our intention is to put the boxes in the block corner next week. On one day, however, I only put out green. During the course of the day, I realized this huge green box could be put to good use...and so he transformed into a giant bean-bag eating dinosaur! One of my more-creative-than-I coworkers put together the "boxosaurus." We're not sure how long he'll stand up to 80+ bean-bag throwing preschoolers, but he'll be the center of attention for a while, I'm sure! I will keep you posted on that one!
Be prepared to use A LOT of boxes! We set up this activity for the whole week and the kids painted about 15 boxes. Painting was so much fun...but I think building with them will be an even bigger hit!

The "Boxosaurus" ...if he looks as if he's had a rough weekend now, you should've seen him AFTER the kids got to him! Sniff!

Sand Area: Large dinosaurs and hard hats were added to the sandbox alongside the usual shovels and buckets. Several of the safety goggles also "wandered" over to the sand, but that was part of the fun! Though we don't encourage items being moved from one area to another, if a child is focused and purposeful, we allow their play to evolve wherever they like. We just make it a policy that each class cleans up the playground and returns all the loose parts to the respective areas prior to the next class coming out. Labels with photos are essential for this strategy!! 


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