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, March 21, 2012

Pay It Forward...Gifts to Give!


I simply love the concept of Pay It Forward. In any arena of life, giving something to someone else is always good sentiment. I was thrilled when I received the news from Kierna at Learning for Life that I was the winner of one of the Pay It Forward packages! What fun...a package from Ireland!

I received the package about 2 weeks before the American St. Patrick's Day holiday. In it was a little stuffy leprechaun, a fantastic book, a beautiful calendar, some Irish flower seeds, and some information about their country. Of course, I held on to it until the festivities began...I mean, what could be better than receiving a package with a leprechaun in it while celebrating St. Patty's Day and wearing hand-made hats adorned with Shamrocks?!?!

Since I don't have a classroom of my own, I asked my son's kindergarten teacher to do the honors of sharing the package with her class. I have to say, she was MORE than creative! Prior to opening the gift with the students, she removed the leprechaun and hid him in the classroom. She rearranged several elements of the classroom such as turning the tooth chart upside down, rearranging the calendar numbers, changing the name tags around, and more. She told the children that when she opened the package in the morning, a mischievous little leprechaun had jumped out an disheveled the classroom. She told the children that he hid in the classroom and they would have to look for him and signs of his mischievous acts throughout the day! The kids were COMPLETELY hooked and enjoyed the idea that a little leprechaun was in their class. At nap time, the children found the little leprechaun hiding in their blankets! What a treat...a leprechaun straight from Ireland! Thanks Kierna!

My son and his kindergarten class - adorned in shamrock hats and holding their new leprechaun friend!
(sorry for the blurred is school policy)

Now it’s my turn to Pay It Forward.

So if you would like to play AND are willing to pay it forward from your own blog, then here is what you do.

Leave a comment on this post stating that you want to play, and I will randomly choose three players.
You can be from anywhere in the world!!
The rules are:
• To the three participants I will send a fun package representing sunny California in the United States, but you must be willing to Pay it Forward to three more people.
• Comments will remain open until April 21st 2012.
• If you are chosen you will need to send me your postal address so that I know where to send your parcel.
• After you receive the package you will need to Pay it Forward in the same manner on your blog.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Train Station Dramatic Play

As a Reggio-inspired school, we try to incorporate child-initiated, project-based learning (similar to emergent themes) throughout the curriculum and school environment.
As a curriculum coordinator at the school, I try to integrate projects that are taking place in each classroom into the shared-by-all areas of the patio, yard and atelier (project/art studio). 

Currently, our 3 year olds are studying about trains. Last week, we added a train component to our hollow block center on the yard (see above). In a large wicker basket, we set out engineer hats, scarves, and large wooden trains. We also set up a basket of paper, coloring pencils, and books to inspire sketching, drawing and reading about trains (below). Many children designed great trains using the large hollow blocks.

To extend the project, this week we painted a large 'bullet train' in the Project Room. We also learned to sketch trains in our Exploring Art class, added trains and tracks to the free-choice patio environment, and we transformed our dramatic play area into a train station! Enjoyed by all, these activities were specifically aimed at our three year olds to extend and enhance their project. Not to be left out, each of our other classes enjoyed an array of activities that were geared specifically to their ongoing projects and interests!

Painting the bullet train. Furnace boxes are perfect!!

Wagons were set out for train rides and shared motor activities

Our 'bullet train' made in the atelier. Duct taped for durability ;-)

In addition to a set of pre-printed 'train tickets,' we set out paper and coloring pencils for the children to create their own tickets. 

We posted a map of our local Metro on the front of the ticket booth.

Tickets, please!

Incorporating projects into shared spaces not only stimulates learning for the intended class, but enhances the environment and sparks new interests for all the other students in the school.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Environment as a Teacher: Gutters & Water

We recently added some new loose parts to the Outdoor Classroom: GUTTERS! I set up the gutters on the yard as shown, but we gave no specific instruction on how to use them. 

Our Pre-K students noticed the gutters right away and began pouring the water down the gutters and into a bucket. 

As the water spilled over and flowed into the hole, the students realized they could make a river. With enthusiasm, they grabbed small shovels from the crates and requested our "real" tool shovel so they could make trenches and rivers in the sandbox. 

They worked cooperatively for approximately 30 minutes with barely a word from the teachers. As the children dug their trenches, connecting several holes that had been built by multiple children, and as they watched water flow through the sandbox, I took a moment to reflect on the capability of children to create knowledge from their environment. In the 30 minutes they spent on this project, they learned about force, flow of water, angles, absorption, and so much more. Could we possibly have taught them all of that in circle time? I think not.

The well designed environment IS a remarkable teacher in and of itself. Don't you think?