Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Using Natural Items In the Classroom

In honor of this week's, "It's Playtime (8) Natural Play," I'm going to share what we did today, which happened to be using natural items in the classroom.

In science center, we used these bamboo place mats to create individual spaces. I bought them at the dollar store a hundred years ago, but any natural place mat will do.
On each place mat, I put several different types of natural items from our science center, along with magnifying glasses.
All of the rocks, leaves, and twigs were picked by the children during a nature walk. Right outside our playground is an area of gravel...the perfect hunting ground for interesting and brightly colored rocks like this turquoise one above.

Magnifying glasses provide a fresh way to see the world. You don't need anything specific to examine...I remember being fascinated by my own magnified hands as a child.
Of course, not everyone wanted to use the mats for looking at natural items. Majd found a new way to use the place a road for his toy car! :)
Over at the other table, we had this going on:
It's a little blurry, but it's play dough and beans.
Giovanni makes "cookies," and then sorts them. It may look like a couple of piles of stuff, but he was very meticulous about sorting and deciding where each bean or play dough cookie would go.

Christopher found that scooping and pouring beans with his hands was just as fun.


Happy playing!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pet Disaster Day

Hold on. I'm trying to breathe out this knot in my stomach. I get knots in my stomach when I'm stressed, and this day was a stressful day...for me and the critters at least! For the was probably more exciting than stressful.

Let me explain.

During breakfast time, one of the teachers came in with a tadpole that her son caught the night before.

We named him Teddy. Teddy the Tadpole.
He's in the middle of transforming...he actually has two very small legs beginning to sprout.
Teddy got lucky.
 We also have a class pet named Gordo. He's our hamster. 
This is a picture of him in his old cage. We now have a fancy plastic cage complete with a tunnel and an upper level for him to climb up to.
On this fateful day, somebody KNOCKED OVER the hamster cage. Our fancy plastic cage completely broke apart, spilling all his hamster bedding, hamster food, and of course, the hamster.

Luckily, he froze in fear, so I was able to catch him before he ran under a shelf or got stepped on. The kids all froze under my instruction, while I put him in his hamster ball. Then we cleaned up the mess, put the cage back together, and put poor Gordo back into his cage.

He may have had a minor heart attack. 

Excited by all the commotion, Gordo ran all around his clean cage, digging the bedding all over the place, and finally jumped onto his wheel. He was running so fast that he kept falling out of the wheel, much to the delight of the thirteen kids surrounding his cage! 

He really made an impression: 
...because a few minutes later, the classroom was filled with giant, child-sized hamsters.
Of course, hamsters need a cage.
As if that wasn't enough excitement for the day, we headed outside, and found a surprise in our garden:
A baby bird!
Here he is up close...

This is the nest he must have fallen from. It is right over the garden.
He had many visitors!
It took a lot of will power and fear of being sent to the office for them not to poke at the bird with a stick. For some reason, every child who came to see the birdy felt the urge to poke the bird, or throw something at it! Poor birdy! I ended up spending the outside time guarding the baby bird from curious little "pokers."

Ok. The knot is almost gone.

Have you ever had any surprise critters in your outdoor area/ classroom? I would love to hear about it! 

Happy playing!

Wikki Stix

If you don't know what Wikki Stix are, I suggest you pay attention! If you do, then you know what a flexible, durable, and open-ended and unique tool they can be. Wikki Stix are string dipped in wax. They are bendable like pipe-cleaners, but won't stick you with any metal edges.

The wonderful thing about Wikki Stix is that they are incredibly open-ended. You can leave them out by themselves and watch them be manipulated into just about anything.

If you do theme-based teaching, wikki stix can be adapted to fit just about any theme! You can use them to form letters, shapes, animals, balls, or whatever. I can't stress enough how much I love this product.
Braeden makes a square, two eyes, a nose, and a sad face. Ellie uses hers to mold to the picture. I see creativity and deep concentration going on in this picture.
These have been twisted and bent into a rainbow.
On this day, we added Popsicle sticks. The X shapes turn into...
This activity attracted a lot of boys.
They had to take the planes out for a test ride. All. Around. The. Room.
Each plane was unique.
This one took a lot of thought and effort! can buy the generic brand at Walmart and get more bang for your buck. They work just the same!

What other open-ended materials would you place with Wikki Stix to encourage creativity?

Happy playing!

Lacing with cereal

We have several options for lacing in the classroom. We have shoe laces and beads. We have lacing cards, and lacing animal shapes. Lacing will strengthen hand-eye coordination and small motor skills. Recently, we've had most of our older 3 year olds move up to the next class, and now have 5 new, younger threes. 

To accommodate my younger threes, I opted for pipe cleaners instead of shoe laces.
Pipe cleaners are sturdier and easier to lace with.
 For fun, I used the left-over cereal from breakfast.
The problem with using food for lacing is the temptation to eat...and keep eating until you have nothing to lace with! So I told the kids they could eat the broken ones, and to save the circles for lacing. This worked out pretty well.
The activity gathered a crowd.

When they were finished lacing, we found out that the short pipe cleaners were too small for bracelets. That was a bummer, but it forced them to get creative. Kamala made "lollipops." :)
These are rattle-snakes.
It was a curious thing...
After everyone was done lacing, I went to go clean the table, and found that all the remaining cereal was missing. The case of the missing cereal is still wide open, but I have my suspicions. 


Happy playing!

Mixing Colors With Shaving Cream!

Someone once asked me what do I do when the daily routine "falls apart?" In a classroom of three year olds, this is a valid concern. My threes have been known to send teachers out of the room crying (myself included)! I don't blame them...they are three, and act accordingly. When you put twenty 3 year old children in a room, there is bound to be some drama, no matter how wonderful and patient the teacher is. 

I always fall back on providing sensory play. 

In my classroom, the sensory tub is always filled with something interesting to pour and fill. Art center has materials including paint and glue available at all times. Finally, at the table, I usually put out either flubber, playdough, wikki stix, or shaving cream. 

I try to make sure to have at least a couple cans of shaving cream on hand. There is something innately soothing about rubbing your hands in a fluffy mountain of shaving cream. When you rub it on the tops of your hands, it almost feels like a massage. No wonder so many children rub it on their arms, faces, hair, and bellies (oh, yes...I said bellies)! 

Now I usually squirt the shaving cream for the kids, and then let them "go to town." This has worked beautifully for me in the past. This time, I just put the can out, and watched to see what they could do.

It was funny watching them stare at the can, then at me for a few minutes. I didn't say anything...just waited for someone to be brave enough to try it first. Of course, as soon as she did, I heard, "MS. GINA...SHE TOUCHED THE CAN!" Expecting it, I nodded, and said, "It's okay. You can try it yourselves."
It can be pretty tough to push the button down hard enough to make anything come out. Here, you see Sydney give Emily a helping hand.
I also utilized the baby food jars as paint holders. I put out red, blue, and yellow liquid water colors for some real color mixing magic. I also put out eye droppers, which are great for gaining small motor control.
They had to wait turns while the shaving cream was passed around. Next time, I'll put out two or three cans to minimize wait times. This time, they did pretty well waiting.
Sometimes, it took a few tries to get it out.
The color mixing begins...

I doubt the next time they will have as much trouble getting the shaving cream out on the first try.
The end result!
Happy playing!
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