I doubt there are few more unpredictable workplaces than a preschool classroom. Even after more than a decade, I’m still surprised, irritated and flummoxed by what goes on around here.
But every now and then you get a day like yesterday when everything goes just as it would in a dream.
All of these things were going on simultaneously:
Art: As an extension of our Pre-K class' “dangerous” experiments in melting earlier in the week, I’d set up 3 hot plates lined with foil. The kids then drew on the foil with crayons, which, of course, melt as they glide across the smooth, hot surface. If they wanted, they could make a print by pressing a sheet of paper down onto the surface, but most kids were completely satisfied by this soothing, reflective art process-without-product, even with its built-in potential for causing burnt fingertips.
Sensory: We had large and small chunks of ice in our sensory table, which we sprinkled with rock salt during the first half-hour of class. The salt causes the ice to melt at an accelerated rate, but mainly only in the spots where the salt directly comes into contact with the ice, which means that our chunks were soon riddled with holes and ridges. That’s when we broke out the liquid watercolor and eyedroppers. The kids quickly figured out that they could inject the color into the ice creating “rainbow ice.” By the end of the day, the sensory table was a soup of paint, water and ice, which Max insisted were “bloody brains.”
Blocks: We often use our block area – being the largest single area in the room – for dramatic play. Since the firefighters are visiting us on Monday, we prepared for them by setting up the area with our collection of toy firetrucks, helmets, fire hoses (pipe insulation), orange caution cones, and a simple cardboard box facsimile of a kid-sized fire truck, featuring a steering wheel made from a paper plate and an old cell phone standing in for a dispatch radio.
Drama: Our drama area is one of the parts of the classroom that tends to stay the same day-after-day. I think it’s important to have at least one place where things don’t change too much. There’s almost always play dough and our collection of costumes, stuffed animals, dolls, toy food and kitchenware. Alex took over the area early on, declaring she was getting ready for a party, a play theme that carried on throughout the morning, ultimately involving several other kids. She had put on our lone “fancy” dress, which reminded me that the bulk of our costumes had finished serving their “lice quarantine” and were ready to be re-introduced into the classroom. I brought out three bags, two of which were costumes and one contained doll clothes. Soon there were several party-goers and their babies dressed to the nines.
Table Toys: I often think of our table toys station as a place for kids to sit for a bit and concentrate. Yesterday there were three small bear puzzles on one table and more of the fire fighter curriculum materials on another.
Do-It-Yourself: The tape machine continued anchoring this station (I’ll reveal the current state of the door sculpture tomorrow), although I added old magazines to the usual collection of scissors and glue sticks, along with a long piece of butcher paper on the wall easels where they could glue the pictures they cut out.
It was a rare, sunny November day and from the very start the children got down to their business alone and in groups. The play flowed almost seamlessly from station to station almost like it had been choreographed. Knots of engaged kids formed first around the firefighter play, then around the melting crayons. At one point the sensory table was surrounded by at least half the class, feverishly drawing paint into their pipettes and squirting it onto and into the ice. The party really took off for awhile as everyone donned costumes and pretended to eat play dough cookies. At one point the do-it-yourself area had become a dense tangle of tape, some of the pieces well over 10 ft. long. There were even moments when 3-4 kids took a break from the action together to focus on the bear puzzles.
There was ongoing, excited chatter among the kids with barely an adult voice to be heard (except maybe mine). Conflicts were almost non-existent and the few that did erupt were quickly and easily settled. No one separated herself off into a corner or got “stuck” at the snack table.
All the children were involved with our clean up. Circle Time was a bit unruly, but it often is, and none of it distracted us from our marathon session of adding to our compliment chain, running through the rest of our firefighter curriculum, and heading outside for a fire drill.
The rainbow ice chunks reappeared on the playground and were slid down the slide, broken on the asphalt, and added to the sand box. Our decomposing pumpkins attracted several diggers who “splated” the mushy pulp against the fence and the exterior walls of the school until Peter got some in his hair and we had to make a new rule about rotting pumpkin staying on the ground.
From beginning to end, the children were in charge, and the community they created was inclusive, enriching and exciting. And we did it all in a single morning.