I read the blogs of other early childhood educators for the inspiration and ideas, but one of the downsides is that there are many teachers out there doing things I admire and respect, but that I know I'll never in a million years be capable of doing.
It's been particularly difficult for me these past few weeks as I've read about teachers preparing for the new school year (ours doesn't start for another month). Specifically, I'm talking about those posts on arranging the furniture, planning stations, hanging amazing bulletin boards, putting together thoughtful curriculum plans, and making exciting supply purchases. I love what you guys are doing. I'm impressed, blown away even. Seriously, who knew there was so much preparation one could do for preschool? It's hard not to feel inadequate especially since I know that I am constitutionally incapable of doing it myself.
Sometimes I plan out a week's worth of activities, but generally speaking, I'm lucky if I know what's happening at school tomorrow. More often than not, I plan the day while driving to work, and most of that planning involves reflecting on what happened the day before in order to figure out which directions the kids seem to be going so I can run around in front of them and pretend I'm their leader.
A case in point is the marshmallow painting project we did this week. On Tuesday Charlotte said she wanted to "paint with marshmallows," so that's what we did on Wednesday.
The idea was for the kids to make marshmallow paint brushes by skewering one on a toothpick, dip it in paint . . .
. . . and go to town. (There was a bit of supply depletion due to unauthorized consumption, but Remick's dad Doug, who was our parent-teacher managing the project, told me that the incidence was much less than he'd anticipated.) That was my interpretation of Charlotte's idea and she seemed satisfied, as were her classmates who produced dozens of paintings.
I'm not a planner. I'm more comfortable going with the flow. I like letting it emerge from the children as we play together, their parents, and even my own passing fancies. When I first started teaching the Pre-3 class the contract called for me to submit a month-by-month curriculum outline at the beginning of the school year. I asked that this stipulation be removed before I would sign it. Don't fence me in, baby! How can I possibly know what games we're going to want to play tomorrow, let alone next next week, month or season?
I usually don't even know what we're going to do at circle time each day until I'm sitting there in front of the kids, looking at their faces, feeling their energy, picking up snippets of their conversations. Sometimes I just start making up songs about what I see them doing or chanting goofy rhymes (parent educator Dawn Carlson calls it preschool freestyle rap) until they've settled in. Sometimes a raised hand will lead to conversations about bloody owies or volcanos or picking berries. Sometimes we're done in 10 minutes. Other times we go for more than 30, even with 2-year-olds.
I do have a fairly standard supplies purchase that I place with Discount School Supply at the beginning of the year, but I'm also stopping off at the hardware, garden, grocery, art, craft, or drug store 2-3 times a week throughout the year. At the same time, I've learned that it's important for me to have massive amounts of storage because the only way to prepare for spontaneity is to have well stocked cupboards.
I'll be happy if our bulletin boards get a fresh layer of butcher paper before the new school year.
The furniture will probably be more or less where it's always been, except when it isn't.
Sometimes our days will be quirky, chunky disasters and other days will be spectacular, but that's always true in preschool no matter how much or little we plan.
And if anyone is interested in how marshmallow paintings turn out, here are some samples:
If you click on this picture to enlarge it, you'll see that Vivian
left several toothpicks and marshmallows on her canvas.