Saturday, February 4, 2017

Activities encouraging "Positioning schemas"

We have been observing the children very carefully these past few weeks to identify the schemas  in action in our classroom in order to learn more about each child's personal learning process. 

Schemas are patterns of repeatable behaviour the children use to test out ideas and to make sense of the world around them. Once a schema is identified, it is very important to offer the child appropriate activities which will nurture the patterns allowing the develop and progress of learning. 

After a few weeks of careful observations, it emerged that a group of younger kids in particular shared the same schema called "positioning". The children love lining up toys or placing objects in very specific ways . It does not necessarily follows the logical thinking process  of an adult but it seems to make complete sense to their little minds.  And I dare you to try to "reorganise" everything... Tantrums may follow, tears or screams of frustration. We have observed children positioning, ordering and arranging objects sometimes in very obsessive manners. They sometimes line them up in order of size, colour or shape or texture too. They also love "stacking" activities: cylinders, blocks, lego, cubes, animals on top of each other, books etc... Some of them also like their food to be placed in a certain way on their table mat and they can be very particular about it. Or they may not like if certain type of food is touching. 

Keeping this schema in mind, we had a look in our classroom to make sure the children had enough opportunities to play and learn . Below, are a few of the "Positioning" activities children are presented with or can choose from in our setting. These activities are usually loved by smaller children and though the materials themselves might have a more direct objective (such as counting and representing quantities or matching colours), we let the children in a "positioning" schema use them freely. They just enjoy placing the counters in a certain way. Later, as their learning expand, they will start using them in the way they are meant to. 

This game is supposed to help children learn about following patterns with colours and shapes. Many of them just love stacking the beads onto the rods, following their own design.

Some children also like lining up the crayons. As simple as this. 

This is not the right way to use the Montessori Pink Tower but here again, you need to step back and recognise the child's schema and allow him to test his ideas. Observe the need for lines, order and association in the picture. 

Our bear counters are a favourite. We use them with the wooden grid to associate numbers and quantities or to categorise them by size or colour. But children make their own rules, placing the bears in the way they like. 

The Montessori Brown stairs is often used by little ones in a "positioning" schema. Here, it has actually been used correctly but the little girl decided to use other material and is placing them on top of the stairs in a manner that allows her to problem-solve, question, predict, imagine, speculate and develop independent choices as she was making decisions in an area she was familiar with.

Blocks can be lined up, stacked up. We have coloured blocks and natural colour blocks. Children use them to build anything. They sometimes choose to place them in a certain order that make sense to them, mixing them up with other blocks or other materials. It may seem random to you but the fact is that children use that type of play to develop a methodical, systematic and logical collection of information through heir senses and their movement. 

Here are a few more examples of classical positioning schema:



We also use our sensorial table as an invitation for "positioning". Last week, keen on creating further experiences, I filled our table with all sorts: wooden dice, plastic letters and numbers, bear counters, plastic counters, wooden beads, etc... I place a sorting wooden tray on the opposite side of the bin and let the magic begin. The children were immediately attracted to the activity. I didn't give them any directions but let them explore the possibilities themselves. Some recognised the potential for categorising or sorting. The younger children enjoyed choosing a place for each item, deciding on placing one or two or more items together, on top, beside etc... 

What else do you do in your classroom to support the "Positioning" schema?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Scaffloding preschoolers' early writing skills

Providing young children with rich writing/drawing experiences lays good foundations for literacy learning. Scaffolding preschoolers' early writing skills is of paramount importance. But the diversity of skill levels can sometimes present a challenge. Some children are still at the stage of scribbling while others are drawing neat pictures from their imagination. Some are still colouring or drawing while others have started making "signs" or formed "letters". So what could I do to encourage my children, support their development level and shape their learning experiences? I took a step back and observed the children in my classroom. One little girl, one day, was playing with a small Montessori numeral rod a wooden box turned upside down. She told me she was drawing! And it hit me. Diversifying writing materials as often and as much possible was a must. Crayons, paint, markers, chalk are a great start but what about the canvas? It doesn't always have to be paper or card. Just gather materials, present it to the children and let them use their imagination. Let them use the materials whichever way they want without preconceived ideas or expectations. Then the possibilities are endless, really, and so are the learning experiences.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

10 timid Little Ghosts - Props

We have been reading 10 Timid Ghosts by Jennifer O'Connell for the past 2 weeks in the classroom. The children love this story. I guess the story has mesmerised them because it represents everything scary about Halloween: witch, ghosts, cats, rats, vampires, skeletons etc.. It is spooky without being frightening and it got their attention straight away. The rhyming and repetitive prose is catchy and easy  to memorise making it fun, while the illustrations are really colourful and detailed. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Naming clouds...

As we were berry picking the other day, a little boy stood quite still in the middle of the field, looking up to the sky. I asked him what he was looking at. He said he could see a funny cloud shape in the sky. I looked up and asked him what it was shaped as. He simply said it looked like a big marshmallow!! Other children joined in when they saw us and we all had a game of "guess what my cloud looks like"! We saw dogs, circles, superheroes etc...Imagination had no limit. The following day, at circle time, I showed the following video to the children. It is based on a book called "it looks like spilt milk" by Charles G. Shaw. The children loved it as it was an extension of what we had done the day before. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

We are going on a bear Hunt

One of the children's favourite books in our classroom is We are going on a Bear Hunt. They love the chanting rhyming tone of the text, the pictures, the repetitive and therefore predictive actions.. So we often use this story to introduce our topic on bear and hibernation. Here are a few examples of our classroom's activities based around the book.

Language /Communication:  Using props 

At circle time, once the children were familiar to the story, we introduced the props to add another twist to the story telling experience. 


The Hundreds Languages of Fabric

Two years ago, we have introduced the Reggio Emilia approach into our classroom and our curriculum. I didn't really know if it would work.. It has! Don't get me wrong, I am still learning and there are many errors along the way. Things I thought would be a great hit among the children turned out to be an "epic failure" (as my own children would say!). Activities that never really appealed to me became so so popular... It has left me baffled at times. The main thing is not to have any preconceived idea, I guess. Try everything and you will eventually get there. 
What I can say now, is that you will notice centres of interest. And I assume that these interests will differ or evolve from year to year as new groups of children pass through your door or as children grow older (never a dull moment in teaching!). So far, thanks to the Reggio inspired teaching method we are using, two interests have emerged from the children, one being a serious love of glue and the other being an equally intense love for fabric. I took these two interests and planned possibilities and provocations.
Children have developed new skills since September and used many different media to communicate their understandings of the world around them, their emotions etc.. As an adult, we may not always get "it". I often see Mams winking at me when their child show them proudly the "blob" they painted earlier on. Mams may ask "what is it honey?". And the child gets frustrated and sighs, explaining what he tried to convey on paper. I taught many parents to comment on the composition of the painting or the colours used when they are not sure what it is representing. The child usually automatically forwards a clue of what it is but his feelings have been saved and he/ she feels valued by the praise they received. Children are quite good at using many "languages" to express themselves. The possibilities for dialogue are endless then, as long as we (teachers and parents) provide them with appropriate tools and means. And I believe that it is my privilege as an early years teacher to support the children who come through my door in discovering, appreciating and mastering the different "languages" available to express themselves and convey their ideas. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Berry picking and cupcake baking!

We read "Rufus and the Blackeberry Monster" by Lisa Stubbs to the children last week.

Shortly after, 2 little girls got very inspired and decided they were going to bake a pie too, just like Rufus's Mam in the story. I watched them getting busy in the home corner.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Our Hedgehog House

We read the Leaf Man story by this week in class. I made the story simple by saying that in every pile of leaves outside hide a leaf man. The wind blows him off across the world sometimes and he meets lots of other animals. I asked the children to recognise as many animals on each page (rabbit, squirrel, fish, turtle, chicken, etc..)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Teaching kids to use scissors

Teaching children how to use scissors. Hmmm...  This can be quite tricky at times. A few children were struggling and didn't to improve on their skills. So my assistant got an idea and drew these little faces on the children 's thumbnails  and told them that the little faces needed to be looking at them all the time while cutting. If the children use the scissors incorrectly, their thumbs usually twist under their palms and away from their body. By keeping that little face drawn on their thumbnail in sight, they automatically use the right position for cutting with scissors .

The children reacted very well to the idea of a little man looking up at them. they held their scissors properly and were able to cut small strips of paper by themselves.They felt empowered and ask for more cutting. 
This was a good exercise to refine their fine motor skills and increase their control of movement (Aistear principles / WB, Aim 1, LG 2 & 3)

To enhance further learning, I will add extra cutting strips with pre-drawn lines. And why not making the cutting exercise seasonal to spark up their interest with halloween just around the corner? I had made some for Easter before. So why not about Halloween?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing (Zimbabwe Proverb)

It was a very rainy day today. Horrible day really. We really couldn't go out, so we asked the children after snack time, what they thought we should be doing now. And they all agreed that they wanted to dance and play fun games with the music.  So that's what we did. 

The bee dance

I asked the children to follow the rhythm: they had to pretend to be little bees. When the music was fast, they had to dance fast ; when the music slowed down, they had to slow down too. They LOVED it!! They had so much fun, it was amazing. 

Musical statues

We also played musical statues and I chose tunes which went very quiet and suddenly very loud: Flight of the Bumble Bee by Rimsky Karakov, In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg  or The Return of the Animals by Danny Kosarin. The children had to concentrate a lot. At the beginning, they thought I had paused the music and froze, when the music had only really got quiet. It took them a while to get it right and adjust their movements to it but this was part of the fun! How wonderful it is that with very little effort, a teacher can bring such happiness to children each day just by providing the opportunity to do a little something with music.