Friday, April 30, 2010

I Wanna Live In A Turquoise House

I don't usually go in for theme weeks or units or whatever, but we accidentally had one this week.

On Monday we sang "Little Boxes." (I incorrectly identified it as a Pete Seger song. He is one of many performers who've recorded it, but it was written by Malvina Reynolds in 1962, the year I was born.)

We've continued singing it this week. A lot of the kids think it's funny when we keep saying the boxes are all the same, because clearly they aren't the same -- they're different colors. They look at each other and laugh and say, "No!"

On Monday, Luna, a lone voice, insisted on how the boxes are all the same, except the color. A few of her friends by this point in the week now share her view. I love how they're processing the song, really thinking about the meaning of "same" and "different." We've experienced reactions ranging from derisive laughter, to furrowed brows, to earnest insistence this week. I'm looking forward to seeing how we come to "own" this song as a class.

We've decided that "ticky tacky" means "plastic" since both our boxes . . .

. . . and people . . .

. . . are made of plastic.

On Wednesday and Thursday we added another song about being true to yourself.
I'll never fit in, so why should I try? 
Ooo, ooo, ooo
How'm I ever gonna pass for a normal guy?
Ooo, ooo, ooo
I can't wear no suit and tie (I pull at my collar with a finger)
Gotta let my freak flag fly (I take hold of my hair and wave it)
If I walk the straight and narrow one more day I think I'll die. (Finger walking)
We already know the chorus to this song. It's fun how lustily they've joined their voices to mine on the part they already know, much more so than when we just sing the chorus alone. This is what I hope they find themselves humming one day in the future when people are trying to get them to be like everybody else.
I wanna live in a turquoise house (House roofline with hands)
With a turquoise garden and a turquoise yard (Ten fingers up, wiggling like grass in a breeze)
Drive around town in a turquoise car (Steering)
Find a turquoise girl with a turquoise heart. (Patting our hearts rhythmically)

Fate is a riddle and love is a dream
Ooo, ooo, ooo
Things are seldom what they seem
Ooo, ooo, ooo
If you say your prayers at night (Prayerful hands)
And comb your hair just right (Combing)
You might not feel like that's okay
But then again, you might.

Lusty chorus

I want turquoise carpets (Point at the rug)
And turquoise shoes (Point at your shoes)
I want turquoise papers (Make a palm newspaper)
With all the turquoise news.
I want turquoise only
Not teal or aquamarine (I have paint color cards from the hardware store and I point out the 3 shades)
I've seen my future (We point fingers at our own eyes, then I point sharply at the kids and they point sharply back at me. I don't remember how this got started, but it seems to be their favorite part of the song.)
And it's a shade of bluish-green (Fan out the color cards to show all the blue-green shades

Even lustier chorus

I can't turn back, there ain't no way.
Ooo, ooo, ooo
If word gets out there'll be hell to pay.
Ooo, ooo, ooo
Life ain't for the faint
You can't be what you ain't (Point at the kids)
I know I'll never truly be myself
Until I get me some turquoise paint. (Painting motion)

Big chorus, repeated twice

. . . a turquoise girl in a dress
And a skirt
And a shirt
Coverin' up a turquoise heart.

This is a slightly gentled-up version of Jim White's song Turquoise House, one of my favorite anthems of individuality.

We then went outside, fired up the glue guns in our tinkering area and got to building turquoise houses, or whatever else we felt like making.

It looks like I caught these two working out some kind of
trade involving the glue gun and the bike horn.

Look at that concentration . . .

. . . and here too. They're taking responsibility for their own 
safety. That slight hint of danger (like singing
the word "hell" in preschool) helps them focus.

These two spent a lot of time consulting about
their houses.

It was a purposeful and successful collaboration.

On Wednesday we used liquid water color, but on Thursday we went with mixing our own turquoise from green and blue tempera paint, mostly because the sand pit crew had discovered the joy of making turquoise "floods" in the sand box. We wound up mixing regular paint for the painters, but very watered down buckets of turquoise for the flooders, who enjoyed pouring it into our house gutters and flowing into the sand.

When we gathered for our closing circle on both days, I said, "Raise your hand if you used the glue guns today," about three-quarters of their hands went up. Then I said, "Raise your hand if you got burned today." About half the hands went up although we hadn't had a single tear, then we chatted about the various burns, where they were located, how badly they hurt, and what we could do to avoid it next time.

If you want to see and hear how Jim White does the song, here's the video:

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wheeled Vehicles

During my first year teaching the 3-5's class, Jeanne Hall, who was still teaching the Pre-3's class at the time, and I decided to splurge on a couple of heavy duty tricycles. These were those solid monsters designed to endure generations of preschoolers. We spent a lot of time talking about them because they were expensive, but finally decided it would be worth it. They arrived to much fanfare, but Jeanne was immediately disappointed to learn that her kids' legs were universally either too short or too weak to make these weighty machines do much more than rock back and forth. The children in my 3-5 class could get them going, but were frustrated by the numerous vents and cracks in our asphalt. The only way they could really get up any kind of momentum at all was by letting themselves coast down the small slope leading toward our garden, inevitably slamming into the fence where they became stuck until an adult helped push them back uphill.

Our big, beautiful, expensive trikes then spent the next 7 years being obstructions in our storage area until I finally gave away to Woodland Park families last summer during our end-of-year cleaning.

Then there was the time I bought the fleet of smaller, very inexpensive trikes, the story details I shared in a previous post, and the result was a lot of interesting collage parts within about 6 months, and one very nice piece of classroom art to hang on the wall:

We have long owned a set of little wooden toddler bikes (the kind you push along with your feet) that have found their place, but frankly the whole wheeled vehicle thing has always been a challenge at Woodland Park. I've tried to make myself feel better about this dearth with the knowledge that the kids have trikes, scooters, bikes, skateboards, and roller blades at home, but I stayed on the lookout for something we could use.

A few years ago we managed to scrape together the scratch to afford our unicycle merry-go-round, which was the only piece of playground equipment that survived our make-over because of its superior play value.

That's it in the foreground.

It still gets used almost every day. I love that they can go as fast as they want without endangering the others, it comes with its own smooth track (although the older kids have learned to pile wood chips on it to create a "bumpy" ride), and it is very sturdy (the only thing we've had to repair so far have been to replace the pins that hold the pedals in place). But best of all is that as they ride, they tend to look across at one another to smile and laugh, making it one of the best entry level cooperative play activities we have for the younger kids.

We've also discovered these preschool mainstays:

We use these in our "gym" where the floor is smooth, albeit carpeted (for acoustic reasons; the space was almost unbearably loud, even for me, before we laid it down). We like to tie ropes onto them to pull one another around, or to tie them together into trains. We also recently made them into a giant "skateboard."


Last year, we acquired one of these kooky things:

I call it the "stepper," but the name hasn't caught on with the kids. The idea is to hold onto the handles and make it go with an exaggerated walking motion. It only goes in straight lines, which means it's fairly easy to set up a "track" area in which the steppers can get going as fast as they like without plowing down their friends. We really like the fact that it has room on it for 2, or even 3, kids to ride it at once, turning it into another cooperative activity.

But the reason I'm writing about wheeled vehicles this morning is that my friend, colleague, and Woodland Park alumni Teacher Aaron from across the street showed up on Monday morning and asked if we could use a child-sized wheel chair . . .

. . . and a "Unicorn."

We've been playing with these new vehicles this week and man are they fun. Both have been in our actual classroom and I've been impressed by how well the children have been able to maneuver them around the tables, chairs, carpets and people in our small space. 

Every time I look up to see one of our kids sitting in the wheel chair, my heart leaps with a twinge of sympathy. So far everyone who has tried it out, even our youngest kids, have been able to get it going under their own power, but taking turns pushing has been just as popular as taking turns riding. Benjamin and Owen had a blast building towers of cardboard blocks then pushing one another into them.

The "Unicorn" (that's what it's called) is a new contraption to me, although several of our parents say they've seen similar things. The kids make it go by wiggling the steering mechanism from side to side. They can cause themselves to turn in a sort of wobbly circle by turning it round and round, and can go backwards by reversing it before they start to wiggle it from side to side. So far, not a single adult has been able to make it work, while every child has been successful.

As of today, I'm happy to say that Woodland Park is wheeled vehicle deprived no longer.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sharing The Love, Part 2

Look at this! You didn't even have to wait until tomorrow for me to finish up my post from this morning, in which I finally got around to acknowledging the others bloggers who have recognized me over the course of the last few months, and pay it forward by passing along the contact information for some other bloggers  who delight, inform and inspire me.

To continue . . .

First off, I knew I was forgetting someone. Last November, Scott over at Brick by Brick included me in his list of blogs to "spark your creativity." We share an interest in big messy art projects and building things with PVC pipe. We also share a genuine love for the children we teach, which is evident in everything he writes.

And back to the blogs to with which I'm sharing the love:

Leaves & Branches, Trunk & Roots is the blog for the teachers of the Reggio-inspired Alderwood House school in Vancouver, BC. They first came to my attention when Miss Pamela responded to my admittedly cocky post about our tape machine, by challenging us to a tape-off! The resulting in the international tape-off that continues to attract new competitors to this day. (Click here and read from the bottom up for the full story from my perspective. It's possible that Miss Pamela sees it differently.) But in all seriousness, the reason to visit this blog is to read the dialogs they share with their children. These conversations are so carefully and accurately recorded and each time I read one I walk away feeling like I've just read an incredibly simple, yet profound poem -- like the lyrics to a great folk song. I love the way the teachers let many of the conversations hang there without any attempt at drawing a conclusion, or often just asking probing question about what just happened, demonstrating what it means to be a teacher who is always learning. I'm also a big fan of their long term projects, like Miss Maria's class' Tractor Project. Read this one from the bottom up to learn how a master teacher helped her kids build a tractor.

Playscapes is a place to which I like to escape. Arcady scours the globe to show us the most incredible playground designs and ideas. I often spend an hour just contemplating the photos she posts of both contemporary and vintage outdoor play ideas. It's really like revisiting childhood, both the one of reality and of fantasy. I've never commented there, so I feel a little sneaky, but I do want Arcady to know how much I appreciate her blog.

The first few times I wrote about Little World, Ayn from Little Illuminations would write back something about leprechauns, which has turned into her own class' Wee World, the Georgia franchise of Little World. Ayn is a thoughtful, creative teacher who has managed to stay enthusiastic about having a paying job that includes the side benefits of playing games, eating snack and getting hugs for 18 years. I'm inspired by how much fun she clearly has as a teacher, both as an educator and as a learner.

Matt over at Look At My Happy Rainbow! shares his kindergarten days in tightly written vignettes, usually funny and often, at the same time, deeply moving. It's not Matt's job to give us ideas for art or math projects. He's here to show us the importance of being present for our young students and finding significance in the smallest moments.

My friend and Woodland Park parent Toby writes a couple of blogs, one called TykeGeist which appears on the parenting website Offsprung and her personal blog Floor Pie. I love the way she writes and thinks. I'm never disappointed.

There are so many more blogs that I read, use and enjoy. I'm tired now, but I have some exciting stuff to share with you tomorrow.

Bookmark and Share

Sharing The Love, Part 1

This is the 316th post I've written here since I began blogging in earnest last June, nearly one post every day, including weekends. I think 316 is as good a milestone to note as any.

I've been a writer longer than I've been a teacher, by far, so the fact that I've filled so many pixels doesn't surprise me -- my great strengths as a freelancer always were volume and speed. What does surprise me is how many people have taken an interest. I'd always imagined that I was writing for the families in my school, some friends, a few of my colleagues, and the occasional stranger who stumbled onto me through a Google fluke.

I started blogging because I was cleaning up my files and found several early childhood education articles I'd written for local magazines, newspapers, and newsletters when I'd first started teaching. I thought a few of them still read pretty well and a blog would be a good place to give them a second life. Up to then, I don't think I'd ever read more than a handful of blog posts, and those almost exclusively from the big blogs with thousands of readers. And I'd certainly never followed a blog.

I just figured that "blogging" was a slangy, slightly embarrassing way to say "writing," and that's how I approached it: as a writer who hopes he has interesting things to say about playing with young children. It's taken me quite awhile to realize that the thing that makes blogging different than writing is that it is an immediate and often intimate dialog between you and the other bloggers. It had never occurred to me that I'd want to actually read other people's blogs, but I'm now up to dozens a day and my circle is ever-widening. And if it wasn't for those other bloggers, I'm sure I would have given this up long ago.

I think I've been a slow learner when it came to this realization. I hope I haven't missed too many opportunities because of it.

Over the past few months, I've been flattered to have been given "awards," "shout-outs," or included in "memes" of various kinds by several other bloggers, all of whom I admire very much. The idea of most of these is to pass the love along by tagging other bloggers, something I've neglected to do because as Kitten Muffin says over at her magnificently messy blog Filth Wizardry, while accepting one of these awards of her own, "I'm not very good at reading instructions, let alone following them, so I'm just going to pass on some blog karma in my own way if that's ok."

Kitten Muffin's artistic, scientific, and constructive explorations with her two girls reads almost like some kind of Beverly Cleary novel full of messy adventures, silliness, and robust childhood. I've only recent started following Filth Wizardry but I've already borrowed a half dozen of her inspired ideas for Woodland Park. I love everything she writes, but I was particularly taken by this post, in which she discovers that her youngest daughter has been secretly mixing up batches of soggy toilet paper in the sink: "I kinda figured we might have to take this activity outside and let it run it's course before our bathroom sink is irreparably blocked and she starts to think that she has to hide from me if she wants to play with squelchy stuff." See? Just like Ramona, but without the scolding parent!

I've written about the talented Deborah Stewart here before. I first got to know her through her blog Excellence in Early Childhood Education, which is a terrific resource for preschool teachers, but she's also the proprietor of the Teach Preschool website, as well as the Little Fingers That Play blog which is where she shares her original music. She's recently released a must-own CD of 19 songs and 8 preschool chants, which you can order here. I don't know how she does it, but Deborah also manages the most useful and active Facebook fan pages I've ever come across. If a teacher or parent is ever stuck for something to do with their kids, a 5 minute visit there will give you a week's worth of material -- I swear she links to everything worthwhile!

I also recently received an award from Donna writing over at the truly irresistible blog Irresistible Ideas For Play-Based Learning. Donna and her teaching partner Sherry run an amazing preschool in Melbourne, Australia, and we're lucky enough that they have decided to share their experiences with the rest of us. That place is crackling with creativity, play-based education, and good humor. I feel like I've met a pair of teaching soul-mates.

Yesterday, Kiri, a public school Pre-K teacher and owner of the Elbows, Knees, Dreams blog tagged me in a meme asking me to reveal my hidden teacher talents, those things that don't go on a resume, but are important nonetheless. Most of the preschool bloggers I've come across, myself included, tend to concentrate on sharing the happy and upbeat, and Kiri does a lot of that, telling lovely, funny stories about her students, but she also doesn't shy away from the serious, painful, and stressful aspects of teaching. I wish I had the courage to write like she does. (The only hidden talent I've come up with so far is that where others hear a "noisy classroom," I hear "joy," but I'll work on finding some more!)

Three months ago, when I was still in a state of ignorance about the difference between writing and blogging, Karen over at PreKinders included me in her list of top 10 blogs for 2010. Holy cow! What a true honor. At the time it made me blush even though I was sitting home alone in my bathrobe. Karen has built an amazingly complete library of resources for preschool teachers and has recently initiated a forum for teachers to share ideas and answer questions. It really is a kind of one-stop-shopping for rookie and veteran teachers alike.

I feel like I'm missing someone here, in fact, I know I am, but I'm going to blame the blog fog from which I'm just emerging and hope no one's too upset.

Now to pass on the good karma. These are blogs that I regularly read and that both educate and inspire me:

If you've been reading here for any time at all, it won't surprise you that Jenny's blog Let The Children Play is at the top of my list. She is one of the most amazing internet researchers alive, and even better, she shares her findings with us. Jenny is a strong advocate for getting kids outside and for creating naturalistic outdoor classrooms. Simply put, if it wasn't for her, Woodland Park would not now have a new playground. Her recently completed blog series "How To Create Irresistible Play Spaces For Children" is a must-read for anyone who works with young children.

And along those same lines, Juliet over at I'm A Teacher, Get Me OUTSIDE here! is a playground and outdoor education consultant based in Scotland who has been a great influence on how I think about my role as a teacher. She is a tireless advocate for and bottomless resource for anything to do with educating kids outside.

I also need to include Marla McLean, Atelierista, who runs an amazingly creative alternative preschool within a public school. A talented artist and a passionate educator, she often takes my breath away with her insights into the children she teaches. And to be honest, I love coming across fellow travelers who look for opportunities to wear costumes even when it isn't Halloween!

Ahh! I've run out of time this morning. I'll have to continue passing on the love tomorrow! Happy reading!

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Little Boxes

This is the new song we learned yesterday:

Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes
All the same.

(I asked, "Are they all the same? The children answered, "No, they're different colors.")

(That's right!) There's a green one . . .
And a pink one . . .

And a blue one . . .

And a yellow one.
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in their houses
All go to the university . . .

And the all get put in boxes
Little boxes, all the same.

And there's doctors, and lawyers
And business executives
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

(Luna shouted out, "They do all look the same!)

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry . . .

And the they all have pretty children
And the children go to school.

Then the children go to summer camp
And then to the university . . .

And they all get put in boxes . . .

And they all come out the same.

And they all go into business
Get married and raise a family . . .

And they all get put in boxes
Little boxes, all the same.

There's a green one . . .

And a pink one . . .

And a blue one . . .

And a yellow one.

And they all are made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

This is a variation on the song "Little Boxes, written and originally recorded by Malvina Reynolds (although I learned it through Pete Seeger) and I promise I had no idea that it had been made into the theme song for the TV program Weeds when I decided I wanted to sing it with the children. I've never seen the show, but apparently most of the parents in our school have.

I don't expect the kids to understand the underlying message of this song, but I do intend to sing it for the next few weeks. My hope is that it will click someday for them when they find themselves confronted in their lives with little boxes, all the same.

We then went outside with our glue-paint (mostly glue with a little paint added) and made damn sure our own little boxes were not the same.

Bookmark and Share -->