Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy belated birthday!!

I completely forgot that I created this blog a year ago. Last February11th, 2011 to be exact! This has been such a great experience for me. I have met so many new people and learnt so much by sharing and exchanging ideas/projects! I have also become very fond of one lady in particular, Karen from Little Acorns and she has made my journey on the blogosphere so much more interesting and fun!! Thanks Karen!

Why do I blog? Well, I have lots of reasons for blogging.
It's a way for me to deal with recurring bouts of "feeling inappropriate". I only opened up 4 years ago and I am always worried: am I doing the right thing or am I doing it the right way?
It's a way of dragging me out of my very private shell and meeting new people. People who have the same interests, the same passion, people who hve done it for much much much longer than me.
It gives me a place to work out what I have done and what still needs to be done. What I feel is right, wrong, neither or both. It also gives me a voice: why I believe such a thing is important for example. Blogging is such a great way to archive my project, my lesson plans and my progress. It is so easy to extract a project I worked on the year before and see if there is a way to improve it or extend it.
It gives me a forum for showing the parents what they children are learning, what we do together, how we work together, why we do what we do. I remember those days when my own children were in preschool. They would come home and I would ask "what did you do today?". They would always answer "nothing". And I really wanted to know what they were learning. Now that they are in primary school or secondary school, they still don't tell me and I still get frustrated. So blogging help me communicate with the preschool parents.
It also provides me with a vehicle for sharing with others those things I find interesting, things I do and hopefully in doing so find new ideas, new ways of doing things.

Herman Melville put it best when he said, "We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results." A perfect description of blogging, don't you think?

Little seeds in the classroom..

We are going to do a bit of gardening in April and May, learning about seeds, plants, parts of plants etc.. And of course, I will try to apply the theme to many areas of our curriculum.

First, I got brilliant play dough mats from Pre-K which will help the children associate quantities with written symbols: each mat has a number written on the  righ top corner and the children have to create play dough carots accordingly. It is so simply but the children will love it as they have never had to use play dough for mats before. I have taken any picture, I'm sorry! But basically,  this activity mix development of fine motor skills and maths.

Play Dough Mat Rabbit
Picture from

At circle time, I read  this book to the children:

From Seed to Plant (Rookie Read-About Science)

I just love this book (and the entire series "Rookie Read About" by Allan Fowler. The explanations are thoughful and simple and the pictures are brilliant!! It gives the right information and help the children build on vocabulary too. The book focuses on the parts of plant including pistils, stamen, petals, pollen etc... And it also covers how a seed is transported.  To complement the book, I have also read the following book to the kids:

It is a bit more complicated but the children love the colourful illustrations.

To go with our study of plants and seeds I put together a matching game that I saw once on a blog (sorry, I forgot which one!!! My apologies). I meant to have this exercise ready last year but i never got around to it and was quite annoyed with myself to be honest! This is quite simple but it took me a little bit of time to create it. I simply bought 2 identical packets of seed and used them to make 3-part cards. The children have to match the picture of the packet and the seeds.   As my laminator would not allow me to laminate the seeds, I had to glue the seeds on a laminated sheet. I don't know if my description is very clear but have a look at the photos below:

Like each year, we are going to start planting. This is the best lesson for the children as they can see physically see what they are learning. I usually have the children planting a seed in a glass jar. This allows them to watch their seed grow into a little plant. I know a glass jar is not an ideal solution if children want to replant their plant sunflower or  runner beans) anywhere in their garden. So this year I will let them use these organic recycable containers. You simply can plant them directly in the ground and they will dissolve on their own.

But I still want the chilren to be able to witness the miracle of life and this is why I have decided to try something a bit different. I got a plastic glove and fit a wet cotton ball in each fingertip. I then added a courgette bean in the thumb, carrot seeds in the index, lettuce seeds in the middle fingers, turnip seeds and a runner bean in the other 2 fingers. This is a new experiment and I hope this will work. If it does, the children will be able to observe how quickly (or how slowly) seeds sprout and grow and how they change during the growing process. In addition, it teaches children that plants need water, sunlight and a growing medium to survive. This is not rocket science and many other teachers use this method to teach the children about plants.

And once the children have observed sprouting, I want them to be able to see what plants looks like as they grow a bit more each day. So not only will they observe the runner beans they have planted (and bring them home later on) but they will also be able to observe what happen with the lettuce and carrot seeds I have planted in 2 plastic bottles. They should be able to see the roots at first and they watch the vegetables grow. I have improvised a little green house system by replacing the top of the cut plastic bottle on top of the containers. See for yourself.. Fingers crossed, everything will grow according to plan.. I don't really have green fingers, I must say..
I have cello taped a picture of the vegetables on the side of the bottles for the children to know what they are looking at.

I am not a great gardener but I am organised!! And to make sure the children DO see something and learn, I have also prepared a little experiment. I soaked peas overnight. I rolled some newspaper and placed it in a long glass. I poured some sand inside the newspaper and wet it a bit. The sand soaked up the water leaving the newspaper quite damp. I then took my peas and placed them between the newspaper and the glass for us to observe the sprouting process. Once the peas are well sprouted, we will transfer them into bigger containers and let them grow before planting them outside in the preschool garden patch.

There are a few more things we will do over the next 2 weeks but I will keep you posted each time. You can look at what we did last year right here and here and here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Inclusive practice is good practice

Inclusive practice is good practice. What does it mean? Well, to us, preschool teachers, this means working with each child to help them build their self-esteem: listening to them, encouraging them to talk about themselves, and giving them the opportunities to express themselves. This also means asking the children to talk about how they feel, how they look, what they enjoy, who they are within their own family, what origins they come from, who their friends are etc.. This creates a sense of identity and belonging, which is exactly what Louise Derman Sparks highlighted in goal 1 of her Anti-Bias Approach.

Activities that allow preschoolers to discuss their emotions and better identify and read the emotions of others is a key aspect in building emotional intelligence at an early age, which in the long run, can assist children to grow into discerning adults that can relate to others effectively. Studies show that emotional intelligence is just as important (if not more important) than intellectual intelligence in the workplace, so it is important for young children to learn how best to read the body language of peers as early as possible.   Here is a list of what can be done in a classroom:

  •  Emotion collage: with the help of their parents, children can select photos of themselves in various state of emotions. Once you get the photos, scan the hotos onto printer paper so that the child can cut ou their image and paste them onto a large sheet of construction paper. The children can present to the class what emotions they were experiencing in each photo.
  • Picture cards showing different emotions. use them at circle time and ask the children to pick one of them and explain to their friends why they have picked this one. Some may pick the "sad" picture card and explain that their mam didn't let him finish their picture this morning because Mam was rushing to work. This may seem trivial to us but this i a big deal for a 4 year old!!! You can buy these cards anywhere really, but you can make your own too!!

Encouraging children to share their family life with their peers in the setting make them feel included too. Practitioners can then gradually build on that sense of self and belonging and help the children feel that they are also part of the setting's community, and eventually part of a community out in the world. Having a "family wall" which celebrates "who we are" is a good starting point. Ask the children to bring photos of their parents and siblings and other members of their family as well as pictures of people who are important in their lives (not just blood relatives). 

preschool lesson plans, my family, preschool theme ideas, preschool themes, preschool theme units, preschool curriculum ideas
(Picture borrowed from Preschool4all)

Here you have a facililty who created a Friendship Wall...

I have to admit that I have never thought about writing a post about our little family wall (we are a small setting!). Shame on me! I believe this is a brilliant way to teach children about what families look like and make them feel included, secured and valued. So there will definitely be a follow-up on this post, as far as I am concerned, next September with plenty of photos.

Some people may be asking themselves why it is so important for children to feel good about themselves. Simple. When you are starving and your belly rumbles and grumbles, can you honestly concentrate on what you are doing? All you think about is food!! Well, this is exactly the same about children. If their basic needs are not met, they can not learn. If a child feels isolated, excluded or not accepted, how can you expect that child to participate in class activities? He won't speak much, won't participate in class activities and will tend to withdraw because he doesn't feel that he belongs, Thus, hindering his learning progress.

Empowering the children is also part of bring an inclusive practice. Empowering supports positive attitudes, cooperative friendships, interactions and curiosity about the world. Empowering children again means listening to the children, respecting them and helping them to think critically. It is about helping children to make up their mind about what is fair or unfair. And it is very important at that stage to help them recognise differences and similarities around them. If children don't spot differences, children might then feel frighetened or angry later on in their young life. It is important also to let children know that if there are things that they don't understand, it's ok to ask questions and to inquire. For example, when children observe a peer with a disability or special requirement, they should feel free and at ease to ask why their peer is behaving a certain way. Staff can reassure them that sometimes, we all need a bit of help. The point is that children learn from one another as Montessori often stated. Children from mainstream backgrounds will learn from a child with a special educational requirements and vice versa. Nobody loses in the process. Everybody gains and moves forward. Some move forward a little bit slower than others. But we all move forward. That's what matters and that's the message children must get. Again, there are lots of activities to challenge the children, make them spot differences and learn to feel comfortable with diversity. For instance, at circle time, ask them to say something nice about the child sitting beside them: "I like Joe's hair, I like Susie's shoes, I like Robby's glasses" etc... Don't be surprised if one of them decide to say that he/she doesn't like his/her own hair. I will refer you here to one of the activities I did with my children at thebeginning of the year, called "The best part of me" during which I asked the children to think about a part of their body that they liked the most. Another great way to promote self-esteem.  You could also decide to compare hands at circle time.

Ask the children to lay their hands flat on the floor and compare skin tones, nails, finger lengths, hands size, nail lengths etc...

The use of persona dolls is also becoming quite popular to challenge stereotypes and counter discrimination. Pesona dolls encourage children to empathise and solve problems the doll is experiencing. To enable the childrento bond with the doll and identify with it, the doll is given a persona (a name, personality, lifestyle, family, cultural background ..). Once they have been introduced to the doll, the children listen and react to stories woven around the dolls.
    Kids Like Us: Using Persona Dolls in the Classroom

I knew this post was going to be quite long. So I will stop right here and will write the second part of his post later on. These are some of my recollections as I reach the end of my Equality and Diveristy course. I hope they inspire you too.....

Becoming a bit more independent each day...

It is a fact that children love to try things by themselves. One thing in particular is to get dressed all on their own. And if you are a busy mam like me, how many times have you had this dilemna: you are in a hurry, you are going to be late and trying to get everybody to jump in the car but your little man or your little princess has decided that today, he/she was going to put her shoes or coat all on his/her own????
Children like to start dressing themselves from about 2.5 years old. Giving them time and space to do it can be tricky sometimes in our busy schedules but it is actually quite important to repect their need for independence. By 4, children can be expected to be able to dress up on their own, but it may still require help with buttons, laces and zips. And let me praise here (again) the benefits of the Montessori method of Education.  Montessori designed great teaching tools for the Practical Life Exercises: the dressing frames.

Dressing Frames are an important part of the Practical Life Montessori Curriculum. They enable children to learn how to dress themselves, their dolls, and help others too! It gives them confidence and independence.  While doing these exercises, children develop their fine finger motor skills, understand the importance of sequence in tasks, as well as  learn how to focus and concentrate.

Lately, we have implemented a new rule in our classroom. Children had to bring a pair of slippers or crocks to school. This was initially for hygiene reasons. These shoes are left at school throughout the year. Upon arrival, children fit on what is now called "the school shoes". We have 2 or 3 chairs set by the entrance door, 2 baskets (an empty one for the shoes they are wearing and another one with the slippers). They look for their school shoes and proceed to put them on. When it is time to go home or go outside, they line up chairs, sit on them. I collect the school shoes in one of the baskets and give them all their home shoes.  They put their "home shoes" back on. It took a lot of getting used to it (especially for Rachel and I). This might not be the most practical way to do it but this is working at the moment. We do not have little cubicles by the school entrance as we are quite short of space and this is the solution we have found! Once the shoes are back on, we give them their coats (the coats are hanging in the entrance hall on litle individualised looks, with the snack boxes). The children have to put their coats/jackets on themselves and try to button/zip them up! Quite tricky for some of them but such a brilliant exercise! And do you know what? They get such a kick when they finally do the whole thing all on their own!!! Their little faces light up with pride and even though it is a bit more work and organisation for rachel and I, it is definitely worth it !!!!

Putting a coat on the Montessori way

OK... it doesn't always come right !!! But praising goes a long way and at least he tried!!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Class Divided (Jane Elliott)

As you know by now, I am currently doing a course on Equality and Diversity, focusing on Louise Derman-Sparks' Anti-Bias Approach (ABA). At our last workshop, we were shown a  very interesting documentary about Jane Elliott's exercise in the 1970s, a program called "Eye of the Storm”, during which she separates the children into different group, according to the colour of their eyes. The idea of the eercise came straight after the assassination of martin Luther King. Jane Elliott asked her school children if they would like to try an exercise to feel what it was like to be treated the way a colored person is treated in America, mentioning that it would be interesting if there was segregation based on eye color instead of skin color. The children enthusiastically agreed. On that day, she designated the blue-eyed children as the superior group and gave them extra privileges, such as second helpings at lunch, access to the new jungle gym, and five extra minutes at recess.The blue-eyed children sat in the front of the classroom, and the brown-eyed children were sent to sit the back rows. The blue-eyed children were encouraged to play only with other blue-eyes and to ignore those with brown eyes. The brown-eyed and blue-eyed children were not allowed to drink from the same water fountain.  What was amazing to watch was the immediate changes in their personalities and interaction with each other as early as the first 15 minutes.One day, the blue eyes are looked upon as the privileged group.  The roles were reversed the second day. Jane Elliott basically created a microcosm of society in a third-grade classroom and made sure children were going to be presented in the most practical way possible to discrimination and what it feels to be discriminated: “I knew that my children were going to walk in someone else's moccasins for a day. Like it or lump it, they were going to have to walk in someone else's moccasins”.  The video shows how a reunion of Elliott's third graders, now young adults, took place in the 80s. It also shows Elliott teaching her lesson to adult employees of Iowa's prison system and to people of a workplace. It documents how their reactions to her exercise were similar to those of the children. 

Please have a look at the video: it teaches us a lot about ourselves!

What came to me when I watched it was that it was a remarkable experiment, but it occurred to me that today such an exercise would never be permitted.

Not because we have a conservative stance in our country. On the contrary, I firmly believe that teachers (preschool teachers, primary and secondary school teachers etc..) are being very creative in the way they teach nowadays. I just have to look at all the informative paperwork that comes my way from my own children’s primary school. The children have a new subject called SPHE (social physical health education) which deals with issues such as bullying, being different, integrating everybody, being a family, a community etc.. My eldest daughter attend the Presentation Secondary School in Wexford. Two weeks ago, she attended with all her peers a workshop on LGBT (“lesbian, gays, bisexual and transsexuals”). This is a push towards LGBT inclusive curricula which can help educators to create more honest and accurate instructional programs, as well as safer and more affirming environments for all youth. Times have moved on. That’s a fact. This is no longer the 80s Irish education system. Schools are no longer circumscribed drastically because people are afraid to speak. Anti-bias approaches are being adopted across the curriculum. It is again a low process, but it is happening. Educators are being educated and are educating the children, teaching them how to respond to inequality and discrimination. If values taught at school used to be narrow and restricted in the 60s and the 80s, I think that nowadays, horizons are being broadened up.

The exercise of “a class divided” would simply not be allowed as it could damage children if not done properly. Jane Elliott herself didn’t recommend educators to use the exercise if they have received no training. I, as a parent, would not allow my children to take part in it. I really believe that a child can be scarred for life even if they are pretending. This could give them a complex and completely destroys their self-esteem and their sense of belonging. I would never agree to have the exercise implemented in a classroom. Children can be taught in many other direct and indirect ways using props, books, stories etc… Children do not need to be put in the shoes of an oppressed or discriminated group, whether they are in preschool or in primary school!

However,  I would see great benefits of the exercise if implemented in Irish’s workplaces for instance. Or with teachers in training.. After all, to teach children about equality, as Louise Sparks has explained, adults working with children need to look at their own attitudes towards minority group. And this is the perfect example.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Easter Bonanza!!!

Holidays have started!! I have TONS of things to do during these next 2 weeks but first thing first. I want to share with you what we have done together last week.

I was looking for a new craft project to do with my children. I can't remember where my inspiration came from but I googled polka dot fabrics and printed a few of them. I then glued a oval shape in the centre of my patterned sheet and laminated the whole lot. I showed the children how to place glue inside the oval shape and then apply buttons of all sorts on it (making sure to stay inside the shape). Choosing the buttons one by one was the real thrill for the children and they really focused on the exercise.

This is what it looked like once it is dry (I have to say that it actually looks much better in real. The photo is not really good!).

I punched 2 holes at the top of the laminated card and laced a white rubbon through .. and voila!! 

What else? Well, Easter wouldn't be Easter without our traditional Easter tree:

And we went for our Easter egg hunt too. But before we could look for eggs in the garden, I explained the children that I needed them to turn into little bunnies to do the job properly. "But we are children.. we can't turn into rabbits!" exclaimed one little boy, despair in his voice! So I showed them what I had prepared the night before with a bit of card paper (blue, pink and white), double sided tape, scissors and....  patience:

Bunny ears!! Blue for the boys and pink for the girls!! I just had to staple the headband together after measuring their little heads. Look at some of my little bunnies:

Can you find our eggs?

And of course, we made our little easter baskets: