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