Monday, June 6, 2016

The Essential Arts and Crafts Supply Cabinet

One of the most popular areas in an early childhood classroom is the art center.  The art center can be quite a chore to stock to maintain the children's interest.  To keep up with the demands of a high use center I find relying on tried and true arts and crafts supplies to be key.  I also like to rotate in inexpensive and often free/recycled items. The following list includes items that I frequently used in my preschool classroom and in our lab classroom. 
  • Paint--tempera, watercolor, fingerpaint   
  • Various sizes of paintbrushes
  • Sponges--to cut into shapes 
  • Stamps and stamp pads
  • Crayons--different sizes and shapes 
  • Markers--fat and thin 
  • Pencils--different sizes 
  • Colored pencils
  • Erasers 
  • Colored and white chalk
  • Oil pastels
  • Paper of all sizes and textures--construction, newsprint, lined, wallpaper, butcher, fingerpaint 
  • Glue, glue sticks, paste
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • Hole punchers--three hole, one hole, and decorative 
  • Tape--scotch, washed, and masking (preferably multiple colors)
  • Yarn--various sizes and colors 
  • Contact paper--cut into manageable sizes for impromptu collages 5 x 7 is a good size
  • Tissue paper--scraps work well here
  • Stencils 
  • Play dough, cookie cutters, rolling pins and other tools 
  • Coffee filters 
  • Envelopes
  • Paper plates--great for project bases or paint plates
  • Paper lunch sacks 
  • Cardboard tubes--for art projects and to protect children's rolled papers 
  • Wiggle eyes
  • Craft sticks--various sizes
  • Pipe cleaners 
  • Collage materials--sequins, stickers, scraps, feathers, Pom poms, straws, glitter, confetti, buttons, beads, ribbons, etc. (I like to organize collage materials in empty class pack marker or crayon boxes.) 
Teacher Planning Resources:

  • Smocks, aprons, or paint shirts 
  • Display space
  • Containers to store supplies in for children's use--juice cans, baskets, boxes, and plastic/lidded containers
  • Hand washing area
  • Baby wipes
  • Newspaper or plastic tablecloths--to protect tables and floors 
  • Space for projects to dry
  • Clothes pins--for hanging items to dry 
  • Sharpies--to add names to masterpieces with children's permission 
Favorite Teacher Trick:  When filling paint containers, line with a plastic baggie first and then add the paint...lids will still fit and when you run out of paint or want to switch the color...simply throw the baggie mess! 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sensory table experiences...the custodian's nightmare!

When I was going through my early childhood coursework we didn't learn much about using sensory tables other than having sand and water in the classroom were nice additions.  When I landed my first teaching job in a preschool classroom I had two sensory tables.  I was fortunate to have a fairly large table that was initially filled with was metal and had wheels on one end so it was easy to move when filled.  My water table was a clear plastic tub in a metal had a drain spigot but I found it easier to carefully carry the whole tub to the classroom bathroom and dump in the toilet (the sink drain was not fast enough to handle that volume of water).  When dumping the water tub the metal frame was left unattended and was often occupied by a preschooler using like a walker for the elderly.  In the beginning I was not very adventurous when it came to the sensory options in my could play in the sand or the water...and the water might have bubbles in it.  This post is devoted to remembering the some of the favorite materials I have used over the years in my sensory tables...for some I will indicate the overall theme of the classroom. 

Image result for sensory table
Not my sensory table but the propped up
lid is familiar. 
  • Snow--real snow (or crushed ice) to be enjoyed with gloves and mittens 
  • Styrofoam peanuts (simulated snow)
  • Cotton balls--snow and with doctor theme
  • Plastic Easter grass--with plastic bugs or jungle animals
  • Uncooked Oatmeal with plastic spiders--nursery rhymes
  • Dried beans/seeds--beware--damp kid hands + dried beans/seeds = sprouts
  • Flour--bakery theme...this was a great idea in my head...not a good idea for a carpeted classroom...and with slightly dampened children they ended up looking like little ghosts
  • Dirt with plastic veggies and silk flowers--gardening theme
  • Pumpkins--with the "lids" cut out
  • Water with live fish--this didn't last long
  • Mud--the kids transformed dirt to different consistencies of mud 
  • Colored rice--my old apartment probably still has remnants of the first 20 pound bag I colored
  • Bubbles, baby dolls, and wash cloths 
  • Cooked spaghetti with a little oil 
  • Ribbons, cardboard tubes, yarn, masking tape, & scissors
  • Fall leaves, pine cones, twigs, sticks, 
  • Rocks, pebbles, aquarium gravel 
  • Ice blocks, water, and polar animals
  • Sod, water spray bottles, scissors, plastic animals 
  • Pseudo moon sand--flour and baby oil
  • Clean mud--toilet paper, grated ivory soap,and water 
  • Paper hole punches

I usually kept a small whisk broom and dust pan near my sensory table for the kids to clean up...some kids enjoyed the broom action better than the materials in the tubs.  I tried not to annoy our custodians, so I spent quite a bit of time cleaning things up as much as possible...but I have heard numerous custodians grumble about sand clogging the vacuum cleaners and other gripes.  I did make a few logistical mistakes with my sensory not place a sand table too close to the computer work station or a sink.  The computers took on a lot of flying sand in every nook and cranny.  The sink issue at first became a problem because of the kids adding too much water to the sand table...a little water added a new dimension to the play...but too much and it was a soupy mess.  The second sink issues was caused by the kids adding sand to the sink which clogged the drain...three different times...I learned several things from that experience...when kids do weird things with the materials it is time for a change and after the first call to the physical plant to unclog the drain it was easier to just shop vac out the sand in my own.  

There are so many possibilities for sensory creative and follow the children's interests and needs.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

From Preschool Teacher to Early Childhood Professor

In the fall of 1990, I started my freshman year at Missouri Southern State University as a secondary history major thinking it would be cool to teach history in high school.  During my first semester I had an introductory education course that placed us in our desired grade level for a short observation.  After my introductory time in that history class I quickly decided that high school was not the place for me.  Luckily, it was still my first semester and I had not taken classes that wouldn't work with another major.  Knowing that I still wanted to be a teacher but with smaller kiddos I switched my major to elementary/early childhood education.  I enjoyed the courses and the field experiences through which discovered where I belonged.  I even joined a student organization geared toward elementary and early childhood.  I graduated in May 1995 after a 10 week student teaching experience split between kindergarten and first grade.  

I got married less than a month after graduation and had secured a summer job with the local parks department as a playground director.  For this summer gig I spend my days supervising activities for kindergarten to sixth grade kiddos at a local was hot and tiring but I was really tan that summer...and if it rained...I didn't have to work.  Before summer began, I had interviewed for a few positions in early elementary grade classrooms and a private preschool program...those situations didn't work out because I lacked experience (how does one get experience if they can't get hired because they lack experience?) and most of the programs didn't fit my personality or beliefs.  One day in August, I was alerted to a small newspaper ad for a teacher position in 3-5 year old classroom in the lab school at the college from which I had just graduated.  I applied for the job and was soon called for an interview.  The day of the interview I was working at my park job and it started raining in the afternoon which meant the park kids were picked up early and I was able to run home to shower and change for my interview.  I remember that my hair was not yet completely dry when I arrived for the interview...but at least I was visibly clean.  The interview went well and maybe a week or so later the director called and offered my the job...which I excitedly accepted. 

I started my teaching career in August of 1995.  I loved having my own classroom and I enjoyed the other teachers.   settled into a good routine with planning and executing fun activities in my classroom.  I inherited a gerbil named Fred who passed away shortly after I started...which may be the topic of another post.  The next summer I attended the Project Construct Basic Institute for a week to learn more about the curriculum model used by the Child Development Center.  I decided it made since to enroll to get graduate credit for attending the institute.  Little did I know this would be the start of my masters program.  I continued to take a class or two a semester from Missouri State University, they brought their masters program to my campus.  Soon it was announced that our program director would be retiring and we formed a search committee.  To make a long story short I ended up applying for and becoming director...I never had any aspirations to become a director and quite frankly wasn't sure what I was getting myself into.  

Upon becoming director I had a lot of things to learn...enrollment, purchasing, licensing, accreditation, hiring/firing, billing, and so much more.  One little job that came along with being director was advising some of the early childhood majors...which I found that I really liked.  During the first few years of my directorship I was coordinating an early childhood conference and teaching continuing education courses for child care providers.  Within the first few years as director I had a baby and I finished my masters.  I was soon asked to teach one of the early childhood courses...scary but fun!  After a few years of teaching adults I decided this was a new direction for me to pursue...which meant I needed to begin a doctoral program.  

In 2003, while pregnant with my second child I was accepted into the Ph.D. program at the University of Arkansas  in curriculum and instruction.  I started my doctoral work in the spring of 2004 while working full time as the center director, teaching one EC class, coordinating and teaching continuing education courses, coordinating an early childhood conference...with two kids, a husband, and a dog at home.  Now my plan was to wait for the lead early childhood faculty member to retire (or die) so I could have her position.  

Well...nothing happened until sometime in late 2007 when I saw a newspaper ad for an early childhood faculty position (and lab school director) position at my school's closest rival Pittsburg State University (only 30 miles from my home).  I thought, "What the heck..."  I was ABD and held the qualifications I quietly applied for the position.  I was called for a phone interview and later an on campus interview in February 2008.  A few weeks later they called and offered me the job...I did the obligatory "let me think about it" and then accepted the position.  I made the announcement in March that I would be leaving my current job in July...lots of drama...lots of lessons learned soon my office was packed up and eyes were dried.  I said my goodbyes and then I had about a month to prepare for this new chapter in my life.

After a family vacation to Florida I got settled into my new office and began preparing for my fall courses while interviewing my subjects for my dissertation. It was a busy semester...everything was new and much of it was a blur.  I attended my first NAEYC conference that November with my new colleague (the lead preschool teacher) and a group of students...this would become an annual event (I have now presented at the conference for three years in a row).  I felt like I had settled in well and felt very comfortable.  As expected, the spring semester went even smoother than the fall.  In April, I defended my dissertation and graduated in May 2009.

My time at PSU has been great...I love working with people who want to work with young children.  I also enjoy being one of the advisors for our early childhood student organization.  My major accomplishments the past few years have been serving on the KAEYC governing board (as a member at large and now secretary); getting an article published in a journal;  contributions to a few regional publications and one popular parenting magazine; numerous local and regional presentations; achieving NAEYC accreditation of the preschool in 2012; and earning tenure and being promoted to associate professor in 2013.  I always say I have the best of both worlds...I work with the college students but I can sneak in and enjoy the preschool kiddos as needed.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Preschool Themes

Many early childhood teachers use a thematic approach in their classrooms.  There are some keys to choosing a good, developmentally appropriate theme:  
  1. relevance--tied to real life experiences, builds on child's background knowledge, helps children understand the world around them
  2. possibility for hands on activities--firsthand experiences or simulations
  3. available resources and materials
  4. potential for in depth projects to emerge
My first experience in planning a theme was in my junior or senior year in an undergraduate EC curriculum course.  The class was taught my by favorite teacher and later mentor, Dr. Nancy Smith.  A major project for the course was to choose a theme to plan activities around that would be taught in small groups and later be added to a thematic learning center.  We also had to coordinate a dramatic play center to be implemented with our theme.  I love planning and was excited to get started.  I had already decided I would choose a insect theme.  There was a slight problem, I didn't choose a backup plan for a theme and the day we announced our theme to the class someone else (who announced before me) chose an insect theme...what would I do?  Well...when Dr. Smith called my name to record my chosen theme, I blurted out that my theme was "feelings".  Not sure what possessed me to pick that particular theme...but it wasn't a good choice for many reasons...but I made it through that course and never used that theme on its own again (later I used some activities in an "All about me" theme).  

In my almost 19 years working with 2-5 year old kids I have implemented quite a few themes that did work well.  Some day I may devote future posts to outlining activities with certain themes...but for now I will just list my favorite themes.
  • All about me
  • Apples
  • Fall
  • Pumpkins
  • Thanksgiving
  • Winter
  • Spring
  • Five senses
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Pets
  • Zoo
  • Valentine's day
  • Weather--wind, clouds, rain, rainbows
  • Farm
  • Ducks
  • Dinosaurs
  • Berries
  • Pasta
  • Pizza
  • Insects
  • Bubbles
  • Colors
  • Nursery rhymes
  • Fairy tales
  • Breakfast
  • Transportation
  • Garden
  • Camping
  • Clifford 
  • Bakery
  • Birthday
  • Pond life--fish, frogs, reptiles
  • Babies
  • Grocery store
  • Olympics
  • Restaurant
  • 4th of July
  • Community helpers--post office, doctors/nurses, dentists, firefighters, policemen
Here are some pictures from my days of preschool past that highlight some of my favorite themes.  

Visiting sheep during a farm theme.  
Caging animals with our zoo theme.
Harvesting vegetables in dirt table with our garden theme
Washing babies.

To ask or not to ask...that is the question.

I have been grading lesson plans designed by my early childhood curriculum class and I keep running into the same issue on many plans...either in the closure or transition section of their plans they are asking two simple questions that serve no purpose.  Can you guess those two questions?  Hmmmm....think about are the useless questions:

1.  Did you like the lesson?
2.  What was your favorite ________?

Here is why I do not think these are appropriate questions for preschool lessons.  First, these are closed ended questions that do not provide much information.  Ask a yes/no question and it gives the child the option of telling you that in fact, "no" he did not like your lesson.  Secondly, these questions do not attempt to gauge a child's understanding of concepts from the lesson.  Asking questions that cause a child to reflect on the activity would give you more information to determine the children's understanding of the lesson's target purpose.  If I ask a child about his or her favorite part of a lesson, I may find out that the sticking point was not my intended goal...which may be a good thing to find out...or I may find out that little Timmy's favorite color is blue and why do I need to know that? 

Here are some tips for asking questions that will yield more information:  

  • limit the amount of questions it isn't a game of 20 questions
  • provide time for the kiddos to answer
  • don't ask a question if you really do not need or want the answer
  • Types of questions
    • observation
    • reconstruction of previous experiences
    • relating cause and effect
    • prediction  
    • evaluation 
    • generalization
    • comparison 
    • discrimination
    • reasoning 
    • quantify
    • imaging something
    • proposing  alternatives
    • using  factual knowledge
    • decision making 
    • application 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Preschool Tummy Time

I mentioned in an earlier that I would explain what I meant by "preschool tummy time". 

Several years ago while attending a conference, my co-workers and I were turned on to an idea for using "tummy time" with preschoolers.  The idea was for preschoolers to engage in activities while lying on their tummies in an effort to strengthen their upper body (arms, neck, shoulders) as well as fine motor control which would help prepare them physically for future writing.  I never looked into the science behind it because it made sense and it sounded like a fun idea.  

Back at our center, each teacher prepared an area of her classroom specifically for tummy time.  The teachers gathered suitable tummy time materials in individual baskets and added them to a shelf near her large group rug...small individual throw rugs were added for children to use if they chose a different area of the classroom as their space.  A small portion of each day was devoted to the children playing in this way.  It turned out that it was a great chance to get the kids engaged with different materials and activities in a low key manner. Think about is hard to get too rowdy when lying on one's tummy.  It made for a mellow time during the day.  They kids enjoyed these experiences and often requested "tummy time" which meant it kept us teachers on our toes finding appropriate materials to stock the

Here is a run down of some of the baskets to choose from:
  • Mr. Potato Head
  • Etch-a-Sketch (although hard to shake/erase while propped on one's elbows...a protective helmet might have been a good call with this basket)
  • Stationery, writing instruments, envelopes
  • Sorting baskets--kid's meal toys were perfect here
  • Small play sets--construction scene, doll house, dinosaurs, etc.
  • Coloring books, crayons, colored pencils
  • Puzzles
  • Games:  dominoes, tic-Tac-Toe, checkers, card games, memory
  • Lacing cards, dressing frames
  • Legos
  • Tray with play dough
  • Stencils for tracing
There are so many possibilities and possibly so many benefits!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Some Thinking about Learning Centers

In the last week, I have been talking to two of my early childhood courses about using learning centers in EC classrooms.  I am a total believer in the power of learning through child initiated play I think one of the most important jobs of the early childhood professional is to plan the environment so that it works for the kids. To an outsider...the "play" centers in an EC classroom might not appear planned but they should and often do take much deliberation as to the choices of items to include.  One of my classes will be arranging a fictitious preschool classroom that must include a minimum of 5 learning centers.  My EC curriculum class is beginning to work on their thematic units that must include ideas for various learning centers.  
I get excited as my students are working on these I love to plan and I often begin plotting out new ideas I would like to put into motion.  

These assignments have caused me to reflect on centers I have implemented in my years as a preschool teacher.  In my classroom I always included the following centers:  blocks, dramatic play (corresponding with the theme), sensory tables (sand/water and anything goes), manipulatives, library corner, art, and often a thematic inspired area.  I have also tried some other centers for limited periods of time:  snack, computer, listening, music, science, and preschool tummy time (explanation to follow in a future post).  I was never brave enough to add a wood working center in my classroom.  

This past Friday, the lead preschool teacher, some of our student teachers, and I reworked the block area.  I wish I would have taken a "before" photo.  All the blocks were taken off the shelves, cleaned, and sorted.  Random blocks were gathered for use elsewhere.  Shelves were wiped down and new shelf labels were made.  A HUGE bin of extra blocks that had been in our playground storage shed was brought in...all blocks wiped down, and added to the newly organized shelves.  This cleaning and organizing adventure was the beginning of a block area enhancement project that I am working on for a future conference presentation.  I am planning on adding inexpensive simple items to lure the kiddos into the block area to play.  The block area has not had a makeover in quite a while and the kids need some new challenges.  The children's reaction to the items will be fun to observe and will provide the college students with some new skills to documents and ideas for their future classrooms.

The inventory on these shelves is a little more skimpy than others...more room for new items.

Nice load of unit blocks!

So nicely organized...until Monday.
Whole newly reorganized block area!

The first new addition to the block area are some tree blocks and forest animals as one of our student teachers is implanting a camping/forest theme next week