Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The magic of a bric-a-brac!

Last Sunday, we went to a field day at my children's primary school. You would be surprise at what you can find for less than a euro at the bric-a-brac. One man's rubbish is one man's treasure!

First, I got a bag with all  The Gruffalo's soft toys to re-enact the story with the children at circle time. Just for €2! What a bargain.

I just have to get the snake. It was missing. But still...

I also got these 2 little jugs for just €1. Great for my practical life area for pouring:

And I found these little blue decorative stones you place at the bottom of a vase or in a candle. I am using them for dexterity exercise. The children have to pick each one of them with a tong (good for the fine motor skills):

Mathematics: measurement/geometry - Part 3

This is the last part of my post on mathematical activities in our classroom for this year.  I am sure I will have a lot more to say as we start our new school year next September, but this is a nice way for me to see what I have done with the kids in these areas and what need to be done or added to improve their performances.

So what about geometry? Preschoolers' intuitive knowledge of geometry frequently exceeds their numerical skills. Young children "do" math spontaneously in their lives and in their play without realising it. It starts with jigsaws. They love them from a very early age and this is a good introduction to geometry and measurement. In a Montessori classroom, the children are in direct contact with a wide range of activities which indirectly help the children to discriminate shapes/forms. Intended as a pre-writing exercise, the insets, for example, are  based on various shapes children get acquainted with on a daily basis as they pick a specific shape to trace over and over again.

Then you have sensorial equipment designed especially with the aim of providing the child with the key to orient himself in the world of shapes, preparing him for maths (geometry).

With the blue geometric solids, children are allowed to refine their stereognostic sense and are made aware of all the solid shaps that surrounds them. What I like doing with them with these solids is to let them roll gently one shape at a time in a tray of sand to see what forms it can make. It is like adding a thrird dimension to the solids. They love this.

Then, we use the constructive boxes: the rectangular boxes, the triangular boxes, the large and small hexagonal boxes.

The children explore shapes and patterns, draw and create geometric designs, taking joy in recognizing and naming specific shapes they create. These boxes basically show the kids that
all plane figures constructed with straight lines are composed of triangles.

We also play with the following:

Children are also able to recognize different length and width using the Montessori equipment. The broad stairs and the pink tower both promote the observation and understanding of the perception of dimensions, as well as preparing indirectly for decimal system. This is also true for the wooden cylinders.

All in all, why do we need to emphasis geometry in our curriculum? Because Geometry and measurements help children to develop their spatial awareness and map the world around them. I hope this helps.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mathematics: Patterning/Sequencing/Seriating - Part 2

A few days ago, I was talking about matching and classifying and its implications in the curriculum of a preschooler and junior infant pupil. Today, I am writing the second part of the post: seriation.

So what is seriation? It  involves comparing or putting objects or sets into a sequence (from first to last for instance). It is a prerequisite for patterning. Seriation builds on the child's awareness of different attributes and is another way children learn about their world. The children could do seriation when they focus on gross differences (longer/shorter, bigger/smaller etc..). Montessori  designed brilliant pieces of equipment for the children. For instance, the wooden cylinders.

They allow children from 3 up to order the cylinders by diameter and depth. Same with the knobless cylinders.

And of course, there is the Pink tower and the Brown Stair:


The children can also explore finer distinctions and create patterns for example when they arrange several things one after another in a pattern (making a bead necklace) or when they fit one ordered set of objects to another through trial of error (small cup and samll saucer/ medium cup and medium saucer etc..).   I have stocked lots of different items for the children to order by attributes : balls, stones, bolts, buttons,  plastic teddy bears counters etc... We also have several jigsaws with pictures: the children have to put the pictures in order to make a story. 

When using such materials, the children have to be able to use appropriate language when ordering the sets such as “bigger, smaller, wider, broader, thinner etc....

In our classroom, the children also use the bead patterning wooden box. This is Montessori designed but it follows the same principles.

As you can see on the picture above, the children pick a card with a specific pattern. Using wooden beads with different shapes and colours, the children have to follow the pattern on the card, sliding the beads onto a little pole. This game requires a strong ability at ordering, sequencing and following patterns, as the children have to consider both shapes and colour at the same time. Of course, simple wooden beads can be used and it is so easy to make your own pattern cards if you have a laminator.

Here are a few of the other materials we use for teaching the children about patterning, sequencing, order and seriating:

The list is of course not exhaustive but I didn't have time to make any more photos. Sorry!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mathematics : Matching/Classification - Part 1

Last Wednesday, I was at the meeting at the local primary school my children attend. My baby boy is starting school next September (not such a baby anymore!!) and the principal presented us with the curriculum and new changes included in the program for 2011. The first trimestre is basically dedicated to experiential/discovery learning, very similar to what we are already doing in our classroom. Every activity we present the preschoolers in literacy, mathematics, or even history/geograpphy are definitely a great preparation to what will be expected of them next September.  I have already written about our pre-reading and writing activities. So I thought it was now appropriate to talk about a few mathematical exercises we do together in our classroom. 

Mathematics includes different aspects: of course, the first one that comes to everybody's mind would be numeracy. However, here, I want to concentrate on  matching, sets /classification, order/seriation and measurement/geometry, because I want to show you that there’s more to preschool math than counting. Writing it all in one post would be too long and this is why I have split it into 3 parts. This is the first one.

1- So let's start with matching. When you think of it, matching is one of the first mathematical concepts to develop in a child and is a foundation to logical thinking. It includes recognizing objects that belong together and matching uneven sets of objects on a one-to-one correspondence. Pairing odd socks/mittens/shoes, matching similar sounds or scales of different purples is a very good matching exercise the children do on a daily basis in our classroom (see photos below): 

Scaling colours

Matching sounds

Pairing socks

Matching unequivalent sets is a little bit trickier but the children love the challenge: matching a knife with a fork, a hammer with a saw, a gardening glove with a trowel etc... And for this type of activity, we use everyday tools on our pracical exercises shelves.

2- In our classroom, we also teach children sets or classification. Classification exists when two or more events are treated as equivalent. It is the understanding of “sameness”. Montessori saw that children had a natural sense of order and tended to categorize objects on their own initiative. In fact she felt that the term 'mathematical mind' was particularly appropriate. And this is why she has developed materials/equipment but also practical activities aiming at developing this sense of categorization/classification in children to promote mathematical thinking.  Classification skills are building blocks for learning important math concepts. Children classify objects, ideas, sounds, smells, or flavors into groups (categories) according to traits they have in common. Children ages 3-5 are learning to recognize colors, shapes, sizes, and materials. They are learning about parts and wholes. They can compare: biggest/smallest, more/less. We use Montessori materials but we also use items you could find in your own house or outside in your garden:  buttons, keys, coins, pasta, cereal, fabric or paper scraps, marbles, balls, stamps, postcards, jar lids, leaves, shells.

Sorting vegetables and fruit

 Sorting animals who leave on land, in the air or in the water

They can so by one trait at a time—separating blue buttons from red ones, for example- or by 2 or more attributes (by shape and colour for example).  

To conclude, classification/matching are pre-number concepts and children need lots of experimentation as well as communication with it. We classify on a regular basis without even considering what we're actually doing. We look in indexes that are alphabetized or numerically arranged, we purchase groceries in areas of food groups, we classify to sort laundry, we sort our silverware before putting it away. Children can benefit from a variety of classification activities which will also support early numeracy concepts (for example, using blocks to engaged young children to repeat the patterns.....blue, green, orange etc. / using shapes to encourage children to determine what comes next----triangle, square, circle, triangle, etc./ asking children to think of everything they can write with, ride on, that swims, that flies etc..)

Keep in touch for parts 2 and 3 of this post on mathematical concepts (order/seriation and measurement/geometry)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Welcoming new friends!

Yesterday, we welcomed our 2 new friends: rabbit and rabbit! (sorry, they still have no name). They were in the classroom first, until we got the hutch this afternoon. They are so cute! The children are completely in love with them. It prompted them to ask questions about how we were going to care for them, what they eat. One little girl was very worried : "they might get cold at night time. We should give them blankets". We reassured her and told her that we were going to put straw in their hut to keep them warm and cosy. Others wanted to know if we could bring them on a walk. It was so interesting to see the children showing so much empathy and concern for these rabbits. Such a great addition to the preschool. No regret whatsoever.

I think the brown rabbit (a male) has been named Fudge! Any idea for the black little female rabbit?

Our dog Jake is very interested... but I wouldn't trust him. Neither do the rabbits!!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Paper flowers

To conclude our little study on the different parts of a plant, we made some flowers today with the children. I used some of their paintings (the ones that look like a big colourful blob!) and cut flower heads out of them. I gave the children a lollipop stick, some glue and green paper leaves I had prepared the night before. They glued them all together and finally added some red lentils in the centre to imitate the seeds.

So, we have here all the parts of a flower (apart from the roots): petals, seeds, flower, stem and leaves. I sticked some magnetic band at the back of the lollipop sticks. They are now hopefully decorating many Irish fridges!!!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Our Discovery Garden - Part 3

Check out our new sand pit table!! I have been begging my husband to make one for ages and he finally did it... A bit rough though, so I had to sand it... A LOT! Then I gave it a quick coat of blue paint. I also sprayed white paint on some heart shaped stencils  I made... and voila!!! You should have been here to see how eager the children were this morning when I put all the sand in!!! They were queueing beside me, armed with shovels, buckets, and diggers!! What a sight.. We had to lay some ground rules and finally, they were at it!!! They have had so much fun.And as I am talking, Mark is painstakingly making a wooden cover for it!! What would I do without him?

If you have just joined us, here are the links to my posts on our Discovery Garden, Part 1 and Part 2.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ribbit, ribbit.....

A few weeks ago, I showed you a flip book I created for the children to teach the how to draw a chick (see post here). The activity was so popular that I decided to make more of these flip books, following a theme or even a story line. As Spring is still on the cards, we've been reading a book about a poor frog unable to catch flies and feeling very hungry (Frog's flicky licky tongue by Jillian Harker). The kids really like this story.

I thought that a flip book would be a great extended activity after reeading the story at circle time.. So I looked for some templates about how to draw a frog and found some on Karen's blog, Little Acorns. I reproduced the head and added a body to it to make it as similar as possible to our little friend in the story.

And this is what the children came up with. Some of them drew 3 of them... They loved it. So don't be surprised, dear parents, if you are suddenly invaded at home by little green froggies!!